What is Real Food?

what is real food by ecokarenWhen I think of food, I think of foods that are made with whole ingredients, like meat, vegetables, spices and herbs, like the way our grandmothers cooked.

But then, there are processed foods that are made with ingredients with food additives that companies sneak into our foods; foods like processed meat products, condiments, and sauces. Of course, I try to use organic ingredients as much as I possible but when I can’t, I use non-GMO ingredients because I don’t want to feed pesticides or genetically altered foods to my family.

Besides the fact that clean whole organic ingredients are better for the planet, they are better for my family who suffer from food allergies and related ailments. Also, cancer, diabetes, hypertension runs in my family. Yea. Fun times. So I try to avoid factors, like toxins in products and  pesticides in foods from our lives. I strictly follow EWG’s Dirty Dozen every year and I try to grow my own food as much as land allows. And when I can’t eat home grown food, I buy from my organic farmers from the farmers market.

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Organic ALWAYS means Non-GMO but Non-GMO does NOT always mean organic.

When I first heard the term ‘real food’, I assumed non-processed food is what ‘real food’ is. After researching a bit on the actual term, though, I found out it’s not as simple as I thought. Well, it is simple and it isn’t. In my opinion, real food means using ingredients that are not altered, modified, or processed. If you cook from scratch, you are more than half way there. But other ‘real food’ cooks take the definition a bit more strict than I am.

You can do the best as you can, like I do, and don’t stress over them. My reasons for choosing or not choosing some of the ingredients is due to my family’s health. You can make your own decision based on what your family’s needs are.

Here are some of the rules I go by when it comes to real food.

What is Real Food?

My definition of Real Food is food made with whole ingredients that does NOT use the one of more of the following.

1.Added Sugar, natural or artificial.

  • No Sugar – any sugar added is bad in my book but if needed, I’ll make an exception to organic sugar or cane sugar. But cane sugar in Coke “Made in Mexico” is still sugar in soda, know what I mean? So I’ll skip the soda but if food has cane sugar in it, I’ll allow it occasionally.
  • No Fructose Corn Syrup – for this reason but also because most corn is GMO.
  • No Sucralose, Sorbitol, Malitol, ASPARTAME – artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
  • Agave – I used to use agave but no more since its highly processed. Even organic ones are not my thing anymore.

2. Flavoring

  • No MSG:  MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) – glutamate is natural in kelp but synthetic glutamate in the form of MSG can be hidden in a lot of foods.
  • Natural or artificial flavors

3. Dyes

  • No Artificial Dyes or Artificial Colors:  these are easy to spot. ANYTHING with color names and numbers afterwards are ‘no-no’s. Red 40, Yellow 4, Blue 2, etc.

4. Artificial Preservatives – nitrates and sulfates are big ones. Processed meats and dried fruits have these common preservatives in them

5. Nothing with enriched or bleached. – Milks, juices and flours usually have these terms attached to them, meaning they were highly processed.

6. No Carrageenan – A fat replacing thickener derived from red seaweed, commonly found in commercial nut or rice milk  (one of the reasons why I make my own rice milk.) There are two types but it’s hard to tell which one is used in foods. Best to avoid them if you can.

7. Nothing with No-Fat or Low-Fat or Sugar Free – foods that went through fat removing process has gone through a chemical process and have been replaced with a ton of sugar to make up for the lack of taste. You need good fats not more sugar. So stay away from these lowered fat products.

8. No Hydrogenated Oils or Partially Hydrogenated Oils are trans-fat – the BAD kind of fat.

9. No Phenylalanine or Phenylketonurics – can be harmful if you have phenylketonuria (PKU). There are warning labels on products with these.

10. No Canola, peanut or Cotton Oil:  canola oil is made from rapeseed but most canola oils are processed and not cold expeller pressed.

  • No Olestra – fake fat substitute

11. No GMO – most of Corn, Soy, Alfalfa, and cotton are GMO’s. What concerns me is that MOST processed foods have soy and corn in them. Animals are fed GMO feeds and unless you buy grassfed and grass-finished meats, you are consuming GMO.

12. CAFO meats – no factory farmed meats eat non GMO feeds. So, whenever you eat meat, it’s important to eat pastured, grass fed AND grass finished meats.

13. Factory eggs – unless you know a farmer you trust delivers your eggs, chances are, you are eating eggs from GMO corn fed chickens. Know where your eggs come from and try to eat pastured eggs from a farm that feed non-GMO feed to their chickens.

14. Margarine – this hydrogenated trans fat laden butter substitute is derived from vegetable oil. It never tasted good and is was never good for you. Skip this fake one and go for real grass-fed butter.

I’m sure there are more to add to this already long list but if you prepare your own dishes with ingredients you make or grow, you are eating ‘real food’. Remember, when you go to your local grocery store, start on the outside walls of the store, usually the produce section to the right or left. And then, to the meat section and frozen section for veggies. Everything in the middle are boxed, canned, and packaged processed.

Do you have any thing else to add to this list?

Check out other real food posts from Green Sisterhood:

11 Things you will not find at farmers markets – Eco-Novice
Real Food, Real Quick for Bad Cooks – The Soft Landing
Top 5 Real Foods for Pregnancy – Eco-Mothering

earth day with green sisterhood


  1. says

    @Swetha Peanut oil is polyunsaturated oil that has been processed from peanuts. It’s unstable and our bodies can’t metabolize it well. It has a high temp for cooking so it’s commonly used in high heat cooking like Chinese food but it does not digest very well and it may cause our body damage once it’s consumed. Here is a good detailed post about all vegetable (hydrogenated) oils from Wellness Mama. http://wellnessmama.com/2193/why-you-should-never-eat-vegetable-oil-or-margarine/

  2. says

    livesimplymom Thanks Kristin! I get confused sometimes too so I decided to just list as many as I can think of. I’m sure there are a ton more out there that I didn’t list here.

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