What Exactly IS Real Food?

by Anne Bennett on May 12, 2010

I get asked this question a lot. Today’s supermarkets carry between 30,000 to 40,000 food and beverage items. Many, if not most, of these are processed and packaged foods with long shelf lives.

We have so many choices, and such conflicting information about what to eat and what not to eat, that entering a supermarket can feel like entering a war zone. We have no clue where the nutritional land mines are, and we sense that we’re taking our lives in our hands by the choices we make.

When I tell people to eat real food, I mean food that is as close to its natural beginnings as possible; food that has a very short shelf life because it will soon either rot or spoil; food that my grandmother would have recognized. That definition eliminates about 90% of whatever is currently holding shelf space at my local market.

This morning I read a piece on Hungry Girl in which a reader asked what natural foods are and whether they’re better for us. Hungry Girl responded that not all natural foods are as good as they claim. ¬†She wrote that so-called “natural” cakes and cheeses, for instance, can be just as high in fat and calories as their not-so-natural counterparts.

I know a lot of people love Hungry Girl. The site gives daily recommendations for a multitude of processed low-fat snack foods, and offers recipes using sugar-free and fat-free processed ingredients. She writes that most people aren’t about to eliminate processed and packaged foods from their diets, so why not eat lighter versions as a “real world” solution?

I simply do not agree. A piece of real, honest-to-goodness cake–one that my grandmother might have baked and that contains less than 6 ingredients–is, in my mind, better for you than a whole slab of the fat-free ersatz version filled with artificial ingredients. The solution here is moderation, not fabrication.

Reduced fat, 100 calorie pack, or original, it's all processed!

Reduced fat, 100 calorie pack, or original, it's all processed!

If you’re still confused about what real food is, I suggest you read Marion Nestle’s book, “What To Eat“. It provides an aisle-by-aisle guide to smart supermarket shopping. Also check out her blog, Food Politics. I warn you, Marion is a nutritionist and a consumer advocate; she is not a food industry spokesperson. If you want permission to continue eating those 100-calorie packs, you won’t get it from her.

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Aaron May 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Did you ever watch “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution?” I thought it was a great show, and it addresses exactly what you are talking about.

http://www.hulu.com/jamie-olivers-food-revolution

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