What is Avid Weekly Ideas?
Each week I publish an idea or two either from a book I am currently reading or from my backlog of book notes. 📚
Of course, this isn’t intended to replace book notes or reading the book itself. Instead the aim is to extract a key idea or two from a book that struck me as insightful and share-worthy. Then I package it into a bite-sized digestible chunk. I hope these little nuggets of insight will spark some inspiration or ideas in your own mind. 💡
Food vs. Foodlike Substances
Have you ever wondered “what should I eat to be healthy?”
Michael Pollan’s short answer to the “supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy” is seemingly simple:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.
Now that begs the questions of course: what is food?
Of course that seems an absurd suggestion. Of course we should eat food, what else is there to eat?
Many people think of the word food as anything edible. Well at least that’s how I always thought of it myself. So if you asked me, I would have considered just about every food item you could find in a supermarket to be food.
But one key idea from Michael Pollan is that it’s more nuanced than that. He distinguishes between food and foodlike substances.
Food vs. foodlike substances – The recommendation to “eat food” may be short but it is not as simple as it sounds. For awhile it used to be that food was all you could eat. But today there are thousands of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages elaborately festooned with health claims, which brings me to another, somewhat counterintuitive, piece of advice: If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Later in the book Pollan unpacks this concept in depth and gives readers a solid framework for distinguishing between the two.
Here are seven (non-exhaustive) of Pollan’s guiding principles for eating that will help you distinguish between food and foodlike substances:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce, or that include high-fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid food products that make health claims. For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be a processed than a whole food.
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. Since most supermarkets are laid out the same way: processed food products dominate the center aisles of the store while the cases of ostensibly fresh food – dairy, produce, meat, and fish – line the walls.
- Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. “You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmers’ market.”
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
- You are what you eat eats too. The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness of the food itself. This should be self-evident, yet it is a truth routinely overlooked by the industrial food chain in its quest to produce vast quantities of cheap animal protein.
TL;DR of key ideas
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
The concept of food vs. foodlike substances.
If you liked this week’s idea, please consider reading the entire book to get the full context and meaning.