There are many ways to get from point A to point B. There are also many ways to go from eating highly processed foods to eating real.
Below are the rules we follow in our household:
Read ingredient labels on everything.
When eating real, the most important label to read is the ingredient label. Are the ingredients those that you would keep in your pantry, fridge, or spice cabinet? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a box of potassium chloride in my kitchen. That’s why I don’t buy products that contain preservatives like that.
At the beginning of my real food journey, I made the mistake of assuming that something as simple as frozen shrimp was a no-brainer real food and didn’t check the ingredient label. When I later discovered that it contained calcium chloride, I vowed never to make that kind of assumption again.
Eat whole wheat and whole grain as much as possible.
The most important word here is WHOLE. Don’t be fooled by products that claim “wheat”. Anything that is not whole wheat or a whole grain is refined and stripped of nutrients.
There are way too many buzzwords out there that may fool you. Don’t fall for it. Read the label or look for the seal of approval created by the Whole Grains Council.
A key phrase in this rule, for my family, is “as much as possible”. There are rare times when we have decided that making a batch of homemade white-flour hoagie rolls is far better than buying a store-bought version that does contain whole wheat but also contains a multitude of preservatives that I can’t pronounce.
It’s a classic case of picking your battles.
No food dyes.
If you have bottles of food coloring in your pantry, I want you to walk over there right now and chuck those bad boys in the garbage. I’ll wait……
Many highly-processed foods contain dyes such as Red 40, Yellow 6, or Blue 1. Food dyes have no nutritional value, no flavor, no preservative qualities. All they are designed to do is make your food look better.
Food dyes have been linked to major illnesses and behavior issues. For our family, foods like blue frosting and red Gatorade just aren’t worth the risk.
Eat good meat.
Yes, good meat costs a little more. Watch the documentary Food, Inc. one time and you’d be willing to pay three times as much as you are now. That’s what convinced me to make the switch to sustainable meat. Here are the key words and phrases you need to look for on meat labels: wild caught (seafood), organic, free range, cage free, or grass fed.
You are what you eat. You’re also what you eat eats.
Eat organic when it makes the most sense.
When it comes to buying organic, there are some foods that are worth the extra cost and some that are not. A general rule of thumb is to follow the Dirty Dozen (high pesticides)/Clean Fifteen (low or no pesticides) guidelines. Because our local grocer’s organic selection is very inconsistent and limited, our family does the best we can when it comes to this rule.
Always remember, just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s real. Just because something is real doesn’t mean it’s organic. Always. Read. Labels.
Eat nothing labeled as “light”, “low calorie”, “low fat”, “fat free”.
Foods that use these buzz words are full of chemicals and artificial flavoring to replace the missing real fat and real sugar. Eating real means enjoying foods in their natural state – fat and all. Bonus: it tastes much better too!
In summary, just do the best you can with the resources you have. Take baby steps and make attainable goals. Like I said in my first blog post, my family isn’t perfect. We eat cake at birthday parties. We graciously accept dinner invitations without stressing about what will be served. We order pizza every Friday night.
Eating real can seem overwhelming at first, but after you get the hang of it you’ll never want to go back to highly-processed foods.