64 Food Rules

Michael Pollan’s new book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual came out over the holidays. For those of you not familiar with his work, Mr. Pollan, a professor of journalism and an author, is considered one of the grass roots leaders in the quest for better food and better food production system.

His previous books The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto exposed millions of readers to the ills of the Western Diet and the uber-capitalistic food industry. The result of constant pressure to increase profitability of food companies has wreaked havoc on our collective health, and created a country with 100 million obese people. Where Pollan’s previous books were more academic and philosophical observations and recommendations, Food Rules gives practical advice for day to day perusal.

The preface to the book argues against our obsession with this or that nutrient (fat, vitamin E, calcium) and pretty much disses “nutritionism” as something that has not helped, rather caused confusion among consumers. If we eat real food, in small portions, and mostly from plant sources, we won’t have to worry about saturated fat, added sugars, antioxidants and lycopenes, Pollan argues. Though he’s not a scientist, he did consult experts and researched substantially in preparation of this manual.

Pollan writes very well – some of the rules sometimes seem more like poetry than practical advice:

#19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

#6o Treat treats as treats.

Others are so simple and smart that even a 4 year old can grasp:

#25 Eat your colors.

#36 Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

As a brownie lovers, we particularly connected with

#39 eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself

The gist of the book is not surprising. Most food at the supermarket is not really food, rather an “edible foodlike substance”:

#11 avoid foods you see advertised on television.

An important rule for families, not just for nutritional purposes:

#58 Do all your eating at a table.

and so forth…

The book is a quick light read. There are no big surprises here. It is the framing of what we all know to be true into a simple guiding rules that makes Food Rules an enjoyable hour or two spent.

The last rule is very important, we’re humans after all, and we celebrate a birthday once a year:

#64 Break the rules once in a while.

What to do at the supermarket:

It’s hard to summarize everything into on sentence but Pollan minimized his thesis into 7 words:

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

To which we add – Buy minimally processed products, mostly plants and whole grains, but also dairy and meat. Prepare meals yourself, enjoy food with your family at the dinner table, have small portions, drink water, and don’t obsess.

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  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    It’s a simple and solid book. I’m making it required reading for the 4th year medical students I’m teaching next month.

    I’d like to see the 64 rules from this book incorporated into school Wellness Policies for food and drinks.

  • http://foodunsafety.blogspot.com/ Jim Purdy

    I’m going to have to see if I can buy this for my Amazon Kindle. Looks interesting.

  • http://blogsthatmakemethink.blogspot.com/ Jim Purdy

    Oops, fixed my website link.

  • http://www.feedyourheaddiet.com Ken Leebow

    I’m a huge fan of Michael Pollan, however, I think this book is somewhat trite and if you aren’t already familiar with the concepts, ironically, the book can be confusing.

    My favorite Pollan book is in Defense of Food. Also, Mr. Pollan stated on Jon Stewart’s show that we consume 240 pounds of sugar per year. Anyone have a resource for that stat? I’ve never heard that large a number before.

  • http://websites.integrativenutrition.com/SLewis2/Index.aspx Sara Lewis

    Hi there Ken,

    The statistic I have been using for sugar consumption is about 158 lbs/person/year. However, this statistic is over 10 years old now. (source: Center for Science in the Public Interest http://www.cspinet.org/new/sugar_limit.html I’m not sure where Michael Pollan got this figure and I would like to know. I’ve seen the average of 150 lbs in other sources besides CSPI.

    That’s equal to over 3 lbs/person/week. For a good visual on this try putting that much sugar in a plastic bag and just stare at it awhile.

    However, CSPI clarifies that this is the amount available in wholesale channels and the actual consumption is less than this.

  • http://www.landfoodlife.com Hannah Miller

    For food consumption data, I always go to the USDA’s Economic Research Service and look at the food availability data sets. You can make custom queries about almost anything. According to that site, there were 136 lb of caloric sweeteners available in 2007 per capita.

  • Shine On Health

    I like Pollan’s rules as guidelines for a nutritious and healthy diet
    and this is particularly important in today’s world. While many people
    try to be healthy, weight loss is the key for most people and many people are misguided about healthy eating habits by following bad
    diets which offer quick weight loss at the expense of good health. So I
    have come up with a few suggestions of food rules for dieters:
    http://shineonhealth.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-food-rules-eaters-manual-by.html