Food vs. Edible

Michael Pollan, author of Omnivor’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, coined the term “edible non-food.”  It is a way of grouping foods by whether or not they generally support health or are human-created foods that don’t provide a benefit to the body.  Some examples of edible non-food might be soda and diet soda, cheese puffs, Pringles, etc  You have probably heard a recommendation to shop for groceries on the outside of the grocery store to find the least processed most “whole” foods.  This is where you will find fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, meat, etc.  It is these minimally processed foods that Pollan is considering “food.”  In order to be healthy this concept doesn’t need to be taken to the extreme but the general idea of it can’t be ignored.

When discussing this concept with my pediatric patients I ask them “between Elmer’s glue and Cheetos which one is a food?”  Of course they always say Cheetos.  I point out that they both can be eaten without causing an immediate health problem.  One is marketed as food and one as school supplies.  I would argue they are just about as equally “good for you.”  This is a silly example but I’m trying to make the point that just being edible isn’t a good enough definition to determine that something is food.

Some questions to ask when you are deciding if something is food vs edible non-food are:

  1. Did nature make this or a factory?
  2. Do I recognized all of the ingredients listed in the ingredient list?
  3. Is the purpose of this food entertainment or nutrition?
  4. Does the packaging make health claims or seem to be convincing you of something?
If your diet is 80% real food and 20% edible non-food you are doing pretty well!  If you are looking for a resource to improve the quality of your diet I recommend Pollan’s book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.  It is short and sweet with simple recommendations.  Good luck!  -MK