The 5 Ingredient Rule: Is it Manageable?

In Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food the author suggests that we eat food products with no more than 5 ingredients. The idea, at least in theory, has caught on. Every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine, some person is saying that you shouldn't eat anything with more than 5 ingredients.

Being health minded, I decided that I would try not to eat anything with more than 5 ingredients for 5 days, to see if it was even possible to do.

And just for kicks, I decided to subject my children to this experiment as well. Never mind that they favor foods packed with preservatives, artificial colors, and sugar. My mission in life is to break them of their desire for traditional American fare and if I could be successful with them, Lord knows anyone could take this diet modification on.

So I Began My Experiment

Day 1:
I haven't had a sip of coffee and I've already run into a problem. My kids' favorite cereal, Peanut Butter Puffins, has 9 ingredients. On close inspection, this doesn't look like a terrible thing: everything in this box is a recognizable ingredient, except for mixed tocopherols, which is explained as soy. I decide this cereal is passable, especially since the alternative cereal boxes seem to have 15 or more ingredients.

I, on the other hand, bought a box of raisin bran with just 5 ingredients that I plan to try. Hmmm.... I just dumped 3 heaping teaspoons of sugar on it to get it down. Somehow I feel like I've just lost the spirit of the diet.

We are feeling good. We've found that the majority of our snacks actually have 5 ingredients or less. The kids are relieved that they have a choice of things to choose from: nuts, popcorn, string cheese, and raisins. What didn't make the cut? Bunny crackers and pretzels.

It is hard to find bread that has only 5 ingredients. Surprisingly, our raisin English muffins fit the bill, though. For lunch we toast them, spread with our natural peanut butter, and put apple slices on top.

We also breathe a sigh of relief when we find our favorite yogurt has only 5 ingredients. The kids slurp it up like it has just dropped from heaven.

Day 4:
We have an all natural, organic hummus with 6 ingredients. We dig in because there isn't a bad thing in the tub, and I don't want my kids to become completely emaciated: they've been refusing my healthy dinners.

I wash fruit and begin to leave it out on the counters for healthy snacking throughout the day. We've eaten a load of blueberries, cherries, and nectarines. This is what it's all about!

Today is our last day on the diet and my kids are getting weary of my experiment. I allow them the breaded chicken that they love from Bell & Evans. It has far more than 5 ingredients in the breading, but I am not convinced that this is a big problem. As usual, I complement their meat with a vegetable. Today it is zucchini.

To my shock and horror, my daughter eats it. Only, however, when she is bribed with a cracker. The good news? The cracker only has 4 ingredients!

So I Concluded My Experiment

The idea of eating food that only contains 5 ingredients has some merit. As I examined the foods in my pantry and refrigerator, I noticed that there were very few with more than 5 ingredients that still had recognizable ingredients. Certainly the longer the list of ingredients, the more bazaar those ingredients became.

On the other hand, some food items require more than 5 ingredients to be made. My hummus and bread were good examples of that.

Though I am no expert, I'd be inclined to modify the 5 ingredient rule to say, "avoid food products that contain ingredients you have never heard of." At the very least, following a guideline like this one will make you more aware of what you are consuming and how much crap really is in all the foods we eat. This awareness is the first step in altering our diets and making healthier choices.

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