The idea for this book came from a doctor–a couple of them, as a matter of fact. They had read my last book, “In Defense of Food”, which ended with a handful of tips for eating well: simple ways to navigate the treacherous landscape of modern food and the often-confusing science of nutrition. “What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely,” they would say. “I don’t have time for the big nutrition lecture and, anyway, they really don’t need to know what an antioxidant is in order to eat wisely.” Another doctor, a transplant cardiologist, wrote to say “you can’t imagine what I see on the insides of people these days wrecked by eating food products instead of food.” So rather than leaving his heart patients with yet another prescription or lecture on cholesterol, he gives them a simple recipe for roasting a chicken, and getting three wholesome meals out of it — a very different way of thinking about health.
Make no mistake: our health care crisis is in large part a crisis of the American diet — roughly three quarters of the two-trillion plus we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented by a change in lifestyle, especially diet. And a healthy diet is a whole lot simpler than the food industry and many nutritional scientists — what I call the Nutritional Industrial Complex — would have us believe. After spending several years trying to answer the supposedly incredibly complicated question of how we should eat in order to be maximally healthy, I discovered the answer was shockingly simple: eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refined grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit.
So I decided to take the doctors up on the challenge. I set out to collect and formulate some straightforward, memorable, everyday rules for eating, a set of personal policies that would, taken together or even separately, nudge people onto a healthier and happier path. I solicited rules from doctors, scientist, chefs, and readers, and then wrote a bunch myself, trying to boil down into everyday language what we really know about healthy eating. And while most of the rules are backed by science, they are not framed in the vocabulary of science but rather culture — a source of wisdom about eating that turns out to have as much, if not more, to teach us than nutritional science does.