Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Food Rules

I've written posts in the past about pretty controversial topics, and have never failed to receive those dreaded comments from readers who just don't agree (which is fine, of course, it's why I have a comment section).  Today I'm going to preface my opinions with a name with whom many of you are familiar; Michael Pollan.  So, if Mr. Pollan said it, there is not need to argue, right?!  I mean the guy is a New York Times number one bestselling author with a true talent for researching and writing about food and nutrition (and he's not even a doctor or dietitian, yet I trust him and agree with just about everything he says).  He's in a word, brilliant!  His book "Food Rules" is basically the Cliffs Notes on what to eat and what not to eat (another of his books, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is a must-read too).

Now, I'm not a huge fan of rules, especially when it comes to food, as I'm sure you know.  As a dietitian I pride myself in the fact that I rarely give people food rules, because I know that's not the best way to get through to those who are trying to make lifestyle changes.  That being said, I think some rules are ok, as long as you also allow those rules to sometimes be broken. Today I want to share my top eight favorite rules from Michael Pollan's book.  I'll write out his rule, then provide my additional thoughts on the rule.

1)  Avoid Products That Contain HFCS:  I love and hate this statement at the same time. I really can't stand it when I hear "Oh, but it has HFCS in it, I can't buy that".  Why?  We eat agave nectar like it's the nectar of the gods, yet agave is 90% fructose, compared to 55% in "HFCS" which is the true High Fructose?!  Hmmmm.  I think Pollan's point with this rule is to simply say that typically foods with HFCS are highly processed with a lot of junk, therefore they should be avoided.  You wouldn't ever find HFCS on the label for a single whole grain, or a fresh fruit or vegetable. No, you find HFCS in packaged goods with a handful of other ambiguous ingredients. Therefore, avoid or limit HFCS if you can (as well as other added-sugars).

2)  Avoid products with the term "lite" or the terms "low-fat" or "non-fat" in their name.  I would agree with this, but not completely.  I actually enjoy many lite and low-fat foods, especially when they are dairy products and dressings.  Lite (or "light") means the product has at least 50% less sodium, calories or fat, compared to the original.  Fifty percent is a lot, but often it's not enough to completely take away from the flavor of a product.  Non-fat, on the other hand, I avoid like the plague (although, again, I do enjoy non-fat dairy products!).

3)  Eat wild foods, when you can.  I don't have much more to add to this one.  We know that wild animals and seafood (ie: typically not raised on a farm) have a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 because of their diverse diet of, of course, wild plants (they also tend to have less saturated fat).  Those "wild plants" typically have more antioxidants and more omega-3 (because apparently we breed for "shelf-stability" meaning less omega-3, since they oxidize more readily).  Does this mean you should go vegetable hunting, and meat hunting? No, start a small garden, and buy foods as close to local as possible (and consider organic when you can).

4)  Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.  It's called being intuitive.  It's my motto as a dietitian.  I tell this to all of my clients when they ask "How many calories do I need?". Your body knows best.  When you're hungry, eat. When you're not hungry, don't eat. Work hard not to allow outside forces such as emotions, sights, and sounds dictate when you eat (that's called appetite, and it's different than physical hunger).

5)  Eat slowly:  Not only does eating slowly mean you are likely going to eat less (think about when you are at a restaurant with a bunch of people, if you eat really fast you might keep grabbing the bread or chips on the table once you are finished with your meal, or order another drink, simply because you feel the need to be eating or drinking with everyone else who hasn't finished their meal yet) but eating slowly also helps you eat more mindfully, and savor your food.  It's actually a fact that the longer the food stays in your mouth, the more pleasure you get out of it (once again, I'm learning this from the book "Taste What You're Missing".  So, slow down, savor your food, allow your body to truly soak up all the flavors.  Live to eat, don't eat to live (yes, in this case, the saying is reversed, because it should be reversed sometimes!).

6)  The Banquet is in the first bite:  No other bite will taste as good as the first.  Did you know this?  Take a bite of a really delicious food, and continue eating it and be mindful of the flavors.  You will notice that the flavor actually starts to deaden on your palate. Of course, most of us just continue to eat and eat and eat, not because the flavor is great, but because we've been conditioned to eat until we're full (and many times uncomfortably so).  So I guess another rule might be "eating until you are only 75% full".  Why waste the calories with another flavorless bite?!

 Buy smaller plates and glasses:  One researcher actually found that by switching your dinner plate from a 12-inch to a 10-inch size people reduced their consumption of calories by twenty-two percent. Wowza.  I don't know about you, but I'm a fan of this concept.  In fact, for the past year or so Nick and I have eaten our dinners (at home) off of our salad plates.  I'm not sure if Nick has even noticed yet, or thought anything of it.  Muahaha

8)  Break the rules every once in a while.  Sometimes you're just gonna order the fish from...who knows where...that has been dipped in.....who knows what, along with the fat and sodium-loaded fries, and side of heavy tartar sauce.  Sometimes you're going to eat those fish n' chips incredibly fast, not slow, and you're going to chase them down with an artificial diet coke (you know, to save some calories) and then follow it up with a fat-free bowl of fro-yo (topped with hot fudge, of course).  And you know what? Sometimes, that's just fine ;)

QUESTION:  If you had one "Food Rule" what would it be?

Happy Friday everyone!


  1. I find HFCS bothers my stomach so thats why I avoid it :) When it comes to sugar, I really just prefer sugar and that's about all. I don't overdo it so I think it's okay.
    Here is my one concern about the eat when you are hungry thing. I think people who are used to eating too much, will be hungry more often and we almost need to train our body to not expect way too much food. I've seen this with myself when on vacation- I get used to eating 3 big meals out a day, with a lot of calories. Then when I get home my body still expects that any sometimes I have to ignore being hungry to get it back to normal- just for a week or so, and then I can go back to eating when I'm hungry and it will be normal :)
    Otherwise, I definitely see all the rules having their purpose and I think even though I am not a big "rules" person they do benefit a lot of people.

  2. Love this article! As an RD I hate it when people quote Michael Pollan as the food and nutrition God who knows everything, but I like how you pointed out the good parts of his rules.

  3. I've read Omnivore's Dilemma and enjoyed it - haven't read Food Rules, so I'm glad to read your summary! I'm not a rules person, either, but I've noticed many people prefer the "comfort" of having rules (particularly for people who won't or can't see an RD), remembering that, as you say, sometimes rules can be broken. I like "the banquet is in the first bite" - I'll have to remember that phrase.

    Have a great week, Gina!

    1. I completely agree with you Jessie. It's like when someone people tell me, "Yes, Gina, I want you to write me a STRICT diet plan" doesn't make sense, but at the same time, I can how it can be helpful for some. It gives people limits.

  4. Great points! My biggest food rule is to listen to my body...I spent a few years in the "eager young dietetic militant food police" phase where I had crazy rules and restrictions and tried to be perfect. I'm much more about intuitive eating now and although it's definitely a work in progress, it's so much better.

    1. I also wanted to let you know that I included this post in this week's Weekend Wrap-Up on my blog! Here's the link in case you're interested: