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Food Rules

Many of us, the older generation at least, grew up in families where mothers cooked and fathers didn’t, most everything was made from scratch, and butter was its own food group. Kitchens had a shelf with dog-eared cookbooks, but only a few recipes were really followed, the family favorites.

Today, when many women work outside the home, and within our popular culture of fast food and super-sizing, eating in healthy ways and keeping a healthy weight often feels frustrating and difficult. Each year, there are new diets and new philosophies about what and what not to eat. Barnes&Noble lists 639 diet books on their website, not counting diet-plus-nutrition or diet-plus-exercise books. What used to be simple and ordinary eating has become complicated, medicalized, and big business.

When a copy of Michael Pollan’s book, “Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual” fell into my hands, I felt I had found a personal and professional ally. Pollan’s book is easy to read and understand, and although it is backed by good science, it also makes good sense. Pollan asks three important questions: What should I eat? What kind of food should I eat? How should I eat? The short answers: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

Pollan provides a short, easy-to-use guide, clear and written with humor. “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food…Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry…or that a third-grader cannot pronounce.” He advises a NO vote on high-fructose corn syrup, food products with “lite,” low-fat, or non-fat in it’s name, anything advertised on TV, and diet soda, which has not been shown to help with weight loss. He also suggests shopping the periphery or edges of the store where cases of fresh produce and meat, fish, and dairy are kept, and spending less time in the center aisles with the mostly processed, and less healthy foods.

The book has more positive ideas than just what to avoid, and Pollan stresses the importance of eating food that we enjoy, especially if prepared in healthful ways. “Eat well-grown food from healthy soil…Eat animals that have themselves eaten well…Eat wild foods when you can…Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” Sit down at the table and enjoy your meals together. And “break the rules once in a while”—what matters is not the special occasion, but the everyday routine or practice of eating real food.

Martha Cole, Clinical/Community dietitian at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital is also a fan. “I know Michael Pollan’s book, I own it and I love it. He presents sound advice that applies to everyone, and in a way that everyone can understand, even those with specialized dietary needs.”

What you can do! Teach your children or grandchildren about whole, fresh foods. Visit the Magic Food Bus for free, fresh produce. Cook with your family and try new recipes. Grow veggies in a garden, window box, or containers—all kids, and adults, love picking peas and beans off the plant and eating them raw. Buy your snacks in the produce section or at the farmers’ market if you can. Volunteer at your local school’s greenhouse and garden program. Visit a local farm. Make positive eating changes slowly, over time, so that they “stick” and become part of your long-term plan for health.

Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner and Chair of the HP Advisory Board.


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