A Diet for the Plague Year (May 12, 2020)
As you almost certainly know, the “freshman 15” refers to the fifteen pounds that the average kid is said to gain during their first year in college. You know, because it's their first time away from home, all stressed out and no longer the beneficiary of mom's unmatchable microwaved Hot Pockets. But weight gain isn’t just for kids anymore. No way José! No -- now there’s the "covid 15", the fifteen pounds that we're all apparently loading on in our respective hideaways.
Just what America needs! More excess poundage! What glorious timing – particularly seeing that obesity is one of the key risk factors for a particularly nasty case of covid19!
So, this makes it a really good time to bring back Michael Pollan. His aphorism "eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is very well known and just as relevant as ever. It is a much more useful guide for choosing foods than the kind of nutritional analysis that goes baying after first one nutrient and then another. Focusing on food in general is easier and more beneficial than drilling down to the molecular level – if what you want is to generally improve your diet and thus your health.
Mr. Pollan gave a lecture to the CDC back a million years or so ago (in 2009) that elaborated on that guideline by offering seven rules for better eating. WebMD was nice enough to summarize them for me, I mean us, and I am reprinting them here.
1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Now, I’m pretty sure that my great grandmother wouldn’t recognize hummus as food. Or Vegemite either. Truthfully I’m not so sure about Vegemite myself. But, I get what he’s trying to say here, and it makes sense.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce. Again, I'm assuming that he’s saying “more than five ingredients listed on the label” and is not objecting to something like a chopped salad. Also, the second half of that sentence should be changed to something more like “ingredients with hyphens in their names”, because simple pronunciation – well, I’ve seen people struggle with “garbanzo”, “sriracha”, “cordyceps” and the like, none of which would get you in trouble other than in conversation.
3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad. I never realized that that is why supermarkets put their meat, dairy, deli, and fresh veggies against the walls. I always thought it had something to do with forcing me to walk through the cookie aisle.
4. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. I think he’s talking about this famous McDonald’s cheeseburger here
but he could be talking about anything encased in plastic wrap that they sell at Love’s truckstops.
5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. I imagine that’s why it’s suggested that you eat slowly, too; eat too fast, you can easily eat past the point of fullness. This one’s just habit and can be easily changed by paying a bit of attention, and someday I'm going to manage to do it.
6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. Enjoy meals with the people you love. Yeah, ok. But the cat doesn’t usually want to wait for me.
7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. Unless it’s from that little basket of fresh fruit that they usually have right in front of the week-old corndogs, I guess.
And in summary, we come back to the original guideline “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Very handy, and very helpful. Hope this helps.
--dr. diane holmes
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