What Is Real Food?


Real food. It’s become a foodie phrase. But in reality, its a tad bit pathetic that we even need the term. There was a time when people could just say food, and everyone knew what they were referring to.  No one had to differentiate between artificial colors, or drive through menus, or boxed whatevers.

Nowadays things are muddied. And I am not a fan of muddiness. That just mucks up the waters and someone always ends up with wrong information.

Is that real? Is that natural? Is that processed? Is that refined?

Is that organic? Is that artificial? Is that heated? Is that derived?

It’s a bit like a Dr. Seuss book.

One quick google search or troll through numerous blogs and websites will give you a smattering of descriptions and perspectives on what real food might be.  When I first began our family’s real food journey it made me crazy to hop from one site to the next and try to sift through it all. Cans, no cans, boxes, no boxes, this sweetener, that sweetener, hidden ingredients, industry standard, Paleo, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, Primal, Weston A. Price, ….. ahhhhh the insanity! Was it really all that hard?!

I’m a black-and-white kind of gal, and this was not working for me. Nevermind that I thought that I was already eating real food and doing a pretty darn good job of providing it for my family.

I wasn’t.


When Ellie was born, I was working hard to improve our low fat, whole grain family meal plan to include more vegetarian meals. I had began menu planning “Meatless Monday’s” in an effort to head towards Vegan. (Ahhhh….the irony is not lost on me.) I thought I was doing pretty good with our *all natural* cheerios and fish shaped crackers that were *preservative free*. I was stunned when I discovered that in spite of all my label reading efforts what we primarily ate was the S.A.D. – the Standard American Diet.  Eek.

S.A.D. = an acronym for the Standard American Diet

Standard American Diet =  an average diet consisting of primarily refined flours, sugars, and processed foods

That was my first clue as to what Real Food is not.  But that still left me guessing.  Is it really all that elusive of a definition? Not really.

What is Real Food?

It took me some time, some reading, some detective work, and some learning, along with watching food heal my daughter, before I fully understood the concept of real food.  And I really hate any education being so hard to find – these things should be a whole lot easier.  While there are a gamut of real food philosophies, ranging from raw to orthorexia, just about everyone agrees on the same basic definition of real food.  Whether you call yourself Paleo or vegan, real food is way better than eating S.A.D.

Real Food is nutrients in the form best used by the body.

The first step to understanding real food, is to view food as a form of nourishment for the body. It’s a good thing.  Today we are taught to fear food.  We hear what food can do to harm us, what we should limit, and what we should avoid entirely. The majority of these recommendations come in response to eating S.A.D, and not eating real food.  Food is nutrients for our body that we need in order to function properly, grow, and heal. No chemically derived or processed ingredient will do the same thing in your body as one created in nature.

Real food is whole.

A whole food has not been processed in any way.  When you remove any part of a food through chemical or factory processes, it becomes less nutritious and holds the potential of becoming a problem if ingested. The body relies on having the right amount of nutrients present in order to use any food.  Consider sugar.  If you chewed on a sugar cane stalk it would be complete with all of the individual vitamin and mineral molecules needed for your body to use it as nutrition – to the exact amount. Take that same sugar cane and make it into evaporated cane juice.  Now it is in a form entirely unrecognizable when compared to the plant it came from.  It is also missing important building blocks and the nutrients are no longer available for the body to use.  The body does not recognize it, and must then choose to do one of two things.  It must use up available nutrients to try and find a use for the evaporated cane juice, or treat it like a toxin and attempt to remove it from the body before it does harm. Neither is beneficial to the body. Both deplete valuable nutrients. In addition, foods that are processed contain residual chemicals and toxins from the way it was made.  Whole foods are used easily by the body to replenish nutrients.  Our bodies are designed to work in conjunction with the world around us.

Real food is clean.

Clean plant based foods are not sprayed with pesticides, grown with artificial fertilizers, or genetically  modified.  Clean animal based foods are raised in a method that is beneficial and not harmful to the animal or environment.  They are not fed pesticide treated or genetically modified plants, nor are they given avoidable antibiotics or vaccinations.  Any thing fed to your food will be ingested by you.  Healthy plants, and healthy animals, make for healthy foods.

Easy enough, right?

The next time you take a look at your plate, ask yourself:

-is this in the best form to be used by my body?
-is this whole?
-is this clean?

As my 7 year old says: Real food doesn’t make you sick, and it makes you grow really fast.

I think her definition is the easiest and most accurate of them all.

Hope is contagious. Pass it on.

~ Nichole


Timeline of the Standard American Diet
Is Evaporated Cane Juice Better Than Sugar?
Sugar Cravings Linked to Magnesium Deficiency
All The Health Risks of Processed Foods

photo credit 1: SummerTomatos photo credit 2: Dyanna Hyde photo credit 3: SummerTomatos

  1. Oh yay!! I love that you are doing this… I will be a good student and come here to learn! Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge Nichole. Our family has truly been blessed by you. 🙂

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