Real Food. If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you’ll see that I frequently use this term. I talk about Real Food all the time. What do I mean by this, though? Does the term Real Food imply that some foods are…not real, but fake? What? Let’s clear up any confusion and satisfy your aching curiosity.
In this post I shed some light on these two little words that make up one of my favourite Instagram hashtags; this expression so beloved amongst my fellow Paleo/grain-free nutritionists and food bloggers. Real Food: what does it mean, anyway?
For me, Real Food is 3 things:
1. Real Food is Unprocessed
It doesn’t come in a bag, a box, or a can. It doesn’t have an ingredient list. It wasn’t made in a factory using chemical preservatives with long names you can’t pronounce. Real Food still closely resembles how it looked on the farm or in the wild, before it arrived in your grocery store or kitchen. A head of broccoli looks much the same in a grocery store as it did in a field. You can’t really say that about things like condiments, sauces, or frozen dinners.
Of course, the argument can be made that all food must be processed in some way before it reaches our supermarkets or farmer’s markets, and this is true. I personally don’t bring live chickens home with me to my apartment; I rely on other people to slaughter and butcher them for me first. On a related note, cultivating gratitude for farmers and butchers, as well as sourcing healthy animals who’ve led happy lives, is an important part of eating Real Food, if you ask me.
The point here is: eating a Real Food diet means to choose foods that are as minimally processed as possible. When buying something with an ingredient list, it should contain only food items you are familiar with and can pronounce. Makes sense, right? Onward.
2. Real Food is Nutrient-Dense
It contains high concentrations of vital nutrients. Real Food is densely packed with things like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytochemicals, enzymes, fibre – all things we need in order to live in an optimally functioning body. The truth is that most people are eating nutrient-poor foods which seriously affect the health of body, mind, and yes – spirit. These nutrient-poor foods contribute to everything from weight gain, fatigue, and lack of concentration, to more serious issues like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
So what are the most nutrient-dense Real Food choices, then? I’m glad you asked. To put it very simply: I believe we receive the most valuable nutrition when we eat animal products (meat, eggs, butter, broth, gelatin), lots of good fat (coconut, avocado, again butter!), and lots of vegetables (kale, cauliflower, you name it).
You might notice I didn’t include any “healthy whole grains” here. No, grains are not at the top of my list of nutrient-dense foods. Surprised? This brings me to my next point.
3. Real Food Is Bioavailable
Bio-what? When a nutrient is bioavailable, it means that your body can instantly recognize and use it. Real Food is highly concentrated with nutrients that are easily absorbed and assimilated.
Grains contain several components that can rob your body of essential minerals and other nutrients.(That sounds pretty dramatic, sorry.) Phytic acid, found in high concentrations in grains, binds to the minerals in the rest of your meal. This means you don’t have access to those minerals yourself! Over time, a grain-based diet can lead to mineral deficiencies and other issues. Grains (and legumes) are also difficult to digest and contain additional compounds, such as lectins and saponins, which aggravate the intestinal lining. When this lining is weakened, any and all problems can arise.
There are ways to make grains and legumes less troublesome – prolonged soaking, lots of rinsing, extended cooking times, sprouting, fermenting – however, at the end of the day this is a lot of work, and they still won’t be as nutrient-dense or bioavailable as vegetables. Indeed, veggies provide a beautiful abundance of fibre and other nutrients you might think you can only get from grains.
So there you have it…
My definition of Real Food. #Realfood, defined. There are 3 main factors to consider: processing, nutrient density, and bioavailability. Got it?
Know this: there is no one exact diet that will work for everyone. We’re all unique (hooray!). Everyone has different issues going on, so something like bioavailability can differ greatly from person to person. Regardless of what your individual body is able to absorb and assimilate, though, I always recommend choosing whole foods that are minimally processed. I believe the best thing we can do for ourselves is to choose whole food (at least most of the time). If we do choose junk food once in a while, let’s not beat ourselves up, but simply move onwards and upwards to the next meal.
If you want to learn how to tailor this Real Food approach to meet your specific needs, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Now I want to hear from you: What does Real Food mean to you? Leave a comment below.
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