The Importance of Eating “Real Food”

Wellness Challenge Step One- Eat Real Food and Avoid Processed Foods

Nutrition has a tremendous impact on overall health, and is a huge focus of the Wellness Lifestyle. If you’ve been a Wellness Mama reader for a while, you know that I’m not a fan of grainssugars and starches, or vegetable oils and recommend removing them from your diet.

My real food prescription, in a nutshell:

In order to get the most benefit in the quickest amount of time, cut out the grains, sugars, potatoes, beans, and all processed foods from your diet and focus on getting maximum nutrition from meats, vegetables, healthy fats (coconut, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, tallow, lard, butter, unprocessed cream, etc.) and fruits.

What Is “Real Food”?

I was asked recently which foods I would pick if I could only eat five foods forever. Tough question, but it really made me think about which foods would provide the nutritional needs for the rest of my life, as well as which ones I could stomach forever. A few of these are food “groups” but since I often see foods like pizza or mac and cheese (which contain multiple ingredients) on these types of lists, I figured healthy food groups would qualify.

1. Meat & Fish

Complete sources of protein and good sources of healthy fats. Nutritionally, meats and fish pack a lot of nutrition for their size and provide vital nutrients like iron, fat-soluble vitamins, omega-3s and more. I’d use the bones of the meat to make bone broth, which is a very nutrient-dense healing food.

The broad category of meat also includes nature’s multivitamin: organ meats. Organ meats one of the most nutrient dense foods available and they are an excellent source of fat soluble vitamins and iron. Also included in the meats/fish category would be fermented cod liver oil and omega-3 fish oil, which I consume daily.

Also, one word in defense of meat: bacon.

2. Coconut

Oh coconut, let me count the ways I love you. (Here are 101 ways to be exact). I love coconut oil, coconut cream concentrate, dried coconut, fresh coconut, coconut water, etc. Coconut is an excellent source of healthy fats, including brain and immune-boosting medium chain fatty acids and lauric acid. My family consumes coconut oil daily and I also use coconut flour in recipes like these:

3. Green Vegetables

I’d definitely include all vegetables if I could, but I figured that would really be a stretch! Green vegetables are an excellent source of nutrients and offer a lot of variety. I’d be consuming a lot of salads, homemade sauerkraut, roasted cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

4. Berries

Berries are nature’s dessert. Full of antioxidants and nutrients and relatively low in fructose, they are delicious and healthy. I love them plain or on salads. Nuff’ said.

5. Fermented Foods

This category would already include some of the foods listed above, but fermented foods have the added benefit of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria and enzymes. These beneficial bacteria help bolster the immune system, increase nutrient absorption from food, and improve digestion. Some of my favorite fermented foods are:

What to Limit?

If one of your goals is to lose weight or improve your physique, consider drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake. If weight loss is a serious goal, this will mean that that morning bowl of oatmeal or potato salad at lunch is out. To keep it simple, just get your carbs from vegetables (minus potatoes) and you’ll be fine!

One exception: if you struggle from low thyroid, don’t drop your carbs too low for too long, as this can stress the thyroid. Just make sure to get your carbs from healthy foods like sweet potatoes, winter squash, fruit, and grain-free baked goods!

Note: Some people experience a “carb flu” as their body adjusts to not having a constantly available stream of glucose. This is temporary, but can be uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks. Check out these two posts by Dr. Michael Eades to help make the transition easier: Tips for Starting Low Carb Part I and Tips for Starting Low Carb Part II.

Real Food “Cheat Sheets”

To help you get started on a real food lifestyle:

How to Handle Real Food Objections

How to handle objections from family and friends when you switch to a real food dietIf you’ve switched to a grain-free real food diet, chances are you have gotten some questions or flat out objections from concerned family and friends. In my experience, these questions or statements can range from genuine and scientific to flat out absurd.

When I first started eating this way, these type of questions would often leave me bumbling about vegetables, phytic acid, and the importance of fats. Even though I know the science behind it, it is hard to remember it all when someone brings up an objection. Even more difficult is organizing it into a coherent explanation that doesn’t have them zoning out from scientific terminology.

While it’s sad that we even have to defend a decision to eat real foods, a diet that doesn’t focus on “low-fat” pasta, breads, granola, etc. is a departure from the norm, and it helps to be able to back up your decision with science, logic, and of course, your obvious good health!

I actually get emails with some of these questions/objections from time to time, and I’ve been compiling them and their answers to hopefully help make things easier for you guys! I had many requests at the beginning of the 40-Day Challenge on how to respond in these situations, so I finally put all this together in one place!

For me, the toughest part was not answering sarcastically or with cynicism when I get comments like “Aren’t you worried that eating fat will hurt your baby?” (oh, where to start on that one!). Below are my best “nice” answers to help explain your new way of life to friends and family. I’d love to hear your answers below!

Some Helpful Pointers When Talking About A Real Food Diet

  1. Define the way you eat in a positive and easy to understand way. For instance, don’t just say you cut out grains or cut carbs. Explain that you have eliminated processed foods from your diet and are focusing on eating foods in their most natural, unaltered state. Most people won’t have trouble with this at all, especially if you have kids and mention that you don’t want your kids to eat too much sugar/chemicals/food colorings/additives, etc.
  2. Answer with a question if you can. For example, if asked about why you skip meals occasionally and if you are worried about how this will affect your metabolism, rephrase it and ask: “Do you think it is healthy to eat when the body is not hungry since hunger is the body’s natural way to signal it needs nourishment?”
  3. Speak kindly in your answers and let your results speak for themselves. I often get questions when people ask what I did that led to my weight loss/increased health, which they have noticed. When I explain, they sometimes get skeptical, or say things like “Oh, I could never give up bread.” Fair enough, and I’m certainly not trying to deprive anyone of the right to eat what they want. Realize that as great as you look or feel eating this way, this isn’t a choice that you can make for someone else. As much as you might want to convince a family member for the sake of his health, the best argument you have in the long run is your own results.

As a general rule I’ve found that it is often better to let others bring up the issue and answer minimally. In most cases, they will ask for more info or detail.

Answers to Common Objections to a Real Food Diet

“So you are just following the Atkins/Zone/South Beach/Low Carb diet?”

My Answer: Those “diets” still can include a lot of processed foods. I’m not following a diet, but working on incorporating a healthier lifestyle for myself and my family. Really, I’m just focused on cooking and eating the most nutrient dense and healthy foods available and giving my kids the best nutritional foundation I can. Most of the foods that are sources of fast carbs just have too many artificial ingredients and processed components for me to want to eat them or feed them to my family. Don’t you think that something like a chicken and vegetable stir-fry is more nutritious than a bowl of pasta?

“Aren’t you tired/sluggish from not eating enough carbohydrates?”

(I especially love this question when I am obviously jogging/lifting weights/playing with kids and not looking sleepy at all!)

My Answer: Actually, I feel great. I used to be hypoglycemic and needed some source of carbs every couple hours to function. I got tired of always having a granola bar with me, and didn’t like all the processed ingredients in most of these sources of food. Now, I make sure I’m getting enough proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables so that my body always has a constant source of energy. I feel better than I ever have, and it is so refreshing not to have to carry food around constantly, or be worried about when I’m going to eat next.

“What about the fiber? It isn’t good for you to eat all that meat and not get the fiber from all those whole grains!”

My Answer: Well, the research is actually pretty inconclusive on if we actually need that much fiber, but either way, vegetables and fruits have much more fiber and nutrients than whole grains without having to worry about how the gluten, lectins, and phytic acid are affecting my digestive track. Not to mention, most of the grains people eat are in such a processed form that they resemble wall paper glue more similarly than they resemble actual dietary fiber!

“Eating all that fat will give you diabetes!”

(Ignoring the blatant fact that it is carbohydrate intake, not fat intake that causes diabetes … this article explains more.)

My Answer: Actually my insulin sensitivity has improved since I started eating this way. (I know this personally because I occasionally test my own blood sugar to gauge my insulin response to foods and my fasting insulin and these have all improved, though they weren’t in unhealthy ranges before). Getting enough protein and fats and plenty of veggies actually helps the pancreas function optimally, especially things like the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil that don’t even need bile or pancreatic enzymes to digest and go straight to the liver to be used for energy. Not to mention I have more energy overall, and don’t feel exhausted if I miss a meal.

“I could never/would never give up bread/pasta/etc. They are so good!”

My Answer: I used to think the same thing and have seen examples of clients and relatives who would have pasta for dinner with bread on the side and then have toast with jelly for dessert. I, like these clients, thought I could never give up bread. Once I understood the negative effect that grains were having on my body, I decided to eliminate them completely for 60 days and then reintroduce. Since I wasn’t trying to commit to never eating them again, I was able to stick with it. A surprising thing happened. I stopped craving them, and when I could eat them again, they didn’t taste as good. In fact, when I tried eating grains again, I found that they usually upset my stomach and made me really tired. Now, I don’t even want them, and when I find myself wanting a certain food, it is more often something like meat, olives, quality aged cheese, or an orange for a treat. Don’t you think those things are healthier things to “crave” than toast or french fries?

“What about all the nutrients in grains?”

My Answer: While grains have been promoted as excellent sources of fiber and nutrients, in reality, they don’t have nearly the nutrients as foods in their natural state (meat, veggies, fruits, etc.). Grains also contain phytic acid, which depletes the body of minerals like calcium while it is being digested, causing nutrient deficiencies. Meats, vegetables, and healthy fat sources offer nutrients in a more readily available form which our bodies can absorb faster. Unlike vegetarians and vegans who aren’t consuming any animal products and have to be careful about supplementation (especially of B-vitamins), there is really no biological need for grains. Those who avoid grains either voluntarily, or by necessity as in the case of celiacs, find that they are healthier and have fewer nutrient deficiencies. (Personally, I had my vitamin D levels tested before going grain free and after several months. Without even supplementing or getting more sun than usual, my levels rose significantly.)

“Aren’t you worried about gaining weight from all that fat?”

My Answer: Since I’ve lost weight since starting to eat real foods, I’m not worried about this at all. In fact, since I am reducing my body’s insulin resistance by not over consuming processed carbs, my body is actually learning to burn fat as I continue to lose weight. Without insulin to signal fat cells to store fat, or the glucose (from carbs) to feed these fat cells, it is pretty logical that I’m losing, not gaining, weight. I’ve found that as long as I keep insulin levels low by not over consuming carbs, I’m actually less hungry and lose more weight the more fat I eat.

“It sounds like a great idea, but my kids won’t eat broccoli/chicken/beef/lettuce/fill in the blank. OR My kids will only eat chicken nuggets/ mac n cheese/pasta/fill in the blank.”

(This is perhaps my hardest one to answer without sarcasm! What I feel like saying is: “Oh, have you tried cutting down the amount of spending cash you are giving to your five year old to allow him to purchase these foods for himself” or “Wow, I’m really impressed your toddler can cook mac and cheese already!” or “Darn that stupid law that says we have to feed our kids whatever they want on a whim all the time!” or “Oh, if your kids wanted to take up smoking, would you allow that too?”)

My (Nice) Answer: Eating struggles with kids can be really tough. I fed my oldest son the feeding schedule the pediatrician recommended (I shudder to think of this now!). Because of that, he developed a taste of breads, processed foods, and sweets. When we started eating real food, the adjustment was tough for him for about two weeks. Kids are so resilient though, he adjusted and now he eats protein and vegetables at every meal without complaint. He still likes carbs, but prefers sweet potatoes to bread (he can eat 2-3 sweet potatoes at a meal). I think the transition is actually tougher on the parents than the kids. In the end, I guess we just have to realize that we have empowered them to eat these unhealthy foods in the first place, and we have the responsibility for teaching them healthy eating habits.

In the long run, a few meals of not eating or being upset at the food choices will be well worth the understanding of healthy foods and the nutritional foundation we are giving them. This is even more important for kids than for adults, since their brains and bodies are still developing and they need good sources of nutrition, especially proteins, veggies, and healthy fats. For me, it took my (then) two-year old son not eating for two days before he tried broccoli with butter, actually liked it, and has eaten it ever since. Besides, I don’t have time to be a short order cook, and since our family is committed to eating healthy foods, all of us are going to do that.

Here is an in-depth post about the guidelines I have for teaching our children to eat healthy foods and how we handle it at our house.

“I can’t eat those foods (meat, butter, coconut oil, etc.) because I have high blood pressure/cholesterol.”

My Answer: The idea that saturated fat raises cholesterol and that high levels of cholesterol cause heart disease (known as the Lipid Hypothesis) has been largely debunked (here’s why). In fact, some scientific info is now pointing to processed foods like omega-6 vegetable and seed oils and the inflammation from grains as the likely culprit. Other studies have found that for people over 55, higher cholesterol can actually mean less of a chance of death from heart attack. Doesn’t it seem logical that foods like meat and vegetables in their natural form are healthier and less inflammatory to the body than grains, sugars, vegetable oils, etc. that have to be processed to be consumed?

“But grain consumption is biblical and Jesus even called himself the Bread of Life, so grains must be good.”

My Answer: For one thing, we aren’t consuming grains in the same form they were consumed in biblical times. Back then, grains were often cut and then left in the fields until they were needed. During this time sitting in fields or structures, they were exposed to elements and left to mold, ferment, and sprout. These things all broke down some of the phytic acid/gluten/lectin content, making the grains more digestible. Also the grains couldn’t be ground as finely, since the equipment didn’t exist, and therefore, much less of the grain came in contact with the digestive track than it does these days.

Today wheat is generally served finely ground, increasing its surface area 10,000% and making it similar to sugar in the way our bodies recognize it. There is also evidence that the grains themselves were much different during biblical times, as they have now been hybridized and altered to produce higher yields.

Also, from a biblical perspective, grains were not associated with times of feast, but more often with times of famine or trouble. During times of feast, the fatted calf was killed. Animals were sacrificed because of their value. Whether during the flight out of Egypt, the famine in Egypt that Joseph warned the Pharaoh about, the time of punishment in Ezekiel, or the Manna given in the desert during exile, times when grains were consumed were associated with punishment or famine.

Jesus did say he was the Bread of Life, which I take to mean that he is our sustenance and survival in times of trouble or famine, not as a biblical charge to consume wheat. He also called himself the Lamb of God. If we are supposed to eat grains because of this reference as the Bread of Life, we should also then eat meat because of his reference as the Lamb of God, though I hear few vegetarians agreeing with this.

Finally, as I’ve always said, I’m not here to try to prevent eating anyone from eating grains if they want to. I defend the right of others to eat grains, processed food, or McDonald’s, just as I hope they would defend my right to eat the foods I like I consider healthy. That being said, if you are eating grains for biblical reasons, than care should be taken to harvest, sprout, and ferment the grains in a similar way. Nowhere did Jesus mention high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sugar, or chemical preservatives when speaking of his Body, so these can certainly be left off the list. Certainly, I don’t think it is in any way un-Christian to avoid grains, especially if your body does not handle them well and if you are replacing them with other foods in the form God created them.

Here’s the full post on grains in the Bible.

Bottom Line: Just Eat Real Food!

All that being said, there are still times when it is difficult to not eat a certain food without offending someone when visiting family or at a celebration. I try not to let food “rules” define my relationships outside of the home. If the topic does come up, then I look at those times I can’t control as opportunities for great discussion about food choices.

Personally, I think the best approach is:

  1. Always cook real food at home without exception;
  2. Try to eat this way if at all possible when traveling or at someone’s house; and
  3. Realize that if eating a small amount of a certain food on a special occasion will prevent hurting someone’s feelings, it will not undo all my progress either.

If you are interested in further reading, these articles offer some more detailed info:

Are you all in when it comes to eating real food? Still struggling with some items? Share below!

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