Food: Bad, Better, Best

Since it is not always ideal or possible to make the most optimal food choice here’s my take on some of the options…





Bag of crunchy deep fried potato chips

Bag of crunchy nuts that were oiled and salted in a food factory

Raw nuts

Nuts are a nutritious whole food especially when there are no unhealthy additives like oil and salt.

Orange macaroni and cheese sold in a blue box

Organic (but still refined) boxed macaroni and cheese

Homemade whole-wheat macaroni and cheese

The organic boxed macaroni and cheese is of course organic, and it also doesn’t have any artificial ingredients or food dyes. However, it is still highly processed especially since the noodles are made with refined grains (that are high in calories and low in nutrients). The homemade version is actually fairly simple to make and incorporates 100% whole-grain noodles. Even if the boxed version says “whole-grain” on the front it is most likely not even close to 100% whole-grain.

Colorful boxed cereal that changes the color of milk

“All natural” boxed cereal that is 100% whole grain Homemade granola cereal If you must buy store-bought boxed cereal at least buy a version that is 100% whole-grain that is low in sugar and does not contain any artificial additives like food coloring.
Pre-flavored oatmeal packets Plain oatmeal flavored at home with a little honey and cinnamon Oatmeal packets that are pre-flavored by a factory are at least 100% whole-grain, but often times contain unnecessary additives and far more sweetener than you would add if you were flavoring plain oatmeal yourself at home.

Artificially flavored and/or colored ice cream

Organic “all natural” vanilla boxed ice cream made with a few simple ingredients including sugar

Ice cream made at home with a fraction of the sweetener used in the store-bought stuff

Boxed “all natural” ice cream is far superior to store-bought ice cream made with artificial additives and colors. But, even if you buy ice cream made with only a few simple ingredients it would still contain far more sugar than is necessary. Making it yourself is easy (with a modern ice cream maker), and the only way to regulate how much sweetener is being added.

Orange colored fish crackers

Organic (but still refined) cheddar-flavored bunny crackers

Homemade whole-wheat cheese crackers

The biggest problem with the store-bought crackers is that – organic or not – they are both made with highly refined white flour (that is high in calories and low in nutrients). Even if the package says “whole-grain” on the front chances are they are not 100% whole-grain. The homemade version is surprisingly simple and made with 100% whole-wheat flour. They can be frozen for later use.

Store-bought white sandwich bread

Store-bought whole-wheat sandwich bread that was made in a factory or in the supermarket “bakery”

100% whole-wheat bread from a bakery or made at home

Whole-wheat bread that was made in a factory might contain some whole grain flour, but it also contains a bunch of other stuff (on the list of 40+ ingredients). Whole-wheat bread made in supermarket “bakeries” use dough sent in from central locations that also contain a lot of unnecessary additives. It is certainly a step up from “white” bread or “white wheat” bread, which is only made with refined grains (that are high in calories and low in nutrients). Buying your bread from a bakery or making it yourself is the only way to get fresh bread made with only a handful of the intended ingredients.

Bag of crunchy pretzels

Popcorn that has been oiled and salted by a factory or the movie theater

Air popped or plain popcorn tossed with a small amount of salt and/or oil

The majority of the factory-made pretzels are made with refined grains (high in calories and low in nutrients). Popcorn is a 100% whole grain snack, but it is best with only a small amount of oil/salt (if any at all!).

Coffee with artificial sweetener

Coffee with a refined (but natural) sweetener like white sugar

Coffee with a small amount of natural (and unrefined) sweetener like honey or maple syrup

All sweeteners are high in calories and low in nutrients, but at least honey and maple syrup have slightly more nutrients than the refined alternatives. No matter what kind of sweetener you use it is always best to go with a naturally made product like sugar (whether it is refined or not) over an artificially made imitation like Splenda. And all sweeteners should be used sparingly.

Store-bought conventional meat

Store-bought organic meat

Local grass-fed meat

The only way to truly know if the animals were humanely raised and fed a proper diet is to ask the farmer yourself.

Jelly sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup

“All-fruit” jelly spread sweetened with fruit juice concentrate Freshly mashed fruit (like bananas or strawberries)

Jelly “all-fruit” spreads that are sweetened naturally with fruit juice concentrate are far superior to varieties that list sugar or high-fructose corn syrup as the first (and most used) ingredient. It is also fairly easy to mash up some fresh fruit with a fork, which of course would be the best choice since there’s  no added sweetener at all.

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27 thoughts on “Food: Bad, Better, Best”

  1. I have a 12 grain bread recipe that my family likes but it has gluten and dough enhancer added to it. Are those ok or better to avoid? Thanks

  2. Why not make your own potato chips in the oven or there is a microwave version I tried (saw on Pintrest) and both are good. That way you use a fresh whole food…the potato!

  3. I love your site. For working mom’s I honestly will not have the time to make homemade pasta. Is there any boxed pasta brands you can get a supermarkets that aren’t made of refined grains?

  4. What should diabetics use for sweetener? I mostly use Stevia and sometimes Splenda. I thought that Splenda was a much better option than most artificial sweeteners. :/

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Gayle. I am not that familiar with a diabetic diet, I would suggest checking with your doctor. At the end of the day, Splenda is still an artificial sweetener and no better or worse than any of the others. Jill

  5. An even better Bread is Ezekiel Bread. I get mine from Planet organic in Canada made by the “food for life” brand. Its such a real food bread that it will spoil quickly so we keep ours frozen and only take out what we need for the next day. (The store also needs to keep it in the freezer.

    Thanks so much for this post :)

  6. I love this – thank you. I have been curious lately about unrefined sugar. Not honey or maple syrup, or RAW sugar, just plain, unrefined sugar. What do you think of this? I use it in my coffee and as a substitute for white sugar in baking.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      HI Angie. Raw sugar is better than white sugar, but, my understanding is that the molasses is still extracted and then added back for the color. I think Sucanat is probably a better, less processed option. It retains it’s color and molasses flavor. Jill

  7. This is so helpful!

    I would comment, though, that movie theater popcorn with “butter” on it is, undoubtedly, worse than pretzels. This is because the “butter” is almost never butter – it’s usually a really disgusting oil (and most theaters cannot call it ‘butter’ but ‘butter flavoring’ or ‘buttery topping’ (I worked at the movie concession in high school and we could not call it ‘butter’ – the stuff is so icky. Not much has changed at most theaters I’ve been to all these years later). We still get popcorn at the movies, but we always skip the greasy sludge. Gross oils of questionable origin are at least as bad as refined flour (and arguably worse!)

    My kids love when I slice the bananas that are really ripe on their sandwiches instead of fruit spread. Thumbs up!

    Love the idea of looking to get a bread machine at Goodwill! I’ll be stalking our local Goodwill to see if I can pick one up!

  8. Wanted to tell you that I love your blog and also ask what do you think about Stevia? I see that you say that artificial sweetener should be used sparingly and I agree completely. I learned about Stevia last year and have been using it ever since. It is my understanding that this is not artificial at all but instead a natural plant like sugar comes from but a lot sweeter. You can purchase it in the regular grocery stores these days, but what they package and sell there seem to be processed differently than what I am use to using. I actually go to the health food store and purchase Pure Stevia Extract that comes with a tiny little plastic spoon inside. It costs about $30 and lasts me for about 6 – 8 months as I use it in my coffee every morning. :) Thanks again for all the info you put out there for us.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Tonya. You are right, the Stevia in the packets is processed. The one you refer to is less so. But, although Stevia has been around a long time, it is still banned in some countries and was only recently approved in the U.S. We simply choose to avoid it. Hope that helps. Jill

  9. I think deep fried food is ok when eaten in moderation and fried in non-hydrogenated oil. Instead of the regular potato chips, I buy Tim’s Cascade. The ingredients are simple. Potatoes, oil and salt. It’s real food, and in moderation works well for us.

  10. Hi! I absolutely LOVE your website. I originally stumbled on it via pinterest. I have a 14 month old daughter and I’m trying my best to feed her “real food.” Your website has been so helpful that I have also directed my patients to it. I’m a physician assistant that staffs a wellness clinic and I am forever directing people towards your website for nutrition and recipe ideas. Thank you so much for everything you provide on this site. You are awesome!!

  11. I had a question about a supplements!
    I am a boxer and this is the first time that I will clean up my diet for competition however, my trainers and I feel like there are certain things I cannot give up like post-workout recovery drinks and some other supplements. We have researched them and we try to go with as many natural things as we can get. It’s just be a little difficult to try to eat all the protein I need in one day?
    What do you think about someone like me doing the challenge but only taking one serving or one supplement per day and no more?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Definitely take the advice from your doctor/nutritionist/trainer or other expert over anything on the blog. The information here is based on my extensive research as well as my family’s experiences and none of us are professional athletes. Good luck!

  12. Thank you for writing this blog, it helps me to continue taking new steps towards our new lifestyle.
    I just wanted to say that it is possible to find ‘best’ bread at the supermarket, at least here (in the Netherlands) it is. At my grocery store they sell bread that is whole weat, organic and only contains 4 ingredients :) I was thrilled when I found it! I literally came home with a huge smile and my husband looked at me like I was crazy when I told him why I was so happy ;)

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Lucky you! I hope more of our stores in the U.S. will follow in your footsteps :)

  13. Oh I love this chart! We are almost completely in the “best” column except for bread…my husband goes through 2 loaves a week because he eats 3 sandwiches a day for lunch (!), so if I want any bread at all during the week I need to buy THREE loaves a week. (!) I would love to make all our bread myself but it just takes SO much time. Maybe I will get lucky and find a bread machine at a garage sale or something!

    1. I bought 2 bread makers @ Goodwill for $5.00 each. If you have one in your area you should check it out-they seem to ALWAYS have a few. I make my own bread and I even make Gluten Free Bread because my son has Celiacs. Its not too hard once you get the hang of it,just like anything. Good Luck!

    2. 100 Days of Real Food

      I hear that you can get them at Goodwill…it would be worth a shot b/c we love our new breadmaker now that we have one!

    3. I have a friend that sets aside Tuesday as bread day and makes 8 or so loaves of fresh ground whole wheat delicious bread. She does add gluten and dough enhancer to it (not sure if those are real food ok). Anyway, they have enough bread for the whole week and an extra loaf for a “fresh baked bread” snack the first day. She uses a BOSCH mixer and boy does it work great. I’ve used my small kitchen aid and i have to quarter the recipe. I would love a bosch just so I could make all my bread at once.

  14. Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog. Over the last year I have moved my family solidly into the ‘better’ category and I continue to work to get us into the ‘best’ category. I am no where near where you are on your real food journey, but your blog is so inspiring and always seems to speak to me right where I am. It’s often like a happy little pat on my back to keep up the good work. Thank you!

  15. This is a great, handy tool. My friends ask me about my eating “style” all the time. This would be a good primer for those who ask the follow-up questions!

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