If the food you're eating won't rot, don't eat it.
That's the advice noted food author Michael Pollan gave a packed house at the Tivoli Theatre on Thursday evening.
"Don't eat any food that won't eventually rot," he said. "Don't eat cereal that changes the color of the milk."
And if a third-grader can't pronounce the ingredients list, it's not a real food.
Pollan, author of multiple books on the food industry, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma," shared several other food rules in his Benwood Foundation-funded lecture, but they all boiled down to one succinct point.
"Our obsession over eating healthy is making us sick," he remarked.
Pollan explained that, in the quest to buy healthy food, shoppers often turn to processed items marketed as whole wheat, low-fat and antioxidant-rich. Unfortunately, these items are often higher in sugar, calories and other unhealthy fillers as well.
Even supposedly good foods can have hidden dangers if they're over-processed, he said, noting that he found a six-ounce container of yogurt containing 35 grams of sugar.
"Yogurt is one of the biggest scams out there," he warned.
Pollan also encouraged listeners to approach food scientists with skepticism. He compared the field to surgery in the 17th century -- promising, but poorly understood.
Too many people are searching for a magic ingredient that will fix their health, Pollan said, but Americans could control their weight more effectively and ward off disease by focusing on consuming whole, natural items.
His advice was to eat "real" food -- the items traditionally found along the perimeter of the grocery store from the produce, dairy and meat sections.
To that end, Pollan emphasized, "Eat whatever you want, as long as you cook it yourself."
His final piece of advice came from a Japanese idiom.
"Eat until you're four-fifths full," he explained, saying that a meal should end when the eater is satisfied, not stuffed.
He described the world we might live in if we continue to eat the way we do -- we'll have to widen all our seats; bariatric surgery will be a part of life and dialysis centers will be on every corner.