Seven Words to Nutritional Success
There is no one diet that will optimize the health of every individual; we are genetically different, metabolize macronutrients differently and have different nutritional needs. That being said, most of what I know and recommend is best summed up in Michael Pollan's seven-word prescription: “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.”
Eat food. Implicit in this recommendation is that we eat real food, not what Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances.” Real food is minimally proce
ssed and includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and certain animal products. The fewer ingredients on the label, the more “real” it is. And if your food doesn’t have an ingredient list (like a bell pepper), even better. Naturally occurring foods are loaded with fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that promote good digestive health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Conversely, heavily processed foods increase our blood sugar levels, stimulate the release of insulin and turn on the storage of sugar and fat in our cells, all of which can cause chronic illnesses.
Not too much. While the type of food we consume does matter, body composition (the ratio of fat to non-fat mass) is heavily impacted by the number of calories consumed versus calories expended. The hunger/satiety scale from the last newsletter is a good place to start for moderating consumption.
Mostly plants. Eating a moderate amount of lean animal protein offers macro- and micro-nutrients (e.g., vitamin B12) that promote overall health and weight maintenance. But not all animal products should be treated the same. Specifically, red meat and processed meats (e.g., sausage, bacon) have been linked to heart disease and diabetes because of the toxins released during processing. This is not a push by me to go vegan; while Pollan argues for a majority of plant-based foods, even reducing your animal protein intake by just 3% can have a meaningful impact on your longevity.
So there you have it, an oversimplified but scientifically-backed prescription for how to think about your diet.
Michael Pollan is a best-selling author, journalist and activist. His books include The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Additional resources for this article include The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Jason Fung, MD and various articles from Harvard Health Publication.