A real food diet is an effort to eat only foods that are actually food.
Sure, that might sound dumb – isn’t everything you eat food?
Think about it: how much of your food comes straight from nature? Like something that you can find that we humans haven’t messed with? Last I checked, there wasn’t a Spaghettio tree or a pizza plant (but holy awesomeness if there was).
With real foods, you eat foods that your great-grandparents would recognize. If it’s something that you get out of a box, package, or window, it’s most likely imitation food.
You see, we hate trying to figure out complicated diets.
We’ve tried Slim Fast, HCG, Body For Life, and good ol’ fashioned calorie counting. We’ve done programs where you have to count out how many grapes you’re eating or restrict calories so much you walk around in a hazy stupor all day.
100 years ago, they didn’t use specially formulated shakes or hormone stimulants to keep the weight off. They didn’t need to because they didn’t have a 33% obesity rate.
What craziness did they do? They ate foods that hadn’t been tampered with. Foods that still had their nutrients intact and didn’t carry toxins along with them.
Nature and our bodies are amazing – they were made to work together. All the foods we need to survive and be healthy are found in nature. We don’t need (and never have) supplements or genetically modified foods. Despite what food companies teach us, we don’t need to add synthetic vitamins and minerals. We’ve got fruits and vegetables for that.
In fact, these natural foods can help you manage your weight, cure chronic ailments, prevent future illness, and keep your mind sharp, optimistic, and focused. You can get in the best shape of your life AND have all aspects of your body running at peak capacity.
Your body’s likely been running at sub-optimal capacity for so long that you don’t even remember what it feels like to have energy. Or, you think you feel fine because it’s what you’re used to.
Sorry if all that sounds like the label for some miracle herbal pill that some guy with a 6-pack is trying to sell you. But this isn’t another pill, quick weight-loss scheme, or miracle fish hormone only found in a certain lake in Siberia.
It’s a lifestyle that gets results.
The stories and benefits are abundant – like this little guy:
We couldn’t get pregnant, and our holistic doctor advised us to eat real foods. Within two weeks, this dude was on his way.
We’ve used real foods to lose weight, increase our energy, and improve our mood. I’ve cured my allergies, healed our baby’s eczema, fixed Erin’s infertility, and read COUNTLESS other stories.
You know what all this has convinced me? That we had the diet thing figured out for thousands of years, and we’ve just recently screwed it up to accommodate our desk jobs and addiction to Netflix.
When we didn’t know a dang thing except to eat what we found in nature, heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, and countless chronic illnesses were nonexistent.
What Happened to Real Food?
Like I mentioned, we had this whole thing figured out… by not trying to figure it out. It’s when people tried to manipulate our food to make it more convenient, appealing, and last longer on our shelves that our food supply went awry.
150 years ago, we were mostly farmers. Pretty much everyone grew their own food, or sold their service (blacksmithing, sewing, etc.) and purchased food from the many farmers in their community.
Now, we’re only 2% farmers. I’m guessing you probably don’t have a personal relationship with a farmer down the street who sells you chicken and potatoes. Nowadays we live in our large societies, sit at computers all day, and stop by Walmart to grab packaged foods.
Instead of eating veggies, pork, and rice, we’re eating Easy Mac and Del Taco. Stop eating capitalized food! Food is supposed to be just food, not a brand name.
Clearly it’s not working for us!
2/3 of us are overweight, and virtually every chronic disease is on the rise. No one wants to explain why they’re all increasing – we just act like it’s always been this way.
Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, ADD, asthma, allergies, eczema, heart attacks, celiac disease, and autism were NOT the norm in the 1800’s – yet now they’re so common we don’t bat an eye at it.
Nor do we try to figure out the cause, other than “genetics.” If it were “genetics” that wouldn’t explain why disease is suddenly launching into the stratosphere unless we all lived near Chernobyl.
Who Screwed Up Our Food?
Over the past 100 years, we’ve been convinced at different times that Canola oil, margarine, and cold cereals were good for us.
We sleep a little easier at night, knowing that the Nesquick we give our children has added vitamins.
Cheerios lower cholesterol, we’re told, despite being among the most processed food we eat.
We’re taught that diet soda is the obesity cure, when mounting evidence shows it’s more harmful than the full-sugar stuff.
And 10,000 other examples.
So who’s fault is it?
People wanted bucks and convinced us that their imitation foods were better. That they were healthier or cheaper or quicker – all things every parent wants.
(Funny side note – I am a marketer. Like it’s literally my day job. I’m not completely anti-marketing… just when it comes to messing with my food.)
Two quick product back stories:
- Canola oil originally comes from rapeseed oil. Rapeseeds aren’t edible, and people knew this.
That’s why it was originally used as a machine lubricant – until after WWII when many industries were turned off.
With the rapeseed oil market dying off, they did something brilliant. They rebranded the rapeseed oil as Canola Oil (after processing out the vulgar taste and smell) and sold it as a healthy cooking oil.
- Crisco started out as a non-food product as well. In the middle of the 19th century, William Procter (of Procter and Gamble With Your Health) figured out you could pass a current through cottonseed oil (also inedible) and turn it into a lard-like substance.
And it was perfect… for burning candles. You might realize that the time frame wasn’t ideal for this discovery – like if someone found a cheaper way to make DVDs today. Candles weren’t used for long as light bulbs came into widespread use.
Then, the owners of this cottonseed-based lard-like product came to a decision:
They were going to sell it as an alternative to lard and butter (both of which directly come from animals, making them healthy sources of fat). They called it Crisco and launched a marketing campaign to convince the world that it was cheaper and healthier. They even gave out free booklets with Crisco recipes in them. Pretty genius for lining pockets.
The moral of these two stories – whenever there is money or power to be had, people will do anything to acquire it and keep it.
And that includes taking things that are completely inedible and selling them as food. You can only imagine what machine lubricant and highly processed cottonseed do to our bodies. It’s like pouring chocolate milk into a Ferrari’s engine.
Ok, So What Exactly Do You Eat?
The easiest way to explain real food is that we eat things that come in their natural form.
For example, we’ll eat baked potatoes, but not a box of Betty Crocker’s Scalloped Potatoes. Or, cheese but not Velveeta.
The basis of our diet looks like this:
Meat – Grass-fed beef or pastured pork and chicken. None of this grain, corn, or GMO-based feed – it’d be like you eating only Snickers and then getting eaten by a bear. Poor bear wouldn’t get much nutrition at all 🙁
Fish – Wild caught, preferably fresh. Fish raised in farms contain more toxins and fewer nutrients.
Eggs – Preferably from pastured chickens, or at least hormone and antibiotic free.
Starches – Potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, beans. These are naturally found in nature – but should be limited to due to high carb content.
Grains – Sprouted, spelt, einkorn, or sourdough (not normal store-bought sourdough). These grains are very low in harmful gluten and have had most of the harmful anti-nutrients and enzymes neutralized. Again, limited because of high carb content.
Dairy – Milk, cheese, butter, cream, sour cream, cream cheese in as natural a state as you can find. Should be grass-fed and/or raw, and definitely hormone and antibiotic free.
Fruits/Veggies – Der. Check out the Dirty Dozen to see what produce we buy organic.
Oils – Natural oils like olive, coconut, or avocado. Don’t buy oils that require more processing than the DMV to make them edible.
Natural Sweeteners – Raw honey, real maple syrup, sucanat. Use in moderation.
Here’s our ERSS (Eat Real Stay Sane) Food Pyramid:
Now, I could list every. last. single. thing. that you should buy. Like which brand of organic sugar is best or how to choose a healthy ketchup. If you want more specifics, you can check out this post, or this post.
In the meantime, don’t freak out and keep it simple. Instead of eating a bagel for breakfast, eat some eggs! Skip Taco Bell and have a steak with a baked potato. This doesn’t have to be crazy difficult.
Wait, wait, WAIT! You Eat Grains! You’ll Die!
Oh, one of those Paleo people, huh? Be gone!
Just kidding 🙂
We’re actually very close to what some people call the Paleo diet. Basically, they eat what we do, minus the dairy, grains, and some of the starches.
We both stress eating natural foods from good sources, but many Paleo lifers are violently opposed to grains (think Dracula and garlic).
- I find the Paleo diet too restrictive and I really really really like grains! Like a lot.
I think cutting out grains is a little like deciding that a Pit Bull is too aggressive, so you decide to never own any kind of dog. 99% of dogs would treat your family just fine, but the one breed turns you off.
Sure, improperly prepared grains are incredibly harmful to your health. The regular white and wheat bread you’re used to has gluten and irritating anti-nutrients in it – which can wipe out your good gut bacteria, perforate the lining of your intestines, create food sensitivities, and eventually cause disease.
However, there are other ways to prepare grains (as well as different types) that remove the problem completely.
I know this is just one way to prepare grain, but we use sourdough for:
- Pizza crusts
- Hamburger buns
Sourdough is alive. It requires you to maintain a living culture in your refrigerator like some freaky science experiment. Once you mix it with flour, the sourdough breaks down the gluten and begins neutralizing the anti-nutrients and harmful enzymes found within.
Being probiotic, sourdough encourages your gut health to grow and thrive. Seeing as how your gut health is the most important indicator of your overall health, sourdough is definitely a power food.
- They have nutrients!
Yes, I’ve heard the argument that grains don’t have any nutrients that you can’t find elsewhere. They don’t provide you with anything essential, like say apples or carrots do.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any nutrients. They still provide great sources of energy as well as a wide array of B vitamins. They give you important minerals like selenium, iron, and magnesium.
While not nutrition powerhouses, they still benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.
- Heirloom grains are ancient forms of grain without modern gluten.
Over centuries, we’ve hybridized and messed with our grain. It now carries a much larger, more damaging gluten molecule than our grains used to.
Two of the more common heirloom grains (ancient forms without modern hybridization) are spelt and einkorn. I’ve bought pasta made from each of these and loved it. I haven’t bought these in bulk or grounded them for myself, but I now many people who swear by these.
- Sprouting flour also helps break down gluten and neutralize the baddies.
Grain, when left in water and with an acidic medium, will begin to sprout.
When the sprouting occurs, it begins breaking down the gluten and anti-nutrients that we want neutralized!
It’s a tedious process that I’ve never done before, but you can buy already sprouted flour bread, tortillas, pie crusts, and more in many health food stores. We usually keep a bag of sprouted flour in da house to use for baking.
But Grains Make You Fat, Right?
Yeah, yeah, they do.
When your body doesn’t use all the carbs immediately available, it stores them for later in your fat cells.
If you pig out on bread and tortillas, even sourdough or sprouted varieties, you’ll have a harder time managing your weight.
The moral is I won’t pretend I don’t know you if you cut out grains entirely. I can see the arguments on both sides, and you’ll be healthier if grains are cut out of your diet completely than if you were to eat white and wheat flours.
I just see it as unnecessarily restrictive. And I really freaking love sourdough pizza. And toast. And sprouted tortillas. And grilled cheese. And French toast. This is Eat Real STAY SANE, after all.
How Come You Guys Eat So Much Fat?
These days, it’s near impossible to find a diet telling you to focus on eating lard, steak, bacon, and butter, but that’s what I’m doing.
Over history, the evidence is overwhelming that healthy sources of fat aren’t what make us fat – it’s sugar.
Even to this day, indigenous peoples living in the middle of nowhere survive on massive amounts of meat and fat (like some Inuits who eat principally blubber).
And they’re not remotely sick. They have little disease in their societies, not even cavities.
However, they immediately begin to contract illnesses when introduced to a Western diet full of sweets and carbs.
In fact, did you know that there isn’t a single study out there that proves that eating fat makes you fat or causes heart attacks?
The government’s dietary guidelines have recently reversed their opinion on dietary cholesterol (which is only found in animal meat). Saturated fat may be next on their reversal course.
If you want more info, we dive into the topic of fat more fully in this post. You’ll be convinced that fat provides the building blocks of life and even helps fix your body – as opposed to causing obesity and heart attacks.
Your Plan Looks Awesome, But There’s Just No Way
Hey, I get it.
For you, switching over by this time tomorrow would be harder than defeating a Balrog.
And here’s what I want you to do instead:
Make one single change that you and your family can handle. One that won’t break the bank or require a special shopping trip. One thing that your snot-eating kids won’t complain about. Or, one change that your family won’t even now about. Like when you throw away your spouse’s “favorite” shirt but he/she doesn’t even notice it’s missing.
- Use coconut oil instead of canola oil
- Don’t eat bagels for breakfast
- Eat one less piece of pizza next time
- Instead of cold cereal, fry up some eggs
- Buy whole milk instead of low-fat
You need to fight the “all-or-nothing” urge that I see in a lot of people. They think that since they can’t make sweeping, drastic changes in their lives, that they shouldn’t even try. They think the small changes don’t matter because they’re not Mr. or Mrs. I Make Everything From Scratch.
But, if you walk into that pantry and light your canola/vegetable oil on fire, I’d say that’s likely the most successful thing you’ve done in a while. Unless you light it on fire while still in your pantry. That’s just stupid.
Sweeping transformation starts with a single adjustment. Make one change this week, and make one the next.
Here, I even wrote an entire post for someone like you who can’t (or doesn’t want to) reform your entire eating habits. Check it out.
We were a little different. With just the two of us at home, and both fully onboard, we made some pretty crazy changes in our eating habits. We chucked anything even remotely processed from our house (you’d be surprised how bare our pantry looked after).
We were in a unique situation to be able to go full steam ahead, like Harry into the wizarding world. But, we’re still learning every day.
My point is that whether you start out small or go full-on hippie crazy, celebrate any change you make, and don’t stop learning.
Make a goal to read one article a day or a new book about healthy eating every month. With 10 minutes of daily education you can help your entire family set habits for the rest of their lives.
“There’s No Way I Can Do It”
Short pep talk time.
Yes you can!
Read this post about how I’ve overcome my food addiction. If you like food and eating insane amounts of it more than I do, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
And I still did it.
Over your lifetime, your taste buds and your body have become accustomed and even addicted to the way you eat. Sometimes people who eat terrible don’t think they have anything wrong because their body and mind have become used to the suboptimal level their body functions at.
When you chuck the Twinkies for a green smoothie, it seems terrible and depressing. It doesn’t taste as good and your body just really freaking wants a Twinkie.
But, deny yourself that Twinkie for a week, and you’ll begin to lose the desire for it. It’s super cool.
Instead of pizza from Pizza Hut, you’ll want sourdough pizza with grass-fed cheese and healthy toppings.
Yeah, that first week sucks, like a caffeine withdrawal, but your body will adapt quickly and begin to crave the healthy stuff.
When I go 2-3 days where I’ve eaten more junky foods than I should, I notice myself craving those foods again – and I hate it. Often I’ll do a juice cleanse for a day and whip my body back in shape.
In fact, juicing is the ULTIMATE secret weapon for restarting your health and begin undoing the damage you’ve done to it for years. It’s the best and quickest way to rip the Band-Aid off your withdrawal.
We have an entire guide on how to do juice cleanses properly. (COMING SOON!)
In other words, the change is hard, but those cravings WILL go away, and you WILL enjoy healthy foods more and more.
And it’s not all giant veggie salads – we teach you how to make all the meals you love, just with healthy ingredients.
What Would Someone Against The Diet Say?
It’s safe to say that 99% of people out there would agree that a real food diet kicks their normal American diet’s butt when it comes to being healthy.
I mean, it just makes sense that your body’s going to respond better to eating natural foods than to what a scientist Frankensteined up in a lab.
(Of course some people will push back on eating the fatty meats or grains, but I covered that above).
Most criticisms I get are actually excuses – things like:
- No time
- No energy
- No money (Check out my friend Tara’s ebook on that!)
- Don’t know where to shop
- Don’t know enough (What brand to buy! Should I soak my oats?)
Those are all topics we’ve tackled on the blog, but here’s the simple advice I’d give:
Do the best you can with what you have.
At the Eat Real Stay Sane Mansion (AKA tiny apartment), we’re Real Foodie Freakazoids. We’re bloggers who study up on this stuff with almost all our free time – but even we purposely avoid certain things because they take too much time or money.
I’ll let you in on a secret:
*leans close and whispers* We’ve never actually bought pastured chicken. *GASP*
We know it’s incredibly healthy for you – but we can’t afford it. We find teeny weeny whole chickens for like $17.
Instead, at WinCo, we found antibiotic and hormone free chicken that’s actually about the same price as regular chicken. We wish we could do more, but we don’t freak out about it because we’re pretty insanely healthy otherwise.
It’s the best we can do right now.
We’re also aware of the dangers of tap water, but we still drink it every day – we’re planning on buying a Berkey filter sometime soon. We even started just buying the distilled water by the gallon, which is a step closer.
The point is there are always excuses, but anyone can improve their daily habits. It’s one thing to say “I can’t do all this real food stuff!” and give up and eat donuts every day.
It’s another to say “Man, I can’t quite do all that right now, but here are 5 changes I’m going to make this week.”
When climbing the mountain, don’t give up and fall back down to where you were. Maybe hang out at one place for a while, and then take small steps when you’re ready.
We don’t allow quitters! (Kidding!)
Still not Convinced?
Still think we’re full of it? Still think that eating properly can’t improve your overall health? Are you already skinny and think that’s all there is to your health and don’t need to eat better?
Try it out. Do it for me, please?
Give it 30 days. Your body needs a little time to begin healing itself in order to function closer to peak levels. Eat as much real food as you can. Cut out as much processed foods as you’re able and really give it a go.
(Guess what? If you find yourself having a pregnant woman craving for that Panda Express down the street… that’s a sign that you’re addicted to junk food which should scare the crap out of you!)
Especially take me up on this challenge if you’re looking to fix something wrong with you – like we did with Erin’s infertility. Food will begin healing what chemicals have done to your body for decades!
If after 30 days you don’t feel amazing, have oodles of energy, feel better mentally, see a change in any long-standing health issues you have, and begin to lose weight, then screw it.
Why Do We Eat Real Food?
To us, it’s always made sense that eating stuff our bodies register as food will always be healthier than what companies create in labs to make extra dollars.
The facts are overwhelming that we’re getting sicker (of virtually every disease) than at any point in history despite advanced medicine. The facts are also overwhelming (if you do the research) that people can fix themselves with proper nutrition. My body just runs better on real food, and the difference is incredibly obvious when I pay attention.
And, it’s easy for me now. When I’m hungry, I find something that’s real-food approved and I eat it. I don’t really count up anything (sometimes carbs if trying to drop a few pounds). I’m not focused on eating exactly 75 grams of protein per day or get 35% of my calories from fat.
I eat a well-rounded diet and usually have meat, a starch or grain, a vegetable, and fruit for dinner. Breakfast is often a smoothie with tons of healthy stuff in it, or eggs. I grab leftovers on my way out the door for lunch.
Getting in the rhythm was hard at first, but it’s like anything else. We made it a priority, and now we don’t even think about this stuff anymore. When we shop, we already know all the healthy ingredients we buy and where to buy it.
We don’t debate or research what kind of meat to buy because our household eats grass-fed, no questions asked. When those decisions are made, it’s as easy as for us as normal shopping at Walmart is to you.
With no processed foods in our house, everything I make is healthy by default. I don’t have a choice, unless I jump in my car and head to In-N-Out.
Lastly, we both absolutely love having complete control over everything we put in our bodies. We don’t rely on what marketers write on food labels. We don’t outsource our meals to Weight Watchers or wonder what weird fillers Taco Bell uses in their meat.
We eat an egg that came from a chicken, or a potato that came from the ground. We’re not subject to whatever mystery ingredients are in the frozen dinners or boxed meals people buy.
We’re in control, and it makes cooking and eating a much more enjoyable experience.
Don’t You Have to Cook… Like a Lot?
It’s unquestionably more work – but so is trying to fix crappy health problems!
Every Sunday night, I make a meal plan for the week. Erin does the shopping on Mondays while I’m at work. When I get home from work, I cook dinner. Rarely do I make something that takes longer than 45 minutes, and often they’re 20 minute meals.
If it’s a crockpot meal, I’ll get it ready in the morning before work. Other times, I’ll get meat out to defrost for when I get home.
During the evenings and weekends, we’ll usually work together to make bread, hamburger buns, pizza dough, condiments, spice mixes, bread crumbs, and whatever else we need around the house.
You see, we have a system down. We know what we’re eating and when. We know who’s making it, usually.
It’s more work, but it doesn’t have to take longer than you spend now on cooking – it just requires you to be efficient and plan a bit.
Get More Info
If you think it’s crazy that bad foods cause disease and that healthy foods can manage or cure those diseases, then start with this book by Robyn O’Brien.
She digs into what’s causing the issues her children experience, especially allergies and eczema. Her experience is eye-opening and she exposes the issues of the FDA and why our food supply is tainted.
Another great eBook that I particularly liked is from blogger Kristen Marr. She masterfully explains real food eating and gives you a step by step challenge to REALLY incorporate real food into your diet. Get it here. (It’s cheap too and well worth the price!)
And lastly, check out Weston A. Price and become a member! They’re kind of the founders (rediscoverers?) of real food eating and many treat them as the Bible for what to eat and avoid.
Here’s our philosophy with the recipes we share:
We take the normal meals and snacks you love, and turn them into real-food approved nutritional powerhouses!
We don’t have any weird gourmet stuff that requires you to find a whole-in-the-wall store and speak a foreign language to find a spice that grows only on the eastern slopes of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.
Also, hit up our “Recipes” tab above to find all our posts!
Another great resource is The Nourished Kitchen cookbook!
What are your thoughts?
Aight. Your turn.
What do you like about real food eating?
What’s your biggest challenge so far? What’s been your biggest accomplishment?
I’d love to know! Respond in the comments, or if you want it a little more personal, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org