Are You Eating Real Food or "Food-Like" Products?

What is real food? Some people don’t know that what they are putting into their bodies isn’t actually food and the majority of stuff in the grocery store is crap. Seriously.

Real food is minimally processed and maintains it’s natural integrity. So if it comes in a box, bag or jar, it’s usually a no no. Check out this post from Kath Eats Real Food. She breaks what real food actually is and along with some meal examples.



Now that we know the what and why of real food, let’s talk about how to eat real food!

When navigating the grocery store it’s pretty clear that the wall of produce is as wholesome as it gets. But what about everything else on the shelves? There are some people who choose to eat ONLY fresh produce, meats, grains, legumes and 100% pure whole foods, but I would find a diet like that a bit too restricting. I want to be able to use bottled sauces, minimally processed dairy and tofu products, jams, nut butters, crackers and more to season my life and compliment the whole foods I hope fill up the majority of my diet. So how do you choose the best products to buy? Sometimes products might be labeled “natural” (an unregulated term) but you wouldn’t be able to make them without high powered machinery.

Do I consider the following real food?

+Larabar? Yes. The ingredient lists are so simple.

+A Luna Bar containing soy protein isolate? No. Isolates make me nervous.

+Bread made with flour, yeast, honey, water and salt. Yes. Yum Great Harvest.

+Bread with mono- and diglycerides and soy lecithin? No. That suggests a longer-than-fresh shelf life to me.

+Sauces and jams made with real sugar? Yes. While it’s a bit processed, I consider it natural.

+Sauces and jams made with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners? No. Just too many steps away from real food for me.

The lines blur a bit with ingredients like brown rice syrup. Could you make that at home? You could definitely make a simple syrup with sugar and water. And you probably could figure out a way to make brown rice syrup if you broke down the starches and reduced them over heat. But we are getting away from nature’s proportions when we concentrate like that. They qualify under my “I don’t think they will hurt you, but they aren’t the best choice” category. Don’t necessarily avoid, but use sparingly. Not everything about eating real food is black or white – the grey areas require some gut instinct and moderation.

I remember I used to have such a battle deciding what to use to sweeten my coffee. Should I use caloric real sugar or go with the calorie free Splenda I loved that sweetened perfectly? One day it dawned on me: coffee doesn’t have to be sweetened. I’ve since learned to like unsweet coffee with just a splash of milk, and I actually really dislike it sweet now. (By the way, if I were to sweeten it I would use just a little sugar.)

Ingredient Lists

Not all bars, cereals, breads or soups are created equal. Check out the difference between brands of the same “food”. The ones on the left have much longer and processed ingredient lists than the ones on the right.



Cereals {Note these cereals are even within the same brand!}


Breads {You can always bake your own if you have the time too : ) }




I want to be clear that these are not hard rules nor do I think the ingredients that I don’t consider to be real food are toxic in small quantities or anything extreme like that. While I draw the line at purchasing products that don’t qualify as real food, I don’t go so far as to turn my nose up at them if I’m at a friend’s house or restaurant. That to me would be too restrictive, and what is most important is that I eat real food in my home the majority of the time.

Real Food Examples

I am preaching to the choir, but when I do a presentation on eating real food I always end with some examples of how to do it from KERF. Here they are for fun:

Breakfast Ideas

•Overnight Oats

•Hearty cereal with milk

•Plain Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts



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Lunch Ideas

•Big salads with protein and a whole grain roll

•Whole grain bread sandwich

•Soup + whole grain toast

•Leftovers (presumably healthy ones!)

Easy Proteins




•Canned fish or SARDINES!



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Dinner Ideas

•Bean + rice bowls

•Burgers [veggie, grass-fed beef]

•Frozen fish/shrimp with quinoa


•Whole wheat pasta with veggies and tomato sauce

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Bon appetit!

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