Lately everybody’s been raving about simplifying our approach to nutrition. It’s the premise of Food Rules, Michael Pollan’s nutrition guide I just reviewed. It’s also the motto of fitness guru Harley Pasternak, creator of The 5-Factor Diet.
But really, if eating simply were so simple, wouldn’t we be doing it already?
Why It’s Hard to Choose Less
Americans aren’t minimalists. We strive for abundance and revel in our power as consumers to choose. Oh, and we don’t like to make too many trips. To satisfy our love of options, our choices grow and conglomerate into bigger and bigger supermarkets.
Not really conducive to paring down.
Lengthening lists of ambiguous ingredients don’t help, either.
Is maximalism really more efficient? Does it improve our quality of life?
Research says no.
It Pays to Declutter
Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, has found that although we like options, too many often leads to paralysis or bad choices. Says Sheena, “The buffet is appealing—even if the food is worse and you put stuff on your plate you don’t want.”
Sheena conducted an experiment in a grocery store. She set up a booth offering samples of jam, first presenting 24 flavors, and later just 6 flavors. While more people were drawn in by the larger array of jams, only 3% of samplers chose a jam.
Of those who stopped to sample from the 6-flavor selection, 30% bought jam.
Her conclusion: there are costs to having too many options. Too many food choices stress us out and we often pick the wrong thing or give up.
Closing your eyes and pointing is not the best way to make food decisions at the supermarket. Or in a restaurant. Or standing in front of the fridge.
Less (Than 10) is More
Sheena reports that 5-9 choices is the magic range. When we choose from within this scope, we “feel most confident and are more likely to make a choice and be happier about it.”
Applying her discovery to eating, if we can retrain ourselves to narrow the scope of our food options we’ll be happier. And, if we eat food with fewer (junky) ingredients, we’ll be healthier.
With fewer choices and simpler practices, we are free to spend more time tasting our food, learning the facts and listening to our bodies. Think of how easy it will be to put together the perfect nutrition plan!
If you get overwhelmed trying to decode your nutrition picture (what should I cut out? how many ingredients is too many?), take a pause and just enjoy your meal. That’s part of eating simply.
Food, naturally grown and cared for, really is awe-inspiring (and mouth-watering).
Another reason the farmer’s market, not the supermarket, is the place to be on Saturday mornings!
How about you: food minimalist or maximalist?
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