Real Food Guidelines*
Read Words, NOT Numbers
Start your Real Food Journey now! Eliminate ultra-processed foods from your diet and eat primarily Real Food. Fresh foods are unprocessed and about as real as Real Food gets. All processed foods have ingredient labels, but not all processed foods are bad. So check ingredients, and choose foods that are closer to the unprocessed end of the spectrum. Here are hints to help recognize what foods are processed and what foods are Real.
These Guidelines may be a lot to digest, especially if Real Food is a new concept, but no worries because I'll post articles discussing these categories in greater detail. I encourage you to post comments or Contact me with questions. Your feedback will help me prioritize the order to discuss these items. And Subscribe to this Blog for updates on postings and any other Real Food related news.
Also, at the bottom of the page are pantry food items (listed alphabetically by brand) that I typically purchase from Amazon. I participate in the Amazon Affiliates Program to support my blogging activities. Please read my Disclosure Policy for more about my philosophy on this, and THANK YOU for supporting this Blog! Note that clicking on these Product links will automatically reroute you to Amazon and will not open a new window. So you'll need to use the browser history to return to Realistic FoodEs.
Avoid Foods Made with these Ingredients
REFINED SWEETENERS: Includes sugar (cane, brown, powdered, beet, invert sugar), anything malted (malted syrup, malted barley), any form of corn syrup, fructose, or artificial stuff like Splenda or Nutrasweet. (Extra Hint: Ingredients ending in “-ose” or “-ol” are refined sweeteners) Natural Sweeteners are OK in moderation (see Real Food Guidelines below).
TRANS FATS AND REFINED OILS: Includes many shelf-stable cooking oils (e.g., safflower, sunflower, soybean, grapeseed, corn, vegetable oils and shortening). These are derived from plant seeds by using highly mechanical and chemical processes to remove the natural ingredients to increase shelf-life.
REFINED GRAINS: These grains are highly processed (e.g., white flour, white rice, regular pasta). If "whole" is not right in front of the grain listed in the ingredients, consider the grain refined (except for brown rice because it is a whole grain). For example, "whole wheat" is OK, but "made with whole grains" is a combo of whole and refined grains - so avoid these products.
OTHER UNHEALTHY INGREDIENTS: These include the above (refined sweeteners, trans fats, refined oils and grains) and in addition, sodium, sulfites, sulfates, emulsifiers, carrageenan, preservatives, any artificial ingredients (colors, flavors, sweeteners), "natural flavorings", etc. (Extra Hint: long, unpronounceable names should be considered unhealthy ingredients)
Note that most shelf-stable foods are highly processed. These foods are typically located in the interior aisles of the grocery store. So as a General Guideline: Shop the perimeter (perishable items) of the store first. Avoid the middle aisles unless you need something specific. Real Food will spoil if not eaten soon!
Real Food Guidelines (Eat Regularly):
PLANTS (Veggies & Fruits): Eat lots of veggies and fruits in moderation. These can be fresh, frozen, or dried. Frozen and dried foods may have preservatives, so read the ingredients. When buying fresh plants, try to find local sources within your budget. Buying seasonal will be more affordable. And only need to buy organic if on the "Dirty Dozen" List.
PROTEIN (Meat, Seafood, Eggs): Embrace your inner omnivore! Eat Meat. It's the best source of protein. Loaded with bioavailable nutrition. Buy the best quality meat available. And what fits within your budget.
- 100% Grass-fed and finished, pasture-raised meat, is best. At the very least, buy meat that is "Hormone-free & Antibiotic-free".
- Eat a mixture of wild caught and farm-raised fish & seafood.
- "Pastured" or "pasture-raised" eggs are best, if not available or not within budget then follow this hierarchy of labeling: Omega-3 Enriched --> Organic --> Free Range/Cage Free --> Conventional.
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN PROTEIN (Quinoa, Tempeh, Seitan, Lentils): But a Real Food lifestyle is not just for omnivores. Realistic FoodEs welcomes everyone who wants to eat whole and minimally processed foods!
- Soy products involve processing and contain ingredients generally considered unhealthy, particularly unfermented soy. Nevertheless, some experts promote the benefits of soy products. So use your best judgment. Because there are a number of other non-meat protein alternatives, I recommend avoiding unfermented soy, including tofu. Tempeh, however, is a fermented soybean-based product and packed with protein. This seems to be the healthiest and best form of soy.
- Seitan is derived from wheat gluten (commonly called the "wheat meat"), so obviously not for the gluten-sensitive or celiacs.
100% WHOLE GRAINS: Eat in moderation because grains require processing to be in edible form. (Extra Hint: Look for "Whole Wheat" or "whole" in front of the grain to indicate it is 100% whole grain ingredient.)
NON-GRAIN FLOURS (Coconut Flour, Tapioca Flour, Arrowroot Flour, and Nut Flours: Almond Flour, Hazelnut Flour, etc.): Use instead of grain flours - These flours are less processed and many are gluten-free.
HIGH-FAT DAIRY (Whole Milk, Raw Milk, Heavy Cream, Butter, Ghee, White Cheese & Yogurt): Consume dairy in moderation.
- Best options are organic, whole, full-fat dairy products from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals. Read the ingredients, and choose the least processed products.
- Whole milk has gotten a bad rap, but it's the least processed of all types (skim, 2%, 1%) except for raw milk, which may not be readily available or even illegal in certain states.
DAIRY ALTERNATIVES (Coconut Milk, Almond Milk and other Nut Milks): These are options for dairy allergies, vegans and vegetarians. For reasons already discussed, I recommend avoiding soy milk.
NATURAL SWEETENERS (Honey, Pure Maple Syrup, Whole Dates, Molasses, Whole Leaf Stevia or Stevia Extract): Preferably organic, local honey if it's in your budget. Sugar is sugar so use only in moderation.
HEALTHY FATS (Saturated and Monounsaturated): These fats are naturally occurring and minimally processed. Choose the best quality fats affordable.
- Coconut Oil: Although a saturated fat, coconut oil is naturally occurring and may be minimally processed. Read the labels and look for these terms: “whole coconut” or “unrefined”, or more commonly “extra virgin” along with “cold-pressed coconut oil”. Coconut Oil is great for high heat cooking.
- Fats from healthy, pasture-raised animals (e.g., Butter, Ghee, Bacon Fat, Schmaltz, Duck Fat): These are also saturated fats, but rendered directly from the fat of healthy animals (so minimally processed). Since I buy 100% pasture-raised pork, I feel comfortable saving bacon drippings, rather than use commercially produced lard. These fats are also recommended for high-heat cooking.
- Olive, Avocado, Nut Oils: These are monounsaturated fats. Minimally processed forms are Organic, Extra-Virgin, and Cold-Pressed. These are best unheated – drizzle on foods to add flavor and richness. Olive and avocado oils are OK for low-heat cooking. Nut oils are not recommended for cooking.
CULINARY FLAVORINGS (Spices, Herbs, Aromatics, Condiments, Dressings): Processed foods use all sorts of bad, artificial, and plain old unhealthy stuff to add flavor to food products. Despite the labeling “natural flavorings” are NEVER natural nor real. So if you see this on the package just put it back on the shelf and run away! Instead, learn how to cook with these REAL Real Food Flavorings, and you’ll never want food products with unnaturally-made flavorings again.
- Spices, Spice Blends, and Fresh Herbs: Spices can be expensive. Stock up slowly, as your budget allows. I recommend buying spice blends first so you can cook with robust flavors while stocking up on single spices.
- Aromatics: These give dishes flavor and depth. Aromatics are combinations of veggies and herbs heated in a bit of fat at the beginning of cooking. The heating process releases aromas and impart deep flavors in the dish. Common aromatics include onions, garlic, carrots, celery, ginger, mushrooms, tomato paste, etc.
- Condiments and Dressings. Be wary and always read the ingredients. Many brands tend to have refined sweeteners, excessive sodium, and other unhealthy stuff. Choose the least processed items.
SNACKS (Seeds, Nuts, Dried Fruit, Any Real Food): Honestly, Real Food is snack food. But should you choose to graze, then don't go overboard with snacks - Eat in moderation. Dried fruit is OK, but try to chose unsweetened or naturally sweetened. If you are new to Real Food and making a transition, I recommend avoiding packaged snacks until you are well on your journey.
BEVERAGES (Water, Milk, All Natural Juices, Mineral, Sparkling or Seltzer Water, Naturally Flavored Water, Club Soda, Coconut Water, Kombucha, Coffee, Tea, Wine and Beer): Naturally sweetened drinks are OK in moderation. Water is really the best - drinks lots and lots!! Add slices of citrus, or cucumbers, or fresh herbs to water for flavor boost. Tasty and refreshing! Don’t go crazy with fruit juice – even if 100% pure or if you processed the juice yourself - still loaded with sugar and nutrients are stripped from fruit during processing. Better to eat the whole fruit. Yes - I included Wine & Beer. So enjoy - but always in moderation!