The Nutrition Book That Every Health Class Needs

When it comes to making smart food choices, Michael Pollan is an expert teens can recognize and trust. 

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Nutrition is a key component of health education, but with its standards and guidelines constantly changing, knowing what to teach and how to teach it is now more confusing than ever.

Teens are wired to crave sugar and processed carbs (and those cravings are even stronger when paired with sleep deprivation), so getting them to make healthy choices can often feel like an uphill battle. They’re also challenged to make smart choices in a consumer environment flooded with cheap, processed food and tricky marketing tactics.

In our quest to help students navigate the food market when the odds are stacked against them, my colleagues and I have had the most success with a book called Food Rules.

Its author, Michael Pollan, is a food expert and advocate who is changing the way people think about where our food comes from and how we should be eating it. His rules help people analyze the current food environment, discover a love of real food, and make healthy choices that have a positive impact on personal health and the environment. I’ve found the book’s illustrated edition to be perfect for all middle school grades, and we’ve been able to refer to it throughout our various nutrition projects.

Here’s a short clip of Pollan reading some excerpts, accompanied by some colorful illustrations. 

One of the reasons we’ve had such success with his approach is that it’s focused on the food, not on the numbers. When teaching kids to read labels, the ingredients are what really matter. While we do want them to understand the basics of macro and micro nutrients, what we’d really prefer is that they know how to choose real, whole foods. Dietary guidelines from the government and the press are forever in flux, but if we emphasize basic food messages that are clever and easy to understand, the kids will be much more likely to remember (and follow) them for life.

Some of my students’ favorite Pollan rules are:

“Eat food that came from a plant, not food that was made in a plant.”

“Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored.”

“Don’t eat foods with ingredients that a third grader couldn’t pronounce.”

An added, unexpected benefit of using Pollan’s books in our class is that the kids now have a go-to food expert that they can follow. He doesn’t work for any branch of the government and isn’t tied to any big corporation. He's a real-food cooking and eating advocate who teens can recognize and trust.

As my eighth grade class was watching a clip of the documentary Fed Up, Pollan appeared in an interview, and one of my students got excited and pointed him out.

“Dude, it’s Michael Pollan! He’s like the Ronald McDonald of real food.”

His classmate turned to him and said, “Yeah, but he’s way less creepy-looking than that clown.”

Indeed, my wise young friends.

You can learn more about Michael Pollan by visiting his website for a collection of his greatest books, resources, articles, and interviews.