Eat. Real. Food.

It’s hard to peg exactly where my journey toward a healthier diet really began, but I do know that early on I was influenced by two prominent food writers: Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.

Reading their books is a great place to start if you are looking to learn about food, agriculture and nutrition.

Michael Pollan has contributed so much to the better food movement, but one of his biggest contributions is the coining of the term “edible food-like substances.”

This term is important in understanding what is undeniably his most important contribution, seven simple words that are quoted time and time again:

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

It’s crazy how good these seven words are. It’s crazy that you could find a healthy lifestyle just by following seven words. No arm-waving, no diet debates, just three short sentences.

But this post is about the first part. “Eat Food.”

Pollan defines things we eat into two categories: “Food,” and “Edible Food-Like Substances.”

“Food” is natural whole products, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. (Whole animal products make the cut in his definition, however as we’ll explore in future posts and videos, I question how food-like these items actually are).

“Edible Food-Like Substances” are things you can eat, that deliver calories to the body, but provide little else in terms of nutrients.

Mark Bittman helps to define this concept further. He consults his dictionary, which defines food as “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink […] in order to maintain life and growth.” Note that “nutritious” is key to the definition of food. Nutritious food “provides those substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.”

By this definition, these are not food:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Chips and Crackers
  • Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Donuts, Ice Cream
  • Boxed Sugar-Sweetened Cereal
  • Granola Bars
  • Protein Bars and powders
  • Processed Meats and Cheeses
  • Oils

All of those items deliver mostly empty calories with little nutrients. Most of whatever nutrients these edible food-like substances do contain were added by food scientists.

But the science seems pretty clear that nutrients cannot be isolated from their whole and still confer the same benefit. For example, studies on carrots find great benefits. Studies on beta-carotene pills find no benefit, and may in fact be harmful.

What Happened..?

Over the last 40-50 years we have switched to a diet where the bulk of our calories are provided not by farmers but by food scientists. We now balk at people who eat whole fruits and vegetables. We label them as “health freaks,” and those who eat out of bags, boxes, and drive-thru windows are “normal.”

There is something wrong with this picture. Why is eating FOOD weird but eating processed junk normal? It is time to change that.

When first working with a new client, the single most important change I start with is eating more real food in place of fake foods, or “edible food-like substances.” If you are reading this, what are some “edible food-like substances” in your regular routine you could cut out?

Trust me we all have them. I still get suckered in by a Clif Bar or couple slices of Tofurky here and there. They make vegan junk food. No one is safe…

Stop eating junk. Eat. Real. Food.

More on this in this week’s video, out Thursday!