How are we meant to know what is the best type of food to fuel our bodies with so many labels? Let’s break down what we already presumably know about real food vs. processed food.
- Ideally a food with one ingredient (i.e. apples, cucumber, eggs)
- Product of nature
- Seeds & nuts
- More than one ingredient
- Additional sugars, preservatives, dyes and bad fats (saturated & trans)
- Altered from natural state (usually for convenience)
If that wasn’t enough to make you think about what you’re eating, let’s look further in to exactly what processed foods are.
Processed foods have multiple ingredients and contain the likes of refined sugars, refined grains and even ingredients that are hard to pronounce. If you wouldn’t cook with that ingredient at home, why is it in your food? Artificial flavours, refined sweeteners (white sugar, brown sugar, sucralose), refined oils (canola oils) and other additives are all processed foods, also known as a ‘product of industry’.
Cutting out processed foods will lead to an array of health benefits including more energy, improved cholesterol levels, reduced sickness and weight loss. One of the biggest culprits in processed foods is fructose. Fructose cannot be converted; our livers convert it into stored energy (mostly fat). It’s terrible for our organs, triggers constipation and encourages all kinds of medical issues including obesity, heart disease, fatty liver, PCOS and depression.
We have become addicted to these fake foods as we have become accustomed to eating with our brain, rather than our gut! Your brain processes sensory information (sweet, sour, etc.) and tells us if it’s yummy or yucky… it’s our gut neurons (enteric nervous system) that process the natural serotonin and dopamine that comes from food.
Think back to a time where you’ve had to get something ‘on the run’, you’ve stopped in at a petrol/gas station and picked up a snack. You’ve eaten it really quickly and chances are it didn’t taste that great anyway so now you’re feeling a little disappointed… and that’s it. Maybe it was a ‘healthy’ muesli bar. I want you think back to when you had it for the first time - maybe your grandma made it for you, her special oat slice. Our brain is forever searching for that ‘ultimate’ flavour – to ignite our dopamine sensors. I can tell you now that 95% of the time that you have had that dopamine sensation it came from whole, real foods. Grandma might have added that extra tablespoon of maple syrup, but she sure didn’t use sulphur dioxide as a preservative.
Real food has curves! Let’s put a number on it – if there is more than 5 unrefined ingredients, forget it. Here’s a quick list of real foods:
- Dairy: whole milk, unsweetened yoghurt, eggs and cheese
- Fruit & vegetables
- Nuts & legumes
- 100% whole grains and flours (if it doesn’t say whole, forget it)
- Wild-caught seafood
- Locally and humanely raised pastured meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb)
- Honey, maple syrup
We could write a list of what benefits come from real foods, but we’d be here all day. Here’s a quick list just to get you started:
- Reduces cholesterol
- Regulates blood sugars
- Reduces risk for diabetes
- Constipation/bowel problems reversed
- Change in palate
Feel as though you don’t have the time to cook nutritious wholesome meals? Try to bulk meal prep when you have a spare hour or cook extra on the nights that you do have the time. A good meal is the best reward for your hard work.
It’s easy enough to go tell you to buy everything raw – but in reality, well, it is actually that simple. If you’re not already buying seasonal food from your local markets, have a think next time you are at the supermarket. Check the perimeters! This is where you’ll find the fruit and vegetables, the meat cabinet, dairy, and usually the bread aisle/bakery. Of course, they’ll still try to trick you with their trigger words such as low fat, low sugar or low calories. Have a try at growing your own garden – even if it’s a bunch of herbs and lettuces on your windowsill – your food will taste great and have vibrant greens throughout.
Leake, L., 2014. 100 Days of Real Food. 1st ed. North America: Harper Collins.
Gillespie, D., 2015. Eat Real Food. 1st ed. Australia: Pan Macmillan.