To Michael Pollan, best-selling author, journalist, and activist, the rules for eating healthy can be boiled down to seven words. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This simple mantra was a theme of Pollan’s lecture he gave as part of the George T. Hunter Lecture Series.

For Pollan, our problems with food often start right in the grocery stores in our own neighborhoods.

“The supermarket is where so many of our health and economic problems begin. Food that is unhealthy is sold as healthy. It’s one of the biggest scams out there,” he said.

To illustrate, Pollan brought foods, or what he called “edible food-like substances,” he found at a local grocery store. Advertised under the guise of having “good” nutrients, these foods often offer no nutritional value. For example, despite being marketed as healthy, a container of yogurt had more than 35 milligrams of sugar per serving.

“A Pop-Tart with whole grains is still a Pop-Tart. I don’t think tweaking processed food to try to make it healthier is the answer,” he said.

As a counter example, Pollan also brought an apple.

“An apple is quiet. It makes no claims of health benefits,” he joked.

According to Pollan, our cultural obsession with eating food with only good nutrients is causing an unhealthy disorder with food.

“As a society, we’ve accepted that the idea of a nutrient is what matters most in our food,” he said.

According to Pollan, examples of “good” nutrients are Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and whole grains. Some “bad” nutrients are trans fats, salt, and sugar. Trying to figure out which nutrient is best to eat is what confuses people, he said.

“While eating is second nature to other creatures, we’re so lost in the supermarket we feel we need doctors, nutritionists, and other experts to know what to eat,” Pollan continued.

Instead of relying on experts, Pollan advises following some simple rules to maintain a healthy diet.

“Eat less of the foods found in the Western diet, such as processed sugar, red meats, and carbohydrates. It’s been shown that people who get off the Western diet have better health. It’s never too late to get healthy,” he said.

Pollan also recommends we should cook at home more often, eat only when hungry, eat foods with no more than five ingredients, and most of all, keep a relaxed attitude about food.

“We think the whole point of eating is for health, but we need a richer, more relaxed way to think about food. It’s okay to have a cupcake every once in awhile,” he said.

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