Real Food Defined (The Rules)

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Below are the rules we followed during our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge. If you are taking the 10-Day pledge you will follow these same rules.

100 Days of Real Food Rules

What you CAN eat:

  1. Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
  2. Lots of fruits and vegetables (we recommend that you shop for these at your local farmers’ market)
  3. Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  4. 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains (find a local bakery for approved sandwich bread and check the Understanding Grains post for more info)
  5. Seafood (wild caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
  6. Only locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)
  7. Beverages limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
  8. Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
  9. All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation
  10. Also check out the Recipes & Resources page for a more detailed list of meal options including links to recipes

What you CANNOT eat:

  1. No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
  2. No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
  3. Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label
  4. No deep fried foods
  5. No “fast foods”

Please leave a reply below if you have any questions about what is okay to eat during your pledge.


How to Avoid Processed Food in General

If you feel that you have the will, but not the skill to do the 10 Days of Real Food pledge then here are some general lifestyle changes to consider instead…

  1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. For years, if I even looked at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you may want to reconsider before buying.
  2. Increase your consumption of whole foods especially vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you that it couldn’t be more true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.
  3. Buy your bread from a local bakery. I actually used to eat white bread, but what I bought for my husband from the grocery store was what I thought was whole-wheat bread. When we finally checked the ingredients and found 40 different items on the list, including white flour and sugar, we decided it was time for a change. Why would there be so many on the list if it only takes a handful of ingredients to make bread? We since started buying our bread from Great Harvest Bread Company. Not only do they grind their own wheat every morning, but their honey whole-wheat loaf only has five ingredients – whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and honey.
  4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box.  Read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.
  5. Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients” according to Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.
  6. Don’t order off the kids’ menu. The next time your family is out to dinner try to avoid the kids menu. Those selections are most often things like pre-made chicken nuggets, fries, and pasta made with white flour, among other things. Instead try assembling some sort of side item plate (like baked potatoes and whatever else your kid will tolerate) and/or try sharing some of your meal.
  7. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. According to Michael Pollan not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious”, but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce, which travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate.
  8. Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries then you might not eat them very often. Only eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods as often as you are willing to make them yourself will automatically ensure the frequency is appropriate.
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2,382 comments to Real Food Defined (The Rules)

  • Jen

    What if you deep fry your food with an approved oil?

    • Jen

      To clarify, I mean you deep fry something yourself at home.

      • Green Fury

        Deep-frying is debatable. Some argue that deep-frying actually results in less fat in your food than with shallow-frying because of the high heat. If you use an oil like peanut oil that has a high smoke point, maybe it’s not so bad. But watch out for refined vs. unrefined. Long story short, “refined” means its gone through some processing that’s going to rob the oil of nutrients and result in potential rancidity since the oil has already been cooked.

  • Julie

    I LOVE this! Over the last couple of years I’ve also cleaned up my diet and what I serve my family. We’ve learned it as “clean eating”. My children and I had watched “Supersize Me” years ago and I made a pact then for limiting/eliminating fast food (and absolutely NO McDonalds haha). I was able to get my family to better understand where I was coming from when showing them the movie “Food Inc”. It’s been interesting seeing the changes we’ve gone through and where we are now with our lifestyle. We joke that I’m the “health freak” but I’ll take it anyway. The hardest part of all is being called “obsessive” from my friends/family who like to put it to me nicely “we’re not counting calories”. It’s a journey but it’s one worth focusing on. I truly wish more families could see all the things we’ve come to understand and not misinterpret our healthy lifestyle as un-normal.
    Great job and I love what you’re doing. You’ve got my support 200%!!

  • Melissa S.

    I am curious – have you also given up eating out? So what happens when you go on vacation? My husband and I are already scheduled to go to New Orleans in November – and we all know they have delicious, although maybe processed?, food.

    Also, we already eat a lot of stir fry for dinner. Usually shredded carrots, canned mushrooms, frozen peas or green beans, bell peppers, and chicken breast. Do you have any sauces that you recommend using to flavor it? Other than those loaded with sodium which I already try to avoid.

    Thanks! You are very admirable for this challenge!

  • KatieA

    I’d like to know your thoughts on Hormel Natural choice lunch meat. There are no preservatives. The ingrediants read as follows, “Water, honey, salt, turbinado sugar, natural flavoring, lactic acid starter culture” I thought I was making a good choice for my family.

  • Tatiana

    I’m really interested in this, however it’s my family that’s the main issue I’m only 20 years old. My mother does not like change no matter how hard I try with all the information I am learning (I’m going to school to become a chef) and no matter how hard I try she refuses to listen to the information I have learned from both in class and from Food Inc. I believe that’s the movie. This is interesting for me to start, so I believe I’ll start this on my own and then slowly integrate my lifestyle to my family. Thank you very much for even starting this and helping people along the way with your information.

  • Lisa

    I have decided to take this challenge myself. I am so excited to get started!! I just had a quick question. The rules say “no more than 5 ingredients”. This may seem silly, but does that include any spices, etc that may be added? For example, I have a packaged pasta side dish that has organic whole grain ingredients, but it lists other things like garlic, parsley, etc. Are those acceptable and not included in the count or should I just donate the box along with everything else in my pantry?

  • I have really enjoyed reading through your site today Lisa! Congrats on the yahoo story, it was a really nice feature. We follow alot of your same principles, and have totally transformed our health the last couple of years because of it. Our greatest concern right now is our daughter going to college next year, but thankfully she’s determined to get a dorm with a kitchen so she can continue to control her food choices. Your 100 days on a budget has me evaluating our food spending ($208 last week, yikes) and has me re-committed to watching the budget more closely. Thanks for the inspiration! I look forward to reading your blog in the future.
    Cheers, Andrea

  • Green Fury

    You forgot about oils! Here’s a suggestion for what you can and cannot eat in the oils category:


    Butter — as long as it’s organic and from pastured (i.e., 100% grass-fed) cows
    Olive oil — extra virgin is the best
    Coconut oil — cold pressed
    Sunflower oil and peanut oil — cold pressed (unrefined), if necessary for high-heat cooking such as stir-fries


    Corn and soybean oils (these are more often than not from GMO crops, and even if they aren’t the oils are bad for your body)
    Hydrogenated oils/margarines — also known as “trans” fats
    Canola oil (it’s from a non-edible plant, bred to be “ok” for human consumption – avoid it)

  • Jan

    Just read the yahoo article. Could it have caught my eye at a more perfect time? What a gift. Thank you for everyone’s comments and sharing. I have determined to get healthy. I’m working out with a trainer 5 times a week. (Sessions already paid for, thanks to my son not using them). I’m losing weight and getting stronger. One of my trainers told me it is important to eat my 5 or 6 meals the same time every day. It’s been a challenge. I had also set a food budget recently of $125.00 a week for my 17yr old son, 14yr old daughter, and myself of course. And I’ve been wondering how I’m going to achieve this budget goal. My children would love for me to cook more. They get tired of fast and boxed foods. My father was on a raw food (no dairy, meat, wheat grains) eating program while treated for his cancer. I participated in some wonderful classes in food prep. Eating raw, organic foods is expensive. And eating healthy is a part time job. Total commitment. Still eat some dairy, wheat and meat however. In fact I learned that sardine bones, which you can use a tongue depressor to clean the meat off if you don’t want to eat it, is a strong bone builder. Any way, this information is going to be priceless for me and my family. I’m excited!!!

  • Tristine

    I noticed your list said no Cain juice. I used to buy a grape all fruit spread for my daughter who loves grape “jelly” however; since moving to a new state I can no longer purchase the product. I finally found one place that carries an organic grape jelly that only consists of organic concord grapes, natural pectin, and organic Cain juice. Would this product truly be considered unacceptable for the the Real Food challenge. The Cain juice is the last item listed.

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