Real Food Defined (The Rules)

Real food basically means anything not highly processed (like artificial additives) and containing only five or fewer whole ingredients. It means mostly avoiding ingredients you would not cook with at home.

Here are the seven rules we followed during our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge:

  1. No refined grains (such as white flour or white rice); only 100 percent whole grain. Items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat” by itself.
  2. No refined or artificial sweeteners (such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda); only honey and pure maple syrup in moderation.
  3. Nothing out of a package that contains more than five ingredients.
  4. No factory-farmed meat; only locally raised meat products.
  5. No deep-fried foods.
  6. No fast food.
  7. Beverages to include only water, milk, occasional all-natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee and tea, and (to help the adults keep their sanity) wine and beer in moderation!

I promise, there’s still food left after eliminating everything mentioned in our rules!

What you CAN eat:

  • Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
  • Lots of fruits and vegetables (we recommend that you shop for these at your local farmers’ market)
  • Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  • 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains (find a local bakery for approved sandwich bread and check the Understanding Grains post for more info)
  • Seafood (wild-caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
  • Only locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)
  • Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
  • Also, check out the Recipes & Resources page for a more detailed list of meal options including links to recipes

2,534 thoughts on “Real Food Defined (The Rules)”

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  1. Hello! Thank you for throwing this together. I’m about to start the 75 Hard program and wanted to do the Real Food “Diet” and hopefully make it a majority lifestyle. Would butter and peanut butter fall under Real Food?

    Thank you!

  2. How do you feel about organic coconut sugar? Is honey really a better alternative? Looking for your advice mainly for my morning coffee.

  3. Elizabeth Bradburn

    I started with Lisa’s first book almost 6 years ago. We have not looked back! We feel better and truly enjoy eating and cooking as a family!

  4. How on earth can Dairy be considered a “Whole food” its one of the most molested things anyone consumes on the planet for goodness sake???

    1. Agreed! And so bad for you!! Number one cause of inflammation along with sugar. Don’t buy into the milk does a body good lie

  5. Why is cane juice not an option. what if I press it from cane root myself?
    how about yuca flour I made myself good or bad?

  6. I thinking of trying this to see if it helps with my chronic migraines… They are debilitating and I’m thinking has something to do with all the processed foods!

    1. I thinking of trying this to see if it helps with my chronic migraines… They are debilitating and I’m thinking has something to do with all the processed foods!

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Melissa. Technically, stevia is not permitted under the rules but many readers who can’t have honey or maple (anyone struggling with blood sugar issues) syrup do use it.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Lora. We do know eggs come form chickens :) and aren’t a dairy product but they are generally located with dairy in the grocery store. On my shopping list, eggs go under dairy solely for their location.

  7. I’ve been doing this and I lost 11 lbs in 3 days! Basically just protein, veggies, nuts, seeds and healthy fats with small amounts of fruit and brown rice. Granted, I’m very overweight 5’1, 200 lbs) and I’m sure some of that was water, but it’s practical and easy to follow. I didnt count calories or portion sizes and ate until satisfied. Be generous with your fats! I put a lot of olive oil on each salad because good fats are extremely satiating. Also added chia seeds to each smoothie, it’s crazy how filling the fiber actually is, without adding any wierd flavor. I have definitely found a new way of eating.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Janelle. Not if you are taking the pledge. Under the rules, only honey and maple syrup are used as sweeteners.

  8. Hi- I just wanted to thank Lisa for writing her book. My daughter found it at the library this week, as we have been planning for a while to make big changes in the food we eat. This is the best book I have read. We are going to begin our pledge this Sunday Nov8th, I am so committed to doing this and look forward to the challenges and all the benefits. Thanks so much :)

  9. What about the dark chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s or They have less than 5 ingredients (if I count dark chocolate as 1 ingredient) – where does chocolate fall in the mix?
    Here is the ingredient list :
    Dark Chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor processed with alkali, soy lecithin (emulsifier), salt, vanilla), Almonds, Turbinado Sugar (cane sugar, natural molasses) and Sea Salt.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. It is not okay under the pledge rules because it has sugar as its first ingredient (and last). Only honey and maple syrup are approved if you are taking the pledge. Outside of the pledge, look for a chocolate that is at least 70% dark and has very little sugar. I would avoid soy lecithin, too.

  10. Are there any gluten free grains acceptable? We have two people with celiac, and one with type 1 diabetes in our house. We need to integrate GF grains.


      It’s not the gluten or lack thereof, it’s whether or not you use whole grains and minimally processed foods. Sadly, lots of gluten free products on the market are as processed as anything. But not good ol’ oats (from a gluten free mill). And try Bob’s Red Mill for fabulous grains and gluten free flours (ground in a gluten free facility). Some, like bean and pea flours, are also loaded with protein.

  11. Mike, just wanted to tell you about Jordan Rubin & Garden of Life. He had Crohns and in his book, The Maker’s Diet, has a lot of great advice! Check it out:)

  12. My question or if someone could give me advice. I have crohns disease and i know it is bad to eat processed foods but its also hard for me to eat a lot of unprocessed foods because of my condition. For example im bot allowed any seeds or nut (nut butters are ok) no heavy ruffage and no whole grains so is it better to give and say on well i guess i cant eat breads anymore or is it fine to live with just eating white bread instead cause its less harmful of my digestive track. That is just one example but i find it very difficult to have an equal balance of things and any help would be appreciated

  13. what if you can’t always cook your own meals? I’m on the road a lot so it’s hard to cook in a hotel and lunch is always on the go. Any suggestions for eating out?

  14. While I am all for eating healthy I cannot take this seriously. You’ve listed eggs as a dairy product twice on this page. Eggs come from chickens. They are in no way a dairy product.

    1. Bex-
      I don’t think this is what she meant.
      Eggs are a real food that is usually categorized in a market that is labeled “dairy & eggs.”
      Eggs come from hens, are classified in Meat, Beans & Nuts group and are a good source of protein but you wouldn’t see these foods grouped together in the same aisle!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. Nut butters are fine as long as there is no added sugar or other added ingredients (salt is okay). Organic is best.

  15. Why does your contraband list have sugar, but some of your recipes have sugar in them? I did a whole month of whole foods in September, and I would like to get back into this month, so I came across your page, but I have a few reservations. Could you please clear up my misunderstanding? Thank you

    1. she says that honey & maple syrup for the 100 days of real food challenge…after the 100 days she started using sugar in some of her recipes

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Lex. There are very few recipes that contain sugar and Lisa notes that they are exceptions to her rule. She continues to sweeten with honey or maple syrup the great majority of time.

  16. Thank you for all the information!
    I am confused about oils and butter! Shouldn’t we also avoid them the same way as white flour or sugar? It seams to me that they are not real foods. Because oil and butter are not whole foods. They are just a part of a whole food. If the concept is to be eating food in its most natural state, we should use the coconut and not the coconut oil, the same way we use a banana and not sugar to sweeten a recipe for example, right?! I have seen coconut sugar in stores, would it be ok to use that? How is it different from raw cane sugar? And if I can’t use it, then why is it ok to use the coconut oil then? I am struggling with this! To me it is confusing why oils or butter are ok! Why are they any different from sugar or refined flour? Are they not also just a part of a whole food striped of the rest of its components? If you can use butter does that mean that you can also use whey?

    1. I think with butter and oils it’s more about how refined they are. For example, an unrefined cold pressed oil (like the white coconut oil) is going to be better for you than a refined mechanically processed oil (like the yellow coconut oil) because unrefined oils/butters retain more of their nutrients. Same with real butter vs margarine.

      What type of oil is also important, for example olive oil is going to be way better for you than say canola oil.

      Either way, cooking your own food is going to be much healthy than of you went out to eat because you can control the amount of oil/fat and ingriedients. Hope that helps!

  17. I’m having a hard time finding foods without citric acid, malic acid and xanthan gum, even in foods with 5 or fewer ingredients. (Ex: organic hummus , organic fruit spread)
    What are the thoughts on these additives?
    Also, what brand vitamins do you give your kids and yourself?

    1. you can buy all natural almond milk i think, but even better you can make your own! there’s a recipe on deliciouslyella that i’ve tried and it’s good.

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Same. Not appropriate for the pledge but outside of the pledge, it might be a good choice for you.

  18. Hi Lisa,

    I make date paste (Medjool dates soaked in water and blended with pure vanilla extract) is this acceptable? I use it in replace of sugar, I put it in my coffee, shakes, and homemade popsicles. I assuming because its natural and I make it it’s good.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. Technically, sweeteners are limited to honey and maple syrup but I am pretty sure we can look the other way. :)

  19. I think your website is fantastic. Thank you for sharing all your hard work. Many of your recipes are quickly becoming family favourites. But, please, may I ask why you chose to include processed meats such as sausage and bacon in your recipes? I agree choosing organic products with recognisable ingredients is preferable, but celery salt is still nitrite and the meat is still processed. The department of health advises that people avoid or limit consumption of processed meats. I would love to find some more recipes on your site, especially breakfast recipes which only use unprocessed meat. Bacon is yummy, and simply omitting it from a recipe often leaves the recipe tasting a bit flat. I would love some fail proof alternatives. Thank you.

  20. I can eat salad all day but like salad dressing more. What could I use for salad dressing with the whole foods in mind?

    1. Hi, Debbie!
      The first Real Food change we made was never buying salad dressing–reading the ingredients is depressing. It is so easy to make a vinaigrette, or ranch dressing, or green goddess. I use her dry “ranch dressing mix” and a little buttermilk and sour cream (or yogurt)to make ranch/adding bleu cheese if I want bleu cheese dressing. I also got the dressing bottle she recommends from Amazon and it has held up well–lots of recipes right on the bottle. If you can remember one part vinegar(or lemon juice) and 3 parts oil, along with seasonings, you can make salad dressing. I have not purchased a bottled salad dressing in almost 3 years!

  21. My schedule can be pretty hectic and I try to plan my meals as much as possible. However, there are some days that I stay too late at work and have somewhere else to be and can’t make it home in time to grab one of my planned meals. Do you have any suggestions of what and where to eat when you are on the go? (Love this blog by the way!)

  22. You and I have the exact same definition of “real food”, the only thing I cheat on more often than I like is the white rice because it cooks sooo much faster than brown. White flower is reserved for very few occasions where whole grain just doesn’t do the trick “chemically” when baking for example. Sometimes I’m tempted to use sugar because of the chemical reaction, too. I have been able to completely stay away from refined sugar though and am so glad!!! Keep up this amazing work of teaching others about real food.

  23. Re: Wild caught over farm-raised seafood…
    I am concerned about the long term damage that over-fishing can and does cause to the wild fish populations. Why do you recommend wild over farm raised when farm raising is a more sustainable source of seafood?

      1. hello, im an elite athlete, and due to training programs, the week before my nationals event, i must restrain from eating any processed foods. Thank you for this website!! It is a great way to detox your body and freshen up by using this diet. Good luck to all who take the pledge…….!!!
        by anna
        age 11

  24. Hi, I just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes! I’ve been reading and doing some research on processed foods, organic foods and reading up on vegetarian diets. It wasn’t until last night when I came across your post on Facebook that made me jump in head first!
    Long story short…I went food shopping today…first thing I did was look at the label on the very first product I picked up lol i could not bring myself to buy any products that had ingredients in them I’ve never heard of! It really made me sick to my stomach and disgusted at these companies as well! 100daysofrealfood has changed my whole outlook on food and what I will buy and feed my family of 5! My kids are really excited as well and in only one day have learned so much about processed foods and how there shouldn’t be a paragraph long list of ingredients on the labels. I bought a few examples home for them to compare. One was olives and the other was ranch dressing. I bought both organic and regular and also asked them if they thought it was necessary for those companies to put all those added “ingredients” in them. After they compared….what they did next was priceless! They went through the cupboards and looked at all the labels and started asking if we could throw them away! I told them we would donate to the needy instead. And from now on nothing but “real food” will be in our kitchen!
    Thanks again for putting together 100days! God Bless you and yours!
    Our real food journey begins today! :)
    The Z Family of NJ

  25. What about stevia, and what suggestions do you have for gluten free, esp. since
    the flour used to make bread has more than 5 ingredients