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)

  • beth

    dairy products are one of the most poisonous groups of foods out there! dont eat them if you want to be healthy!

  • why no deep fried foods? it seems a bit arbitrary. you can make homemade nutritious deep fried foods if you are using nutritious oils (like coconut) and whole foods (like fresh potatoes).

    just because the nutrition “experts” in america are against deep fried foods doesn’t mean they are actually bad. many dietary “experts” also recommend diet soda, which is certainly not a health food.

    • Lisa

      Since most deep fried foods are not made the way you’ve described we’ve ruled out that entire category (as opposed to having exceptions to the rule).

  • Jeannette

    I would like to do the 10 day real food challenge but I have a few questions.
    What about using Xylitol as an alternate sweetener?
    Are there any cold breakfast cereals allowed on the real food plan?
    Is Organic 70% Dark Chocolate (Trader Joe’s Brand) okay?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Jeannette. Xylitol is a sugar substitute and would not be allowed…only honey and maple syrup are used during the 10 day challenge. As far as breakfast cereals, there are some Arrowhead brand cereals I believe that only contain one ingredient such as puffed wheat or millet. You might want to try the homemade granola though… As for the chocolate, unfortunately it contains sugar no matter what the percentage cacao so would not be allowed on the pledge. Good luck. Jill

  • Chrissis

    What about raw cane sugar, is that allowed?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Chrisis. No, raw cane sugar is not allowed. It is still processed. Lisa and her family only used raw honey or maple syrup during the 100 day pledge. Jill

  • Amber

    We really like rice in our house, but i do not like the crunch of brown rice. What do i do?

    • Ashley

      try yellow rice?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Amber. The brown rice should not have a crunch. Perhaps you are not cooking it long enough? It cooks much longer than white rice. Jill

      • Amber

        We make it in our rice cooker. Should I double cook it? Or double the water?

        • Cindy C.

          Brown rice is generally 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water per 1 cup of rice. It does take longer to cook as well – roughly 30 minutes as opposed to 20 with white rice. It should have a nice nutty flavor, but not crunchy. Hope that helps!

        • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

          Hi Amber. Does your rice cooker have a brown rice setting? I know mine does and it cooks it much more slowly. Like another reader said as well, it should be about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups of water per 1 cup of rice. Hope that helps. Jill

  • Ashley

    I’ve decided to take the 10 day pledge starting tomorrow, but I have a few questions. I am a high school student and I bring my lunch to school everyday, so I was wondering what kinds of non processed foods would be good for school lunches? Let me know if you have any ideas? Also would store bought bagels be considered a processed food?

  • Silvia

    I was wondering if Jasmine rice is considered processed food as well. Thank you!

  • Michele Frank

    Where would I find easy recipes that are corn, dairy, and chocolate free. I heard that a whole food diet would be the best way to go so I am researching that. I want to eat more than fruit and vegetables. I am looking for snacks and good breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas. Can any one steer me in the right direction ?

    Thanks for your time.

    • Nick Powell

      Check out Engine 2 Diet on Hulu. It was a good starting point for me.

      or go to their website

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Michele. I don’t have an easy way to suggest that you are able to search our recipes within your parameters, but, I believe many of them will be ok for you as long as you substitute something for the dairy. As you probably already know, it is always easier to avoid certain foods when you are making them yourself versus buying pre-packaged foods. I hope you’ll take some time to look through the recipes and find some that will work for you. Best of luck. Jill

  • Earth babe

    Hi there! Great blog! How do you shop frugally in the winter months for produce that’s local? I live in PA so farmers markets don’t exist in the winter. I garden but by January, we run low on our canned goods. I am a stay at home mom and can’t afford to buy everything organic so I stick to the clean 15 but its usually not local. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Earth Babe. Glad you are enjoying the blog. I do find that in the winter I buy less local, although, I do try and stick to US produce. Jill

  • abranda

    shane ellison the peoples chemist talks about what splenda does to the body, if you google it.

  • Home garden decorating

    Your post really helped me. ….Thank you….

  • Amber

    Have you done any research on decaf coffee? I’m pregnant and am craving coffee all day! I drink my 8oz of organic coffee in the a.m. b/c I just really want it! Even though I’d rather not drink caffeine! Anyhow I’m thinking that since caffeine occurs naturally then decaf probably isn’t good b/c there has to be some processing to take it out. Just curious if you had any knowledge about decaf? Thanks!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Amber. No, we have not done research, but, your assessment of the process to make the coffee decaf is what I was thinking, although, again, I’ve done no research to support that. I might suggest checking with your doctor if you are concerned. Best of luck. Jill

  • Amanda

    What about agave as a sweetener?

  • Shannon

    Thank you so much for your website- it has such great information. I might have missed it, and if so I apologize, but I was wondering about Sprouted Bread (Ezekiel)- is this considered okay?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Shannon – yes, the Ezekial brand products are great. If you are doing the pledge, however, I’m not certain they would fall within the guidelines (I would double check the ingredients). Beyond that though they are a great option. Jill

  • I am thinking of trying this soon, and if it goes well, doing it as a 40 day Lenten project. Since I homeschool, I think the kids and I will do this as a school project for our trial run, and they can help me research where to get our stuff until the farms open fully in April. We live in a rural farming community, so much of this we do already, but certainly not all of it.

  • Cindy C.

    Unless you are eating from the tree or eating meat “caveman” style all foods are processed in some way. Cooking is a process. There are several people who have posted argumentative and unnecessay comments here. I applaud you for making the effort to do this for your family. I am a chef, culinary instructor and a mom. As much as I would like to make whole wheat “goldfish” for my kids our busy lifestyle makes it nearly impossible. I buy as much as I can find that is local and organic. I don’t buy anything with HFCS or artificial sweeteners. I do make our own granola bars and a few other things and came here to look at your “pop-tart” recipe. I would love a recipe for a cereal bar. My kids have refused to eat the 3 different recipes I’ve tried so far. Also, canning is a “process” – do you allow for canned beans, etc.? I have enjoyed your blog and will return! Thanks!

    • Eris de Suzerain

      You are kind of nitpicking on the use of the word “processed” here. In this topic, “processed” refers to foods that have undergone chemical “enhancements” (like being fortified or bleached), foods that have been made in factories with machinery and foods that contain chemicals.

      Home canned beans would be fine, store bought canned beans (in my version of this type of eating) would not… considering how easy it is to make beans, even when you work (crockpot) it’s a waste of money to purchase pre-cooked beans.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Cindy. We don’t have a cereal bar recipe. As for canned beans, I try as much as possible to use dried beans, but, there is the occasion that I sometimes have to use canned. Hope you continue to enjoy the blog. Jill

  • Alison

    Hi! I am trying to transition into a healthier lifestyle for the new year and was excited to come across your website. I was just at my local grocery store and found “organic unbleached white flour.” Is this something that could be considered “real food?” I know that whole wheat has more nutritional value, but is this kind of white flour still “bad” for you?

  • Jeannette

    Is almond milk allowed?

  • Matthew Ciuccio

    I start today! See you April 11, 2013.

    I just need to do a vegan version.

    Does anyone else here try the challenge this way also? If so let me know.

    Happy New Year! Good luck to everyone. I am looking to be very unrefined this year in my food choices :)

    I LOVE your site and I find it very useful, Thank you for the work you put into it. It is a great resource.

    Matthew Ciuccio

    • Ashley Reinke

      My boyfriend and I started to do this as vegans (new vegans) a month ago. We survived the holidays amazingly well at the fam’s house, and feel great! I’m obsessed with checking labels on anything prepackaged that we buy now.

      No going back as far as I can see!

  • Cally Mac – We technically avoid all “highly processed foods” because even cooking is a form of “processing” or changing your food. If we didn’t eat anything that had been processed at all it would essentially be a “raw diet,” which is not how we eat. Per the list on our rules page we define “processed” as anything over 5 ingredients (we had to draw the line somewhere). We do enjoy beer and wine in moderation, both of which have been consumed for thousands of years.

    I don’t know if you have children or not, but believe me it was a challenge to follow our rules for 100 days in our environment. While going to greater lengths may make sense for you and others, it is not practical for the vast majority of working parents. We embrace the 80/20 rule, which basically states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. I’d rather see our readers make changes for the better that they can adhere to for life rather than getting frustrated and reverting back the to the standard American diet. Best of luck to you on your challenge!

  • Shane

    I have heard when talking about any type of grain to skip it if it contains bleached, unbleached, white, or enriched in the ingredients list. Does this make sense to you? Is this the best way to avoid simple carbs and overprocessed foods?

  • Jennifer

    For the past several days I have been researching and looking into “whole” eating and I am overwhelmed, to say the very least. No wonder cancer, heart conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses are so common place in today’s world. Food manufactures should be ashamed of themselves. Trying by best to feed my girls and myself nutritious and real foods…but you have to be a super detective most times!

    • Heather

      I agree with the overwhelming part. Lucky for me I don’t have kids so I only have to worry about myself. I’m worried that I’m going to spend so much time prepping food on my days off that I’m going to get burnt out quick. This weekend was spent making tortillas and right now I am waiting on the hamburger buns to rise. Even little changes and have positive effects, that’s what I am banking on! Best of luck!

  • Heather

    Thank you, I am getting ready to start this with my family, will keep you posted on how we do, looking forward to doing this as a family going into a new year.

  • sheila kellogg

    Our household is gluten free so I do by store bought bread because the options are limited. How much bread should we be consuming daily? Its hard to pack a lunch that my children will enjoy
    Thanks for your input on this matter.

    • Kristy

      If you are not opposed to baking yourself, King Arthur Flour has some great gluten free recipes and the ingredients you would need to make them. Their customer service is top notch, so they would be super helpful in answering any questions you might have regarding how processed their flours and what not are.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Sheila. There is no set amount as to how much you should be consuming…you’ll have to decide what is right for you. I would just caution you that many of the gluten free breads are highly processed. Best of luck. Jill

  • Samantha

    In regards to bread, what is your position on Ezekiel 100% whole grain bread?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Samantha. Ezekial is a great option. I don’t believe it will fall within the “rules” of the 10 day pledge, but, beyond that it is great. Jill

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