My 9 Rules of Good Food and How to Get Yours

The American food industry has done a number on us. Over the past several decades they’ve perfected the art of producing vast quantities of cheap food, witness the explosion in size of the “convenience foods'” (read: junk food) in the middle aisles of our gargantuan supermarkets. We, the consumer, may think we’re getting a good deal. We’re full, the food tastes good – and industry food scientists work hard to make sure their products are “hyper-palatable,” which means plenty of sugar, salt, artificial flavorings and more. What’s more, we’re actually spending less money on those convenience foods, relative to our income, than we did a generation or two ago.

But guess what, the joke’s on us. Big Food has so dazzled us with the quantity of what they produce, it’s easy to overlook the quality of what’s on our plates. The result? The food we’re putting into our systems, however reasonable in cost and tasty it may be, is making us sick and ultimately shortening our life and health spans. These processed convenience foods are pushing up weight and blood sugar levels to record highs – and putting millions of people on the fast track to type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders, cancers and more. Add to that, a big old serving of pesticides and other toxic chemical residues in every bite and the impact only gets bigger in a bad way. In short, these foods are making a hash of human health on a global scale.

But there is some news to report: we’re wising up and increasingly opting for healthier good choices. That shift is slowly pushing Big Food to clean up its act. But how to speed up the process on a personal level and safeguard your health? Vote with your feet and your wallet, learn as much as you can about the sources of your food, and follow these rules of the road:

Take the culinary wheel, and don’t let go.

When you outsource cooking, you’re giving away control of your plate. By some estimates, the average American family now spends more than 50% of its food budget on take-out, fast-food and “family” restaurants, a radical shift from even twenty years ago. And you can be sure that these restaurants, to keep prices down, are using the cheapest ingredients around. But the cost of all that DoorDash convenience adds up – and the money saved by not resorting to food delivery apps will be far better spent on fresher, better quality meals you make yourself.

Embrace simplicity and a cast iron pan.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to flex your Top Chef muscles for a special meal but don’t psych yourself out of the kitchen by thinking you’ve got to do something elaborate or reinvent the culinary wheel every night. Most of the time, stick to simple, nutritious ingredients and the food will speak for itself, without a lot of fuss.

To make simple meals quickly, always have what you might call ‘clean convenience’ foods, not processed ones on hand. For example, keep the fridge stocked with washed greens and colorful, pre-chopped veggies and keep a stash of cooked proteins in the freezer so you can stir-fry a healthy meal in less than 10 minutes, with little more than a single pan to wash afterwards. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

If, however, you’re up for the occasional culinary adventure, supplement with the occasional foray into high-quality meal kits, with pre-prepared raw ingredients ready for you to fire up. Keep in mind though, kits with organic ingredients, little sugar, salt or additives are the way to go.

Protein: the bad – and the very ugly.

Here’s what you don’t want to eat too often: Beef from cattle raised in crowded factory feed-lot conditions, where it’s tough for them to stay well, living in filthy, over-crowded conditions, fattened on cheap GMO feed, instead of grazing on grass the way nature intended. They are also shot through with antibiotics, which is thought to contribute to human antibiotic resistance, as well as, full of stress hormones produced by the animals living in those brutal, filthy conditions.

When it comes to lunch meats, which are packed with harmful nitrite and nitrate preservatives, I’ve got two words for you: just don’t. The evidence is clear: the more you eat of that stuff, the higher the risk of early death from classics like cancer and heart disease – a startling wake up call for deli meat lovers.

As for fish, as much as possible, go sustainable wild-caught, as well as small oily (and omega-3 rich) fish like anchovies and sardines, much lower in toxins than their bigger cousins higher up the food chain.

Look for food that isn’t well traveled.

One of the best ways to ensure your food is good for you is to support farmers’ markets. They’re all over the country now so buy from local growers to access the good, fresh stuff that hasn’t been flown in from overseas, or transported cross country over the course of weeks or months.

Among the benefits of farmer’s market options is that small producer farming methods are pretty similar to organic ones, which means you can be reasonably certain that what you’re buying has been raised/grown in humane/healthy conditions with a minimal amount of pesticide use, chemical tampering or processing. And, if the offerings are certified organic, even better.

Another excellent source for healthy food is through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) membership, using the site to help you find one near you. Not feeding an entire family? Then split the cost, and the food, with a friend.

You can also try any number of specialty providers/websites out there that will send the good stuff your way, no tough judgment calls required on your part. For high-quality grass-fed beef, take a look at providers like or; and for fish. To track down sources near you, try:, which acts as a clearing house and directory for information on pasture-raised farming.

But dang, the good stuff costs more!

Yes, it does, but quality rarely comes cheap and if it does, buyer beware. Opting for pricier small farm produce and organics you’re your local market gives you a far better shot at getting a fresher, more nutritious product – and certainly a wise investment in your health. But how to stretch your food dollar without sacrificing quality? Buy pricier items in smaller quantities and, when preparing meals, mix fresh farmer’s market finds with frozen organic produce to add volume (and more veggies!) to your plate.

You can even add some conventionally grown produce to your plate, if you know what to choose. To do it right, shop according to the recommendations in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. It is invaluable resource that ranks conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, calling out which ones test high for pesticide residues and which ones test low, so you buy (and eat) with confidence.  

Don’t fall for the ‘health halo.’

If consumers have gotten more conscious about seeking out healthful ingredients, Big Food has also gotten cleverer when it comes to disguising the mediocre stuff as something better. Call it “greenwashing” or attaching a “health halo.” So, be wary of lingo or labels like “natural.” It’s a meaningless term that can be slapped on just about anything, including GE (genetically-engineered) products, and/or and foods that have been sprayed to kingdom come with pesticides. When you see it stamped on meat or poultry, buyer beware here too – all it means is that there are no additives or extra processing. That’s it. It doesn’t mean that the animals were raised in healthy or humane conditions. It doesn’t mean they weren’t shot full or antibiotics either. What it does mean is the stuff you’re eyeballing is likely sub-par, so steer clear.

Other useless, but healthy-sounding claims include “contains whole grains” or “farm fresh” (your food may be fresh off a factory farm!)

Go-to good sources – of healthy food advice.

If you feel overwhelmed every time you hit the supermarket – too many choices and too many aisles lined with misleading label claims – you’ve got some very knowledgeable allies just a keystroke or two away. Here are six of my favorite sources of reliable, information in the fight for food quality and safety, and a healthier planet:


Make GMOs a no-go.

When it comes to where your food is coming from and if it’s healthy for you, you have to ask, ‘got GMOs?’ If so, then, uh-oh. Genetically-modified ingredients are their own special horror show. By some estimates, 70-80% of highly processed foods contain this stuff. The hormone given to dairy cows to increase (non-organic) milk production is genetically engineered, ditto, the chemical sweetener aspartame, and some other food additives. But the biggest and most common offenders are soybeans and corn (turned into fructose sweetener). There’s also canola oil, sugar beets (and most sugar not derived from sugar cane), plus cottonseed and alfalfa, both fed to livestock.

Why are GMOs so bad? Let me count the ways. In some cases, the toxins engineered into the plant DNA eat tiny holes in insects’ digestive tracts, which it thought to be linked to creating leaks in the human as well. The genetically altered or ‘modified’ crops are designed to tolerate more and stronger doses of pesticide, usually Roundup/glyphosate – one of the most dangerous chemicals to be found on and in your food. Know that pesticide-drenched crops, especially GMO ones, deplete the microorganisms in the soil (yes, the soil has a microbiome just like your gut does). That, in turn, depletes the supply of nutrients in the food we eat – less vitamins, minerals and antioxidant phytochemicals. It’s a simple message: be kind to the soil with your food choices and that soil will be kind to you.

Make mine (not) processed.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to go deep in the weeds when it comes to food sourcing, not if you keep one simple rule in mind: Buy food that's as unprocessed as possible. Granted, “processed” is a very broad term, for example, foods like nut butters and extra virgin olive oil are “processed” – they didn’t spring from the earth in that form. But they are, or should be, minimally processed, containing not more than 2 or 3 ingredients, tops.

At the other end of the “processed” spectrum are what I often refer to as “Frankenfoods,” those made-in-the-lab products that typically come with a lot of plastic packaging and when you read the label, paragraphs of fine print featuring a litany of hard-to-pronounce chemical names, preservatives, artificial flavorings and colorings, you name it.

A good rule of thumb: If they’re more than three or four added ingredients, toss it back, no need to check out every ingredient on- line.

Also steer clear of sodas of course, but also bottled drinks, like teas, juices, sports and energy drinks as they are another category on the must-to avoid list: each are their own reservoirs of sugar or fake-sweet chemicals and so unnecessary when you can so easily make your own teas and tonics. Bottom line: processed foods and drinks are where the bad stuff lives, and that’s one neighborhood nobody should live in.

Longevity Reading