Food Rules: What’s for Dinner?

I’ve already memorized, by number, all 64 of Michael Pollan’s fabulous Food Rules found in his slim guidebook of that name published December 29, 2009. Last March on Tara Parker Pope’s Well Blog at The New York Times, Pollen asked readers to contribute their best brief rules of thumb for navigating food choices. He collected these, stirred in his own, marinated the batter in science and tradition, and provided us with a yummy serving of practical wisdom. He offers simple ways to choose what to eat, whether you’re cooking at home, packing a school lunch, eating out, or on the run.

All of the rules have exceptions (except #64 – Break the rules once in a while). Consider #13 – Eat only foods that would eventually rot. Food goes bad when our competitors who want the food (such as bacteria or fungi) get to it before we do. If we make the food less appealing to them by subtracting nutrients or adding chemicals, it’s not as good for us either. On the other hand, honey is a good pure food and can have a shelf life of centuries.

These are proverbs and witty sayings to remember, that together point to great food choices. They are not laws or restrictions.

The book is divided in 3 sections. The first is a collection of 21 sayings that helps us select real foods. Choose foods that your great-grandmother would recognize (#2) or where the ingredients are things that a normal person would cook with (#3) or that a third-grader can pronounce (#7).

The second section helps us choose amongst the variety of real foods. Eat your colors (#25) to get the right variety. If you eat meat, eat animals that have themselves eaten well (#27). And include some foods in your diet that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi, such as yogurt, soy sauce, or sourdough bread (#33).

The final section helps us eat the right amount. One of my favorite rules is #50 – The banquet is in the first bite. No other bite tastes as good as the first; savor it. Eat slowly. Or as l like to say, this bite tastes better than the next — pause and enjoy it.

For only $5.5o at Amazon, Pollan’s Food Rules is one of the best bargains, not just of books, but of any kind. It fits hand-in-glove with my book Feeding Baby Green about how to teach children Nutritional Intelligence – the ability to recognize and love healthy amounts of great food – starting even before birth. I hope every parent who reads Feeding Baby Green for their children will also read Food Rules for themselves. (Of course, I also think that every parent who reads Food Rules would benefit deeply from Feeding Baby Green – but that’s another story).

In closing, I would like to add rule #65 – Become a spicevore. Eat more curry. More cinnamon. More Italian spices. More Southwest spices. Less salt. Herbs and spices are some of our tastiest and most nutritionally dense foods. When we can, let’s use them for flavor instead of added sodium, sugar, or fat.

Published on: January 05, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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