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Healthy Eating Advice from Michael Pollan

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2008

Guest Michael Pollan is a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkley, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and the author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," a book offering an eye-opening analysis of America's food consumption and its impact on our health and environment. Why does food need defending? Because most of what we are consuming today is not food and how we are consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV -- is not really eating.

Instead of food, we are consuming edible "foodlike substances" no longer a product of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue that they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western Diet, food has been replaced by nutrients and common sense by confusion. This is the American Paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

We can learn much about healthy consumption habits by looking at the way Italians eat: They usually have pasta as a first course followed by a meat dish. But their portions are smaller; they do not consume a big bowl of pasta like we do. In America, we go for quantity instead of quality. The French approach food differently, too. There was a study done where an American was shown a photo of a chocolate cake and associated it with guilt while the French saw it as a celebratory food. American nutritionists can't fathom how people who enjoy their food as much as the French do -- and who eat so many nutrients deemed toxic by nutritionists -- could have substantially lower rates of heart disease than we do on our elaborately engineered low-fat diets. The plain fact is that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food. We have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

So what can we do to eat healthier? It really comes down to seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Cook -- and if you can, grow a garden. The food industry wants to cook for you and shop for you; they want to do everything but digest for you and if they could figure out a way to do that profitably, they would. It's all about making money. They need to convince you that you can't do this stuff on your own. That gardening is hard; growing your own food is old-fashioned. Cooking is just so hard, they have to cook for you -- and that's obviously not true. We must take responsibility for our health.

Tips for Eating Smarter
1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or that include high-fructose corn syrup.

2. Avoid food products that make health claims. Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.

3. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle: Processed products dominate the center aisles. And get out of the supermarket whenever possible. Shop at a farmer's market. You won't find any processed foods there.

4. Eat well-grown food from healthy soils: Organic is important, but there are farms that are not certified organic that do an exceptional job of growing food.

5. Pay more, eat less: The American food system has devoted its energy to quantity, not quality. Better food costs more, so pay more and eat less in order to maximize your purchase.

Resources
Special thanks to Michael Pollan for sharing this wonderful information, along with his healthy recipe for Salmon Wrapped in Fig Leaves. To learn more about naturally nutritious foods, check out Michael's "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," which was given to our studio audience.