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Much of what lines supermarket aisles is not food. It's merely foodlike, and it's making us sick.
We all know about the U.S. epidemic of obesity and diabetes over the past 25 years, on top of the steady rise of chronic diseases over the past hundred. Paradoxically, this happens just as Americans and the food industry are ever more aware of nutrition. What's going on here?
I have a bunch of rules to help you find the actual food. One is, "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." That's kind of an algorithm. Carry her with you in your imagination as you're rolling down the aisles of the supermarket. Would she know what to do with portable yogurt tubes? Would she recognize the ingredients in it? And the answer is no, she wouldn't. That's not really food. Yogurt is a very simple, wonderful food. It's milk in a bacterial culture. So what are those other 15 ingredients doing there?
Another rule: "Shop the perimeter of the supermarket." That's where you'll find the foods that have been least fiddled with: fresh produce, meat, fish, dairy products. What's really going to get you in trouble with added fat, sugar and salt, is the stuff with the long shelf life.
You'll be even better off if you leave the supermarket entirely and do your shopping in a farmer's market. That's food your great grandmother would recognize. There might be some exotic vegetables, but basically she knows what that stuff is, and she knows what to do with it.
The amount we're eating is a big part of our problem, especially because we're so sedentary. It's not enough to tell people to eat less. I try to find other cultures and cultural rules that would govern appetite. The Japanese in Okinawa, and this is true of the Chinese too, have a cultural rule that you eat until you're four-fifths full. How do you know when you're 80 percent full? Well, if you just stop before you're completely full, that would be huge progress.
Especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what's so good about plants, but they do agree that they're probably really good for you. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you'll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods -- except seeds -- are typically less "energy dense" than other things you might eat.