The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead
This blunt bit of grandmotherly advice is a reminder of the health risks of white flour. People who eat lots of whole grains tend to be healthier and live longer.
Avoid foods grandma wouldn’t recognize
There are now thousands of food products in the supermarket that our ancestors wouldn’t recognize. They are processed in ways designed to get us to buy and eat more by pushing our evolutionary buttons (such as our inborn preferences for sweetness, fat and salt).
If it came from a plant, eat it; If it was made in a plant, Don’t
It makes sense.
Don’t eat cereals that change the color of milk
Such cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates and chemical additives.
Eat your colors
The colors of the many vegetables on your plate reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they contain. Many of these chemicals help protect against chronic diseases but each in a slightly different way, so the best protection comes from a diet containing as many different phytochemicals as possible.
Eat when you’re hungry, not bored
We eat out of boredom, entertainment, to comfort or reward ourselves. One old wives’ test: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry at all.
Eat slowly enough to savor your food: you’ll need less of it to feel satisfied. One strategy: "Put your fork down between bites."
Drink the veggie water
The water in which vegetables are cooked is rich in vitamins. Save it for use in soups or add it to sauces.
Avoid long lists of ingredients
The more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it is. (A long list of ingredients in a recipe is not the same thing; that’s fine.)
Avoid ingredients you don’t recognize
Enhoxylated diglycerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum? Calcium propionate? Ammonium sulphate? If you wouldn’t cook with these additives, why let others use these ingredients to cook for you? The food scientists’ chemistry set is designed to extend shelf life and make old food look fresher and more appetizing than it really is. Whether or not any of these additives pose a proven hazard to your health, many of them haven’t been eaten by humans for very long, so they are best avoided.
Avoid food labeled ‘low-fat’
Removing fat from foods doesn’t necessarily make them non-fattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat and many low-fat and non-fat foods are more sugary to make up for the loss of flavor. You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on "light" food products packed with sugars and salt.
Shop at the edges of a supermarket
Most stores are laid out the same way: Processed foods dominate the centre aisles while fresh foods — meat, fish and dairy — line the walls. The more processed a food, the longer the shelf life and the less nutritious it is. Real food is alive — and, therefore, should eventually die. (One of the few exceptions is honey, which has a shelf life measured in centuries.)
Only eat food cooked by humans
In general, mass-produced food is cooked with too much salt, fat and sugar, along with preservatives, colorings and other biological novelties.
Eat like the French, The Japanese, The Italians or the Greeks
People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those who eat a modern Western diet of processed foods. Pay close attention to how a culture eats and what it eats — small portions eaten at leisurely communal meals; and no second helpings.
It’s not food if it has the same name in all languages
Think Pringles or Big Mac.
Include some pre-digested food
Eat foods that have been pre-digested by bacteria or fungi, such as yoghurt or soya sauce.
Buy smaller plates and glasses
The bigger the portion, the more we will eat. Supermarkets supersize portions to get us to buy more. But we don’t have to do this at home. One researcher found that just switching from a 12-inch to a 10-inch dinner plate caused people to reduce their consumption by 22 per cent. Food sold at petrol stations (except perhaps for the milk and water) is all highly processed — imperishable snack foods and extravagantly sweetened drinks.
Try not to eat on your own
When we eat alone, we eat more. The shared meal elevates eating from a biological process of fuelling the body to a ritual of family and community.
Treat treats as treats
There’s nothing wrong with special-occasion foods, as long as every day is not a special occasion. Chips, pastries and ice-cream offer some of the great pleasures of life, so we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of them but the sense of occasion needs to be restored. One way is to start making these foods yourself; you won’t go to that much trouble every day. Another is to limit your consumption to weekends or social occasions. Some people follow a so-called "S policy": "No snacks, no seconds, no sweets — except on days that begin with the letter S."
Finally, break the rules once in a while
Obsessing over food rules is bad for your happiness and probably for your health too. There will be special occasions when you will want to throw these rules out of the window. All will not be lost. What matters is not the special occasion but the everyday practice — the default habits that govern your eating on a typical day. "All things in moderation": It is often said but we should never forget the wise addendum, sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde: "Including moderation."
Don’t overlook oily fish
Mackerel, sardines and anchovies are good choices. According to a Dutch proverb: "A land with lots of herring can get along with a few doctors."
Stop eating before you are full
We think it is normal to eat until you are full but many cultures specifically advise stopping well before that point is reached. The Japanese say you should stop eating when you are 80 per cent full while the Chinese specify 70 per cent. Thus the traditional advice: "Leave the table just a little bit hungry."
Adapted from Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan.