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The 5-Ingredient Rule Changed the Way I See Food

Keep things simple.

By Taru Anniina LiikanenPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
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The 5-Ingredient Rule Changed the Way I See Food
Photo by Talha Hassan on Unsplash

When I was 19, I found myself a little lost with food. I was living alone for the first time, and working until late every day as a cashier in a supermarket. My apartment was right in the center of the city, across the street from a McDonald’s.

For all my life, I’d been living at home. My mom has always loved vegetables, so we had a pretty healthy diet, at least comparing to most Finnish families. I also lived several kilometers away from work and school, and I was accustomed to walking everywhere.

But then, I suddenly found myself living so close to my workplace I no longer had that long, daily walk. With my late work schedules, I also slipped into bad eating habits, like fast food.

I put on a couple of kilos over several months, and I needed to get them off. But I had no idea how to, without going back to the disordered eating in my past. I didn’t know how to eat in a healthy way.

I started looking into nutrition. I don’t remember exactly how I went about doing this, but the internet probably played a big role.

Somewhere along the way, I ran into a piece of advice. It’s simple, but it can change your health in many ways. Ready? Here goes.

Don’t eat food with more than five ingredients.

That’s it.

If you’re looking at something in the supermarket and it has more than five ingredients, let it go. If it has ingredients with strange combinations of numbers and letters, or such complicated words you can’t pronounce them,don’t buy it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t whip up a mole sauce with 30 ingredients, or a delicious curry with spices and vegetables. It just means you should buy the ingredients and make it yourself. It means you should eat real food, not substances and additives produced in a lab.

Finnish food culture in the 21st century is incredibly American. Everything is ready-made and processed, filled with additives, fat, sugar or artificial sweeteners. And that especially goes for all the stuff that’s marketed for weight-loss purposes.

It’s all food-like substances that are created in a lab to make your taste buds go wild and designed to get you addicted. It’s not food, it’s a product of food science. That low-fat, no-sugar, low-calorie yogurt with 30 added sweeteners and colorings? Probably not the best thing for your health.

You’d be better off eating a banana.

And I did, lots of them. I learned how to cook, from real vegetables and whole grains. I learned to prioritize fiber, vitamins and variety. I also got back to walking, and I quickly dropped the extra weight.

Your body just works better when you eat real food. It tastes better, and it makes you feel good.

You don’t need a diet. Just real food.

When I moved to Barcelona at 21, my appreciation for real food only deepened.

Now, Spanish people these days don’t exactly follow the healthy, Mediterranean diet of old. Everything is deep-fried or drowned in olive oil. I knew some people my age who refused to eat a vegetable.

But still, and especially in smaller towns and among older people, I noticed people ate more real food. They made their lentil soups and paellas with fresh vegetables, and it was noticeable. Everything had a distinct taste of the ingredients it was prepared with.

When I go back home to Finland, I’m always surprised by how little I can tolerate my home country’s food culture these days.

Everything suddenly tastes the same. It’s as if the entire country uses three different sauces that give all food the same, plastic taste. I hate it.

Being vegan means I now have no choice but to cook a lot of food by myself, but when I go home I also want to try the new plant-based options for fast food. And guess what?

They also taste exactly the same as the meat pizzas, because all the taste comes from artificial additives.

Now, I don’t actually follow any hard rules when it comes to food. If I want to eat something, I will, and I sometimes do eat things that aren’t 100% healthy.

Just the other day, I tried a new plant-based chicken alternative, mostly just to know what’s out there on the market and to know what I can prepare for my meat-eating friends when they come for a visit.

It was tasty, but it didn't make me feel good. I think it’s a good sign that my body no longer tolerates this kind of ultra-processed stuff.

And most of the time, I follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Just eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Don’t buy food with interminable lists of ingredients. Buy the ingredients.

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This story was originally published by me, on Medium.

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About the Creator

Taru Anniina Liikanen

Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Recovering political ghostwriter. Fiction, relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions. Occasional dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are the best.

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