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Everywhere you look these days someone is touting one diet trend or another. Whether it’s swearing off all meat (vegetarian), all wheat (gluten-free), all grains and dairy (Paleo), or all animal products in general (vegan), let’s face it – unless you have a specific known allergy, there are a lot of conflicting messages out there. Plus on top of some of the more recent trends there are those who still stand by eating low-fat, low-carb, or low-calorie.
Then if you turn on popular health shows or flip through any big fitness magazine you’ll surely see that specific vitamins could improve memory, that some foods might promote better sleep, that particular nutrients can’t be absorbed together, or that certain antioxidants could even help you prevent cancer. I don’t know about you, but I cannot (and choose not) to keep up with intricate details like these. The stress alone of ensuring I follow a bunch of complicated guidelines – or counting every calorie or nutrient I eat – will surely take years off my life. Let’s remember that, aside from providing sustenance, food is supposed to be enjoyable and bring people together!
To be honest, I sometimes cringe a little when people generally classify me as someone who “eats healthy” because I am not sure exactly how “healthy” is being defined. And more often than not people assume that with my “healthy” lifestyle I don’t eat cream sauces, or cheeseburgers, or pizza. Thank goodness that is not true! Plus – since I am being so up front here – I didn’t exactly cut out processed food to get on some health kick in the first place. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I (literally) could not sleep at night once I realized the foods I was feeding my children were full of chemicals, artificial dyes, and other strange-sounding ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce. That right there was enough motivation to transition our family to simple, wholesome, delicious, organic, real food meals, and the fact that we are all “healthier“ as a result was honestly just a wonderful side benefit.
So in the spirit of not being complicated or unrealistic, this is my simple definition of a healthy diet:
Healthy Eating = Consuming a variety of real, whole, unrefined foods that are provided to us by nature. This includes plenty of fresh produce as well as humanely raised animal products, wild caught seafood, nuts/seeds, and whole grains.
And just to make sure we are all on the same page, here is a more detailed definition of real food:
REAL FOOD is defined as…
- Whole foods that typically only have 1-ingredient like “brown rice” or no ingredient label at all like fruits and vegetables!
- Packaged foods generally made with no more than 5 unrefined ingredients.
- Organic dairy products like whole milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese.
- Breads and crackers that are 100% whole-grain.
- Wild caught seafood.
- Locally and humanely raised meat like chicken, pork, beef, and lamb.
- Dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Naturally made sweeteners including honey and maple syrup.
- Foods that are more a product of nature “than a product of industry”*
REAL FOOD is not…
- Labeled as “low fat” or “low carb” or “low calorie” (in most cases).
- Made with refined or artificial sweeteners like sugar or aspartame.
- Deep fried in refined oils like canola oil.
- 100-calorie packs or any foods made from refined grains like white flour, which is
often labeled as “wheat flour” without the word “whole” in front of it.
- In packages with loads of ingredients, some of which you cannot pronounce or would not cook with in your own kitchen.
- Highly processed foods that are labeled as organic (like organic cheddar crackers, organic cookies, or organic candy).
- From a drive through window or gas station.
*Source: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan