What should I eat?

The question is complex, but the answer is clear-cut: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That’s the message from Food Rules, a new, pocket-sized handbook written by Michael Pollan, a journalist and college professor on a mission to foster healthy eating habits.

Sixty-four simple guidelines, or rules, divided among three categories – What should I eat? (Eat food), What kind of food should I eat? (Mostly plants) and How should I eat? (Not too much) – take the guess work out of how to choose foods that are healthy from the overwhelming number of choices that are not.

Rules like “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” (Rule #2), “It isn’t food if it arrived through the window of your car” (#20) and “Buy smaller plates and glasses” (#52), steer eaters toward choices and portions that are naturally low in calories, cholesterol, salt, sugar and additives.

This aids in the prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, all of the health problems associated with Western diets’ “processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains,” Pollan writes.

More and more foods are being replaced with “edible foodlike substances” loaded with ethoxylated diglycerides and other unpronounceable ingredients, Pollan explains. Serving no nutritional purpose, these laboratory concoctions simply extend shelf life, make old food look fresher and entice people to eat more of things they should avoid. Thus, the rationale for Rule #15: “Eat only foods that will eventually rot,” and Rule #19: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

The manufacturing process that extracts natural ingredients is equally disastrous for people who are trying to make healthy food choices. Pollan writes that since the arrival of the low-fat fad in the 1970s, Americans have actually been consuming more than 500 additional calories per day. As a result, they are nearly 20 pounds heavier than they were 30 years ago. This is due to all the sugar, refined or otherwise, that manufacturers routinely add to make up for flavoring lost when natural fats are removed. It is also the explanation for Rule 9: ”Avoid food products with the wordoid ‘lite’ or the terms ’low-fat’ or ’nonfat’ in their names.”

Food Rules streamlines food choices. Keep it handy for grocery shopping, pantry planning and a healthy life made simple.