Real food” is:
Whole, unprocessed and unrefined
pasture-raised (a.k.a. grass-fed) and wild
local, seasonal and organic
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Whole, processed and unrefined: if it comes in a bag or a box, don’t eat it!
The introduction of industrial food processing has without a doubt had the most detrimental effect on our health of any other factor in the last few hundred years – and possibly in the entire history of humankind.
Food refining has brought us all four of the food toxins destroying our health: white flour, white sugar & HFCS, industrial seed oils and processed soy products. It has also brought us chemical additives and preservatives, some with known negative effects and others with effects still unknown.
New research is revealing the harm these newfangled processed foods have on us almost every day. A study was published demonstrating that emulsifiers used in packaged foods ranging from mayonnaise to bread to ice cream increase intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) and cause a chain reaction of inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Another study showed that diet soda consumption increases your risk of stroke and causes kidney damage, possibly because of the phosphoric acid used as an acidifying agent to give colas their tangy flavor.
To avoid the harm caused by processed and refined foods, a good general rule is “if it comes in a bag or a box, don’t eat it.”
Of course not all foods that come in bags and boxes are harmful, so this isn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s just a helpful guideline. Butter is often packaged in a box, and (for some strange reason)some vegetables are sealed in plastic bags. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat butter and vegetables.
But in general, if you follow this guideline, you’ll avoid most common food toxins. And that’s more than half the battle.
Pasture-raised animal products and wild-caught fish: as nature intended
Several studies have been done comparing the nutrient content of pasture-raised (PR) and grain-fed (confinement animal feeding operations, or CAFO) animal products. PR animal products are superior to CAFO in 2 primary respects: they have a better fatty acid profile, and higher levels of vitamins and other micronutrients.
Hens raised on pasture
We see a similar difference between eggs from hens raised on pasture, and those raised in confinement. Pasture-raised hens contain as much as 10 times more omega-3 than eggs from factory hens. Pastured eggs are higher in B12 and folate. They also have higher levels of fat-soluble antioxidants like vitamin E and a denser concentration of vitamin A.
Farmed fish contain excess omega-6 compared to wild-caught fish.
A study found that consuming standard farmed salmon, raised on diets high in n-6, raises blood levels of inflammatory chemicals linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Wild salmon also contains 4 times as much vitamin D than farmed salmon, which is especially important.
Organic, local and seasonal: more nutrients, fewer chemicals.
Organic plant foods contain, on average, 25 percent higher concentrations of 11 nutrients than their conventional counterparts. In particular, they tend to be higher in important polyphenols and antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and quercetin.
Even more relevant in determining nutrient content is where your produce comes from, and in particular, how long it’s been out of the ground before you eat it.
The problem with this is that food starts to change as soon as it’s harvested and its nutrient content begins to deteriorate. Total vitamin C content of red peppers, tomatoes, apricots, peaches and papayas has been shown to be higher when these crops are picked ripe from the plant.
This is why buying your produce at local farmer’s markets, or even better, picking it from your backyard garden, are better options than buying conventional produce shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Fruits and vegetables from local farms are usually stored within one or two days of picking, which means their nutrient content will be higher. And as anyone who’s eaten a fresh tomato right off the vine will tell you, local produce tastes so much better than conventional produce it might as well be considered a completely different food.
Another important benefit of organic produce, of course, is that it’s grown without pesticides, herbicides and other harmful chemicals that have been shown to cause health problems – especially in vulnerable populations like children.