A Taste of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules

Michael Pollan Food Rules

Michael Pollan is making nutrition easy for us. By “us” I mean the average eaters—we who are still learning to decipher food labels, and who aren’t ashamed to down a bag of Cheetos every now and then.

Journalist-turned-nutrition vigilante, Pollan wrote two food manifestos before Food Rules: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Also involved in the documentary Food, Inc, Pollan is here to say WTF about our growing health problems and shrinking concern for nutrition.

Pollan wrote on Huffington Post that the American diet is hugely to blame for our health care crisis. He also said that having a healthy diet is much simpler than we’ve been led to believe. (There are those pesky marketing dollars again.)

I guess I was one of many duped into putting nutrition blinders on. I’ve been avoiding a full-on exam of my eating habits for years, fearing that it would lead me down a tunnel of complicated, waffling, paradoxical information. Maybe I was afraid, too, that I’d discover everything I know and love (to eat) is wrong.

As it turns out, there IS a simple path to healthy eating. Phew! There’s even a little room for error. Start with just a few of Pollan’s food rules and you’ll be on the path toward radical health improvements.

Here are some great rules from the book:

Rule 63: “Cook”

Pollan says “the decline in home cooking closely parallels the rise in obesity”—not because we flock to fast food places, but because most restaurant chefs go crazy with sugar, salt and unhealthy oils. (See: Why is Sugar So Bad for You?)

The only way to ensure a healthy meal is to make it yourself. But cooking takes so much time, you say? New York Times’ Jane Brody counters: “you can make up time spent at the stove with time saved not visiting doctors or shopping for new clothes to accommodate an expanding girth.”

Point taken.

Rule 60: “Treat treats as treats”

Food marketers want us to believe that we get pleasure from eating foods that are bad for us (the old “you deserve it” trick). Having one “cheat day” a week helps curb overindulgence.

Pollan has a more structured variation of the rule: “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets except on days that begin with the letter S.”

If you must snack (I must), have dried fruits, granola or a handful of nuts.

Rule 13: “Eat only foods that will eventually rot”

Sometimes things become such a staple in our diet that we forget they aren’t actually food (you’re familiar with this example). When we stop eating real, rot-able food, it seems that we—just like the major food manufacturers—only care about the bottom line. But in our case, it’s the wrong bottom line… we go for the cheapest, fastest food we can find, with little regard to how it lowers our quality of life, or how much time and money we’ll pay later to fix the damage.

A few more rules of thumb for finding real food: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t” and “shop the peripheries of the supermarket.”

Rule 48: “Consult your gut”

Pollan finds that we are visual eaters: we dish up according to the space we have to fill on the plate, not in our stomach. We also eat everything we’re given. That’s why dishes and portion sizes are getting bigger without protest from us. We’re being tricked into consuming more.

Today I stopped at a frozen yogurt place for a cup of frozen yogurt with fruit, but there were no cups—only 24-oz and 32-oz buckets. (A tricky way to get customers to take more, since they charge by weight!) I considered Pollan’s observation and put only a cup’s worth of yogurt and kiwis into my gigantic bowl.

When dishing out, Pollan says hunger, reason or hand size should be your guide: “eat when you’re hungry,” “stop before you’re full,” and “never eat a portion of animal protein bigger than your fist.”


Food Rulesrecaps what we’ve been saying all along: get closer to your food, enjoy fresh in-season produce, and eat for quality—not quantity. But Pollan adds many new angles, such as an argument for why large-scale agriculture is not after quality or healthfulness but economy and profitability.

In the end, Pollan shows us how to let common sense and gut intuition—not crafty ads and packaging—guide us to simpler, healthier food choices.

More good reads:

Chelsea Bush

About Chelsea Bush

Chelsea Bush is a writer on the Ask Fitness Coach team and has covered fitness, health and wellness topics for several magazines. Her favorite ways to get fit: cycling, resistance training and keeping up with her boxer, Greta. Follow her fitness tweets at twitter.com/chelseawriting