Let’s face it, there is no single diet that is best for everybody. If there was, then there probably wouldn’t be a diet showroom on the internet — they’d all be obsolete. Granted, you probably know this already — but please bear with me for a second.
Most diets are effective at one specific thing. Take the ketogenic diet, for example, which involves the consumption of very low amounts of carbohydrates. This diet specifically targets the activation of ketogenesis, which is intended at increasing fat burn. In a similar sense, the low fat diet — though not very effective — is aimed at weight loss. The famous gluten-free diet is a prophylactic diet formulated for people with Celiac disease.
Unfortunately, one aspect of every diet that is often overlooked is sustainability. A diet does not only have to be effective at what it is intended of achieving, but it has to also be doable and durable. One of the biggest problems with the ketogenic diet is low compliance, which makes sense considering the diet’s strict requirements.
Most of us have only just started to realise how the same concept applies for energy harnessing infrastructures, which explains the growing trend of utilising renewable energy sources like solar panels and geothermal power plants to provide energy for our households. Just like our analogues in the engineering department, effectiveness and sustainability need to work hand-in-hand in order for any diet to be useful.
Enter Michael Pollan. Having spent a majority of his life writing books and articles about the unique dynamics of culture and nature, Pollan took the concept of effectiveness and sustainability into account and came up with a rule that is simple yet extremely powerful.
“Eat food, not so much, mostly plants”
The rule is only seven words long, but it encompasses all the fundamental aspects of any dietary routine that’s worth following. This rule, as I have observed and experienced myself, is a potent yet practical mantra that you can bring to any household, any family, from whichever country. It’s a universal rule.
Whereas most modern diets bears a lopsided focus on effectiveness, this one gives sustainability its fair share of voice — and that’s its main appeal. It does not particularly tell you to remove hotdogs or cake from your plate, nor does it force you to double down on kale and chia seeds.
It leaves breathing room to indulge in the occasional pizza or burger or ice cream, completely guilt-free. Moderation is key when it comes to diet, and while some of you may despise the notion of eating vegetables, there is not one scientific evidence that has been successful in besmirching its good name.
If you carefully peel the outer layer of this 7-word super rule though, you will observe that there is actually much more to it than meets the eye. By “Eat food”, Michael Pollan actually means “Eat real food”, not something that comes processed, in a can, or from a factory.
“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”, jokes Pollan during an interview with CDC. As menial as this advice may sound like, it serves as a powerful reminder for the fair few of us still guilty of this unhealthy hobby.
“Not so much” reminds us not to eat excessively. Pollan advices to always leave the dining table slightly hungry, and there is some scientific evidence to it. It takes time for your stomach to digest your food and then relay the information to your brain. By the time you feel full, you’re actually still waiting for another batch of food to be digested and absorbed, potentially leaving you a bit too full.
Michael Pollan also reveres the virtues of a plant-based diet, which is reflected in the third part of his advice. “Mostly plants” emphasises that while a plant-only diet may be beneficial in some way, it is not suited for everybody. At the same time, it is impossible to deny the health benefits of consuming fruits, vegetables, and grains, so those should be prioritised in every meal.
In his CDC interview, Michael Pollan actually delves deeper and expands his arguments about healthy eating exercises. He adds another 7 practical rules to add to the 7-word holy grail, a couple of which I have imparted with this article. If you’re curious, you can read the rest here.
Whenever you find yourself in crossroads for dinner options, or if someone comes knocking on your doors and asks for dietary advice, remember Pollan’s 7 golden words: Eat food, not so much, mostly plants.