food rules book summary

Book Summary: Food Rules by Michael Pollan

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of Food Rules, you’ll learn that while we assume eating is hard, it doesn’t have to be. We get health advice from conflicting places and there are too many elaborate diets, but Food Rules is all about simplicity. Food Rules is a concise manual with memorable rules for eating food.

Food Rules Summary


Eating is excessively complicated, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Doctors, nutritionists, and the government are all trying to tell us what to eat and what not to eat. This makes things even more complicated than they have to be.

There are two things you must know about diet and health:

  1. The Western diet (the one that has processed food, meat, fat and sugar, refined grain, but not a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) leads to diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
  2. People who eat a variety of diets don’t suffer from these diseases. There’s no single diet that’s perfect for everyone, but the worst one is the Western diet.

So what should we eat? In the author’s previous book, he said: “Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.” This book is a much more practical take on what to eat and it features sixty-four rules to eat healthily.

Part 1: What Should I Eat? (Eat Food)

  1. Eat food
  2. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
  3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
  4. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup
  5. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener)  listed among the top three ingredients
  6. Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients
  7. Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce
  8. Avoid food products that make healthy claims
  9. Avoid products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names
  10. Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they’re not
  11. Avoid food you see advertised on television
  12. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
  13. Eat only foods that will eventually rot
  14. Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature
  15. Get out of the supermarket whenever you can
  16. Buy your snacks at the farmer’s market
  17. Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans
  18. Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap
  19. If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t
  20. It’s not food if it arrives through the window of your car
  21. It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language

Part II: What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly Plants)

  1. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
  2. Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food
  3. “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]”
  4. Eat your colors
  5. Drink the spinach water
  6. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
  7. If you have the space, buy a freezer
  8. Eat like an omnivore
  9. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil
  10. Eat wild foods when you can
  11. Don’t overlook the oily little fishes
  12. Eat some food that has been predigested by bacteria or fungi
  13. Sweeten and salt your food yourself
  14. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature
  15. Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk
  16. “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”
  17. Favor the kinds of oils and grains that have traditionally been stone-ground
  18. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself
  19. Be the kind of person who takes supplements – then skip the supplements
  20. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.
  21. Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism
  22. Have a glass of wine with dinner

Part III: How Should I Eat? (Not Too Much)

  1. Pay more, eat less
  2. …Eat less
  3. Stop eating before you’re full
  4. Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored
  5. Consult your gut
  6. Eat slowly
  7. The banquet is in the first bite
  8. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it
  9. Buy smaller plates and glasses
  10. Save a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds
  11. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.”
  12. Eat meals
  13. Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods
  14. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does
  15. Do all your eating at a table
  16. Try not to eat alone
  17. Treat treats as treats
  18. Leave something on your plate
  19. Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don’t
  20. Cook
  21. Break the rules once in a while

Further Reading

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