Saturday, October 1, 2011

No More Than 5 Ingredient Foods

Michael Pollan the food writer for the New York Times and the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (2 books I love!) believes that most dietary related health problems come from over-consumption of processed foods. One of the guidelines he recommends is to avoid processed foods with more than 5 ingredients. He says “Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients. The specific number you adopt is arbitrary, but the more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is. Note 1: A long list of ingredients in a recipe you are preparing is not the same thing; that’s fine. Note 2: Some products now boast, about their short ingredient lists. Häagen-Dazs has a new line of ice creamed called ‘five.’ It’s still ice cream. Same goes for the three-ingredient Tostitos corn chips advertised by Frito-Lay–okay, but they’re still corn chips.”

Pollan goes on to explain that this 5-ingredient limit tends to guide us to rule out foods that are highly processed. He also says we should avoid foods that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food– Go-Gurt, breakfast cereal bars, non-dairy creamer — stay away!!

I realize this weekly goal may cause you to cut out food products that have six or seven or even eight ingredients that bill themselves as “whole” or what we would consider to be “real food.” What about a bag of trail mix that contains seven different kinds of nuts and seeds? We are going to avoid products like that this week mainly because we don’t want to jeopardize our weekly goal, although, truthfully, that bag of trail mix would probably be perfectly fine. The thing is, when you are creating “rules” to develop healthy habits you just have to draw the line somewhere. If this weekly challenge gets you to start reading and scrutinizing the ingredient labels on your food then the mission is accomplished.

For our challenge this week (starting Wednesday) We are going to try eating Micheal Pollan style by not consuming anything with more than 5 ingredients. For every day that you abstain from all products containing more than 5 ingredients you will earn the daily 5 bonus points.

What You can’t eat:

Boxed cereal- It is nearly impossible to find dry cereals at the grocery store that had less than five ingredients. Even Kashi cereals have more than 5

Protein shakes, bars etc- Way more than 5 ingredients. However, Larabars and Trio bars are OK! Check the labels.

Store bought bread- Most don’t pass the 5 ingredient test. You will probably be able to find bread that meets this guideline at Great Harvest Breads or perhaps your healthfood store. Of course you can bake your own bread!

Yogurt- Homemade yogurt and perhaps one of the plain commercial yogurts might pass the test but most commercial yogurts contain too many ingredients due to the sweeteners.

Most of my favorite ice creams- Of course you only eat sweets once a week anyway but Breyer’s Natural Vanilla and Häagen-Dazs 5 may be your only choices. It is nearly impossible to find an ice cream that passes this 5 ingredient test. (It surprised me that Breyer’s vanilla flavors like “vanilla bean,” “extra creamy vanilla,” and “slow churned” had extra additives. I couldn’t believe how complicated vanilla ice cream could be!)

Chips, pretzels, crackers- or basically anything that comes in a box.

Most frozen dinners- Many people love these, but too many ingredients. This week you will be cooking!

Canned whipped cream- You may think Redi Whip or cool whip are “whipped cream” but read the label! Not this week!

Sabra Hummus- Too many preservatives.

What You can eat:

Fruits and veggies- I just bought some bananas, pineapple, apples, dried figs, peppers, sweet potatoes, corn, and avocado.

Breyer’s Natural Vanilla and Häagen-Dazs 5 Ice Cream


Many Applesauces

Triscuit and Whole-Wheat Matzo crackers

Brown rice crackers


Most whole wheat pastas

Some Shredded Wheat Cereals

100% pure maple syrup and honey

Any baked homemade goods- Anything I bake with natural, whole foods is okay to eat.

Meat/Animal products and seafood (beware some deli meats have many additives)

Oats- I will definitely be making a lot of oatmeal this week!


Beans- black beans, chick peas, etc.

Dried fruit, Nuts and Seeds

Organic Cheese- I bought some organic sliced Muenster for sandwiches. The non-organic brands had too many preservatives.


  1. The bread I eat has more than 5 ingredients because it has added fiber, bran and gluten; but it doesn't have any preservatives at all. Is this still against the rules?

  2. Ok ladies here is a recipe for you.

    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup oat flour (just blend rolled oats in your blendar)
    2 cups cornmeal
    2 T. baking powder
    2 Tsp. salt
    2 Cups milk (cow, soy, rice)
    1/2 cup cooking oil
    4 eggs
    3/4 cups maple syrup

    Mix all ingredients well. Grease 9X13 pan and pour batter into pan. Bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes

  3. Note- I know I know that is a lot of maple syrup in the recipe above. One good thing is the only ingredient in real maple syrup is maple syrup. It's up to you if you consider this a sugarry treat. I do not as it makes a huge pan of bread. Just as a reminder here is some info from our Frequently Asked Questions Section:
    What counts as "sugar"? Again this is up to you. Personally I still continue to use more natural sweeteners while enrolled in a diet challenge. I use black sulfur molasses, agave nectar and raw honey as an ingredient in wholesome foods (whole grain breads etc.) I know that these are still sweeteners but they generally have more trace minerals and elements and are at least slightly healthier than pure cane sugar. I stay away from dessert type treats even with these sweeteners. As for artificial sweeteners we all know they aren't good for us. We may have a challenge to do without them for a week. Ouch!