According to American author and activist Michael Pollan: don’t trust nutrition labels with more than five ingredients. Or if you can’t pronounce the ingredients. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much is the philosophy Michael Pollan lives by. This message is what Pollan has preached in the US. His books about healthy eating are number 1 best sellers.
According to Pollan, all those health claims only caused fear and confusion and they taught us not to make the right health decisions. The food industry is cleverly making use of that, by making those choices for us. By using logos saying ‘healthy’ and ‘0% fat’. But Pollan warns us, the moment you see a label on food, you have to be careful.
A few years ago, when Pollan was just as confused as we all are. He then decided to do thorough research about the simple question: what can I eat? He started research like how he used to do as a journalist from The New York Times, by doing investigation. Soon he discovered that scientists don’t know as much as we thought about the relation between food and health. Luckily, on some studies food experts do agree about. Pollan close this as: Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
We should eat less and therefore pay more, he thinks. We would all benefit from this, but also our environment and society.
10 Tips of clean eating
1. Eat real food
Real food is nutritious. A lot of food we buy from supermarkets are processed, most of natural nutrition are substitute with additives of lesser quality. For example to produce skimmed dairy it’s not enough by simply removing the fats. As a manufacturer you still need to take the effort to keep its creamy consistency with the help of additives.
In this case, it’s often done by adding powdered milk. But this ingredient has oxidized cholesterol, far worse than regular cholesterol. Besides by removing the fats of dairy, this makes it harder for your body to absorb the vitamins from these fats. Rule of thumb is, eat food which is (hardly) not processed.
2. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognise as food
Food is recognisable as food. This sounds easier than it is. Do you recognise the potato in your bag of chips? What about the fish in your fish fingers? Who is keen in searching real food, should imagine taking your grandmother to the supermarket with you. If you can look through her eyes one can make better and healthier choices.
Grandmothers, according to Pollan, eat real food. When bread was still being sold in brown paper bags, where soup was still made from scratch and not from a can. This sounds much like, ‘back in the days was everything better’. Maybe yes, maybe no, but fair to say is that we all should be more critical the way we look at food that comes from tubes, plastic bags and cans.
3. Avoid food with fructose-glucose syrup (HFCS = High Fructose Corn Syrup)
Not all additives are bad. A pinch of salt in your peanut butter or pine nuts in your pesto, are not harmful. But where do you need to pay attention? Learn to read nutrition labels on ingredients in order of importance (first 5 ingredients uses the most on nutrition labels) Once you know this and put in practise, a whole new world will open up for you. Unfortunately a lot of your favorite food contain fructose-glucose syrup as the first 5 ingredients. This is syrup made from corn, which is the cheapest sugar substitute out there, effects are worse than table sugar. Don’t get fooled by words as ‘real cane sugar’ or ‘sweetened with natural honey’. What does this mean? Sugar is sugar, it doesn’t matter in what type of form. All sugar substitutes don’t belong in a healthy wholesome diet. It’s advisable to minimise your intake of sugar on a daily base.
4. Avoid food pretending to be healthy
Food with the most powerful commercial health claims are often based on incomplete and bad research, according to Pollan. One of the first food claiming to be healthy was – margarine – which eventually turns out being packed with harmful saturated fats. Food which proudly says have 0% fat, could have 90% sugar. No nutrition label is healthier than a product having a ‘healthy nutrition label’.
5. If it comes from a plant you can eat it. If it comes from a factory rather not
Most foods are processed in a way which makes us want to buy more – and eat more. We are born with a preference for sweet, salt and fat and food manufacturers are making use of this. Not only sugar, salt and fats are added to our food which in the first place don’t need those additives. Who critically read the nutrition label of a bag of chips, sees E621 – or Monosodium glutamate (ve-tsin or MSG), this is hydrolised protein or simply aroma. All names for the same flavor enhancers that messes up our hunger mechanism. This is the reason it’s hard to only eat 5 pieces of chips or krupuk. The flavor enhancers in chips and krupuk give your brains the signal: eat this bag as fast as possible.
6. Don’t eat food that doesn’t rot
Food eventually rots, because fungus, bacteria and insects recognise food. The purpose of processing food is increasing shelf life and keep insects away as long as possible. The more it’s processed, the less nutritious. Real food lives, and what is alive will die, it get’s rotten. Not everything get’s rotten. Take honey for example, in unprocessed form it’s still had and endless durability. But food you can store for years can only be processed.
7. Eat mostly plants and as much as possible leafy greens
Although many nutritionist has different opinions if it comes to healthy food, on one thing they all agree. It’s good to eat vegetables. Vegetables is an important source of vitamin C. Who eats lots of vegetables and fruits lives longer and doesn’t get sick easily. From all the plants, Pollan believes leafy greens are the healthiest option. But in essence it’s all plants growing on trees, bushes and have roots in the earth, living from water and sunlight.
8. Pay more. Eat less.
It was easier to say ‘eat organic’ says Pollan. But he isn’t. There are farmers who harvest good quality food without meeting the requirements of being organic. Moreover the word ‘organic’ is not a magic word. Organic lemonade is still lemonade and not healthy per definition.
What is healthy grows on a rich soil. Not food traveling from the other side of the world before reaching your plate. Fresh food of high quality delivers the highest nutrition. That’s why you need less. Quality comes with a price. Therefore: pay more, eat less.
9. Avoid foods that contain more than 5 ingredients
If there’s one rule you need to remember, follow this one: don’t eat food with more than 5 ingredients. The more ingredients, the unfamiliar the names, the more processed the food is. On your instant soup sachet are a whopping 27 ingredients, including glucose syrup, dextrose and E621 (MSG) All in that little sachet. Don’t buy it, reads Pollan’s advise. Luckily the last rule of his book says: cheat once a while. For who wants to stay sane, this might be the best rule to remember 🙂