Friday, July 30, 2010

What Should I Eat?

It's a serious question these days. I don't mean the simple “fries, rice, or mixed vegetable” sort of choice. I mean the more basic question of what should we eat to be healthy, happy people. That is, in essence, the whole point of eating.

It should be pretty simple, but we are confronted with a thousand choices at the local mega-mart. And while most of us eat the great American diet of mostly meat, a little veg, and lots of highly processed stuff with loads of simple carbohydrates, we all should know by now that it is not proving to be the healthiest way to live.

A few years ago I read Michael Pollan's excellent The Omnivore's Dilemma. It changed the way I think about food in America. I recently read and enjoyed his brief little manual, Food Rules.

Mr. Pollan says that when he was thinking about this subject he came up with a bit of advice that pretty much summed it all up. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” This little manual is organized around the three parts of that sentence. Each section provides “rules,” pithy little thoughts to get us thinking about food and to help us remember some sound advice. Rule 1, “Eat food,” is, as the author says, “easier said than done.” Most of what passes for food in our supermarkets are products of food science. Highly processed chemical concoctions, that stuff in the jar, bag, or box is not really food but an “edible foodlike substance.” As Rule 19 puts it, “if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't” The second section, “Mostly Plants,” suggests what sorts of good food we should be eating. It mostly comes down to eating like an omnivore, choosing a wide range of good, wholesome food. The third part, “Not Too Much,” might just be the toughest. We Americans do love to super-size. We like to fill our plates (Rule 52: “Buy smaller plates and glasses”). We like to eat, as a recent fast-food chain ad suggested, until we feel full. And we eat when we are bored or upset. But when you consider what overeating is doing to us, you might agree that “food is a costly antidepressant.”

Not every rule in the book will work for everybody. That's okay. If it gets you thinking about food and making better decisions, that's all that matters. I found myself putting a bottle of goo back on the supermarket shelf because of this book. Who knows? This little volume might just make me healthier, happier, and may even keep me from eating myself to death. Not too bad for such a quick read.

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