Diet & Nutrition

The Pollan policy


Clipboard in hand, the slim, young assistant walks into the waiting room of the well-known diabetes centre. She sits next to the portly, middle-aged man and talks to him softly. Increasingly, the man looks uncomfortable, but she's relentless in her questioning. Finally, she stops, hands over a file, and says, “This is your diet, sir. Please follow it.” She walks away. The man drops his head, cringing.

After surviving for millennia, we now need advice on something as basic as eating. We take this from young interns, doctors, nutritionists, health officials, the media and food wrappers.

Nutrition scientists and manufacturers have filled our heads with a dictionary of words relating to food: free radicals, anti-oxidants, folic acid, lipids, transfat, gluten and probiotics. Bewildering. Our stores sell foods we didn't know existed, our restaurants specialise in cuisines from half the world away. TV commercials have got into the game leaving us with questions: Do breakfast cereals and beverages boost memory? Are there “good”, “bad” fats/carbs/proteins?

Information overload

Out of this information overload surrounding the what-to-eat question, food journalist Michael Pollan serves a simple formula for eating healthy. In his third book “Food Rules — An Eater's Manual”, he condenses his food and nutrition research into three short, sensible rules. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. The book covers 64 food principles into a thin volume. It attacks what we eat before leading us to what we should.

These rules are not new. We've known them since Ayurveda was written. Pollan quotes it. His words appeal because they are direct and easy to digest. This is what he says. Eating healthy is about eating “real food” as opposed to eating what he calls “edible food-like substances” and “industrial novelties”.

First, avoid packaged foods. These have to stay on the shelf for long, so they have to be without ingredients attractive to bacteria, fungi and insects — which means they have no real ingredients. All those chemical names on the label, what do we know about them? Claims like “low cholesterol”, “less sugar”, “reduced sodium”, are vague and exaggerated. Our ancients who didn't have the choice of ready-to-eat, plastic covered food suffered much less from obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart diseases and cancer and certainly not at such a young age. So “if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.”

Build your diet around whole foods — whole-grain atta, handpound chivda and rice. Make your plate colourful with papaya, carrot, pumpkin, cabbage and greens to keep off ailments. Follow the Chinese proverb: Eating what stands on one leg (plants) is better than what stands on two legs (fowl) which is better than what stands on four legs. Of course, take in the legless fish. Buy vegetables at wayside markets.

Fermented food — idli, dosa, curd and buttermilk — is good. If you've switched to breakfast cereals avoid those that change the colour of milk. They have chemical additives. Junk food is fine for variety, but make them yourself. That way, you know what goes into the fries, patties, cakes and cookies. Home cooking need not be time-consuming. It saves the time spent shopping, visiting doctors.

Find sweet foods in Nature — seasonal fruits will do very well. The food is ready. Consume small portions. At a buffet, fill your plate but don't go for a second helping. At home, use smaller plates and bowls. Get up when you are about 75 per cent full. Ayurveda recommends it. So do many cultures. Eat s-l-o-w-l-y. The brain will tell you when you're satisfied and your craving will decrease. Eat in a group. This slows down eating. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper.”

Fibre-rich foods

Three fibre-rich, satisfying meals are all you need. Add fried stuff to these. If you have to snack, choose fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and nuts. Eat at the table. Not at the work desk, in bed, on the sofa or in the car. Not while watching TV or driving. Distracted eating means eating more.

If there's authentic organic food, go for it. Protect yourself from chemicals. Sin foods are fine for special occasions. Icecream once a week, gulab jamun once a month. Or follow Pollan's S policy: “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets — except on days that begin with the letter S.”

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 5:43:32 AM |

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