Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised

by Carolyn Thomas

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” That is the supremely simple healthy eating advice from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan.

“Another piece of advice from my book is: don’t eat any food that comes with a health claim,” adds Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

“It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you’re worried about your health, that is not the healthy food. The healthy food is in the produce section. It’s sitting there very quietly, without budgets for marketing, without packages to print health claims on. ”

My favourite heart-smart advice from Pollan:

“Simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. The broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets. So the real food is not being advertised.”

In a 2007 New York Times Magazine essay called ‘Unhappy Meals’, Pollan wrote:

“A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat ‘food.’ Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible food-like substances in the supermarket.”

He adds that people who eat the way we do in North America suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (See also: Heart Smart Eating Advice from Uganda).

Four of our 10 leading killers in North America, in fact, are linked to diet. Pollan writes:

“We know that simply by moving to North America, people from other countries with low rates of these diseases of affluencewill quickly acquire them.”

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan

“Processed foods are products of food science. It’s the stuff in the middle of the supermarket, the products that don’t go bad for a year, deathless food, immortal food. You have to think: what does it mean to say a food has got a shelf life of six months or a year? It means it has been engineered to resist bacteria, pests of all kinds, fungi, mold. The insects, the bacteria – they’re not interested in the Twinkie™, because there’s nothing of nutritional value in it.”

Other Michael Pollan food advice: if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, then don’t eat it;  if it doesn’t spoil, don’t eat it; if the words ‘low-fat’, ‘low-calorie’ or even ‘heart’ are displayed on the labels, don’t buy it; and if it says that it’s healthy, it almost assuredly is not. Instead, he claims it’s just another way for the industry to sell new stuff  by jumping on the latest food fad.

This book takes up where his bestselling The Omnivore’s Dilemma left off, to broadly enthusiastic reviews. According to Publishers Weekly:

“As Pollan explains, ‘food’ in a society that is driven by a $32 billion dollar marketing machine is both a loaded term and a holy grail. His three-part essay refutes the authority of the ‘diet bullies’, while pointing up conflicts of interest among manufacturers of processed foods, marketers and nutritional scientists. A writer of great subtlety, Pollan doesn’t preach to the choir; in fact, rarely does he preach at all, preferring to lets the facts speak for themselves.”

Learn more about Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food.

See also:

What do you think?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  When I refer to any book title, as I often do when appropriate to a topic, it is simply my personal opinion and I am not paid or rewarded in any way for mentioning the book here.

7 thoughts on “Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised

  1. Pingback: Partner Post
  2. Pingback: From Wine to Fine
  3. To be fair, Quaker oatmeal says it is heart healthy. I’m still going to believe them. And I did see an advertisement for oranges. I still think they’re healthy too.

    But it is definitely true that the more mutilated a food has become, the more invested advertisers are in selling it to us at an obscene price.


    1. Hi Jenny – I doubt that Michael Pollan is referring to grocery store ads for produce specials this week; he seems more concerned about the heavily advertised products you see or read about in major media.

      Oatmeal does contain soluble fiber, which has been linked to reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol numbers; it’s also found in foods like kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes. Some cardiologists, like Dr. William Davis, for example, do NOT recommend oats at all, except for very small servings. This is because a bowl of oatmeal (especially if you buy the processed, sweetened, flavoured individual “just add boiling water” packets or even if you add dried fruit/brown sugar to homemade slow-cooked) can raise the body’s blood sugar, which in turn can damage the delicate insulin-producing beta cells of your pancreas (glucose toxicity). It also glycates proteins of your vascular walls. In fact, Dr. Davis suggests that the “blood glucose effects of oatmeal really don’t differ much from a large Snickers bar or bowl of jelly beans”.



  4. Pingback: Garry
  5. Pingback: tuijianke

Your opinion matters. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s