"Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

These words begin an essay by Michael Pollan that examines the progression from food as a part of culture and life to food as science. After spending years researching the food industry and developing an understanding of how food companies develop and market products, Michael Pollan has come to a few conclusions. The common sense and simplicity of it can help anyone who is looking for an answer to that (now-difficult) question: What should I eat? Pollan attempts to tackle that question with "9 Principles of Healthy Eating".

According to Pollan, we have forgotten what food is and what it looks like. Much of what we eat comes boxed, shrink-wrapped or frozen. Stop thinking of most of the things in the grocery department as 'food' -- they are really products developed by companies and marketed to you. Food is found only in the produce, meat, fish and dairy departments. A basic rule is that if the item didn't exist in the 1800s, it probably isn't food. Food goes bad. Food spoils. You find food in the produce, meat and dairy departments Learn to grocery shop by staying in these areas only.

Avoid Health Claims

Any item that has a health claim on the package is being marketed to you. When foods are processed, many of the nutrients are removed from them. Food products that advertise added vitamins and minerals are often replacing natural nutrients that had to be removed during processing. The nutrients which are healthy for you seem to change almost every day. Some things are good for you, then bad for you, then good for you again. Avoid 'products' that make claims and stick to eating food. If you want extra vitamins, eat more vegetables.

Choose Food With Familiar Ingredients

Food labels have a tremendous amount of information. Don't be distracted by all the numbers. Look to the ingredient list. The shorter the better. If you don't know what something is on that ingredient list, put it back. Better yet, buy things without labels, such as produce, fish and meat.

Go to the Farmer's Market

Farmer's markets are a great place to find food. Almost everything sold there is fresh and local. Find a farmer's market near you and become a regular. The temptations of the supermarket aren't there and the food is more nutritious because it is freshly picked.

Pay More, Eat Less

Sure, organic fresh foods cost more. Food from the farmer's market often (but not always) costs more. But, buying healthy ingredients still costs less than eating out. It's worth it to pay a little extra to reap the benefits of fresher, healthier foods. When you are meeting your nutritional needs with these fresh foods, you will learn that you need to eat less overall and be less likely to buy expensive snacks. Your food bill will probably even out in the end and you will be healthier for it.

Eat Mostly Plants, Especially Leaves

Plants are good for us. Eating more plants brings health benefits. If we fill ourselves up on plants, then we eat less of unhealthy foods. Plants have antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Vegetarians have better heart health than meat eaters. Flexatarians (occasional meat eaters) have much better health statistics than meat eaters. The more vegetables you eat, the healthier you'll be.

Follow the French Example

The French live well and still live long. A large part of this is because they are eating food, not products. They are also not eating much. Those fabulously rich meals served in French restaurants in the US are atypical of the daily meal of the French (and still have less fat than the average fast food hamburger -- which would you rather have as your indulgence, coq au vin or a fast food burger?). Here are some principles of French eating that can help you:

  • small portions

  • no seconds

  • no snacks

  • eat with people

  • take pleasure in your food

  • Cook

    If you want to eat healthy, you're going to have to learn to cook. Cooking is a great way to get in touch with your nutritional needs. You will learn about how foods interact, how to create great tastes, and how to get more pleasure in your eating. Cooking is a fabulous pastime and could add years to your life. So buy food, mostly plants, and cook them.

    Choose a Variety of Foods

    The more variety you have in your diet, the greater chances of meeting all your nutritional needs. Try new vegetables. Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are all available from nature -- you just have to eat different things to attain a good balance.

    Source: Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine, 1/28/2007

    Why Your Brain Needs Fats

    All fats are not created equal. To function well, your brain needs a good supply of essential fatty acids. Since the body cannot produce these fatty acids, you need to get them from food. Researchers think that these fats not only help supply oxygen to the brain, but work to protect the membranes of brain cells, prevent damage that causes dementia, Alzheimer's and other illnesses.

    What Should I Eat

    In order to help your brain function best, increase you need to increase your intake of essential fatty acids known as omega-3. These fatty acids are found in fish oils, nuts, and seeds. The traditional diet of the Japanese, for example, is high in fish, which explains why the Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. You can get your fats from fish (wild salmon), nuts (walnuts), olive oil and seeds (flax seed).

    Source: M. Stibich, PhD. About.com

    How Do Fish Oils Help Longevity?

    Fish oils contain the essential fatty acid (EFA) omega-3. These fatty acids cannot be produced by the body, but are necessary for our bodies to function well, especially our brains. Get omega-3 by eating wild salmon 1-2 times per week or by taking a mercury-free supplement.