Throughout the course of this year, I am going to cover various aspects of natural living and how you too can do them on a budget and without overwhelming yourself.
This first post is what I consider to be one of the key foundational concepts when I comes to natural living, paying attention to what you put into your body in the form of food.
While a real food “diet” may sound like just another fad diet, it’s not. Instead, it’s a lifestyle and way of eating where you pay attention to how processed your food is and what went into raising it.
When we get closer to the source for our food, we get more of the nutrients and other benefits it contains. This is turn can help our bodies function to their full potential.
What is Real Food?
I define real food as something that can be recognized as food when broken down into its constituent parts.
For example, if you took the individual ingredients (unmixed) from a bag of Cheetos and laid them on the counter, how many of them would you be able to identify?
Well, maybe some of them because of the flours that makes up the base of the Cheeto, but even the ingredients that started as a grain or “cheese” have been processed so much that they are beyond recognition.
My philosophy on food is that the more processed a food is, the worse it is for you. This isn’t to say that there aren’t products out there that are somewhat processed but that still have a good ingredients list.
The closer a food is to how God intended it to be, the closer it is to how it can be found in nature, the better it is for you.
When you eat a food that hasn’t been heated, pulverized, flavored, or colored beyond recognition, more of its nutrients and benefits are available to you.
What is a Real Food Diet?
Usually when you hear the word “diet”, you probably think of a certain set of rules that someone put together that your supposed to follow in order to lose weight, gain muscle, or reach some other goal.
But in reality, anything you eat is part of your diet.
You don’t have to follow a diet created by someone else to achieve their goals (unless you want to).
My philosophy of a real food diet is to eat foods in ways that are close to the way God created them so they can fuel our bodies as He intended them to.
Instead of counting calories or carbs, we can pay attention to how our foods were grown or prepared.
When we return to nature in our food, we return to the foods and their forms our bodies were meant to run on. When we give our bodies the food they were designed for, they can use the nutrients efficiently and effectively.
Examples of Real Food
You might be wondering, what does real food look like? Well, it looks like food.
Now maybe if you’ve been around processed food all your life and it’s all you’ve know, it might be a bit different. If that’s the case, maybe a kohlrabi would look more like something you’re supposed to plant in the ground or feed a cow than something you can cut up and cook for supper.
While the ingredients in something “real food” vs. an ultra-processed “food” might have some overlap, the largest difference is in how those ingredients are prepared.
There is a big difference between an oven-roasted chicken breast (free-range or not) and a chicken nuggets from a fast food restaurant. While one contains a single ingredient (chicken), the other contains a list of fillers, flavorings, and preservatives that make it a fast food chicken nugget.
Other examples of a real food vs. its ultra-processed alternative include:
Steak/Ground Beef (without fillers) vs. mystery meat
Fruits and Veggies vs. Jello or Skittles
Aged Cheddar vs. Processed Cheese Product
What is not Real Food?
While many types of real food are easy to spot due to their unprocessed nature (they still look like meat, veggies, fruits, grains/flour, etc.), some foods made with good ingredients have still been through some level of processing.
While these types of processed foods are definitely better for your than their conventional counterparts, they are still best consumed sparingly.
Still not sure how to tell if something in your pantry or on the grocery store shelf is made of “real food”? Here are some quick tips for spotting things that are not real food.
Irrecognizable compared to how it’s found in nature (use common sense on this, because some things like flour don’t look like the original grain due the the grinding process).
Contains 20 ingredients (it’s best to stay away from things that have any more than 5 ingredients on their label)
Doesn’t go bad/Has a longer shelf-life than you (although things like honey break this rule)
Anything that has words like “artificial”, “hydrogenated”, or similar words on the label
Problems with Ultra-processed Food
Gives your body a rush then crash
Can harm your body
The more you look at the Standard American Diet (SAD), it’s easy to see that ultra-processed foods have been a way of life.
As a result of filling our bodies with food that is void of nutrients and full of all sorts of artificial things, our bodies are not able to function at their peak performance level.
When we fill our stomachs with foods that are high in starches and sugars and largely void of other nutrients, our bodies cannot adequately process those foods. This can lead to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.
When a food is so processed, the nutrients tend to end up damaged so much that our bodies have a hard time recognizing and utilizing them.
This can lead to nutrient deficiencies due to not giving our bodies access to all the things they need.
In addition, when you strip the nutrients away from carbohydrate-rich foods, all they do is to give us a sugar high and then a crash.
While we might feel good right after we eat, a couple hours later we either don’t feel well or are starving because our bodies didn’t get the fuel they needed.
By eating a varied diet complete with meat, dairy, veggies, fruits, and some grains, we can make sure that our bodies are getting what they need to perform at their best.
Why is real food better?
In essence, real food is better because it does the exact opposite to your body as ultra-processed food does. Real food helps :
Your body function properly
Keep you fuller longer
Give you the nutrients you need when nursing or pregnant
The earth, because many times the fewer the ingredients/processing, the less emissions and chemicals were using in a food’s journey from farm to table
How can I start eating more real food?
I’m going to do a whole post soon on how to incorporate more real foods into your diet, but here are a few simple tips to start.
Switch Supper First
When we’re on the go for work or school, breakfast and lunch might seem like the worst place to start changing how we do things.
To solve this, switch your supper meals first. If you work outside of the home or even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you might now often have a ton of time to cook an elaborate meal for your family.
If you don’t have a ton of time (or desire) to be in the kitchen, try a crockpot meal. There are some wonderful ideas for crockpot meals that are made from real food ingredients. My personal favorite is a beef roast with potatoes and carrots.
Don’t try to switch everything at once. If you’re eating mostly processed meats, maybe work on switching them over to less-processed versions.
You don’t to jump from Tyson frozen chicken nuggets to a whole free-range, organic chicken all at once. I mean, if you want to, go for it, but don’t be too hard on yourself that you can’t switch over everything in your freezer and pantry.
Focus on one thing at a time. When you’re running out of something, try to find a better alternative to replace it with when it runs out.
If you’re overwhelmed enough with grocery shopping and cooking as it is without making any of these changes, check out my post on simplifying those things so you can have more time for the things that matter.
Not an Overnight Thing
This goes along with the previous point about starting small, but you won’t be able to completley change how you and your family eat overnight.
Even if you were to empty the pantry out and go on a shopping spree, if you have kids, they are going to be some issues adjusted. In most cases, going cold turkey like this is a recipe for failure.
By transitioning gradually to foods that are less familiar, you and your family will be better able to adjust to your new way of eating.
How can I tell what is real food? What qualifies as a whole food?
Here are a couple things to think about when trying to decide if something fits as a real food/whole food:
Read ingredients labels. How many ingredient names do you even recognize?
Pending some scientific names of ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, you should be able to recognize all the ingredients on the label.
The fewer ingredients the better
Could you recognize it if you pulled it out of the ground?
Which foods should I switch over first?
Personally, I would focus on switching over your meat and veggies first an incorporating them more into your diet. These can help fill you up and make you miss other carb-loaded foods less.
Note: Like I said above, don’t force yourself to change to all of these things at once. The points I’m going to list below are best case scenarios. You’ll have to see what’s available to your in your area. If you can get something local but not organic, or organic but not raw, decide what matters most to you and make your decision based on that.
Grassfed (for beef and lamb)
Free-range (for chicken, turkey, etc.)
Soy-free (for chicken, turkey, etc.)
Ingredients only contain milk and maybe some culture for things like cheese and sour cream
Organic if possible
Check the “Clean Fifteen” list for fruits and veggies that are grown with fewer pesticides and herbicides that you can buy non-organic to save some money
The “Dirty Dozen” list contains fruits and veggies that have higher levels of chemical residues on them when grown conventionally. Try to get items on this list organically if possible
What are the best resources for learning about real food?
The first resource is this blog, morganconsier.com. I will continue to publish informative posts about real food and other natural, frugal living related topics. If you follow blogs using a blog reader or RSS feed, add me so you don’t miss a post!
Here are some of my other favorite resources when it comes to real food:
Dr. Weston A Price was one of the leading researchers when it came to the effect of a modern, refined diet on the human body as compared to a traditional diet and whole, unprocessed foods.
In the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF)’s principles for healthy living, they lay out which types of foods to look for and which types to avoid when you want to eat a more traditional diet.
This website also contains articles with tons of scientific sources about real food and how it affects our bodies.
They also have a Real Food Shopping Guide that can help you find healthy food for your family near when you live.
Nourishing Traditions is a cookbook written by Sally Fallon Morrel. This combination of a cookbook and a science book contains everything you need to know to learn how to implement the Weston A Price Foundation’s principles in your kitchen in simple, manageable steps.
This cookbook includes recipes for your favorites like pancakes and yogurt, as a well as other traditional foods for your to try.
Until I found my sourdough pancake recipe, this pancake recipe was my go-to recipe. Once you get Nourishing Traditions, you should try them!
Kelly has tons of information-filled blog posts about all things real food on her blog. She is one of the very first real food blogs I started following.
Kelly has a Real Food Grocery Guide that helps you make the best purchasing decisions for food based on what your store has on hand.
She also has a book called Real Food for Rookies that looks like an awesome resource!
I haven’t done much with this website, but I know lots of people love their recipes and cookbooks that make it super simple to put together real food meals for your family. Check them out!
I found out about this book towards the end of my pregnancy with my son, but I’m going to get it for next time.
If you’re reasearching how to feed your family in the healthiest way possible or questioning what goes in or on your body because you’re pregnant, this book is for you. Lily Nichols provides tons of recipes, evidence, and advice for nourishing your and your baby’s bodies through the food that you eat.
The food we put in our bodies can have a great impact on our lives. My filling them with real food instead of processed, imitation foods, we can help them function to their best abilities.
Stay tuned for more posts on real food and how to incorporate it into your diet that isn’t overwhelming. Throughout the month of January, I will be covering different aspects of a real food diet.