Health challenge # 1: Stick to Real Food
First things first: Stick to Real Food. Sounds pretty straightforward, no?
But what exactly is real food? I like to think of it as food in its simplest, most natural form; or how you’d find it in nature, if you went looking. So, this would include foods like fresh, vibrant fruits and veggies, wild fish, whole grains, beans, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Ideally, this would also include seasonal and locally grown produce, and locally raised animal foods like dairy, eggs, poultry and meat.
Another way to think of it is food that’s free from “c.r.a.p” (chemicals, refined, artificial and processed) – explained in a later post.
So why stick to real food? I’ll give you three reasons:
1. Real food is good for you.
Real food is not just chockful of nutrients, but also contains the “cofactors” needed to process, digest and assimilate it properly. The simplest way to think of it is this: your body knows what to do with the food, and how to digest, use or store the nutrients for future use, making it a better use of precious eating time.
You’ve heard of the saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Think of real food in the same way: like a symphony containing good fats, fiber, natural sugars, protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, that depend on each other to produce a perfect concerto in your body. Basically, you need the whole food to get all its benefits.
For example, we know that an orange contains copious amounts of the antioxidant vitamin C (one orange can give you 93% of your daily vitamin C requirements). Vitamin C is an intense nutrient that means business. It’s not only responsible for clearing harmful free radicals that damage cells, but is also essential for boosting the immune system, forming new collagen tissue, lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving blood sugar levels, and altogether protecting the body from toxicity, aging and infections (“Oranges, n.d.). But vitamin C can only do so much by itself. It is so much more efficient when it works with its trusted cleaning crew – the Mighty Flavonoids, vitamin E, and carotenoids – and these exist with vitamin C only in a whole foods form.
So, next time you reach for that vitamin C pill – ask yourself if you’re getting all the benefits. Maybe grab a freshly squeezed OJ instead. Better yet, eat the whole orange – zest, pith and pulp – you’ll get loads more vitamin C, added flavonoids and a bonus of blood-sugar regulating fiber too!
2. Real food = Real simple.
Food has become way too complicated – and has lent itself to over-restricted, calorie-counting, and potentially malnourishing diets (including the low-fat or low-carb crazes). Instead, when you eat a diverse and colorful real food diet that includes as many whole-food nutrient-dense sources as possible, you supply your body with the nutrient balance it needs [Check], take the guesswork out of your grocery shopping [Check], and make your life heckuva lot simpler [Check!]. What’s not to love about that?
In 2009, Michael Pollan, a well-known food advocate based in Berkeley (CA), wrote a pivotal yet commonsense book called “Food Rules,” incorporating 64 succinct rules to help you keep it simple when figuring out what to eat. Some of his rules include:
- If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.
- Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
- Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket (where the produce is kept) and stay out of the middle (where the processed foods abound!)
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of real food in a simple way, start with the book Food Rules. And no, this is not a paid advertisement!
3. Real food is scrumptious.
If you’ve ever crunched your way through a raw bell pepper, savored the sweetness of a whole roasted beetroot, enjoyed a succulent piece of lamb cooked in its own juices, or taken comfort in the creaminess of an avocado (I could go on…), you know how moreish and satisfying real food can be.
I grew up eating food prepared with an abundance of spices and seasoning; so was somewhat late in discovering and appreciating the natural flavors of whole foods. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I was cooking regularly for myself, along with a combination of impatience, laziness and curiosity, that I began to delight in minimal flavors, recipes, and cooking techniques. I found that enjoying foods in their simplest form – whether it meant skipping the salt on my eggs or drinking black coffee every now and then – transformed my taste-buds and allowed me to relish the delicate nuances of real foods without my usual craving for seasoning.
I’m not suggesting you ditch the spice and go bland.
But let’s get real. The exorbitant amount of seasoning, sugars, salt, artificial and “natural” flavors, trans-fats, MSG and other additives used in most cooked and processed foods today is overkill; making us forget what real food ever looked or tasted like. Like the Brussels sprouts in many restaurants that are being fried into crispy oblivion. Or the salad that’s drowned in so much dressing, that you have no idea what you’re eating.
A simple Kaiser Permanente survey in 2015 showed that when people cut out sugars and artificial sweeteners for 2 weeks straight, they reset their taste-buds and found that the foods they once enjoyed were too sweet. Eighty-six percent of them even stated this experiment stopped their sugar cravings altogether.
So, the real food challenge lies in enjoying food in its most natural state. Start from scratch. Keep it simple. Minimize the seasoning once in a while. And you’ll find yourself retraining your palate to crave healthier, more nourishing foods in no time.
Bartolotto, C. (2015). Does Consuming Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners Change Taste Preferences? The Permanente Journal. 19(3). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500487/
https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736B.Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5). Retrieved from:
Oranges (n.d.). In The World’s Healthiest Foods Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=37
Pollan, M. (2009). Food Rules. New York, NY: Penguin Books