Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions

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Don’t be fooled by these misleading food myths:

  1. A healthy diet means eating “low-fat” and “fat-free” food products…wrong!
    Michael Pollan basically abolishes this myth in his book In Defense of Food, and you can check out our mini-pledge post from week 6 for some detail.
  1. Mutli-grain crackers are better than crackers made from white flour…wrong!
    “Mutli-grain” is a misleading buzzword because unless those grains are actually “whole grain” the product is really no better than those made from refined grains (like white flour).
  1. It’s “natural” so it must be a good choice…wrong!
    If a product is natural it simply means it wasn’t made from any artificial ingredients, which is certainly desirable, but don’t forget that white flour, sugar, and even high-fructose corn syrup are all derived from “natural” ingredients and they are also all highly refined.
  1. Organic packaged food is better than conventional…okay, mostly true.
    The problem is though that since the product is organic people sometimes just assume it’s also “healthy.” But there’s an awful lot of what I call “organic junk food” out there that’s still highly processed (like organic cookies, organic ice cream sandwiches, and organic candy) so no matter what the package says you still have to read – and scrutinize – the ingredient label.
  1. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is much worse for you than sugar…wrong!
    According to Michael Pollan HFCS has not been proven to be worse for you than sugar it’s just a “reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed.”
  1. The bread that’s being made in the grocery store bakery is “fresh”…wrong (in most cases)!
    I certainly haven’t surveyed every single supermarket in America, but all the stores I’ve been to have a bustling bakery where workers appear to be pulling “fresh” baked bread out of their ovens. While it’s true they’re baking the bread right there in the store oftentimes they didn’t actually make the dough themselves, which means it’s full of preservatives and other unnecessary additives like dough conditioners (just read the ingredients and you’ll see what I mean).
  1. I was told that margarine and Earth Balance are better for my family than butter…wrong!
    As Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules, “Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not” because it’s best to just stick with the “real” thing as opposed to an imitation. Need I say more?
  1. Some people say, “Well, isn’t cheese a ‘processed’ food?”…right (sort of).
    Our family actually avoids all highly processed food because even cooking is technically a form of “processing” or changing your food…and we definitely aren’t practicing a “raw food diet.” Mainly to draw the line somewhere we define highly processed food as products containing  more than 5 ingredients. But – just for the record – no matter how many ingredients are on the list, if a product is made with anything refined (like “wheat” that’s not whole) or if it’s deep-fried in refined oil then we definitely consider it to be highly processed as well. That means bags of 3-ingredient deep-fried potato chips are out (sorry!).
  1. Following the latest food trend (that’s oftentimes led by the food industry) is the way to go…wrong!
    If something feels like an up and coming food “trend” I mostly try to avoid it because I prefer to stick to traditional diets that people have survived on for centuries, which certainly didn’t include “boosting your omega-3’s” with a box of enriched pasta.
  1. This cereal box says it will lower my cholesterol so maybe I should give it a shot…wrong!
    Do not believe – and in fact don’t even read – misleading health claims on the front of food packages. Only trust the ingredients.



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88 comments to Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions

  • Megan @ MAID in Alaska

    Great reminders – thanks so much for posting this! I shared the link to your post on my MAID in AK Facebook page.
    :) Megan

  • Polly

    I found this quite by accident and am anxious to try some of the tips for cutting processed foods out and replacing them with better choices. I do find it funny that the ad at the bottom of the page is for RedBull though and another for McDonalds. Just sayin…

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Thanks for the heads up. I just went to the site and saw PSAs and an ad for Banana Republic. Sometimes those ad networks have a mind of their own, but unfortunately it is a necessity in order to cover the cost of doing business. If I see something selling processed food I take a screen shot and ask them to block it. I will check back to see if I can get a hold of what you saw!

  • Carrie

    Just found your site! so excited. I cook all of our monthly dinners on one day. I love a lll your information!

  • Carrie

    I was given a diagnosis of thyroid cancer back in August of 2011 and decided it was time for me to get healthy. I am so thankful for all your wonderful tips and recipes! I am currently reading In Defense of Food and finding it very enlightening. Thanks and I look forward to reading your blog :)

  • I read your blog all of the time, and have learned quite a bit. I do wonder though- just because a food has more than 5 ingredients, that doesn’t mean it is processed. It can still be real food. Is that just a rule you stick by when buying something in a box or bag? I mean, I make bread that has more than 5 ingredients but all of it is “pure”.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      The 5-ingredient rule only applies to packaged food (not something you make yourself) and it was just to draw the line somewhere since we ask people to follow along. Some packaged foods with only 3 ingredients (like deep-fried potato chips) are still highly processed and some with 7 ingredients are okay because it’s just a trail mix of nuts and dried fruit. You still have to read the labels, but we needed some kind of “rule” so everyone could join the pledge.

  • Tina

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog. It has inspired me to get back to whole foods again! The only that I would add is that I make my own bread products from grinding my own wheat. I have been doing that for about 6 years. HAve you considered that for your self? It is very easy and cost efficient! King Arthur flour is fine , but doesn’t have all the components of the wheat Kernal . It would go rancid on the shelf if it did. Something for you to consider.

  • Karen

    What about Better for bread flour? OK to use or not? I struggle with the density of the whole wheat bread when trying to make a sandwich.

  • Tina

    In making whole wheat bread less dense is all in the process of making it . I have found that if I weigh my dough before putting it into the pan for the last rise and being patient for it to rise that my bread is soft and less dense. Also, I have played around with different recipe’s and certain ingredients will make a heavier bread.
    I have never heard of Better Bread Flour.

  • Hi Lisa! I thought this post was GREAT and it is SO cool that it is helping so many people live healthier lives! Love the idea that people are even following a pledge at your site!!

    One thing to mention is about Earth Balance (coincidentally I just wrote a post including it last night on Earth Balance is vegan (so better than butter…didn’t come from something with a face) and no hydrogenated oils or MSG… (so better than most margarine). Plus, the ingredients list seems rather short (longer than 5 though!), and pretty innocent (some oils, soy, salt, lactic acid…list is large enough to read).

    Just something to consider, but overall I love all these rules and I love the book Food Rules by Michael Pollen!

    Have a nice day and thanks for all that you do!!!

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I am actually not a huge fan of Earth Balance mainly because of the refined oil (like canola) it contains and also because of the fact that it’s trying to “imitate” butter. Pollan touches on avoiding imitation foods in “in Defense of Food.” I understand this is a go-to item for vegans though…but if you’re down with animal products I say stick with the real thing – butter!

  • Earth Balance is worlds better than most margarine in terms of health and nutrition, however avoiding it based on the fact that its an “imitation” really does make sense! The problem is, as a nutrition professional, I can’t yet jump on board with promoting butter. The saturated fat is well known to be unhealthy for your heart, brain, and more. There is potentially better health benefits of “organic butter”, but currently, “organic butter” has as much saturated fat as regular butter. Probably skipping any of these “spreads” altogether is the best option. Noting your family’s awesome diet, you will all be just find with a bit of saturated fat from butter! Thanks for your inspiration …getting me thinking, researching, considering, this all after having a certain idea in my mind! I am always open to others’ ideas, and I will definitely be looking further into “organic butter” as an option! Have a nice night, Lisa!

    By the way, you are really efficient at getting back with people. Thank you for that too! I’m sure it’s another reason why your website is so loved! You’re clearly a hard worker and passionate about all of it!

  • Patty

    Hi, just found your blog! Thank you for the great tips and recipes, I started a 30-day challenge/ pledge to a healthy lifestyle for myself and family we are on week 3 now and I’ve found so many awesome foods and it hasn’t been hard it just takes some planning and organization. I have 2 toddlers and 1 10 year old who’s my picky eater. I posted my progress on Facebook and share recipes and some of friends have been motivated to do the same.

  • Pat Smith

    I love your blog and I love your stuff. If our wave lengths were any closer we would be one. However, I have spent a good deal of time over the last year researching nutrition and its relationship to chronic disease. And I believe you might want to take another look at the issues with high fructose corn syrup. While a little of it probably isn’t an issue, the levels consumed by Americans in processed food, soft drinks, etc. have a very negative impact on the liver. And since the liver is the “master controller” in our bodies, we might want to avoid doing that. That said, thanks for the great job you are doing for parents in America.

  • [...] Interesting articles I came across this week: 1. Pink slime and other weird food additives (another list of reasons to eat whole, local foods) 2. Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions [...]

  • Jessica

    Thank so so much for all of the hard work you put into getting your story out there, it is definitely helping people! I just came across your website and have already bookmarked a few recipes that look amazing!

    After reading a few comments I feel that I have to defend Weight Watchers. I have been a current member on their new system since July. Although they do have products that seem to be highly processed (which I believe are there to help people transition from eating foods that are even worse) the message is always that eating real, non-processed food is always better. And in regards to Lori’s comment about weight loss programs not teaching healthy eating habits.. that is what weight watchers is all about. They are trying to get you to make better choices in food. There are “power foods” in Weight Watchers which they stress should be the main part of your diet. Things like, fruits, veggies, whole wheat, dairy, and many foods listed on this website are all part of this. They emphasize that these “real” foods fuel your body giving you more energy and help keep you full longer than sugary, processed foods do. Much like this website, Weight Watchers teaches you how to make healthier choices when it comes to food.

    Since joining weight watchers I have begun eliminating processed food from my diet and this story and the recipes are going to be a tremendous help, thank you so much!

  • I am very excited because my Sweetie just asked what I was reading and we had a really good conversation about me wanting to eat more whole foods.
    He has been resistant to my changes, so him being receptive to listening is a good start. He asked why I was bothering since my health already sucks (dialysis & a colostomy, also relearning how to walk). I explained that really it could get much worse and this at least I could have control over.
    He seemed to “get” that and I think he will be more supportive in the Future.

    Thanks for helping me have this conversation with him,

  • Marie

    Thank you so much for this article. DH and our two kids have had a food revolution in our house in the last two years but just recently I met someone who eats ONLY organic and natural food. And I was really intrigued bc she says they rarely get sick and she stopped breaking out. They can only afford to do this by completely eliminating eating out at all. So we decided to take the next step and try this. We haven’t eaten out (except Subway) for a few weeks now and my face is clearer than it has been in 10 years– nary a bump! But anyway, I realized that my friend still eats a lot of sugar, which has been a major no no for me after finding out I was prediabetic and hypoglycemic (a skinny girl who live on junk food for 15 years, literally). So for these few weeks, I have found myself eating MORE sugar than at any other time in the last few years because much of the convenient organic foods in our small town are basically sugar foods (organic bars, and cereal, which have tons of organic sugar). And that is not necessarily better. I also bought 10 boxes of Annies organic macaroni and cheese, which I stopped eating two years ago because of the high carbs which turns to sugar and makes my HG trip out. I had lost my way temporarily, so thanks for your post, it just woke me up out of my organic trance!

  • [...] Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions [...]

  • Lacie

    I strongly disagree with the misconception that HFCS is not worse than sugar….firstly, it’s made from genetically modified corn, and is FAR more processed than sugar. If being GM isn’t bad enough, it confuses your brain and your glycemic levels. Of course they haven’t “scientifically” found it to be worse, the FDA is in with monsanto, and seeing as it’s in everything, if it was wayy worse than sugar people would be less likely to buy it.

  • Brittany

    I like your blurb about “natural” when I explain it to newbies I tell them not all “natural” is good for you; radon is natural but is a radioactive alpha emitter and will kill you if inhaled.

  • Polina

    I love your site, such good reading. I work a fairly busy corporate job and I have a couple of items I’m struggling to find substitutes for:
    - Canned tuna (I have salads at work for lunch that I make myself, this is the protein “keeps me full” element, any suggestions for what I could substitute?
    - Instant soup – I know instant soup isn’t good, but how about miso paste? What’s the verdict on that one?
    I can’t get buy wiht just lunch and need snacks throughout the day, what are good suggestions other than fruit and celery? Anything filling but easy? Instant soup is my saver at the moment.
    Would love your feedback!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Polina. For your salads, you could grill up some chicken or salmon at the beginning of the week and add that to your salad. Or, you could also do beans for a meat free option. I’m not sure what to say on the soup. I would suggest making it yourself. You could always freeze it and bring it frozen in the morning and it would probably be defrosted by lunchtime. As for the snacks, check out this recent post on snacks… Best of luck. Jill

    • Beth

      For snacks, I eat an ounce or two of cheese, or raw nuts. Very tasty and appetite satisfying, not to mention it’s protein so it holds you over for a long time

  • I like this too as a reminder…if you are not educated consumer it is so easy to be duped. Natural to me means a nice sweet potato that came out the ground not a bag. Appreciate this!

  • Holly

    Great site Lisa.
    More people need to open their eyes to ‘real’ healthy eating. ~Wake up people!:)

    Great point Lacie, about HFCS. I disagree with that also.
    Why should we believe Michael Pollen anyway?

  • Beth

    Disagree with #5, just because HFCS is something people can have a sensitivity to, if not an allergy. It’s made from the cob, not from the corn. My brother has a sensitivity.

  • jillian marchioli

    High fructose corn syrup is worse than regular sugar. It comes down to the ratio of fructose to sucrose in sugar is 50-50 and bonded. In HFCS their is un-bonded fructose and sucrose with higher rations of fructose that are more rapidly released into the system elevating insulin levels… which underlies nearly every chronic disease

  • Margie Marcelle

    A friend asked me about people with high cholesterol etc how that would affect them with now eating real butter and eggs. I am starting my 10 day pledge and am now wondering too if all the real butter and eggs are bad for me?

    • Leah

      Actually, as we as a society began to eat less real butter and eggs, heart disease increased. The lipid theory of heart disease is based on very weak evidence. You should not be scared of real butter and eggs! Saturated fats are good for you; without them, you cannot absorb all nutrients properly.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Margie. I would just say everything in moderation. Yes, I would imagine if you had too much of either one they might be bad, but, again, in moderation as part of a balanced diet I think they should be fine. You can ask your doctor as well if you still have concerns. Jill

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