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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1,966 comments to Real Food Defined (The Rules)

  • Andrea

    Hi. Can I use chicken stock cubes if it doesn’t have sugar?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Andrea. They probably wouldn’t be my first choice since I think they are made by “drying out” the stock ingredients. I would probably suggest just the chicken broth instead since I’m guessing you’re diluting the stock cubes anyways. Jill

  • Andrea

    I saw grits on the refined list. Where I live, I can get them to ground whole white kernels to make grits. That’s ok right? THanks!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Andrea. My understanding of grits is that they are not made from the whole grain. But, if it is the case as it sounds like from your note that yours are made from the whole kernel, I guess that would be fine. Jill

  • Jillian

    Hi, I would like to start doing the real food diet but am having a hard time with bread. My husband and I are both young, he works and I’m a full time grad student. We don’t have any bakery’s around us and don’t have time to drive 45-60 min to get fresh bread. Are there any recipes you would recommend that we could make our own bread?

    • Sarah

      This is the least time consuming bread recipe I’ve found. Bread isn’t hard, it just takes up an afternoon. :p

    • Jocelyn

      The cookbook Healthy Bread in Just Five Minutes a Day has a couple of master recipes that can be used for breads, buns, and a variety of other bread items. (Google it – they also have a blog with recipes.) Some of their recipes contain unbleached white flour, but there is at least one that is totally whole wheat/whole grain. The idea behind this cookbook is that you can have fresh, homemade bread in just five hands-on minutes a day. You mix together the dough and then leave it to rise. You can then store it in the fridge for up to two weeks, and it makes enough for about four loaves of bread. My husband and I are both in grad school and work so we are pretty swamped for time, but I found that if I planned ahead, I could easily mix the dough and then leave it rising while reading for school, then when we wanted bread just let it rise/bake it while doing other stuff. It hasn’t been bad at all. I just have to remember to make it advance of when we want it! Good luck!

  • Kristy Hawkins

    Hi there! Absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE your site! Thank you for all the hard work and time you put into it. It’s going to really change people’s lives! So many people (including me) want to change their diets but have no idea where to start. There’s so much info out there and it all seems so expensive and time consuming that most just give up. You definitely make it easier!
    I have a question about taking “snacks” to a soccer game. We are the host family for snacks for my daughter’s game this weekend. I need something to fee 10-12 5 yr olds for after the game. Any suggestions of what to take that will still be healthy but not too pricey or time consuming to make? Would you go for prepackaged food in this case?

    Thanks again!

    • Leslie

      When I was a kid playing on a soccer team, our after-game snacks included orange wedges, watermelon slices, or other cut fruit, and cups of ice-cold water. So sad that these days we’re expected to provide prepackaged granola bars and gatorade, or other processed food and drinks.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Kristy. Sorry this response is not in time, but, orange slices make a fantastic after game snack. You can slice them and pack them up in individual bags. Always seems to be a hit! Jill

  • Vivian

    My husband and I live in Charlotte, also, and have been eating this way since 2003. We do not eat honey or any form of agave, cane sugar, etc. or any grains. We eat organic, low glycemic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grass fed meats, free range chickens, farm eggs, etc. We use coconut oil for fat metabolism, (no oils that become rancid). We feel 100% better and find it fairly easy. Charlotte is blessed with many farm markets, Earthfare, Whole Foods. We are truly BLESSED! I hope many of your readers will consider a life style change rather than 10 or 100 days!! :)

  • Mallorie

    What if there are more than 5 ingredients, but all of the ingredients are real food? For example, there is a spaghetti sauce I have that contains the following (all organic): tomato puree, tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, salt, extra virgin olive oil, agave nectar, garlic, basil, onions, tomato flakes, parsley, and oregano. Now, that’s way more than five ingredients, but I can’t imagine this wouldn’t be allowed. Also, sometimes there are items that have six or seven ingredients, most of which are real foods as described above, but not all. Are these acceptable as well? In other words, if the additional ingredients listed are real foods, then are we allowed to exclude them from counting toward our five ingredient limit? [FYI: I posted this same comment/question on the FAQ page, since I wasn't sure where to post it...]

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Mallorie. I always tell people to use their judgement, but, in general, you are right, if the more than five are whole foods and things you can recognize/pronounce, then they are probably ok. I will say the one you listed though shows agave which we don’t use. Jill

  • I love your site! I began your 100 challenge on my birthday this month. I am enjoying it. I am a vegan, so I just adapt it a bit for my needs.

    I would just like to say thank you. This is a lot of work, and it is extremely helpful.

  • Amanda Hamilton

    So excited to have found this website. We eat really healthy but I kept getting stumped on lunches and stuff for the kids.

  • Ella

    Dear Lisa,

    I was absolutely inspired by your family’s challenge. Our family is doing the challenge together now. It has been wonderful doing it as a family. We made a couple of modifications like having a “free” day and cutting out meat. My husband wouldn’t commit unless he could have one day a week for cookies and ice cream. So far he hasn’t needed a free day for that because he loves homemade ice cream and real food cookies!

    Anyway I want to do other challenges with my family and blog about them. I want to use your site as the model and inspiration for what I am planning. I do not however want to cross any lines that would offend or bother you in any way. I see this is a business for you and I don’t want to mess with that.

    My plan is to do 4 ninety day challenges a year with mini challenges along the way. These would be about food, exercise, education and family relationships. The first one I want to do is Honoring, Loving and Obeying grandparents (who we live with). This wouldn’t have anything to do with eating real food but other challenges along the way would.

    Please let me know if you can foresee any conflicts.

    Thanks for blogging about your family and food. I absolutely appreciate what the information has done for me and my family.

    Ella Ludwig

  • Rex

    Question: pasteurization is considered a “process” by some folks—what’s your opinion? Has your family ever tried raw milk/yogurt/etc., and if so, what’s your motivation?

  • Question regarding sugar – my husband has one violent food allergy: honey. As in, anaphlylactic shock/hospital allergic. We live in Madrid, Spain, and maple syrup is not readily available (when it is, it’s well beyond our food budget). I’ve been using dark brown sugar from the natural foods store, and don’t use much unless I’m baking (no, I won’t give up baking, don’t even say it). Any suggestions for substitutes?

    • Incidentally, we don’t buy processed food. We’re both huge fans of cooking from scratch, real food tastes better and is far cheaper in Spain than out of a bottle.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Kathy. Have you tried muscovado sugar…it’s a little less processed than brown sugar. Do you know if you are able to order the maple syrup online perhaps? Not sure how pricey that would be. Obviously you need to stick with what is safe for your husband. Best of luck. Jill

  • Hi, I just found your blog. What a great resource that I can give to people when they say, “So what *can* your kids eat?” When I have time, I like to say, “We eat anything you can grow or produce yourself in your backyard in some climate somewhere in the world without a bunch of Roundup to grow it or chemicals to preserve it.” Then if they look at me like I have two heads, I say, “No food coloring, no msg, stick to stuff with ingredients you can pronounce, labels with 5 ingredients or less are best.” Now next time I’ll say, “Check out She’s got it all on there!” Thanks. :-)

  • Laura

    The reason sugar is listed as a “no go” is because even though it comes from sugar cane, calcium hydroxide is added to the cane juice while it boils to remove impurities and kill enzymes. They are then bleached by sulfur dioxide and filtered through charred bones.

    Agave Nectar isn’t any better. They use the bulb of the agave plant and run it through a similar process that they do to corn to make HFCS.

    Best bets for real food sweeteners are raw local honey, piloncillo, sucanat, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia (but not truvia brand) or if you must then use organic raw sugar.

  • Taylor

    I looove Trader Joe’s brand kettle corn. It only has four ingredients, but one of them is sugar. Is that allowed?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Taylor. No, the kettle corn would not be allowed. But, beyond the challenge you could always view it as a special treat. Jill

  • Here is a shocking and informative article on the effects of white sugar….a bit lengthy but well worth the read. Love this blog! Thanks~

  • Kelly

    What about oils and butters? Is real butter OK for cooking since it is a diary product? What about oils? I know that a lot of oils are highly processed but am not sure what to substitute for cooking?

  • Amanda

    My husband is an avid outdoorsman and hunts deer a lot. what about deer that is processed into sausage, hamburger etc in a local facility? is that considered to be healthy and recommended as a good source of meat?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Amanda. I think it’s fine…it would definitely be local :-). I would just make sure the facility that processes it does it in the most minimal way and with nothing added that you wouldn’t want in your food. Jill

  • your blog is inspiring! I am still at the beginning of my whole food adventure. thanks for all the great info!!

  • J Shields

    I am deeply considering taking this challenge but I have 3 questions. can we eat grits (not the instant kind)? Is Deli sliced turkey/chicken allowed? Is smoked turkey neck/wings allowed? I normally use smoked turkey to season dried beans.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi J Shields. Grits are actually not allowed. Deli meat would be fine as long as it is nitrate free (Applegate Organics makes one). Finally, the turkey wings would be fine, I would just try and find something local. Hope that helps…and hope you decide to take the challenge. Good luck. Jill

  • Alise

    What are your thoughts on Xylitol?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Alise – According to Wikipedia, Xylitol is found naturally in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables. However, the production of what we use as a sweetener is much different according to this same source. It states that production starts from xylan, extracted from hardwoods or corncobs, which is hydrolyzed into xylose and then hydrogenated into xylitol. Based on this, it sounds to be highly processed. Hope that helps. Jill

  • Kristi

    Hi, I am getting ready to start on October 1st. Going shopping over the weekend. I know that we can have Lara bars, but I already have several boxes of the new Perfectly Simple Zone bars in my pantry. They have 8 ingredients, each one containing these three ingredients: Invert Evaporated Cane Juice, Soy Protein Isolate, Date Paste. Would these work as a substitute so that we dont waste them?

  • Melissa

    I am planning to start the 100 day challenge and trying to plan meals prior to shopping. I’m a little concerned about all of the whole wheat options for most of the bread or grain recipes. I am gluten intolerant so I can feed all of the wheat in the world to my family, but not to myself! Are there many gluten free options? I am also new to the GF world and have not liked most of what i have tried so far (but I admit most of it was not home made)

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Melissa. I actually substitute gluten free oats in a lot of the breakfast recipes (just mix it in the blender so it chops up find). I don’t know that this would work for the baked goods. You should check out for some gluten free options as well. Best of luck. Jill

    • Sue R.

      Hi Melissa,

      I have a lot of experience with gf eating and baking. You won’t find very good whole grain options for gluten free because they use starch as wheat replacements. Starch is the opposite of “whole”-no fiber and no nutrients. It is easier and much healthier to just not eat gf breads or gf bread products. You can eat brown rice, sweet potatoes, squash, and beans. There are many countries and cultures that don’t eat “breakfast” food, they eat “dinner food” and are much healthier for it. I try to eat vegetables with every meal, even breakfast and it makes all the difference in my energy levels for the day.

  • Julie

    When discussing processed foods, breads are always brought up. If I were to make homemade bread, is that considered processed? Is there a site with recipes that you could recommend? I’ve been buying frozen vegetables instead of canned since there is a lot less processing done to those, at least I think so. And, I haven’t had a chance to start a garden and learn to can yet. It’s on my list.

  • Eileen Loughman

    You said that making your own bread could be considered processed because of the cooking? I’m confused…was that a joke? No, seriously? Because bread from the bakery is cooked and so is a good deal of other foods unless you go raw, so is bread okay or should it be avoided… or maybe just reduced? Also, I’m not a big fan of the “quick” family recipes which generally involve opening several cans of something cooked as a casserole, but I have seen a lot of recipes that would be fine if they didn’t include a can of condensed cream of fill in the blank… it seems like it’s in everything… is there a way to substitute that type of thing or should it just be avoided entirely? For instance there is a chicken enchillada recipe I wanted to make. I made my own whole wheat tortillas, and have free range local chicken and veggies from the farmers market (It’s taken me forever to get to this point :) ) then I get to the bottom and it says… a can of cream of chicken soup… DOH!

    • P Dudley

      Make your own white sauce instead of using canned soup, you can probably find a recipe on-line that is made using acceptable ingredients.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Eileen. Sorry if that was confusing. I think bread is fine if you either make it yourself or buy one with as few ingredients as possible (like Great Harvest’s honey whole wheat which only contains 5 ingredients). Changing food from its “natural” state can always be looked at as a form of processing so that’s why I made that comment, but, you have to decide what’s right for you. As for the soup, I would try omitting it or see if you can find a recipe to make a version yourself that you can use in it’s place. Jill

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