I don’t really love the idea of “rules”. They don’t always allow for flexibility and can set you up to fail BUT these guidelines are a great place to start if you are looking to improve your health or energy.
When I am working with my naturopathy clients, we spend quite a lot of time talking about food, or more specifically how to improve the nutritional quality of their weekly food intake in a way that is achievable and sustainable for them. i.e. personalised eating plans that take into account their metabolism, digestion, lifestyle or illnesses. It’s all about eating in a way that serves your particular health needs.
Everyone is unique but there are some general eating guidelines that apply to all of us regardless of our individuality.
I am a bit of a fan of Michael Pollan. I’ve read his books and I’ve been lucky enough to see him speak a couple of times. I like much of what he says about food. To me he speaks with a logic (and common sense) which is pretty easy to follow.
If you haven’t heard of Michael, he is a journalist who has had a special interest in food and the food industry. He has written many books but his best known are In Defence of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules. You can learn more about Michael and his books on his website.
The first time I saw Michael was in 2011 when he came to Australia for a series of talks. Even though that was some years ago, I think much of what he said is as relevant today as ever.
Have we been making the wrong food choices?
Here is what I took away from his talk:
- It seems we have lost the “culture” of food as it was known and practised by our ancestors. It has been lost in a sea of advertising and hyped-up marketing claims. Unlike other animals on this planet, we humans don’t seem to know how to eat instinctively anymore. Many of us don’t know how our food choices make us feel. In the face of all the external stimuli around us, we’ve lost the ability to look inwards and tune into the needs of our bodies. We seem to have become dependent on others (i.e. marketers) to tell us what to eat. (I think many of us have lost the ability to listen to what our body is telling us and to read the signals as to what it needs. That’s one of the aspects I work on with my clients).
- We appear to have become very focused on nutrients instead of food but we don’t “eat” nutrients, we eat food. The minute we start thinking in nutrients we are handing the power for our food choices to the manufacturers, food technologists and scientists.
- Avoid most food advertised on TV. Most of these ads are full of “bright and loud marketing” to promote food products. If a food product needs a big marketing budget behind it, ask yourself why.
- You won’t see a lot of advertising dollars being spent on fruit and vegetables. They don’t come in bright, bold packaging which screams their “benefits”. (Ok, in the supermarket they might, but mostly they don’t).
- Eat as much “junk food” as you like…with the proviso that you make it yourself! (Michael’s theory is that it takes quite a bit of effort to make a bowl of chips or a pizza from scratch so you probably aren’t going to do it too often and that is probably about the right frequency…i.e. an occasional treat).
- Eat meat as our ancestors did. It used to be a real treat to have the Sunday roast or a steak. Otherwise, it was a bit of meat in casseroles and stews with lots of vegetables and beans to bulk up the meal.
Four golden rules guaranteed to improve your health
Many of the other points he made come from his book Food Rules. Things like:
- don’t eat packaged food with more than 5 ingredients on the label
- don’t buy packaged food your grandmother (or maybe great grandmother) wouldn’t recognise
- don’t eat food with ingredients an 8 year old couldn’t pronounce
- eat only foods that will eventually rot (if bacteria won’t eat it, why would you?)
Ultimately, Michael’s mantra is
Eat food (i.e. real food not “edible food-like substances”),
Not too much (i.e. eat to be satisfied, not to be full, eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored),
Some more take-aways (pardon the pun)
A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend the annual conference of the Institute of Functional Medicine in San Francisco. It was a wonderful three days and one of the sessions was a one-on-one conversation with Michael Pollan and Dr Mark Hyman. It was a very powerful conversation highlighting the impact of “big food” and “big marketing” on the way many of us eat.
Just a few of the interesting points they discussed were:
- health is not always a matter of money…studies have shown poor people who cook have healthier diets than rich people who don’t
- it is possible to change your eating habits with your very next food choice…it can be that simple
- don’t eat foods with big “health claims” …eat the “quiet” foods (consistent with Michael’s message above)
- a big part of the food movement towards organics or sustainability or buying local is not just about health…it’s also to do with community, connection and sharing…which is so important to our wellbeing
- it is only in recent times (perhaps the last 50 years or so) that we have even had the option to not cook for ourselves (and of course now, we have access to home-delivered meals at the tap of a phone…but at what cost to our health?)
- cooking doesn’t have to be difficult….the food industry just wants us to believe it’s complicated or expensive or drudgery or time consuming because that way they sell more of their packaged and processed products. (This is not helped by all those cooking shows on TV which make us think every meal has to be some gourmet extravaganza!)
The philosophy of healthy eating is pretty simple really and it resonates with my naturopathic philosophy. (First, work on the overall diet and then worry about specific additional nutrient needs only if they are warranted for that individual).
Sometimes we can over-complicate things but when helping my clients to regain their health and vitality, it is essential to address their diet. No amount of supplements can combat the weaknesses of a diet laden with processed and packaged foods. Having said that, it sounds easy but if the thought of changing your diet for the better makes you break out in a sweat I can gently and realistically help you move to a healthier lifestyle.