A good friend sent me an email this morning and said, “I loved reading about your upbringing and your mum’s cooking, but what is real food?” It’s a great question. If you think real food means anything you can eat, vs. plastic play food, then think again.
I think that Michael Pollan, food activist and author of numerous books on the subject, does the best job of defining how to live a “real food” lifestyle with these words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
When he says, “eat food” he means eat real food – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish and meat. He also means avoiding what he calls “edible food-like substances,” just about anything that has been heavily processed, packaged, requires marketing and contains a list of ingredients that might baffle a scientist. It’s pretty simple really.
Pollan offers some guidelines:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
- Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
- It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
- Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
- Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.
If you have time to read just one book, I recommend Pollan’s “Food Rules” because it takes about 10 minutes from cover to cover and is really simple to digest. Let’s face it, who has the time or inclination to read scientific journals or other weighty tomes?
I will do my best to share what I have learned through my reading, working with nutritionists and integrative doctors, and living among real food producers, so you don’t have to do the legwork.