What is Real Food?

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

If you would like to keep up-to-date with any new recipes and information I share, you can sign up for my weekly e-newsletter here:

14 thoughts on “What is Real Food?

  1. Just stumbled across your blog – thank you so much for putting the “real food” way of life into words so well! I strive to feed my family whole ingredients and have been judged and even ridiculed by others for being “paranoid”. We do it because, like you said, in a world full of uncontrollable variables, this is something we CAN change. Thank you!

    1. Hi Danielle! Thank you for your kind words! So glad you found my blog. 🙂 Keep up the good work feeding your family whole foods…everyone else will come around eventually (I hope)! If people keep spreading the word about the importance of real food and cutting out processed foods with long lists of FAKE ingredients, maybe these big food companies will start to take note?? I’m just trying to make my (very small) impact on the world. 🙂 I hope you keep following along!

  2. I just found your blog and am loving it! I spent the past half hour printing out some of your recipes and am going to try them next week (need to do a big grocery run). I have two very picky young eaters and I am on a mission to start making home-made food that is nutritious and tasty for them. I’ll let you know how it goes:)

    1. So glad you found me, Colleen! And I’m so excited you printed off several recipes to try. Please let me know how you like them…I love any and all feedback! I try to include my family’s feedback on new recipes I try, even when it’s negative, so hopefully that will help as well. Good luck! It’s worth it!

  3. Hi LeAnn,

    I just found your blog. And, I have to say, I’m loving it. Your recipes look simple, easy and delicious. I can’t wait to make them. Also, I love your practical way of approaching eating real food. =)

    Helen

    1. Hi Helen! Sorry for the long delay in replying! Welcome and thank you for your kind words! Yes, with three little kids, my meals/recipes need to be simple enough that I can make them quickly AND without a whole lot of focus…I get interrupted a lot! ha! Glad you found my blog! 🙂
      ~LeAnn

  4. Hello LeAnn. I just read the article about you in the Journal Gazette so I checked out your blog. I love it! I have one question though…..I am a single mom with two teenage children who like to eat! How can I do this without breaking the pocket book? Do you have any cheats on saving money? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Marla! So glad that you found me! (Sorry I’m a day behind in responding…for some reason I didn’t see a notification come through for this comment!). I touched on the money issue in a recent blog post that you might like: http://realfitrealfoodmom.com/2014/02/13/overcoming-obstacles-real-food-lifestyle/

      Real food and organic choices definitely are more expensive, but if you make the changes gradually and are willing to be a little flexible on what you eat, I think it can be done. I know our grocery bill has gone up, but to what extent, it’s hard to track (because I now buy food in so many different places: Costco, Kroger, Seven Sons Farm, Whole Foods in Carmel when I get down that way, etc.). I will admit–I’m a little nervous how much this will all cost when my kids are teenagers and have MUCH bigger appetites and are active in sports, but I figure we’ll worry about that when we get there. There are a lot of other sources of protein (like quinoa) that are cheaper than meat, so if your kids are open-minded, you can try all sorts of new foods and save some money. And actually, buying things like oatmeal in a big container (or from a bulk bin) is much cheaper than buying individual packets of Quaker oatmeal. It all takes a little work at first to figure out, but I’m sure we’re saving money in some categories of foods. And, for us, the biggest reason we’re doing this is to avoid excess health care costs in the future and hopefully avoid things like cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc. The goal is that by eating this way now (and in the future), we’ll save ourselves money in the long run. Only time will tell, I guess! I hope that helps a little. So glad you came to my site after reading the JG article! I love when I have local followers. 🙂

  5. LeAnn, my name is Melissa Adams and I contacted you the other day regarding your opportunity of running for this running store and the Seven Sons Farm. I’ve been reading more on your site and on 100 days of real food for helpful ideas, etc. I am interested in knowing what your take is on corn and how it is a GMO and is contained in a lot of food. Also, I have been reading a lot about gluten and how it plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so using coconut oil for cooking and eating grass fed beef are the way I am headed. It’s all very interesting and disturbing at the same time.

    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Melissa, sorry I’m just now replying! Sometimes I don’t get notifications of comments on ‘older’ posts. You said you contacted me the other day? I didn’t see anything in my email or FB messages. Did I miss something?? I definitely don’t consider myself an expert when it comes to GMOs…but here’s my personal take on things… As far as corn goes, that’s something that I try to make sure it’s organic as much as possible, since organic means that the food cannot be from a GMO source. Corn is in a TON of processed foods, but since we don’t eat much processed stuff anymore, it’s not too hard to avoid. If you starting eating ‘real’ and ‘whole,’ you’ll quickly realize that it’s not as hard to avoid it as you might initially think. When you do buy a product with corn in it, try to go for organic if that’s an option. As much as I would love to say we ALWAYS choose organic, we don’t. I do the best that I can and try to make the best possible choices most of the time, but I don’t freak out about it if I go somewhere and my kids eat something that isn’t organic, etc. I feel like everything in moderation is okay and hopefully I’m teaching my kids that real food can be just as enjoyable as the processed “fun” stuff. And, yes, as far as gluten goes–I know there are reports out there on both sides of the argument. I’m not even sure where I stand on it. I had food sensitivity testing done recently and the results actually showed that I’m not reactive to it, so that’s good. However, I’ve been avoiding it for a little over a month right now and it hasn’t been too hard. I may try to reintroduce wheat and some other gluten-containing grains in the near future…but I will try to choose organic as much as I possibly can. I don’t know if I really think everyone needs to eliminate gluten from their diets. I think it’s a ‘fad’ right now and will eventually pass. Some people need to due to an intolerance or allergy. If Alzheimer’s runs in your family and you think it would help, then you could try to eliminate it. I know it would be hard, though. I definitely miss bread and a lot of other foods that are ‘off limits’ right now. I don’t know if I want to avoid it forever… I’m a little torn on it, if I’m being honest. Sorry that doesn’t help much! 🙂 Just my thoughts on all of it! Good job on using coconut oil and grass-fed beef!! Keep it up! 🙂

  6. Hi There! I just found your blog as a link from TRRC about your Fort 4 Fitness race. I was so excited when I saw this. I am from the Fort Wayne area and my family has been eating real food for a while. We transitioned to this lifestyle after embarking on the journey to run our first full marathon a couple of years ago. We try not to buy the processed foods, but do occasionally have them when visiting others. It’s great that others are taking this journey and spreading awareness!

    Congratulations on your F4F run – I finished slightly after you at about 1:49 and also plan to run the Veteran’s Day! Good luck!

    1. Awesome, Jessica!! I’m so glad you found me! I love having local followers. 🙂 And that’s great that you are already eating real foods and running together as a family! (We also occasionally eat processed stuff when we travel and visit others. I try not to get too worried about it.) Good luck to you in the Veterans race, as well! I’m not sure how I’m going to do…I’ve been dealing with some nagging injuries that are starting to concern me more as time goes on. 🙁 Thanks for saying hi and letting me know you’re in FW, too!!

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