Eat Real Food: Tips for Beginners
During my college years, I could care less about the food I ate. Bring on the pizza, beer, and candy. Hot dog on a stick? Yes, thank you. Block of cheddar cheese? Don’t mind if I do. I simply didn’t care if my food was real.
Then something happened. I got sick. Really sick. A type of sick that I never experienced before. After a disastrous phase of corticosteroids and other medications, I turned to diet change. I wanted to maximize my health by making food my medicine.
I began learning about all types of practices and trends in food: Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, GAPs, Ayurvedic, Juice Cleanse, Water Cleanse, Sugar Cleanse, Fruit Only, Carb Loading, High Protein, Local Only, Organic Only, No Red Meat, Only Red Meat, Pescatarian, Eastern Diet, Bulletproof Diet. These diets and food trends dictate how people plan their breakfast and lunch, what types of bread to buy at the grocery market, why to choose fat over non-fat. People debate on which practices have the most nutrition, which foods provide optimal performance, which eating patterns produce the healthiest results.
I also began understanding the community impact and environmental consequence of food. I studied the cradle to grave journey of food; the origin of the tomato seed, the farmer behind the pork cutlet, the mother yeast of the baker. My purchasing patterns had implications on so many things, from animal welfare to farmer rights.
For my health and deeper overall understanding of food, I sought out more information; made countless appointments with doctors, discussed hours of information with nutritionists, listened to in-depth multi-hour interviews, watched every documentary you can think of, read book after book. I finally feel I have come to a beginner’s understanding.
The golden rule?
Eat real food.
It’s that simple. Forget trends, forget diets.
Want to get healthier? Eat real food.
Want to lose weight? Eat real food.
Want to become more athletic? Eat real food.
Want to save the planet? Eat real food.
Want to help your community? Eat real food.
Different health businesses, corporate interests, government financing, and big agricultural dynasties have hijacked food and perverted it in self-serving ways. Today’s mass nutrition messaging and product accessibility did not randomly occur. Have you ever wondered why daily percentages never appear next to ‘Sugar’ on nutrition labels? Why do you think packaged and branded goods dominate grocery aisles? Self-interest groups looking to make a shitload of money quite deliberately set this in motion in the first half of the 1900’s. Today, this standard of nutrition and accessibility kills people — the rate of obesity has risen over 25% since the 1950's.
Real Food belongs to no one and is for everyone.
I want to sift through the madness of the food world and shed light on the reality of what we eat. I put together a quick guide to shatter fads, diet confusion, and health choices.
Enjoy the following, a beginner’s tips to eating real food:
Tip 1: Eat the Sun
“The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star stuff,” — Carl Sagan (famed astrophysicist).
We are what we eat. And what we are is star stuff. So what we eat should quite literally grow through the power of the sun. The cellular structure of all land-dwelling beings on Earth (including humans!) breaks down to the sun — the tree in your backyard, the cow grazing grass, your idiot adult brother who still lives with your parents. Well, this was the case until less than 150 years ago. Today, the products made available en-masse to consumers no longer comes from the sun. It comes from a strain of mass-produced corn. Over 1/4 of the items in grocery stores have this type of corn in it, even if the term ‘corn’ isn’t on the label (lecithin, ‘natural’ flavoring). The corn used to create these laboratory wonders comes from fossil fuels; the corn was specifically bred for the purpose of creating various processed substances. The cellular breakdown of the average human today, versus the human before the corn takeover, is no longer made of star stuff. Today, we are made of fossil fuels.
Non-meat products — stick to food grown from the dirt, and fed with just the sun, water, and non-chemically fertilized soil (best way is if the farmer uses compost). It’s best to start with one-ingredient foods (IE Carrot), and create combinations of your own. Need granola cereal? You can make pounds of that stuff easily with a few simple ingredients, a baking pan, and an oven. “But I need bread, and I can’t bake.” OK — find a local baker and ask what ingredients they use (IE stone ground flour, water). “But I don’t have time to prepare food.” Stop whining, yes you do.
Meat products — it come down to animals eating fossil fuels versus animals eating the sun. Find your local butcher, and ask them where the meat comes from, and how it was raised. Do they allow the animals to freely pasture and eat off the land, such as grass (cows), acorns (pigs), worms (chickens). The myth of red meat causing cancer and heart disease results from this century’s available meat. Animals rapidly bred and raised on corn-based feed produces high amounts of inflammatory fats and cholesterol, rather than the Omega-3 rich fats found in pastured animals. Eat pasture-raised animals. But not too much.
Tip 2: Fat is Your Friend
Many recent studies have been working hard to debunk the fat myth. Fat doesn’t make you fat. Sugar makes you fat (more about this later). Real fats (IE fats from pasture-raised animals, wild caught fish, and fats from various vegetables and fruits) provide healthy fats that the human body needs to function. Your brain, muscles, and organs burn through real fats like a charm. Haven’t you ever wondered how the French eat so much goddamn butter, yet stay thin? They use real, whole butter churned from pastured cows, not the ‘low-fat’ margarine crap you find in US grocery stores.
Always look for foods and products with whole fats. Avoid ‘reduced fat’, ‘fat-free’, as these are all processed, stripped of vital nutrients, and likely have added sugar. Get fats directly from what you eat.
Dairy products — Unless you have your own farm animals, coming across completely unpasteurized dairy products will be hard. Stick to as whole and raw as possible; whole butter, whole yogurts, whole (or raw milk),
Meat fats -Don’t be afraid of fat lining you see on cuts of pasture-raised meat. That’s the tasty stuff. Also, try rendering your own real animal lard (the layer of fat that settles on top after you put a big pot of meat broth in the fridge overnight). That stuff is damn tasty when used to cook stir fry.
Vegetable fats — Winter squashes and leafy, green cabbages actually contain quite a solid ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Consumers have been misled into thinking shoveling raw nuts as a great way to get your Omegas, when in fact, nuts contain an extremely high ratio of Omega 6, the inflammatory Omega. Vary up your consumption, and you should land at a solid ratio of Omegas.
Tip 3: Local First, Organic Second
Did you know that US organic certifications cost farmers $500 — $50,000 annually? Many small farms can’t afford this. Many small, local farms (whom you can get to know at your local farmer’s market) opt out of getting certified, even if their standards perfectly qualify. Sometimes, their standards go far beyond the USDA requirements.
Additional ways locally grown produce kicks ass in overall standards:
- Less shipping miles; ‘organic’ apples shipped from Peru cancels out any environmental brownie points. Farmer John’s apple tree is only an hour away.
- Fresher, healthier; mass produced cabbage from organic megafarms have far less nutrient density than freshly, prime picked apples from a local farm.
- More ethical; local farmers have personal relationships with anybody on their farm.
Local farmers have the ability to control their supply, and scale accordingly. They don’t mess with crazy chemical and other science experiments. When you stick to the local guideline, you will also discover prepared products with much higher standards, such as your local baker, chocolatier, vintner, and other craftspeople. Compare the one or two ingredients in a bar of chocolate made in your neighborhood, versus the same ‘organic’ chocolate bar mass produced thousands of miles away (soy lecithin, anybody?)
Choose local over organic, even if the local produce doesn’t have any certifications. You’ll save money, eat healthier, and feel better supporting your local farmers. When ‘organic’ becomes too distant and too big, all sorts of standards go out the window, including the addition of unpronounceable ingredients.
Tip 4: Sugar is Poison
“The loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” — Charles Baudelaire
A few US industries have gained so much political power in the last century, that the consequence of laws virtually have zero effect on them. People quickly identify tobacco and firearms, because of the destructive ripples it sends throughout the public. But sugar, one of the deadliest substances on Earth, has gotten away scotch free from public condemning for the last hundred years.
Back when Coca-Cola started, they needed a crap load of cheap sugar to make their beverages. Hence the dawn of cheap processed sugars and syrup cooked from inedible corn. Thus far, they have spent billions on lobbying to cover up the truth. Slowly, facts about sugar have recently received more public attention, from great documentaries like Fed Up, and food educators like Michael Pollan. The similarities to cocaine in addictive attributes and the main link to obesity and heart disease have raised eyebrows and caught people’s attention. But we may already be too addicted.
Try not to add sugar to your foods when you don’t need to. Rely on the natural sweetness of the vegetable, meats, or fruits your using. Also, contrary to what you may have learned, don’t eat too much fruit, as the sugar composition in fruits is very also high. Eat more vegetables. If your recipe calls for a sweetener, try to substitute it with sugar made from nature, in the most unprocessed form possible. Think raw honey, raw sugar cane juice, real maple sap and syrup. If you insist on drinking juice, try to blend vegetables in it, and include the pulp! The fiber in pulp balances out the sugar spike from drinking just juice.
Tip 5: Learn to Cook
“Cooking from scratch is the single most important thing we can do as a family to improve our health and general well-being” — Michael Pollan
I haven’t gone out to eat in over a year. I wrote an entire blog on how I cook every meal, every day. No more needs to be said, than what’s written in that blog.
Tip 6: Stop Counting Calories
“Common sense is very uncommon” — Mark Twain
We can agree that 1,000 calories of broccoli affect the body differently than 1,000 calories of soda. Yet people still insist on counting calories. Nuances get even deeper with supposedly comparable foods. For example, 100 calories of supposed ‘whole wheat’ bread, packed with 20 other ‘nutrient-enhancing’ ingredients you can barely spell, does not equate to 100 calories of real whole grain bread, made from stone ground wheat, and 3 other ingredients your 5-year old can pronounce. The calorie-counting game makes fitness magazines and diet programs lots of money, and provides little value to the eater.
Your body hates working on overly processed, added ingredients. Eat REAL foods, and your body will burn through the caloric composition like a charm. Combined with regular exercise (even daily, brisk walks will do), you will experience an immediate difference in health and energy. Throw away your calorie journal, and simply eat real food.
Ready To Get Real?
Hope this guide helps you get healthier, and more importantly, eat awesome food. Because real food tastes way better. As long as you ‘Eat the Sun’, know that ‘Fat is Your Friend’, choose ‘Local First, Organic Second’, understand that ‘Sugar is Poison,’ spend time and ‘Learn to Cook’, and finally, ‘Stop Counting Calories’, you’ll be well on your way to a tastier life.