Simply stated, real food is unprocessed food. It is food in its original form or packaged food made from a small number of ingredients that you can actually find in a grocery store. Reading labels is the best way to know if the food is ‘real’ or ‘fake.’
I don’t think anyone could argue that processed foods are good for us. I’m sure we could debate all day over the merits and drawbacks of different lifestyles: vegetarian vs. vegan vs. paleo vs. whole foods. However, I’ve never read ANYTHING that says processed foods (filled with artificial, scientifically-produced chemicals) are beneficial to our health. Convenient and easy? Yes. Healthy? No.
THESE are real foods:
- Fruits and vegetables: Organic is always the better option, especially when shopping for the dirty dozen: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt (plain, unsweetened), and cheese. Again, organic is ideal. Cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese are okay too, but many brands contain artificial ingredients, so make sure to check the label. It’s also better to shred your own cheese to avoid the anti-caking ingredient (cellulose) that is added to pre-shredded packages.
- Eggs: The ones that come from free-range hens are ideal. The healthier the hen, the healthier the egg.
- 100% whole-wheat and whole grains: Pasta, rice, oats, flour, bread, popcorn, etc….whole wheat/whole grain is always better.
- Seafood: Salmon, tilapia, shrimp, tuna, etc. Wild caught is preferred over farm-raised.
- Meat: Locally raised and grass-fed/free-range is best. I’m also more aware of trying to limit how much meat we consume, but when we do eat meat, good quality/properly-raised beef, pork, turkey and chicken are best. I buy all of my meat and eggs (as well as raw honey and maple syrup) from Honored Prairie.
- Beans: There are many different varieties, they are inexpensive, and are easy to add to meals.
- Beverages: WATER!!! Also, milk, ‘fruit-only’ juices, naturally sweetened coffee, and tea (again, check the labels).
- Snacks: Dried fruits (no sugar added), seeds, nuts, and natural nut butters.
- Sweeteners: Raw honey, 100% maple syrup and fruit juice concentrates are all ok in moderation.
- Spices & dried herbs: These are a great way to add flavor to your foods.
- Oils: When cooking or baking, I use either olive oil, coconut oil, or sesame oil (though there are many other great ones you can use as well). Definitely avoid vegetable, soybean, and canola oils…those are the most highly-processed of them all.
How to avoid processed foods:
- Read labels: Avoid anything with artificial ingredients. If you wouldn’t cook with the ingredient at home, put it back on the shelf!
- Increase the amount of whole foods you eat, specifically vegetables and fruits.
- Bake your own bread or buy it from a local bakery (checking the ingredient list).
- Choose whole grains when given the choice.
- Visit your local farmers’ market to buy food that’s in season.
- Cook your own food at home (and take some with you when traveling).
- Visit Local Harvest – this is a GREAT resource for finding organic food that is grown locally right by YOU.
Why should we eat real foods?
So many artificial ingredients in processed foods have been linked (time and time again) to cancer, tumors, and diseases…not to mention obesity and many other health issues. My husband and I strive to be healthy on the outside AND the inside. We want to be around for a long, long time and we want to see our great grandchildren grow up. What we eat is something we CAN control. When people switch over to a whole foods based diet, many of them report having more energy, losing weight, improved regularity (how’s that for TMI?) and an increased feeling of overall healthiness.
Even though eating whole foods and choosing organic over conventionally grown is going to cost us a little more at the grocery store right now, we’re hoping that over our lifetime, we will pay less in healthcare costs because we will be a healthier family. Many processed foods in the United States contain ingredients that are actually BANNED in Europe and several other countries due to their negative effects. I find this so upsetting. Artificial food dyes made from petroleum? Azodicarbonamide (a foaming agent used to make plastic) in bread?? High fructose corn syrup? Addictive MSG? Artificial sweeteners? Our family now says “no, thank you” to these cheap, FAKE ingredients.
And if that weren’t reason enough: when we eat foods made with white flour (which is highly processed), we are basically eating empty calories. Whole wheat and whole grains fill us up, therefore we actually need less food to feel the same sense of satisfaction. I have found this to be completely true.
Can we do this 100% of the time???
No. I really think that’s unrealistic in today’s world. Plus, I think it would be unfair to our kids who would constantly feel like they’re “missing out” on all the fun, kid-marketed foods they see other kids eating. Our goal is to eat real foods at home 98% of the time so then when we go out, it’ll be ‘okay’ to relax the rules a bit. We may occasionally eat at McDonald’s, but it’s very rare these days. Yes, I know what’s in the food there…but if we’re traveling and that makes my life just one bit easier, then I’m not going to feel (too) guilty about it. The kids are learning where our food comes from, how to eat healthy, balanced meals, and how to make smart food choices. My kids aren’t old enough to go to full-day school yet, but I’m 100% sure I’m going to be packing their lunches. Every family and each person makes their own choices as to what works best for their own family. I don’t judge! Two/three years ago, when my twin boys were babies (and I had a toddler running around)…these kinds of changes would have seemed impossible and I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have even considered them. Now that my kids are (a bit) more independent, I’m more than happy to spend extra time in the kitchen if I know it means my family will be eating such wholesome, real foods.
How can you make these changes in your home?
- Eliminate all processed foods from your home. Eat it, donate it, give it away to family, or even sell some in a garage sale like we did! Either way, once it’s gone…do NOT replace it.
- Read EVERY label when you grocery shop. If there are any ingredients listed that you’re not familiar with, put it back on the shelf. The more you shop and learn what you should and shouldn’t buy, the easier it becomes.
- If you can’t find a replacement for something you like to eat, search online for a recipe! I’m amazed at all the foods I can make myself that I never even considered before.
- Find better stores (and brands). We just had an Earth Fare open up by us. We also have a natural grocery store that I’ve been trying to frequent more often. Unfortunately, the closest Whole Foods (my favorite store) is 90 minutes away. Whenever we are in that area, I bring a big cooler and stock up on the foods that I can’t find at my local grocery stores. Thankfully, I’m able to find most of the foods I need at the Kroger Marketplace by my house. It’s also helpful to compare brands as well. Sometimes there is a better option sitting right next to the one that contains artificial ingredients.
- And read my blog, of course! 🙂 I regularly share tips, recipes, and relevant information. I’m still learning, too. Every time I make a menu plan for the week and every time I grocery shop, I make smarter choices. It’s a journey, but it’s a journey worth taking!
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