10 Rules to Eat Safely for Life (and What to Remove from Your Kitchen)

Mark Hyman | April 8, 2016

Everyday you have to navigate a toxic nutritional landscape. You have to hunt and gather in a food desert. You have to survive the American supermarket and dodge the dangers of industrial food. The good news is that if you follow ten simple rules, you can eat safely for life.

Think of them as shortcuts or tricks to use when shopping or eating. If you just do these things and nothing else, you will automatically be eating real, fresh food that will prevent, treat, and even reverse most of the chronic diseases that drain our energy, stress our families, and deplete our economy.

You don’t even have to understand anything about nutrition. Just follow these goof-proof rules for getting healthy, losing weight, and feeling great.

  1. Ideally, have only foods without labels in your kitchen or foods that don’t come in a box, a package, or a can. There are labeled foods that are great, like sardines, artichoke hearts, or roasted red peppers, but you have to be very smart when reading the labels. There are two things to look for: the ingredient list and the nutrition facts. Where is the primary ingredient on the list? If the real food is at the end of the list and the sugar or salt is at the beginning, beware. The most abundant ingredient is listed first and the others are listed in descending order by weight. Be conscious, too, of ingredients that may not be on the list; some ingredients may be exempt from labels. This is often true if the food is in a very small package, if it has been prepared in the store, or if it has been made by a small manufacturer. These foods may include ingredients that are exempt from labels. Beware of these foods.

  2. If a food has a label, it should have fewer than five ingredients. If it has more than five ingredients, throw it out. Also beware of food with health claims on the label, like sports beverages. I recently saw a bag of deep-fried potato chips with the health claims “gluten-free, organic, no artificial ingredients, no sugar” and with fewer than 5 ingredients listed. Sounds great, right? But remember, cola is 100 percent fat-free and that doesn’t make it a health food.

  3. If sugar (under any name, including organic cane juice, honey, agave, maple syrup, cane syrup, and molasses) is on the label, throw it out. There may be up to 33 teaspoons of sugar in the average bottle of ketchup. Same goes for white rice and white flour, which act just like sugar in the body. If you have diabesity – the spectrum of metabolic imbalances starting with just a little belly fat, leading all the way to diabetes— you can’t easily handle any flour, even whole-grain, so throw it out.

  4. Throw out any food with high-fructose corn syrup on the label. It is a super sweet liquid sugar that takes no energy for the body to process. Some high-fructose corn syrup also contains mercury as a by-product of the manufacturing process. Many liquid calories, such as sodas, juices, and “sports” drinks, contain this metabolic poison and it always signals low quality or processed food.

  5. Throw out any food with the word "hydrogenated" on the label. This is an indicator of trans fats, vegetable oils converted through a chemical process into margarine or shortening. They are good for keeping cookies on the shelf for long periods of time without going stale, but these fats have been proven to cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. New York City and most European counties have banned trans fats, and you should, too.

  6. Throw out any highly refined cooking oils such as corn, soy, etc. Also, avoid toxic fats and fried foods.

  7. Throw out any food with ingredients you can’t recognize, pronounce, or are in Latin.

  8. Throw out any foods with preservatives, additives, coloring or dyes, “natural flavorings,” or flavor enhancers such as MSG (monosodium glutamate).

  9. Throw out food with artificial sweeteners of all kinds (aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, and sugar alcohols—any word that ends with “-ol” like xylitol, sorbitol). They make you hungrier, slow your metabolism, give you bad gas, and make you store belly fat.

  10. If it came from the earth or a farmer’s field, not a food chemist’s lab, it’s safe to eat. As Michael Pollan says, if it was grown on a plant, not made in a plant, then you can keep it in your kitchen. If it is something your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (like a “Lunchables” or “Go-Gurt”), throw it out. Stay away from “food-like substances.”

That’s it – just ten simple goof-proof rules for staying healthy for life. It is a simple recipe for staying out of trouble and automatically leads you to a real, whole foods diet. And the side effect will be weight loss, increased energy, reduction in the need for medication, and protection from the tsunami of chronic disease and Pharmageddon!

When you make these simple choices you will not only improve your health, and your family’s health, but you will create a “wellness spring” that will shift the demand in the marketplace. You will not only take back your health, but also help America take back its health. You vote three times a day with your fork and it impacts our health, how we grow food, energy consumption, climate change, and environmental degradation. You have more power than you think. Use it!

My personal hope is that together we can create a national conversation about a real, practical solution for the prevention, treatment, and reversal of our obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease epidemic.


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Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality - and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.

Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, an eight-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s

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