Monday, March 14, 2011

Mark Bittman's Food Rules

Mark Bittman is a best-selling cookbook author who some of you might know from his book, How to Cook Everything or maybe you know him from his work as a columnist in The New York Times. Bittman is not a professionally trained chef nor has he ever worked in a restaurant but is he the epitome of a foodie and a self-described "avid home cook".  

[photo credit:]

As I was flipping through some old magazines I came across an article from the January 2011 issue of bon appetit entitled "Mark Bittman Know's What's Best for You". In the article, Bittman found himself at 57 years old and after nearly 30 years as a food writer he was overweight, had high blood pressure, high blood sugar, was suffering from sleep apnea, and bad knees. He was told, plain and simple, that most of these issues were because of his weight. A doctor friend suggested that he become vegan. Bittman's response was "Are you kidding? You know what I do for a living". His friend replied "Figure something out".  

After that conversation Bittman started experimenting with a "flexitarian" diet - which basically means he was a meat-eating vegetarian. He called his new diet "vegan until six" and detailed it in a book he wrote called Food Matters.  Since changing his eating habits, Bittman has lost 30 pounds and fixed his issues with sleep apnea and those bad knees - in fact, he runs marathons now. His blood sugar and cholesterol are also back into a normal range. 

I loved reading about his journey because so many times I read articles or books by nutritionists or health gurus that preach about strict vegan diets or only eating raw foods, etc and for once, I found myself reading about changing your life, one meal at a time, from the perspective of a foodie...someone who thinks the way I think. As a chef it doesn't seem possible to give up any food but it is completely possible to find a healthy balance with food. It's not about giving up anything or becoming 100% vegan,  it's about finding what works for you and making your own set of rules to live by.  

Here are Bittman's Rules:

  1. GO (MOSTLY) VEGAN : From the time he wakes up until dinner he eats (almost) like a vegan. Not only does he cut out animal products (with the exception of milk or cream in his coffee) but he eats no processed foods at all, including no white flour, white rice, pasta, and sugar. Instead he fills up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. 
  2. MINIMIZE THE MEAT: Dinner is not too heavy but omnivorous. It has more vegetables and grains than the typical American diet. He eats meat and fish many nights, but in smaller amounts than in his former life.  He occasionally eats pasta (whole-grain is best). However, this rule is less strict than rule number one. There are nights when he goes to a steakhouse or a great restaurant and wine is strictly encouraged and dessert is most definitely allowed.
  3. WEIGH IT OUT: He watches his weight.  At what level weight becomes an indicator of health is debatable, but as an indicator of whether you're eating too much, it's perfect. Once you settle on your ideal weight (except for the 5 pounds that we all believe we need to lose), it's easy to monitor and control. When it goes up, he is more strict about his diet for a few days.
  4. CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK: No individual meal matters. No individual day matters. Even a "bad" week doesn't matter much. This might be the most important rule, and it took him months to recognize this: What does matter is that the pattern of his diet has moved from one that's heavy on animal products and processed foods to one that's dominated by unprocessed plant food.
  5. MAKE IT YOUR OWN: These rules are his. Regard them as guidelines to create your own rules. Using rule number four as a guiding principle, figure out what works for you. 

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