Food Rules – Michael Pollan

Great little book with many simple to understand and follow tips and suggestions to maintain a healthier relationship with food – not just in what you decide to eat, but how you are going about eating as well.  

It provides enough context to help understand the principles behind the assertions, rather than just having to memorize a list of rules.  It cuts through a lot of noise and marketing – in his words, the more you complicate something the more you are able to sell it.  Simple works, but is hard to sell.  And, simply put, if you eat mainly whole foods, avoiding those that have been refined or processed, and consider not having meat as the main component of most meals, you should be doing pretty good!

In a nutshell, in order to hit certain targets, say, making a low- or no-fat product, manufacturers will remove all the fat, which also affects how the food tastes.  They will then typically add  combinations of sugar and salt in order to offset the negative impact on taste.  It turns out this is more or less the standard approach to modern food creation, which wouldn’t be overly disastrous if these products were the minority part of our diet, but of course they represent the majority of what you are able to purchase in a grocery store.

Perhaps most helpfully, rather than being designed as a system where you need to follow all the rules dogmatically in order to see an effect, even if you internalize only two or three different principles per section, you will likely see some degree of improvement in your health and relationship with food.  

As an example, I have a notorious sweet tooth.  One of his suggestions that struck me as an opportunity to adjust was that you can have desserts and sweets, but only those that you make yourself.  He points out that many of these desserts traditionally take a lot of effort to prepare, which naturally reduces the frequency that you eat them.  This equilibrium changes when they are readily available for $2.99 at the store!   I took this as a key takeaway for myself, in an effort to reduce my grocery spend, develop new cooking and baking skills, and to take steps towards living a healthier lifestyle.