If you’re looking for a sane, sensible, understandable and uncomplicated approach to making healthful choices in food, this is the book for you.  Michael Pollan cuts through the tangled complications of dietary studies and counter-studies, claims and counter-claims and offers us 7 words of advice:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

If you aren’t ready to eat mostly plants, please don’t click Quit.  Perhaps after reading a bit more, you’d be willing to consider eating more plants.

“Nutrition science, which after all only got started less than two hundred years ago,” Pollan says, “is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650—very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate on you?  I think I’ll wait awhile.”

Here are the only two facts that he’s winnowed out from years of studying the fats/carbs feud, dietary supplement debates, fiber arguments, etc.:

Fact 1.  Populations that eat a Western diet—lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains—suffer from high rates of Western diseases:  obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Pollan observes, “What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization:  to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick.  (While it is true that we generally live longer than people used to, or than people in some traditional cultures do, most of our added years owe to gains in infant mortality and child health, not diet.)”

Fact 2.  Populations that eat a wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.  Though the diets range from seal blubber for the Inuit in Greenland to the high-carb diet of maize and beans for the Central American Indians and to the high protein diet of cattle blood, meat, and milk for the Masai tribesmen in Africa.

What this suggests is that there is no ideal human diet.  It also suggests that the human omnivore can adapt to wide ranges of food and to various diets—except the newest one, the Western diet that most of us in this country eat daily.

Pollan sees a third fact, a hopeful fact emerging from the above:  “People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health.  We have good research to suggest that the effects of the Western diet can be rolled back, and relatively quickly.  In one analysis, a typical American population that departed even modestly from the Western diet (and lifestyle) could reduce its chances of getting coronary heart disease by 80%, its chances of type 2 diabetes by 90 percent, and its chances of colon cancer by 70%.”

Despite a preponderance of irrefutable evidence supporting Pollan’s facts, they are neither the center of nutritional research nor of public dietary health campaigns.  Instead, research is focused on isolating the evil element in the Western diet.


So that processed food manufacturers can tweak their products, thereby leaving the diet essentially undisturbed.

So that pharmaceutical makers can develop and sell us an antidote for the evil element.

Why again?

Pollan explains.  “Well, there’s a lot of money in the Western diet.  The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes.  The health-care industry makes more money treating chronic diseases (which account for three quarters of the $2,000,000,000,000+ we spend each year on health care in this country) than preventing them.

“So we ignore the elephant in the room and focus instead on good and evil nutrients, the identities of which seem to change with every new study.

“But for the Nutritional Industrial Complex, this uncertainty is not necessarily a problem, because confusion, too, is good for business:  The nutrition experts become indispensible; the food manufacturers can reengineer their products (and health claims) to reflect the latest findings, and those of us in the media who follow these issues have a constant stream of new food and health stories to report.

“Everyone wins.

“Except, that is, for us eaters.”

Part II, The Rules, coming up.

For a comprehensive list of topics concerning the harmful effects of processed foods, go to

Pollan is the author of other fine books on the subject:  The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids, and In Defense of Food.  Much of what he’s distilled in Food Rules is covered in more detail in In Defense of Food, a book I strongly recommend.

To stay abreast of Lake County Battles Obesity, visit Ron Graham’s blog for the Lake County General Health District at   Visit often.  The life and limb you save may be your own.

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