Have you ever heard of the “5-Ingredient” rule? Some people say that if a food has more than five ingredients on the label, you shouldn’t buy it.
I think this is kinda dumb.
Do you ever use more than five ingredients in preparing foods you make at home? Sure. Does using more than five of them magically make your food bad for you? Obviously not.
The purpose behind the 5-ingredient rule is to avoid heavily processed foods, which is a good goal, really. But unless you plan on buying absolutely zero processed foods and literally making every single thing you eat from scratch, it’s really a much better idea to just figure out what ingredients you actually need to avoid, as opposed to just counting them.
And when I say “processed,” I’m talking about anything that comes in a package or has a label whatsoever — that’s by definition, processed. Even the highest-quality grass-fed beef is usually cut and processed into a package. The freshest, healthiest raw cream didn’t churn itself into butter.
What we really are trying to stay away from are all the packaged convenience foods loaded with chemical fillers, preservatives, additives, colorings, and artificial flavors, sweeteners, and other general fakeness. I can think of plenty of things that pass the 5-ingredient test that I know I shouldn’t be eating.
Just the other day, I came across a bag of totally unsuspicious looking tortilla chips with only three ingredients:
- Corn (which wasn’t organic and almost certainly genetically modified)
- Vegetable oil (from GM soy, packed with thyroid-suppressing, metabolically destructive, and inflammatory polyunsaturated fat)
- Salt (bleached, stripped and chemically-treated sodium chloride)
Well hey — looks like it passed the 5-ingredient test! Guess I’ll eat it!
Yeah, no thanks.
So, here’s what I think makes a whole lot more sense.
- Can’t pronounce it (“Trimegadi…whaaa?)
- Don’t know what it is (“Natural flavors, huh. From… what exactly?”)
- Can’t buy it in a store (“Oh, you’re looking for disodium guanylate? Aisle 3.”)
- Wouldn’t stock your cupboards with it (“Hey there, neighbor. I ran out of methylcellulose. Could you spare a tablespoon or two?”)
… you might want to reconsider eating it.
These “mystery ingredients,” as I like to call them, are what we really want to look out for. This is my rule: if you buy processed food, read the label. Know what you’re getting. And if it’s got a bunch of crap in it that you’re not okay with ingesting, try to find another choice that doesn’t.
Here’s the deal though — there is no reason, under any circumstances, to get all paranoid over this stuff!! The point is that we’re empowering ourselves by understanding what’s healthy and what’s not, as opposed to just blindly following the herd of genetically-modified sheep-eaters.
So, if your absolute FAVORITE food in the whole wide world has some sort of inconspicuous “natural flavors” or something on the ingredient list, that doesn’t mean I think you should absolutely never eat it.
I think it’s perfectly healthy to break the “rules.”
Just yesterday, in fact, I saw a little snack-pack-sized bag of those frosting-coated circus animal cookies in the cupboard at my in-laws’ house. You know, the pink and white ones with the little sprinkles?
I don’t know why, but for some reason those sprinkly little camels and rhinoceroses were calling my name.
I picked up the pack of cookies, completely and intentionally avoided even glancing at the ingredient list, and happily popped each one of them into my mouth.
I still haven’t looked at that label. But I’m positive it breaks every rule in the book. And does that really matter? To me, no. Because I do not believe in food restriction. Period. I only believe in food education. I know there’s most likely all sorts of stuff that isn’t good for me in those cookies. That’s probably why up until yesterday, I hadn’t eaten one in like five years. I generally wouldn’t pick up something like that at the store because of two reasons:
- I know what’s in it—and that isn’t something I want to be eating on a regular basis, and
- I can have it whenever I want, if I choose to, because no food is off limits to me.
And because of these reasons, the “bad” foods with many more than 5 ingredients on the label lose their appeal to me. So I wind up making good choices, enough of the time, to constitute a healthy diet. It’s perfectly fine if I choose to eat something outside of that scope if it sounds good to me.
Enough with the rules, already.
Are you more interested in making sure your diet is nutritious and healthy on the whole, rather than nit-picking every little morsel you eat and sticking it with a “good” or “bad” label? Me too.
That’s why I wrote Real Food for Real Life: How to Eat Healthy Without Going Completely Crazy. If you want to learn what’s really important when it comes to eating a healthy diet, rather than forcing yourself to obey a bunch of rules that don’t really make sense, I think you’ll probably like the book.
Right now, it’s available as part of the big Fall into Health Autumn Sale—with over $2,000 worth of products and resources for 98% off! BOTH of my ebooks are included, plus 45 more, plus tons of other amazing stuff!
But hurry! The big sale ends on November 7th at midnight.
How do you feel about food rules?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.