“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”- Michael Pollan
You often hear the directive: eat real food, or eat food. But what does that mean? What is FOOD? If I haven’t been eating food, what have I been eating? With so many faux foods out there, it can be difficult to understand what real food is and what it is not. In essence, real food is any food in its whole form, while faux food is food that has been processed or created in a laboratory. Foods with bar codes or fancy packaging are often least likely to be real food. Food manufacturers do a great job of convincing you of the health benefits of their foods even if there aren’t any, or even when their foods might actually hurt you. Be very cautious of any health claims on food packaging.
Broccoli doesn’t have to convince us that it’s healthy because we know that it is. If a food manufacturer has to do a lot of work to convince you that something is healthy, then you should question it and trust your instincts.
Depends. Organic produce, organic whole grains that contain only one ingredient, like rolled oats or brown rice, can be real food. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs, are generally better than non-organic because they do not contain antibiotics. Locally grown foods from your farmer’s market are often organic, but may not have the label because the certification is very expensive and many small farmers cannot afford it.
There are a lot of “organic” junk foods out there. Organic cookies, chips- they’re all still junk food and pretty much fake foods- tread carefully.
However, organic animal products might be a little less than real if they are not labeled as grass-fed beef or humanely raised eggs. Animals raised in adverse conditions can cause animals to grow at faster rates than they should and experience physical ailments as a result of being crammed into a small space- the “organic” label does not account for this.
Is “natural” food real food?
The “natural” label is not at all regulated, so “natural” chicken or “natural” peanut butter doesn’t necessarily mean it lacks additives and heavy processing. Anyone can put the “natural” label on their foods. There is certainly nothing “natural” about a Cheeto.
Sometimes. Real, whole grains, are just that- a whole grain- nothing more. Rolled oats, brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, farro, kasha/ buckwheat can all be great sources of whole grains- when you eat them from a package that contains only that one ingredient. Unfortunately, many of our “whole grain” options have been tossed together with excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat and still called a “whole grain” food. Rice mixes, boxed cereals, and many breads are faux whole grains- they are actually processed foods that contain many ingredients and maybe just a few whole grains.
So- then what is real food?
Real food comes in the least processed form possible. Think rolled oats, not Quaker maple and cinnamon instant oatmeal. Think plain, Greek yogurt- not Yoplait 60 calorie key lime pie “yogurt.” Think of your grandma’s made-from-scratch recipes.
Where do I find real food?
The best sources of real foods are local sources: farmer’s markets, CSAs, and the outer aisles of your supermarket. The inner-aisles contain the faux foods that last way longer than any real, unprocessed food might (except for the whole grains and dried spices).
How can I get more real food into my kitchen?
Check out what’s in my pantry. Then each week, supplement what’s in your pantry with fresh vegetables, fruits, wild fish, and humanely-raised meats and dairy products (if you eat these). Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how to make your food more real 🙂
Photo: Foods supporting a Mediterranean diet/ lifestyle with real, whole foods