I just read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, and picked up on a few tips that intuitively make a lot of sense when it comes to eating healthy (but probably were not on the top of your mind). At the same time, these food tips should result in significant cost savings on your grocery bill. Pollan highlights 64 rules in his book. I’ve highlighted my 10 favorite cost and health saving tips, with additional commentary.
Processed Food Rules to Save Money and Health
“Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
If it’s highly processed and someone from the 1960’s wouldn’t recognize it – it’s manufactured by a corporation to add product to the shelf. It’s not good for you and it’s probably more expensive than the basic real foods. Pollan gives the hilarious example of your grandma picking up a case of GoGurt, and not knowing whether it is food or toothpaste. Sad, but true. If your ancestors wouldn’t recognize it as food, why should you?
Another related piece of advice, that just makes so much sense when you think about it:
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.”
Around the edges of a market you will find bread, cheese, milk, fruits, and vegetables. Most of the stuff in the middle is processed foods with a long shelf life – which leads to his next point:
“Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.”
Would you buy ammonium sulfate, calcium propionate, yellow #5 and put it in your pantry to add to your food at a later time? I wouldn’t either. So why would you let corporations do it for you? Companies add these products for marketing reasons or to extend shelf-life. Doing so typically results in a convenience value added cost over real foods or added cost for marketing purposes. And they never result in the healthier choice. Along the same lines, he gives this rule:
“Avoid Food Products that contain more than 5 ingredients.”
Here, Pollan isn’t condemning recipes with lots of ingredients, rather the food product itself, because it is almost always over-processed and not good for you (i.e. no margarine or butter product should rightfully contain 6 or more ingredients).
One of my favorite tips is:
“Avoid Food Products that you see advertised on television.”
Only the largest processed food producers with the biggest marketing budgets have money available to advertise. If you see it on TV, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Not to mention that those ad dollars need to come from somewhere – your pocket.
Quantity Cutting Food Rules that can Save you Money
Pollan is a big advocate of saving money by eating less. He cites how the French eat nothing but sugar and fat, yet they are thin and live longer than Americans. Why? Because they eat very small portions.
Here are a few rules to follow to help you eat less (and save money in the process).
“Buy smaller plates and glasses”
This can easily cut your food consumption by 30%.
“Eat when you are Hungry, not when you are Bored.”
How many of us are guilty of this one? I’m average weight, but have been gaining recently. I need to really pay attention to this rule.
“Do all of your Eating at a Table”.
Eating at a table forces you to slow down and enjoy the experience. It also makes it more of a social event, which is good for you and your family.
Two All Encompassing Food Tips to Live by
And if you follow no other advice in his book, here are two classic pieces of food advice:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
When Pollan says ‘eat food’, he is referring to eating ‘real’ food versus the processed stuff mentioned earlier.
And this great piece of advice from a Chinese proverb:
“Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, and other mammals).”
Reader Food Discussion:
- What food rules do you live by?
- How have you cut consumption successfully?
- What food rules have resulted in cost savings for you?
I like the Chinese advice. I heard Michael Pollan speak about our food system and it is really disturbing to learn how almost totally it is based on petroleum. Changing how we eat is one of the most powerful ways we can move the world off of depending on oil – namely buying local and organic, or even better, growing some of it yourself (without chemicals). That’s healthier, too, of course.
Ironically, right next to this post as I’m seeing it is an ad with a chocolate muffin topped by inches of pink frosting. Ah, well, we all have to eat, don’t we?
Those Living Social ads are everywhere – can’t stop the pink cupcake.
I am vegetarian which has improved my health immensely – there is a great series of cookbooks called “five ingredients or less” (though it should really be fewer, shouldn’t it?).
Those are some very good rules to live by. Also, you could consider making some of your own food. Homemade bread is super easy once you get the hang of it and really inexpensive to make. It also tastes WAY better than store-bought.
Thanks for the food tips. I like how you can attempt to accomplish saving money while eating better. Great post.