The latest edition of U.S. dietary guidelines (version 2015-2020) was recently released and the internet is now flooded with critiques. What appears to be a well-intentioned set of recommendations to improve the health of the nation is actually a politically-charged, policy-driven bureaucratic document. When you try to please everybody (ie. meat industry, processed foods makers, RD’s, MD’s, social workers, etc.), you end up pleasing nobody.
The federal government has a knack for creating a clusterf&!# every time it meddles in personal affairs. Which is why when it comes to nutrition advice, I look to the private sector for people who are genuinely good-willed, open-minded, and unbiased. Since health and wellness has become a blazing hot industry, it’s gotten harder to find authorities on the subject who are not in it to sell stuff.
One person who I respect and recommend you pay attention to isn’t even trained in the field of nutrition or medicine. Michael Pollan has spent the past 30 years writing about the intersection of nature and culture: food production, gardening, farming, and cooking. He is an accomplished journalist and a true academic who looks at the world through many different lenses and can convey the evidence in an easy fashion. This isn’t just my opinion. TIME Magazine named him one of the world’s top 100 Most Influential People in 2010 and Newsweek called him a top 10 “New Thought Leader” in 2009.
After all his investigative reporting and storytelling, Michael Pollan has simplified the subject of healthful eating by boiling it down to common sense:
EAT FOOD. MOSTLY PLANTS. NOT TOO MUCH.
I agree with Pollan 100%. But I decided to try and come up with 7-words to summarize my personal philosophy on healthy eating.
COOK YOUR OWN FOOD, DAILY, FROM SCRATCH.
I think it is important to talk about healthy eating in a way that emphasizes the how as much as the what you put in your mouth. Everyone wants to blame this is or that food (red meat, grains, sugar, etc.) for the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease in this country when the real problem is behavioral. People are stressed out and seek convenience (and bargains in the case of financial stress) to meet their basic needs.
Dining out at restaurants used to be a luxury, a once-a-week family splurge. As the nation became more affluent and food prices fell (thanks to industrial efficiencies and government policy), people started to take eating out for granted. By handing off food preparation to others; people unwittingly relinquished their most valuable possession, their health.
I believe that cooking is a fundamental necessity for a healthy, happy life.
Since Pollan presented his “manifesto” on making healthful choices in a book titled In Defense of Food , I am calling mine: IN DEFENSE OF COOKING.
COOK YOUR OWN FOOD
- Cooking is a way of nurturing yourself and your family. Even though you can’t measure it in a laboratory, home cooked food contains a unique health-promoting ingredient: love.
- Cooking burns more calories than sitting and watching TV or waiting for your meal to be prepared by a stranger or heated up in a microwave.
- You’ll also save money! Prepared foods cost more than cooking with raw ingredients.
COOK (OR EAT) AT LEAST ONE MEAL AT HOME DAILY
- If you don’t have time to cook during the week then carve out time on Saturday or Sunday to prepare food for the next 4 or 5 days.
- Make time in the morning to have a calm & relaxed breakfast. You absorb more nutrients when you sit down and enjoy your food. This is also a great time to review your to do list and set yourself up for a great day.
- If breakfast isn’t possible, then make it a priority to be home in time for dinner as often as you can.
- The goal is to eat in a relaxed and mindful state which promotes good digestion and helps you avoid overeating. Most restaurants are too noisy and the waitstaff and other diners too distracting to really focus on the act of eating.
COOK FROM SCRATCH
- Choose fresh, organic and local produce.
- Avoid processed products to reduce your exposure to artificial ingredients, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, etc.
- Be creative and have fun! There is nothing wrong with following a recipe but once you gain the confidence, come up with dishes that you can call your own.
- Mix things up! Don’t rely on the same vegetables, recipes or flavors all the time. Variety is the spice of life and better for you. Buy something unfamiliar at the farmers market or search the web and social media for inspiration.
I hope this post will inspire you to make a few tweaks to your daily rituals and ultimately enjoy some really good home cooked meals.