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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1,976 comments to Real Food Defined (The Rules)

  • Carol Friendly

    I read the book: No Grain Diet by Dr Joseph Mercola. I have been following for about a month. In the book, he states the science behind the diet. Essentially, i have not eaten grains, starchy vegetables or anything with sugar in it. I have been diagnosed with diabetes type 2, and my goal is to get off drugs and lose 125 pounds. if you are interested go to:
    So i guess i have been on the 100 day challenge already.

  • Becky

    Have you guys ever used or researched the Wildtree products? I’m curious how they stack up in terms of non-processed food products. They tout grapeseed oil, but I believe it is not processed with chemicals. Interested in your take or if you’ve ever heard of them?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Becky. Yes, others have written to us about Wildtree products in the past. Looking quickly at some of their products and the ingredients list, they wouldn’t fall within “our rules” in terms of some of the ingredients used as well as the number of ingredients. Thanks for checking in though. Jill

  • erica

    Is it better to buy non organic fruits and veggies at a farmers market or to buy organic fruits and veggies at the store ?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Erica. I ask myself this same question often. I would say if you can talk to your farmers at your local market and get comfortable with how they grow their crops in terms of seeds, pesticides, etc., buying local is always preferable. Hope that helps. Jill

  • Laura

    If you do a web search for home made cream of mushroom soup, there are several quick, whole food versions. If you make them with a little less liquid than called for, you can substitute it for the “can of-” in recipes

  • andrea null

    Is cane sugar allowed on this real food plan? If not, what options do you have to sweeten tea or coffee? Last question, what other options do you have to drink other than water and fruit juice? Just want to make sure we do this right :)

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Andrea. Honey and maple syrup are the sweeteners that were used during the strict 100 day pledge. As for drinks, water and milk are pretty much it. Coffee, tea and wine are also allowed. Jill

  • Andrey

    Please no meat, dairy, oils!

  • Lynn

    I am a 3rd generation whoe food eater, and a grandma. Ye, in 1935 my grandfather abruptly went frm swilling whiskey and eating roast beef toa raw fruit and vegetable and nut diet with occasional whole wheat bread, home made wine, and banana bread. he lived to be 96, and i am healthy and vigorous at 75.
    I have just decided to stop using canned food, never had much canned beverages, don;t like that orange juice, so acidic, comes in plastic bottles. Fifteen years ago I realized that frozen peas with a touch of butter were a deliciou breakfast or addition to my usual fresh papaya with cottage cheese, or an avocado, tomato, onion, spike, and lemon juice on crunchy whole grain bread sandwich.
    Anyway, keep up the blog–lots of people are getting to eat healthy these days, and I only am dismayed by the tripling of the cost of raw nuts as a result! That shorthand clue about “if it has more than 5 ingredients, don’t buy it” is so good. And true. My dad died at 87—it may bebeause he loved tricuits and what thins and didn’t know they were loaded with transfats back in the 1990′s……he was eating fresh home grown oranges and papayas and avocados, and almost no meat, no milk, few eggs.

  • Cathy

    How would a diabetic follow this challenge? Specifically, with sweetners?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Cathy. I am not familiar enough with diabetes to comment or advise you on this. I would suggest you check with your doctor. Best of luck. Jill

  • Tara

    I am planning to take the 10 day pledge and I’m in the process of convincing my dear husband. He is on board but he is an ex smoker and chews nicotine gum and also drink 2 beers per day. I’ve asked him to give up both of these for the 10 days and he seems adamant that he isn’t willing to do so. Will this be a deal breaker in completing the 10 day pledge?


  • woodsy

    A bit disappointed, that you limit stuff that the kids like but you think they shouldn’t have, and then allow alcohol, to keep the adults sane (?) double standards it seems.

    • mommadbh

      I absolutely picked up on a light hearted tone when I read that line about the alcohol. If you don’t want to keep the alcohol, fine, don’t. Our children are not wise enough to be trusted with everything they eat without any guidance from us. Let alone that they are not capable of earning the living that provides the food in front of them. It is our responsibility to make the best possible choices for them. So what if they miss fruit snacks, ritz crackers and twizzlers. They’ll get over it. And they’ll thank you for raising them to care about themselves. And if you happen to have an occasional glass of wine or a beer, just as I’m sure the kids will have a cupcake or lolli at a birthday now and again, I highly doubt your children will grown up and cry about the double standard you set. Come on.

    • Lisa

      Woodsy – We mainly limit factory-made, artificially/chemically-filled, highly refined sweets for the kids (while still allowing homemade goodies that follow our real food rules). And yes this is while we consume wine in moderation, which has been consumed by our ancestors for centuries and actually shows some health benefits in small quantities. I am sorry if the reason for this decision is not clear…but it makes sense to us!

  • Karen

    Im curious..when you say milk & cheese are mean whole milk & cheese, since low-fat/non-fat is very processed, correct?

  • alison

    I’m psyched to start the 10 day pledge–three questions…
    1) can I drink seltzer water? how about flavored unsweetened?
    2) If I don’t have coconut or avocado oil–what oil is best to bake with?
    3) How about non -cow almond–is that ok

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Alison. Yes, seltzer water would be fine, just no other added ingredients. I would probably use butter for baking in the absence of coconut oil (organic, unsalted butter). Almond milk is fine as well, but, again, unsweetened and unflavored. Good luck. Jill

  • Amber

    A group of us are taking the 10 Day Pledge but I have a few questions first.

    1) Are Kashi products okay to eat? They have more than 5 ingridents but they are natural ingridents?
    2) Can we eat deli meat that has no preservatives and is low in sodium, like Boars Head?


    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Amber. We’re glad to hear you’re taking the pledge. Kashi products are not completely free of GMO’s to my knowledge (I remember reading an article a while back about how they are trying to get there), so, I would avoid them. As for deli meat, I would find a brand that is free of nitrates (I know Applegate Farms is one). In that case, it’s fine to have it. Good luck. Jill

  • RejoicedOver

    I’m wondering how I can tell/know when something is a GMO? I’ve been hearing a lot about GMOs and wonder how I can make wise choices. Any help/direction you can offer would be great!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      RejoicedOver – I think your question sums up the problem with GMO’s…you don’t really know. Many companies now label stuff “non-GMO”, but, the best way to avoid them is to educate yourself on brands and who doesn’t use them (for example, I believe Trader Joe’s does not use them in any of their store brands, same for the Whole Foods brand I believe). Best of luck as you continue to navigate your way through this. Jill

  • Greta

    I was wondering if you had any lists, or knew of any websites that have lists, of big brands found in regular grocery stores that fall within the real food category. I like to coupon but I am realizing most of the brands that offer coupons have a zillion artificial ingredients in them. Are there any companies that make honest food that aren’t necessarily “organic”?

  • Sarah

    My husband and I have been very interested in a “real foods” diet for quite some time now. I know we shouldn’t be eating lots of sugary foods…However, we would like to be able to have a treat (like cookies or pie) every once in awhile substituting the processed items in the recipe with non-processed alternatives. What would you suggest as an alternative to sugar or brown sugar in recipes such as cookies or pie? This has been on my mind a lot, and I’m really not sure what the best alternative would be. Any help you can give would be great!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Sarah. I would typically suggest maple syrup or honey. But, it’s not necessarily a 1:1 substitution so you need to be prepared to play around with the recipe a bit. I might suggest you check out some of our recipes here where the work has already been done for you. Here is a link to our desserts (, but, we hope you’ll take the time to check out all of our recipes. Thanks for reading. Jill

  • Lesley

    Why does the meat have to be local but the seafood and vegetables don’t? What’s more “real” about local meat? I’d rather eat a chicken trucked over from Arkansas than asparagus flown in from Chile.

    • Paula

      Where does it say to not buy local fruits and vegetables but only local meats. Doesn’t it say local farms for everything ? And local grassfed meats? Maybe I missed something? Have a wonderful day!

      • Lesley

        #s 2, 3, and 5 above (under what you can eat) re. veg and fruit, dairy/eggs, and seafood don’t specify local. #4 suggest finding a local bakery, but #6 specifies only locally raised meat.

        If you are buying milk and cheese and eggs from non-local cows, what’s the difference between that and eating meat from said cows? I’d just like to understand the reasoning behind that.

    • djp

      There are many reasons for locally raised meat from a strictly nutritional standpoint. This article does not explicitly state it, but I imagine the reasoning is based on the difference in diet and living conditions between industrial raised animals in feedlots and animals in farms, and how this goes on toe effect the nutrient content of their meat. For example, industrial beef cattle are primarily fed on corn and soybeans (as well as some animal by products) while local farms are more likely to raise their cattle on pasture/grass. Pasture raised beef will have less fat, but more importantly (as fat is not inherently bad) the particular fat content of grass fed beef (what’s called the “fatty acid profile” meaning the individual fatty acids which comprise the total fat content of the item in question) contains healthy fats while grain fed beef contains unhealthy fats. Grass fed beef contains a greater concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids (the same omega-3′s you find in fish), conjugated linoleic acid (a hard to find fatty acid that’s been suggested to reduce the risk of cancer and has shown to improve body composition) and less omega-6 fatty acids (these fats work against omega-3′s, so to speak). In addition, one of the health concerns of beef is that carcinogenic compounds, called nitrosamines, can form during the cooking process. One way to protect against nitrosamines is the body is with antioxidants (vegetables also contain nitrosamines, but they are not a problem due to their high antioxidant content). Pasture raised beef has around seven times as much Vitamin A and three times more Vitamin E than it’s grain fed counterpart. These vitamins function as antioxidants and will reduce the effects of the nitrosamines. Industrial raised beef is also less safe, as the living conditions (many cattle confined in their own manure) provide a breeding ground for bacteria (fun fact, there is 10,000,000 more e. coli 0157:H7, which is the one that kills you really quickly, The chicken from arkansas may have traveled less distance than the asparagus from chile, but the conditions in which animals are raised have, in my opinion, a greater measurable effect on the nutrient content. Oh ya, and the growth hormones too, I forgot about that.

      As for fish, the specification is wild over farm raised, which could include local fish provided it is wild. The reasons for this are similar. The aquaculture system resembles the picture of beef cattle, corn and soy fed fish changing the nutrient content of the meat, such as resulting in a greater ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, which is not desirable.

      Both of these situations also require, due to the unnatural diet, the use of antibiotics, and antibiotic resistant bacteria are never a good thing.

      As for everything else, such as the fruit/dairy/eggs, it’s generally better to buy local.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Lesley. I think where you can get local for any of it; the meat, fruit, vegetables and fish, is better. Buying local obviously has its’ advantages in that it is in season and more recently harvested. The vegetables suggest shopping at your local farmer’s market, so, hopefully you will be able to get local produce there. As for the fish, that will depend on where you live as to if you can get it local. But, wild is preferable to farm raised. Hope that helps to clarify things. Jill

  • Anne

    I’d liked to know what twin, splenda etc. does too the body.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Anne. I don’t know that I can comment on what they specifically do to the body, but, I know that Splenda, for example, is 600 times sweeter than sugar and, in some cases, artificial sweeteners have been shown to trigger overeating and hunger. Jill

    • Erin

      I suddenly started getting migraines out of the blue. To three four a week. I tried to figure out what was causing them. Previously my only trigger was codeine. I had cleaned up my diet (so I thought) so I couldn’t figure it out. One morning I was making my protein shake asnt saw on the front Contains Sucralose. I had no idea what it was. I googled it, without going into a single website, saw from the brief blurbs, Sucralose (Splenda) and the word Migraine showed up a lot. Quit the shakes and the headaches stopped. I was getting it at the local vitamin and health food store.

      The other day I bought a So Delicious Coffee creamer at the recommendation of the clerk at the HFS. After using it for a few days I got the container and looked for ingredients. I thought it was just Coconut. I was shocked to see Titanium Dioxide which is a whitener that everything I’ve read says is carcinogenic. Except the So Delivious site which says it is naturally occurring and is not a carcinogen. I can’t remember the other chemical that was in it…I poured it down the sink.

      Bottom line, be vigilant. Trust nothing and no one where your food is concerned, read the labels.

    • Shannon

      I started using splenda as an alternative to aspartame. I quit splenda and moved to stevia years ago. I found as of recently that organic stevia is better as the more popular stevia adds multidextrine which is just another sugar.

      Here’s some info on what I found about splenda just before I quit:

      I googled splenda with various terms to find this info; there is more out there…

      And reasons to stay organic:

      This is great site to find local farmers and their websites generally state whether they are organic or not:

      Hope this is helpful to all,

    • Wendi

      Also, Splenda and all the other un-natural sweeteners are a chemical. They are made in chemical plants. Your liver processes these chemicals. The job of your liver is not only to rid itself of chemicals but to rid itself of excess fat. If your body is too busy trying to rid itself of all the chemicals that go in, there is less energy for the liver to get rid of the excess fat.

      • Jim

        What are the names of the chemicals?

      • Jason


        Everything is chemicals. Rocks, your tongue, the air you breath, distilled water.

        The job of your liver is to filter out chemicals that enter the blood, and to store fats. Sucralose (the component of splenda that is different from other things you might find in your food) is absorbed only 40% by the body, which means 60% gets excreted (the term for this is non-nutritive). Sucralose mostly acts by binding to your neurons (in this case your taste buds).

        There’s a link for you if you like, it includes the only study of Sucralose that has been published in which negative side effects have been found. Notably, there were no liver problems.

  • Anne

    Would you have a good web site for gluten free? My granddaughter has celiac disease. Everything seems to have soya or wheat in it. I was buying garlic powder and the really cheap stuff has silcon in it! and, the soya, wheat, possibly nuts etc.

  • Danielle

    What about using erythritol as an alternate sweetener? It is a sugar alcohol that comes from the fermentation of certain plants (fruits and even fungi) but I’m not sure if it is more “processed” than wine. I’ve just heard about it recently, can you tell me your opinion?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Danielle. I am not readily familiar with erythritol. The little bit of research I read suggests that it is made by fermenting the natural sugar found in corn. Like other sugar alcohols, it’s biggest side effect is said to be intestinal issues (bloating for example). I would personally choose to avoid it and, on the occasion that I need sweetener, choose to use something less processed such as honey, maple syrup or even a little bit of sugar. I always tell people, however, to make the decision that is best for them. Good luck. Jill

    • Jason

      Try to avoid having more than 14g of erythritol (or any sugar alcohol) per day. They have laxative effects which can be quite vexing.

      Some people find that they also seem to cause migraines.

  • How is fried unprocessed if you do it yourself?

    • Well, really, anything home cooked is “processed” in the sense that you put it through a process to make it into something. I think what the article writer means by “processed” is processed in an overly complex way in an industrial setting which is more sensitive to the needs of storage and the supply chain than it is to the needs of the person eating it, not to mention the farmer, animals, or environment.

      It’s an interesting point you make, though. “Processed” is not a black-and-white thing. We all process our food. It’s a question, surely, of working out what you yourself are comfortable eating. Sites like this are valuable because they make us think about it.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Tanya. The answer is somewhat dependent on whether or not you are completing the 10 day challenge. If you are following the 10 day pledge, then, no deep fried food is allowed. But, if you’re asking beyond that, then, you’ll have to make that call and decide what’s right for you. At a minimum, I would use one of the “acceptable” oils. You can see the post on oils here… Jill

  • Danielle

    I am just running across this from a pin on pinterest. i am very intrigued and exploring this…i just wanted to say THANK YOU for keeping the beer and wine in there! :-) that made me smile!
    Happy Eating!!

  • Kelly

    I absolutely love this. You make it sound so simple, as it should be. The food industry has worked very hard to confuse us with terms like low-fat and low-cholesterol. I am just now getting around to reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense Of Food. I really love how he puts it “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Back to basics! Forget the trends and just eat real food not processed look-a-likes.
    Thank you for your accessible wisdom!

  • If only. If only making my own junk food would stop me eating too much of it. But when you love cooking as much as you love eating, it ain’t necessarly so…!

    • Jason

      I am SO there! I make my own marshmallows, and cookies, and snack cakes, even occasionally deep fried polenta (so awesome).

      I’ve found that having a little bit of self control is pretty required if one grew up knowing how to cook nearly anything they could think up.

  • Shawnda

    I would also like to know where I can find a Stevia plant. Did I read the above post wrong, the Stevia/Truvia in the stores is also something to avoid?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Shawnda. Yes, the powdered form that you purchase in the store goes through a “process” to get it to that state. I don’t know about where to purchase a plant. Jill

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