The Sentence that Changed the Way I Thought About ‘Health’ Food

I am of the opinion that Americans want to be healthy but don’t know where to start.  There is a lot of information out there, some of it conflicting and confusing, most of it over complicated.  I guess I’m of that opinion because I was one of those Americans.  Until I got so fed up with my physical state, I decided I had to throw out everything I thought I knew and start over.

I tried and tried for years to figure out exactly what I was supposed to be eating to stay healthy, control my weight and just feel ‘good’.  But read any magazine article and you can quickly get overwhelmed.  There is always so much to remember!  Just use portion control.  Stay low fat.  Count calories.  Count carbs.  Count points.  Get enough protien.  Eat 5 times a day.  Drink 8 cups of water.  Seriously, who has time for ANY of that?  I hate math.

And I can’t begin to list all the foods that have been called healthy, and then not healthy, and then further downgraded to ‘probably cause cancer’ just in my life time – but does anyone remember the 90’s?  Those Snackwell’s Devil’s Food cookies?  My family bought boxes of those because they were low fat/low calorie and supposed to be better than regular cookies.  They were like sponge wrapped in chocolate scented glue.  What the hell were those even made of?  And margarine!  Everyone said eat margarine and never butter!  Turns out margarine (and vegetable oils) will probably kill you much faster!

When I first fully committed to paleo, I was trying to figure out what I could and shouldn’t eat.  I was throwing out a lot of foods from my kitchen and trying to understand what I should replace them with.  And then I read a sentence that was so short and simple, so logical that it was kinda scary.  That one sentence changed the way I thought about food permanently.

“There is a huge difference between food and edible, food-like products.”  

(Though I don’t remember where I read it, I’ll assume I can attribute the quote to Michael Pollan. Watch his short video at the bottom of this post!)

All of the questions I had were answered with that once sentence.  This idea divided food into two straight-forward categories.  Sure, liquid nacho cheese is edible, as is powdered cheese and zero calorie sweetener and twinkles and ramen and powdered ‘health’ supplements.  But what the hell are those things made of??  Those things are edible products.  They are not food.

Edible products have things like dyes and additives in them.  They come in packages that are brightly colored and full of advertising.  They contain ingredients that are hard to pronounce.  Many of them don’t grow mold or spoil.  Some of them are masquerading as “health food”.

If good health is your goal, learn to avoid edible products.  Ways to do this?

  1. Do not walk down 90% of the inner isles of your grocery store.  I can save you some time and tell you that most of the things on those shelves are not food.  Food is in the produce department and the meat counter.  Food is perishable.
  2. Read labels.  Not to add up all the nutritional numbers – just look at the ingredient list. Anything that is difficult to pronounce should concern you.  Put it down, walk away.  Also, food doesn’t need verbage on the box trying to convince you it’s healthy or a snappy ad campaign.  Most food doesn’t need labels.  An apple is an apple.  Beef is beef.  Cabbage is cabbage.  Seriously.
  3. Pay at the pump.  Don’t walk into your gas station thinking you’ll grab a snack.  There is nothing there for you.
  4. Understand that many restaurants are going to serve edible products because they are cheap and have a longer self-life.  (I’ve worked in the food industry – so take it from someone who knows.)  If you really want to eat out, research ahead of time to find restaurants that take serious pride in serving the freshest, highest quality food.  It might be more expensive than you are used to, but that just means that dinning out becomes a treat, not a convenience.  As it should be.  Convenience (usually) = edible products.

When I started doing this, I was shocked by how many things I thought were healthy but had lots of crazy ingredients.  Now, I don’t focus on what products claim to be healthy.  I just focus on eating food.  Occasionally, I slip and eat a product because I’m not perfect.  But then I end up remembering why I stopped eating those products very quickly.200_s  Food makes you feel good.  Edible products don’t.  Think of Will Ferrel, jumping into the bear pit in Anchor Man.

For more information on this concept, I highly encourage you to watch this short video by Michael Pollan.  It’s only 90 seconds long. As a professor and best selling author, Michael has a lot more to say about food, in particular the food American’s eat and why we are so confused about how to feed ourselves in a healthy way.  But even if you don’t want to read his books, watch the video and remember what he said.  It’s a simple concept that might totally change your life.


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