I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Michael Pollan’s rules for eating well. One of the guidelines that I am really starting to like is, “Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients.” To be clear – he is not talking about recipes, (it’s okay – your favorite ratatouille recipe is safe!) he’s talking about food products – manufactured food.
The problem with food guidelines like “don’t eat processed foods,” is that they can become confusing. It seems straightforward enough, much like, “eat food that comes from plants, not that’s made in one,” but it can get weird when you start to dig into it. Technically, olive oil is a processed food. People process the olives or oil and then it’s bottled in a factory of some kind. So, does it count or not? I went to hear a local doctor speak about eating well for health and his opinion was that yes, olive oil was a processed food. He thought that even though it had health benefits, it should be eaten very sparingly.
But this feels extreme to me. That’s why I like Mr. Pollan’s rule. So when I look at the back of my favorite olive oil, there is one simple ingredient. (And an adorable dog looking up at me in the background.)
A quick note on oils – Mr. Pollan encourages readers to stick with oils that are made from traditional sources, like olive and sesame and avoid corn, canola and some of the more recently invented oils.
And it is not like there isn’t any wiggle room. I have a favorite blend of seasonings from Penzy’s that has quite a few more than five ingredients, but I know what they all are and why they are in there. I don’t have to give up on curry, just because of a guideline. But when you start looking at products like this:
You start to see what he means. This is a bag of Cheetos from the vending box at work. While there are some ingredients in there I recognize, there are also a whole lot of ingredients I don’t know and certainly don’t have in my cupboard.
Why does it matter?
Making Smart Food Choices
We’re all busy folks. There are other things going on in our lives. Having simple, easy to remember food guidelines can be incredibly helpful, especially when you hit the 3:00 p.m. low energy hour at work and you are getting hangry. With quick nutrition guidelines, you might grab the sunflower seeds instead of these chemical-laden foodlike things.
Real Food is More Satisfying
Here’s another reason it matters. On Saturday I did a charity “Run with the Nuns” 5K at the Franciscan Life Process Center in Lowell, MI. It was a wet and rainy day, but the race was a lot of fun. Post-race was a meal of stew and freshly baked bread for the runners, (and those with non-runner dining tickets.) You could also pre-purchase loaves the bread.
The Franciscan Life Process Center offers music therapy, and the race and the sale of bread all go to the scholarship fund. So, I was happy to buy a couple loaves of bread. Not only was the homemade bread delicious, but it was incredibly satisfying. I made two meals out of chunks of bread with good butter and I couldn’t believe how full I felt and for how long. I don’t usually consider bread a long-term meal!
I’m starting to see how food, made from scratch, with real ingredients, not Maltodextrin whatever, can make a serious difference in how we feel and our health. It may require less of “real food” to make a meal, which can be more comfortable on the waistline. We also aren’t filling our bodies with chemicals doing who knows what.
So, give it a try. Over the next couple of days, turn your food over, and if it has a label, count the ingredients. See what you think – are you eating food? Or food products?