Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Books That Make Us Hungry: Food Rules

Janet here: If you're confused by the many mixed messages sent our way about food and nutrition science — ie. the nutritional plan du jour — then you should pick up a copy of Michael Pollan's new (very short) book, Food Rules. Pollan, in case you don't know, is the author of the very thorough In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. He's basically spent the better part of his most recent journalism career investigating food and how/why we eat the way we do. But where those books are for people who really want to know all the details about this engrossing subject, Food Rules is for the folks who just want a down-and-dirty guide on to how to eat healthier. It's kind of the Readers' Digest version of healthier eating.

Pollan sets up his premise with a little food history in which he reminds us that nutrition science is really a fairly young science. As he so aptly puts it, as a science it's just about where surgery was in 1650. Would you want to be operated on in 1650? I thought not. So why, er, swallow without question what nutrition scientists say (and change) today?

After a ton of interviewing and research, Pollan boils down his own rules to this: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In other words, bag that Western diet.

The 64 rules that follow are just variations on Pollan's theme with a little more depth or specificity. Rule 2, for instance: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize. Rule 7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce. Rule 11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television. And my personal favorite: It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car. Common sense we all could use.

P.S. As a parent, I know firsthand how tough it can be to sell kids on "healthy" eating. If you need a little help, Pollan has created a young reader's version of his omnivore book. You can read a review here at Ohdeedoh.

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