When it comes to your health, I’m not a big fan of hard and fast rules. They don’t always allow for individual needs and possibly just set you up to fail. BUT these guidelines are a great place to start if you want to improve your health.
Even though everyone is unique, some general eating guidelines apply to all of us.
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 agree with much of what he says about food. To me, he speaks with logic that is easy to follow.
If you haven’t heard of Michael, he is a journalist who dives deep into his subject. He has written many books but his best known are In Defence of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules. If you are interested you can learn more about Michael on his website.
I first saw Michael speak in 2011. Even though that was some years ago, I think much of what he said is still relevant.
We’ve lost our way
- We have lost the “culture” of food as it was known and practised by our ancestors? It is 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. In the face of all the external stimuli, we’ve lost the ability to look inwards and tune into the needs of our bodies. We have become dependent on others (i.e. marketers) to tell us what to eat.
- We appear to be focused on nutrients instead of food but we don’t “eat” nutrients, we eat food. The minute we start thinking in nutrients we hand the power for our food choices to the manufacturers, food technologists and scientists.
- We’re lured by food advertising. 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. Fruit and vegetables do not have big advertising budgets. They don’t come in bright, bold packages which scream their benefits.
Four golden rules to improve your health
Many of the other points Michael 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),
More food for thought
A few years ago, I attended the annual conference of the Institute of Functional Medicine in San Francisco. 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 our food choices.
Just a few of their interesting discussion points were:
- health is not always a matter of money…studies have shown people who cook have healthier diets than people who don’t, regardless of the money spent on food
- it is possible to change your eating habits with your very next food choice
- 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, sustainability or buying local is not just about health…it’s also about community, connection and sharing, all of which are so important to our wellbeing
- it is only in the last 50 years or so that we’ve had alternatives to cooking at home from scratch (and of course now, we can order 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, expensive, a drudge or time-consuming so they sell more of their packaged and processed products. (This is not helped by all those TV cooking shows which have us believe every meal has to be some gourmet extravaganza!)
Where to start?
The philosophy of healthy eating is pretty simple and it reflects my naturopathic philosophy. (First, work on the overall diet and then worry about specific additional nutrient needs only if they are warranted).
Think about which meal of the day would be the easiest for you to improve. For many, it’s breakfast or lunch. Just change one thing. Perhaps it’s adding some fruit to your cereal or swapping jam on your toast for avocado. Maybe it’s some salad in your ham sandwich. It doesn’t have to be big. Start small and get some wins under your belt.
Some more ideas
- 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 won’t do it too often…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.
Sometimes we can over-complicate things but when helping my clients improve their health, addressing diet is essential. No amount of supplements will combat the weaknesses of a diet laden with processed and packaged foods. We talk about food, or more specifically how to improve the 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 metabolism, digestion, lifestyle and illnesses. I can gently and realistically help you to achieve your aspirations too.