Want to improve your diet and health but not sure where to start? It can be more simple than you think! All you have to do is follow this one simple rule: just eat real food.
Some have shortened this into an acronym, JERF. Others call it “clean eating” or just eating whole foods. Whatever you call it, the takeaway message is real food is the best food.
Instead of getting caught up in the mish mash of diet fads out there telling you to cut out certain food groups or other crazy rules, make your healthy eating rule simple: focus on real food!
Now, the next question becomes: what do we mean by “real” food?
How to Know Which Foods are Real
Eating real food is all about eating foods in their most natural form as much as possible. It also means avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
One way to tell the difference between low-quality processed foods and high-quality real foods is to ask the simple question: Is the food in its whole form?
Here’s an example. Think about a ripe, juicy apple:
- You know it was plucked from a farm somewhere before being transported to your grocery store, where it looks the same as when it was grown.
- And it doesn’t have an ingredient label because the only ingredient is the apple.
- An apple is a whole food in its purest, unprocessed form.
Now, think about one of those meal replacement or snack bars you find in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Where did that come from?
- To even know what’s in it, you have to look at the ingredient label.
- The label usually includes at least a dozen ingredients (if not more), many that sound like something from a science experiment.
- One of the first ingredients is usually some form of sugar, refined flour, and processed oils.
The long list and added refined ingredients in the bar make it far from a clean, whole food. But the wholeness of the apple makes it easy to identify as “real” food.
Another way to recognize real food is this: it goes bad!
Food that doesn’t go bad for a while has to be highly processed and pumped full of preservatives to extend the shelf life. Real food expires sooner because it is fresh.
Choose Foods with No Ingredient List
Most whole foods won’t have a label or list of ingredients at all because, like the apple, they are their list.
The emphasis on just one ingredient (the food itself) helps us avoid what’s added to a lot of very processed foods: sugars, salts, refined flours, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, food coloring, and artificial flavors or sweeteners.
Why Avoid Processed Foods?
Foods that have been highly processed are stripped of the nutrition that we need to benefit our health.
Some of them might add nutrients back into their product (like those otherwise junk sugary cereals that have been fortified with calcium or vitamin D), but it will never be as good as getting it from a whole food.
Plus, processed foods can contribute to disease, as most are high in sugar and full of GMOs.
Take the 8 Real Foods Challenge
Need to give your diet a reboot? Take the Real Food Challenge! It’s simple, really: for at least seven days, eat only from this list of real foods.
Focus on eating just these eight food groups:
- Fresh vegetables, preferably seasonal and organic
- Fresh fruits, preferably seasonal and organic, although make sure you eat more vegetables
- Meats, preferably organic and grass-fed (but just do your best), and fish
- Beans and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Eggs, preferably cage-free and organic (and in their whole form, not egg whites or egg substitutes)
- Nuts and seeds (while these might have a label if they’re in bulk or were put in individual packages, their ingredient list should still be one ingredient, such as “peanuts” or “cashews”)
- Whole, unprocessed grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole oats
- Healthy fats like avocado and grass-fed butter, and some minimally processed oils like extra virgin coconut oil
Also during these seven days, avoid all processed foods including:
- Crackers, chips, and other packaged snack foods
- Sugars, including cane sugar, corn syrup, fructose, molasses, honey, artificial sweeteners, etc
- Sodas and other sweetened drinks (even artificially sweetened)
- Baked Goods
- Breads and pastas
- Candies, candy bars, and any other bars, even the ones that front as healthy like protein bars and meal replacement bars
Other Tips for Success
- Grocery shop in advance for your Real Food Challenge week. Try going on a weekend day or evening when you have some time. Thankfully, it shouldn’t take you long — since the list is simple, the ingredients will be simple too!
- Shop the produce section first when you go to the store, choosing as many fresh produce options as you can.
- Eat as much as you want of these five groups. Pay attention to fullness levels and stop when you’re satisfied, but don’t worry about calorie counting or portion control during the challenge.
- Decide on meals and snacks you’ll have each day from the challenge foods, and make a plan.
- Pre-prep your meals for the week. Again, this will be simple since your list is short!
- Rinse and chop fruits and veggies beforehand to make them easy to grab.
Although you’ll be eating from a list of just eight foods, your possibilities are endless. They can easily be combined into a ton of great breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Here are some menu ideas:
Real Food Breakfast Ideas
Simply switching from what you were eating for breakfast before to one of these breakfasts can make ALL the difference in how you feel and perform for the rest of the day!
- Whole eggs, cooked however you like them best (such as whole eggs scrambled with asparagus, onions, and mushrooms) topped with a few avocado slices
- Mixed berries with a handful of nuts of your choice
- Omelette filled with lentils and vegetables
- Half an avocado and a couple slices of bacon or turkey bacon
- Oatmeal with peanut or almond butter and fruit
Real Food Lunch Ideas
Think of easy lunches you can prep beforehand and grab n’ go:
- Roasted chicken spinach salad topped with flax seeds, other veggies, and extra virgin olive oil
- Brown rice with black beans, steamed veggies, and sliced avocado
- Apple and arugula salad topped with turkey and tahini (blended sesame seeds) dressing thinned with water
- Quinoa and veggies with chickpeas or salmon
Real Food Dinner Ideas
Most people tend to each richer foods at dinner, so sticking with real foods gives you a great advantage. Plus, a healthy dinner keeps you from pounding down snacks and carbs later so your body can burn calories during the night as you sleep.
- Grilled white fish or salmon with steamed veggies or a side salad
- Baked chicken breast with lots of steamed veggies topped with a little extra virgin coconut oil
- Slow-cooked shredded chicken and salsa on top of a big salad
- Buddha bowl with quinoa, kale, brussels sprouts, lentils, and avocado
The beautiful thing about veggies is you can easily fill up on them, but they have very few calories. That means you get tons of nutrition with zero guilt.
Of course, there are endless healthy recipes available online using these real foods, so don’t be afraid to play with different combinations.
How to Eat Real Food While Eating Out
It’s probably smartest to avoid eating out if you can during the seven-day challenge, but if you must go out for lunch or dinner, here are some ideas for what to order:
- Go to a healthy Mexican style restaurant and order a chicken, steak, or pork salad. Skip the tortilla, but pile on the pico de gallo and other healthy veggie choices!
- If you live near a Chipotle or Freebirds, order a salad or burrito bowl and load up on fresh meats or beans, whole grains, salsa, avocado, and tons of veggies.
- Order a salad and ask for olive oil or avocado as the dressing.
- Enjoy sides! Most places with have steamed veggies and side salads as options, so you can add lots of veggies.
- See if the place offers whole grains as options, such as brown rice instead of white.
- Look online before you leave. Most restaurants have their menu online so you can decide what to order (or any customizations you’ll need to make) before you arrive.
Remember that even the healthiest diet will leave you mineral deficient because of modern chemicals and farming methods. Try a high quality, bio-available mineral supplement like Mimi’s Miracle Minerals to ensure you get all the minerals your body needs.
Want to Keep it Going?
Chances are, you’ll feel amazing after these seven days and want to keep that healthy high around! Since this challenge is nutrient dense and super clean, you can continue on with it as long as you like.
Bottomline: ditch foods made in a factory, and eat real foods for just at least one week. Then use it as a template for healthy eating going forward. The more you stick with real, whole foods, the better you’ll look and feel for years to come!