Sunday, June 17, 2012

Part 3: The Full Diet Switch

It’s funny what happens when you make a small change in your life. It often leads to many more changes you never really planned on.

After committing to our once-per-week meatless dinner and humanely raised meat (see Part 2: How I Made the Switch), our farmer told us about several resources to further our learning about humane farming. One of those resources was New York Times Best Seller author Michael Pollan.

I devoured (no pun intended) his books. From learning about where our food comes from and how our bodies process that food in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, to getting some easy eating guidelines in Food Rules, to turning my concept of nutrition on its head in In Defense of Food (my personal favorite), I got seriously schooled on the real story about food. And all of that schooling helped me start to change my purchases at the grocery store.

A 2009 article from WebMD, “7 Rules for Eating,” highlights some of the major things I started looking for while shopping for groceries and are the same things I consider when I shop today:

Pollan says everything he's learned about food and health can be summed up in seven words: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Probably the first two words are most important. "Eat food" means to eat real food -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat -- and to avoid what Pollan calls "edible food-like substances."
Here's how:

1.       Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says.
2.       Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
3.       Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
4.        Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
5.       It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"
6.       Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.
7.       Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

Nearly four years after heeding the wise words of Michael Pollan, I’ve made huge progress in shifting our eating. We eat less meat than we ever have (usually just a few times per week) and we go through several pounds of fruits and veggies each week. We've also switched to organic cage free eggs and organic milk.

But even after all this time and a near compulsion for reading labels, I’m still learning. Just a month or so ago, I finally read the label on some pre-shredded mozzarella cheese I bought and found a laundry list of ingredients including crazy things like corn starch. I quickly switched to a ball of mozzarella, which had just four completely normal ingredients and was only slightly more expensive. Organic products also have slowly taken over our pantry and refrigerator, not because they’re organic but because they simply don’t have all the garbage found in non-organic products.

Here are the top items I’ve switched:

1.       Ice cream – after being horrified that the “natural” Breyers and Dreyers ice creams had about 30 ingredients, this item was banished from our house. That is, until my MIL told me about Kirkland’s Vanilla Ice Cream at Costco. Just a few ingredients, nothing weird.
2.       Sour cream – also a MIL recommendation. Daisy is all I buy as it has just one ingredient: cream. Compare to any other brand and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
3.       Beans – kidney beans, black beans, whatever. I buy organic for just 20 cents more per can and save myself all the corn syrup and other nasty stuff found in non-organic beans.
4.       Cereal – it’s organic/all natural or nothing at our house. I recommend Nature’s Path or, for a budget option, Mom’s Naturals.
5.       Bread – I have yet to find a brand without 20+ ingredients and five different words for sugar, so we rarely eat it. When we do, it’s Trader Joes Organic 100% Whole Grain or some variation.
6.       Soup – we don’t do much canned soup, but when we do it’s always organic and always Amy's Organic. Otherwise, you’re just eating corn syrup.
7.       Cheese – see my comments about mozzarella.
8.       Peanut butter – there should only be two ingredients: peanuts and salt. If there are more, run.
9.       Salad dressing – we stick with Annie’s, 365 brand from Whole Foods, and random all-natural brands from the grocery store. I’m learning to make my own dressing to avoid altogether.
10.   Condiments – salsa, mayo, mustard, ketchup. All have been switched to Trader Joe’s or other all-natural brands. 

Additional Resources:

For the full WebMD article with Michael Pollan, visit:

For more info about Michael Pollan or to read his articles and book reviews, visit:

My mother-in-law. She knows a few things after dealing with my allergic-to-literally-everything father-in-law.
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