During our “100 Days of Real Food Pledge” we avoided all packaged foods containing more than five ingredients as well as all refined grains, sugar, and deep-fried foods. We borrowed this rule directly from Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules. Here’s his take on this guideline:
“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 is not the same thing; that’s fine. Note 2: Some products now boast, somewhat deceptively, about their short ingredient lists. Häagen-Dazs has a new line of ice creamed called ‘five.’ Great–but 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.”
One thing we struggled with during our 100-day pledge was the occasional food product that had six or seven or even eight ingredients that were all “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 would avoid products like that mainly because we didn’t want to jeopardize our pledge, although, truthfully, that bag of trail mix would probably be perfectly fine. The thing is, when you are creating “rules” for the masses you just have to draw the line somewhere. And if this rule gets people to start reading and scrutinizing the ingredient labels on their food then our mission is accomplished.