Makeunder Your Diet with Real Food
Without a doubt, the crucial foundation of a healthy, satisfying, and delicious diet is real food. You’ve probably heard that before. But what exactlyÂ is real food? Some people define it as unprocessed food, which is a good place to start, but I don’t think it tells the whole story. Here are four characteristics of real food to help guide you when you’re making food choices.
1. Real food is as close to its natural state as possible. Most of the foods you eat should look pretty close to how they exist in nature. That means that a bag of full-size carrots is better than baby carrots, which are better than canned carrots. But the optimal choice would probably be a bunch of carrots from your local farmers’ market. It gets harder when you’re talking about foods that are more processed by definition, like cheese or pasta, and that’s where ingredient lists come in handy. Don’t be afraid to get intimate with ingredient lists! To me, they’re just as important (if not more important) than nutrition labels, which can be misleading. Check out the ingredient list to make sure the ingredients in the food you’re buying would be the same ingredients you’d use if you were making the item from scratch. Trader Joe’s does a great job of making sure their packaged foods have stellar ingredient lists.
2. Real food isn’t necessarily low-fat or low-calorie. To remove fat/calories from food that’s naturally higher in fat or calories means more processing, which means the food is farther from its natural state (see above!). To me, low-fat is only a good thing when the food is naturally low in fat. I always choose full-fat dairy, for example, rather than low-fat. It’s more satisfying, flavorful, and hasn’t been shown to have a negative impact on health. Diet foods aren’t real foods — they’re edible nonfood. They’re not satisfying, and they won’t necessarily make it easier for to lose weight or improve your health.
3. Real food often has complex flavor. When you eat a lot of fake food, your tongue and brian get used to very simplistic flavors — sweetness and saltiness, mostly. Once you start eating more real food, you’ll start to appreciate more complex flavors. You’d be shocked at which foods taste sweet when you’re not eating saccharine sweet fake foods all the time! The subtle sweetness of nuts, cream, and of course, fruit, are really noticeable once you start eating real food most of the time. Eating real food has taught me to appreciate nuanced flavors that might not be popular with the average tastebud (tartness/bitterness, umami, etc.).
4. Real food is diverse! Fake food dresses itself up to make you think you’re getting diversity: “Another flavor of low-fat chip? Awesome!” Processed food is largely made up of two ingredients: corn and soy. And it’s disguised to account for most of the food in any given supermarket. But real food offers so much more variety. Think of all the different vegetables available today and how different they are in terms of flavor, texture, etc. You can keep your meals interesting just by constantly sampling new produce and proteins (meats, fish, etc). I’ve given my clients the homework of trying one new ingredient a week (which can include herbs and spices) just because it keeps things interesting.
Okay, now it’s your turn. How would you describe/define “real food”?