Change the way you eat and live better: Michael Pollan's mantra

A favorite new quote:
“Psychologist Paul Rozin at University of Pennsylvania showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ topped the list. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of the French eaters to the same phrase: ‘Celebration.'” – In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

This speaks volumes about what’s going in America’s food habits.

I’ve just finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (finally… it came out in 2008) and a few months ago, I plowed through The Omnivore’s Dilemma, his other treatise on the state of American eating and how it affects our health. (Haven’t started Food Rules yet). Pollan paints an alarming picture, and folks, it ain’t pretty. We’re getting fatter as we move away from actual food, as opposed to what the fake food companies want us to eat. Consider a childhood staple, the ubiquitous Cheeto. One question: Where have you ever seen that neon shade of orange in nature? “Cheese” doesn’t look that way when it’s made, mind you, so it begs the question… are Cheetos actually “food”? In Defense of Food indiscriminately poses these sorts of questions and pretty much accuses the government and corporations of putting American’s health at risk from “metabolic syndrome” types of diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. He makes a convincing argument, not that I had to be sold… I long ago gave up soda (or Coke or pop depending on where you live), fast food and other processed stuff since they made me feel gross after consuming them. That was the first indicator of artery road blocks ahead. And, I just had a physical and received an A+, so something is working.

I’m thinking everyone reading this blog post should buy the book ($9 on Amazon). Especially if you grew up in a household that only served canned food, bologna on Wonder, and considered iceberg lettuce the best veggie on the planet. Most people learn how to eat from their parents or grandparents who were woefully misled by the nutritional guidelines of their time. So if those items donned your dinner table growing up, learn the right way to eat now or face the metabolic consequences. Sounds serious? Well, it is, especially if the taxpayers are going to start paying for those consequences with national health care.

Although every word of the book held attention, there are a few “rules” I found especially profound:

  • Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or include high fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid products that make health claims. (May Reduce Cholesterol! Protects Your Immune System!)
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  • Shop Community Supported Agriculture co-ops (find one near you) and local farmer’s markets where people sell their locally-grown produce (fresh produce has more nutrition)
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. (This was the hardest pill to swallow since I do love me some meat… but I’m not abandoning it all together.)
  • You are what what you eat applies to what you eat, too (grass fed beef is higher in nutrients than feedlot beef since they ate nutritious plants first).
  • If you eat well, you don’t need vitamin supplements.
  • Sit down and eat — at a table (that means not at your desk or in your car).
  • Regard non-traditional foods with skepticism.
  • Don’t get fuel for your body the same place your car does.

and my favorite…

  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.

What gives me some hope is that Pollan has President Obama’s attention (Read his open letter to the President in the New York Times ). Reportedly, Michelle Obama’s school lunch program and the White House’s organic garden stem from that letter. Another glimmer: Pollan’s books have remained on the New York Times bestseller list since they were released. People are listening. Are you?

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