What is Real Food Anyway?

Cheap food

I have been living this real food lifestyle for over a year now. I feel great and the food has been delicious. I don’t miss processed foods at all (although I do eat them occasionally). Recently it came to my attention that I haven’t actually defined real food anywhere on the blog, so what is real food?

Real food is one of those terms that has about a thousand different definitions. I originally came across the term on the 100 Days of Real Food blog, where they define it as “Food in its most natural state” (check out the link for the whole definition).

I define real food as unprocessed or minimally processed food, as close to its natural state as possible. I generally don’t eat things with unpronounceable ingredients unnecessary additives. This may seem restrictive at first, but here’s a a quick snapshot of what I eat:

Meat packaged for freezing

Meat: My staples are chicken drumsticks, whole chickens (when I can afford them), pork shoulder, kangaroo mince, cheap cuts of lamb and goat, tinned sardines and wild-caught fish fillets. I buy the chicken organic, but can’t afford to buy the rest organic (although kangaroo and most lamb and goat is grass-fed here in Australia). I use any leftover bones to make homemade bone broth to use for soups and sauces.

Fruits and veggies: I eat a wide range of fruit and veggies. I try to buy the dirty dozen organic, especially potatoes, apples and greens, since I eat a lot of them. I also buy any other organic fruit and veggies that I can get cheaply (when they are in season), and then buy the rest non-organic.

Dairy products and eggs: When I can afford it I buy raw, grass-fed milk and cream from the markets. I also buy organic yogurt, but non-organic cheese because organic is so expensive. I always buy full-fat dairy products because low-fat ones are very processed and often have things like thickeners and milk solids added back in. I also buy organic eggs, even though they are pricey, because you get six meals worth of protein for $8.

roast almond butter

Nuts and seeds: I buy these raw and in bulk, and mostly non-organic (since they’re not a big part of my diet). I then use them to make things like almond meal and nut butters.

Beans and legumes: I buy these dry and then soak them (to reduce phytic acid and improve digestibility). Then I freeze them in 1-cup portions for when I need them. Again, I don’t buy these organic because they’re not a huge part of my diet.

Grains: I’m not eating a lot of grains at the moment because I have gut issues. Generally a real food lifestyle doesn’t include any refined grains, but I include white rice, since it’s just a simple starch. I also eat buckwheat and quinoa (soaked before use to reduce phytic acid). I avoid anything containing gluten.

Oils and fats: I stick to the least processed fats available – cold-pressed coconut oil, organic butter and ghee for cooking and extra virgin olive oil for salads. I avoid margarine (a completely man-made frankenfood) as well as highly processed vegetable oils, like soy and canola.

Coconut oil chocolates

Sweeteners: I do use sweeteners to make things like homemade chocolate, but I stick to natural, unprocessed sweeteners like honey and real maple syrup.

Drinks: I am one of those people who loves drinking water 90% of the time. Sometimes I flavour it with lemon or other fruit, but mostly I drink plain water, which is cheap as well as good for you. I do have ciders with friends sometimes and the occasional cup of black tea, but that’s it.

The best thing you can do when starting a real food lifestyle is to learn to cook from scratch. That way you can control exactly what goes into your food.

For example, cookies made from scratch include flour, butter, eggs, sugar (or honey) and vanilla, whereas cookies bought from the supermarket can contain up to 20 ingredients, including colourings, emulsifiers and preservatives.

Kale omelette

Real food doesn’t have to be complex, fancy, gourmet meals. Scrambled eggs with veggies is a quick and easy real food meal that is so much better for you than a read-made frozen meal from the supermarket.

Do you eat a real food? How does your definition differ from mine?

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  1. Interesting! I don’t know how I would classify “real food”. We eat some processed food, but I try to have most of our meals be, as you say, unprocessed or minimally processed. I lost a significant amount of weight a few years ago and I discovered what you already know–when I do the cooking, I control the ingredients. I am able to “health up” our food and it still tastes better than the similar, more processed store-bought version. Good for you for being so diligent about your food choices!

  2. I don’t really tend to use that term but my definition is pretty much the same as yours. It’s awesome that you eat so healthily! I try to as often as I can but still succumb to convenience sometimes.

  3. I’m not sure what “real” food is because it’s all food. However, some of it may be nutritionally better for you than others. It’s interesting that when I was growing up, my mother developed food allergies to almost all additives. This was before natural or real food was “in”, so there was no choice to buy anything in a grocery store if you wanted to. We already grew much of our food and ate venison that my father hunted, but the efforts were stepped up after my mother’s allergies developed. We made our own yogurt before it was popular and made our own molasses and maple syrup. Having spent many of my younger years doing a lot of work just to get a meal ready, I think I got burned out. Moderation is my favorite word today.

  4. I first started reading about real food on the 100 Days of Real Food web site and from Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules. I was also influenced by the documentary King Corn not to eat anything with corn sweeteners or modified corn products (I held out for about a year, and still avoid them when possible). I make most things from scratch except cereal, crackers and pasta – but I do eat a lot of sweets, as well. Between the health benefits and the lower cost of most real food groceries, I can’t imagine going back to processed food.

    • I hadn’t heard of King Corn, I’ll have to check it out. I do still eat it occasionally (mostly in corn chips for nachos), but I don’t think it’s genetically modified here in Australia. My first introduction to Michael Pollan was his book In Defence of Food, which I read in one day because I just couldn’t put it down.

  5. hi! i would love to buy more organis foods but who can afford it! we have recently started a veggie patch which hopefully will flourish. (no green thumbs here).

    • It is tricky on a tight budget, but it can be done (at least a bit). I’ve found that shopping at markets means I can get certain things (like kale) cheaper than the non-organic versions sold in the supermarket. With chicken, I buy organic drumsticks for $8 a kilo instead of the organic chicken breasts ($30 a kilo). Starting a garden is also a great way to get more organic food (my thumb is pretty brown too!)

  6. I like your definition, it pretty much describes how I eat. Sorta no choice for me since my allergies prevent me from eating anything with like “spices” or “natural flavorings”. I like the way Michael Pollan talks about it… avoid “simulated foodlike substances” and “don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” although – my grandma ate a lot of velveeta, so I think I’ll stick with my great, or great-great grandmother for that one! 🙂

  7. I probably eat ‘real food’ more because of my zero waste aims – and to be honest, any way to better food is good, right? Admittedly, there’s still some things that we buy that are processed – cheese, milks, yoghurt. Basically all dairy and it’s all pretty pricey! I don’t yet commit to organic produce, partly on cost, but there’s little choice where we grocery shop (the Co-op is great for it though!). I do try to steer away from ready made sauces and that sort of thing, and have somewhat helped encourage my parents to do the same, so that’s a bonus! As you say, I’d rather bake an unhealthy brownie, and know what’s in it, than a processed bought one!


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