Michael Pollan’s 3-Step Advice to Healthier Wholesome Eating

Michael Pollan’s 3-Step Advice to Healthier Wholesome Eating

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Michael Pollan’s 3-Step Advice to Healthier Wholesome Eating

Michael Pollan’s 3-Step Advice to Healthier Wholesome Eating

Michael Pollan offers this solution to healthier, more wholesome eating: eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Let’s break down what this means.

Michael Pollan has a lot to say about food.

From food culture to agriculture, to health fads and scientific research, the award-winning journalist and activist has taken a microscope to it all. And with ten published books – eight of them focusing on food – he’s written about it all.

But for all his research and writing, Pollan’s work can be boiled down to this simple, 7-word, 3-step advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Pollan spends a large portion of his novel In Defense of Food talking about nutritionism, the scientific and government-lead ideology that judges food based on its nutrients. His argument: judging food based on its nutritional value misses the mark and actually has made us less healthy.

Instead, he offers this solution to healthier, more wholesome eating: eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Let’s break down what this means:

Michael Pollan's 3-Step Advice to Healthier, Wholesome Eating

Eat food.

By this, Pollan means to eat real food – not processed food.

He offers this advice: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. But if you’re like me and fall into more of the Gen X or Millenial category, the great-grandmother advice doesn’t work.

The food industry and manufacturers have become really, really good at disguising processed food as “real” food. In fact, processed “food” has slowly replaced real food for decades and now dominates the central isles of the supermarket.

Pollan is not the first to offer up this advice. John Gussow has given speeches persuading the audience to “just eat food.” British nutritionist John Yudkin even suggesting people go back to the diets of their Neolithic ancestors.

Would this make us healthier? Comparing it the Western diet, it probably will. But Pollan offers more advice that doesn’t return us to hunter-gatherer times:

  • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting. All real food goes bad eventually – it is biologically programmed to. The longer it takes for something to spoil, the further it is from “real” food. 
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients you can’t pronounce or are unfamiliar. Pollan even goes further to suggest that foods with over five ingredients should also be avoided. (This is different than a recipe with over five ingredients. We’re talking about the ingredients themselves.)
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients you can’t pronounce or are unfamiliar. Pollan even goes further to suggest that foods with over five ingredients should also be avoided. (This is different than a recipe with over five ingredients. We’re talking about the ingredients themselves.)
  • Avoid food products that make health claims. Items in the produce section don’t come with health claims, now do they? As much as we wish to rely on a reputable source for trustworthy information about food safety, we cannot. Remember, the FDA once promoted trans-fat-rich margarine as a healthy alternative to other fats, which proved to be more wrong than ketchup on ice cream.
Michael Pollan's 3-Step Advice to Healthier, Wholesome Eating

Not too much.

By this, Pollan doesn’t specifically want people to consume fewer calories (although based on how much Americans consume daily). What he means is that we should change the way we eat – not just the food itself.

“If a food is more than the sum of its nutrients and a diet is more than the sum of its foods, it follows that a food culture is more than the sum of its menus – it embraces as well the set of manners, eating habits, and unspoken rules that together govern a people’s relationship to food and eating.” – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.

To improve one’s relationship with food and avoid overeating, Pollan offers these bits of advice:

  • -Pay more money for better quality food. How much we eat is strongly connected to the cost of food. In this case, the cost of food is not just monetary but how much effort we put into getting it on the table. People are apt to eat more of something that required very little effort (say, a bag of chips), than they are something that required far more time and effort.
  • Look for high-quality food by going to a local farmer’s market – it will be organic, high-quality food, and you deepen your connection to the food chain by shaking hands with the person whose garden your meal originated.
  • Eat meals, and eat slowly. Americans spend less time at the dinner table than they did thirty years ago, and we’re also snacking more throughout the day. By following this new food culture, we’re consuming more food, eating past the point of satiety, and choosing the wrong foods. Not only are the majority of snacks processed, but we rarely choose to snack of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Michael Pollan's 3-Step Advice to Healthier, Wholesome Eating

Mostly plants.

When we look back in time, humans mostly ate the plants and fruits of their harvests – not the seeds themselves. But in the Western Diet, people are consuming more seed and grain-based versions of food than the actual plant matter. This is a big, biological problem notably for one reason: vitamin C.

Our ancestors could produce vitamin C, ascorbic acid, on their own. Many of our biological processes rely on adequate supplies of vitamin C, including cell metabolism and defending the body against free radicals and inflammation.

However, our ancestors received an abundance of ascorbic acid from their plant-based diets. Over time, we lost the ability to produce this necessary nutrient ourselves. That means, we much consume enough of it (75 – 90 mg. daily) through plants to help our bodies function best.

If nutritionist and scientists agree on anything about eating, it’s this. Eating plants is probably very good for your health. Pollan suggests eating a variety of different plants from organic, healthy soil. He also suggests we drink a glass of wine with dinner, so we like his advice.

In Conclusion

Of all the food and health advice out there, Michael Pollan’s 3-step ideology stands out.

No – he doesn’t offer you the typical health advice characteristic of today’s nutritionism. Take a B-complex multivitamin each day for better weight management! But this simple pathway to practicing a more wholesome food culture can stand the test of time.

Whatever diet you may already follow, or whichever food culture you practice, Pollan’s advice works with it. Unless, of course, you are like me and fall under the “Western diet” category. Then, it’s time we both connect with the roots of our food and environment to start living healthier, wholesome lives.

 

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