A Simple Guide How to Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants: In Defense of Food

Written by Scott July 12, 2009

In Defense of Food
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Pub. Date: April 2009, Penguin Group
ISBN- 9780143114963
297 Pages
Success Rating: 5
Buy In Defense of Food at AmazonWhy I Read this Book: Success starts with our body. This is the most simple, practical and applicable guide to conscious and healthy eating that I have come across. It is fit for any audience.

Topics Covered:

  • Nutrition and how we should eat
  • Organic vs. non-organic food and why the difference matters
  • Our nation’s health dilemma and what we can do about it
  • Eating locally and the difference it makes
  • Where our food is really coming from these days
  • Factory farming
  • The U.S. Food Industry and its impact on how we eat

Review:

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants… That is all Michael Pollan is trying to get the nation to do with this book. He is deeply concerned with the state of our nation’s health and this is him doing something about it—starting with education. In years of wellness and nutritional learning and the countless books I’ve read, I do not think I have ever come across something as succinct, simple and so right on as these three sentences (and the 300 or so pages that follow). And the brilliant thing about how he’s done it is that it’s written in a way that any reader of any knowledge/interest level could likely enjoy. It’s not chalked full of deep science and long words to the point of losing its audience like many other books on the topic. It’s just simply an eater’s manifesto—a practical guide as to how we should approach food. He has taken the topic of food and nutrition and made it into a gripping novel of sorts. Finally I have found a book on this topic that I am comfortable and excited to recommend to anyone…and believe me, I already have.

I can only imagine how much better off our nation would be if these ideas could be followed. Easier said than done, of course. In fact, the food industry in the U.S. has made it almost impossible to do these three seemingly simple things and has even made it difficult for us as consumers and eaters to know when and if we are following such guidelines.

A very good friend of mine whom I met when studying in Sevilla and see much too infrequently, lives in Minneapolis and works part time as a chef. One of his passions is food and health. Not too long ago he excitedly called to tell me that In Defense of Food was the best book he’d read on the subject of eating, consumption and nutrition in a while and maybe ever. Most of us have a pretty good idea of whose opinions to heavily weigh on various topics. His recommendation was all I needed. It had been on my list for months and then while walking through the airport to catch a flight to Peru with my fiancée, I saw it in the window and before we landed I had finished it. In fact I could hardly put it down.

Inspired would be an understatement. I was excited and eager! I wanted to spread the word to others and teach them all he had gotten across in the 300 pages where he eloquently manages to sum up those three short sentences. This should be required reading for anyone going into life for themselves (yes that means everyone). It takes all the nonsense of the fad diets, supplements, nutritional confusion, dietary recommendations, etc. and distills it down to some fundamental rules, which if lived by, will contribute towards not only a healthy and energetic body but also a similar environment.

The advice is simple:

1. Eat Food. As obvious as that sounds, it has become almost impossible to find foods that are not filled with preservatives and ingredients that we cannot even pronounce, let alone understand. So “Eat Food” means to stick to things made of real and natural foods, have few ingredients and ones that you understand. Few of us have actually made a habit of this.

2. Not Too Much. This one should not be a surprise. The more food we eat the more we end up weighing and being overweight leads to all kinds of health problems. In America, we assume that whatever is served to us on a plate is how much we are supposed to consume. Meals are magnitudes larger than they used to be yet we are the same size with the same nutritional needs. So why do we consume so much more? Because it’s easy and it’s cheap. Perhaps we should consider adopting the Japanese rule of thumb of eating until we’re 80% full. When was the last time you stopped eating before you were full at the least and bursting at the seams at best? That used to be most days for me. Countless studies and cultures prove that overeating is what causes so many of the issues we face. So don’t eat too much.

3. Mostly Plants. I love this. It’s so simple yet it says a ton. Those of you who are familiar with The pH Miracle, The China Study or any number of other deeply science and study based nutritional books, have heard this one before. The societies that have lived the longest and healthiest lives over the decades are ones that consumed very little if any animal protein or dairy and stuck mainly to fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. So in two words Michael’s telling us to just stick to the things that grow out of the ground and we should be well served. These two words pretty much cover the total recommended diet. If you’re eating mostly plants, it’s pretty difficult to be eating things that are not food and it is much less important how much you consume. If you do eat meat, treat it as a side dish. It’s possible that the worst thing about meat is that it pushes too many plants out of our diet. Either way, the plants make a difference. Amazing food for thought…

Key points to take away:

  • Eat organic and local when possible
  • Learn to enjoy and be present with preparing and consuming your meals with others
  • Avoid food with any more than 5 ingredients and any words difficult to pronounce or understand
  • Eat Food: stay away from preservatives and artificially produced foods
  • Not Too Much: stop eating before you are bursting at the seems–perhaps stop when you’re 80% full
  • Mostly Plants: stick mainly to veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. Treat meat as a side dish at best
  • Enjoy meals with others, stay present and take in the enjoyment of preparing your own naturally healthy meals

Michael goes on to explain how our country has gotten to a point of obsession about health to where we have lost track of what it really means to eat healthy and naturally and we are fat as a result. Maybe not you specifically, but certainly the nation as a whole. We spend more money on “health food” than any other nation and as a result we are more unhealthy and overweight than any other nation. I sense a paradox here.

He sites a number of studies, examples and reasons for why we don’t do these three things currently and why it is a matter of life or death that we make the switch to eating food, not too much and mostly plants. Here’s a scary one. Did you know that you need to eat 4 apples to get the same amount of nutrients as you could have gotten from one apple 50 years ago? The same goes for a slice of bread.

What I love more than anything about his advice and research is that the outcome is not some complicated diet or supplement plan. It does not involve counting every calorie and eating foreign “health foods”. It just involves getting back to the simplicity and enjoyment of preparing foods and eating them just as our grandparents and their parents have done.

As with anything in which we are deeply dedicated to regarding success, it’s easy to get carried away and let it run your life. On and off throughout my life this has always been something I’ve dealt with. The bottom line is, as you learn what should go into your body, don’t be crazy about it. You will likely never be able to always put in your body exactly what you should nor will you always feel like it. So work at finding a balance. I recently spent some time thinking through this for my own life and came up with a slight modification of Michael’s recommendation. Here’s mine: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. Most Of The Time.” Creating this has helped take some of the pressure off of myself and making it more realistic. Most importantly is to be educated and understand this stuff. Then apply it to your life in a way that’s enjoyable and empowering.

It’s fitting that In Defense of Food has found a spot on Reading for Your Success because in a lot of ways we are in this dilemma because Americans are so deadly focused on success (financial success) that we let everything else fall to the side. We spend half as much of our income as we used to on “food” (enter fast food), we spend much less time eating it and we are so busy with being successful that we turn to any shortcut we can to remedy our dying bodies–be it diet plans, health foods, surgery, you name it. We have such a tendency to over complicate things when the answers are often so simple. I did not necessarily say they’re easy. But simple, and worth it.

Many of us need to start by stopping. By slowing down and taking another look at what it means to be successful. You will all of course have your own definitions but I encourage you to make it a little more inclusive than money. Success covers your whole life, your body, what you can do with it and what it can do for others. If health somehow became our main criteria for success (as I believe it should be) I have a feeling books like this would hardly be necessary.

We need to slow down. Take some advice from the Italians, Spaniards or Greeks. Enjoy our food. Enjoy shopping for it, preparing it and eating it with the people we love. Be present with all that and find satisfaction in knowing where your meal came from, what it is doing for your body and how it will make you feel. Yes it may cost a little more and take a bit more time (stopping to enjoy and smell the roses often does) but when you really give it some thought, isn’t it worth it? Give it a try and you’ll be surprised at the enjoyment it brings. Happy eating and happy living.

What are your biggest health thoughts/questions/concerns? How much time do you spend preparing and enjoying your meals? What’s been your experience with trying to eat locally and more simply? Have you had trouble trying to slow down and enjoy? What have you learned to be most helpful in the quest for health? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Also, don’t forget to check out our new site feature: What Should I Read? If you are curious what to read next, just tell us your goals for success and where you are in life and we’ll tell you what you might want to read. We have read hundreds of books and are happy to help! In fact you can see a lot of the books we’ve read on Good Reads.

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~Reading for Your Success

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