What is real food, anyway?

posted in: Healthy Living | 13

What is Real Food?

I’m back…and better than ever.

Well, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement, but I feel better than ever and that is what really matters, right? When I started What I Gather almost four years ago, I never thought it would take me all of the places that it has. I went back to school and earned my Master of Science in Health and Nutrition Education, I wrote a book, I’ve made new friends, I’ve helped others on their own health journey and I cooked, cooked and cooked some more. I certainly never thought I’d be writing a post about breaking up with Paleo and making my own real food rules.

What started as a little ol’ Paleo blog has turned into so much more.

When Kevin and I discovered Paleo, we dove headfirst into our healthy new lifestyle. We were pretty strict for about three years. No grains, no dairy, no beans or legumes and no sugar…with very few exceptions. We turned down cake at birthday parties, ordered everything without the bun and canceled our Sunday night ice cream walks. We didn’t even eat hummus! Overall, our diet was much healthier than before we found Paleo, but as time went on, we became a bit disillusioned with all of these “rules”. The more that I learned while in school and while beginning to feed my own son his first bites of real food, it just no longer made sense. I still felt that whole foods were the key to health, but it didn’t make sense to me to exclude entire food groups for no reason when high quality grains, dairy, beans and legumes actually provide quite a bit of nutrition, as do other fruits, vegetables and animal products that are considered a part of the Paleo diet. On top of that, the occasional cupcake is not going to kill you. We are only here for a short time and we need to enjoy it…so if you want the cupcake, eat the cupcake. 😉

Real Food. Real Life.
This is my real (food) life.


To be clear, I am not hating on Paleo. I am so, so grateful to live in a time where the medical community and the world at large is beginning to realize that many medical conditions can be managed and sometimes even reversed through diet and lifestyle. Many people have health conditions, allergies and food sensitivities that cause them to eliminate certain foods or food groups and that is why I am grateful for Paleo and similar health-promoting, real food diets. If you have a true wheat allergy, I think it is awesome that there are so many grain-free alternatives out there. Heck, even if you have never been tested, but you know that you feel like a bloated mess after drinking milk or eating cheese, I am so happy that there are dairy-free milks and lots and lots of dairy-free recipes out there. You may even find a few right here on this site. Truthfully, though, most of us don’t need to over think this real food thing. Keep it simple. Eat whole, healthy foods 95% of the time and you will be on the track to health.

That being said, I am no longer following a strict Paleo diet. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably figured that out a long time ago. 🙂

I have a new outlook on health and a new food philosophy, too.

We don’t need arbitrary rules and restrictions. We don’t need to be told what to eat by someone else. There are no “good” foods and “evil” foods. Food is food. We don’t need to be “on a diet” or “off a diet”. We just need to eat real food that nourishes our body and helps us do what we want to do and be who we want to be.

What we need is to listen to our own bodies and discover what works for us. We are all unique individuals. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for you. Each of us needs to take the time to figure out what makes us feel great…and what doesn’t. Starting from a place of eating mostly real, whole foods is a good jumping off point. From there, if you find certain foods cause negative health symptoms, digestive distress or are not helping you meet your health and fitness goals, it’s time to dig a little deeper. That could mean keeping a food journal or working with someone one-on-one. You owe it to yourself to find out your own “real food rules” instead of letting someone else set them for you. Your health depends on it.

So, what is real food?

There is no one definitely of real food, but I took a stab at it.

“Real Food is any food that is found living in nature – any food that grows from the ground or from a tree, as well as animal foods. Real food is minimally processed and as close to its natural state as possible. Real food nourishes our bodies, provides us with energy and protects us from disease. Real food does more than keep us alive – it helps us to thrive!”

Seems pretty simple, but with all of the options out there, it can get downright confusing. There are A LOT of options at the grocery store, and many of them use some pretty clever marketing to make you believe they are healthy (I’m looking at you, box of sugary cereal that says “good source of whole grains” on the front of the box!) I don’t believe that all packaged (i.e. processed) foods are evil. I, for one, am thrilled to enjoy the conveniences of modern-day living…like showers and Lara Bars. Because of this, though, it is important that we learn to read food labels in order to decipher all of that clever advertising and determine for ourselves if a food truly is healthy and nourishing. It’s not easy at first, but after a few trips to the grocery store, it’ll feel like second nature. Check out my resources page for tips on shopping for and preparing real food and learning to read food labels.


What is Real Food?


Why is it important to eat real food?

The prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, stroke, autoimmune disease and many of the functional declines associated with aging is on the rise. Simply put, these are diseases of modern society that have been brought on, in part, by our shift away from traditional diets, adequate sleep, stress management and daily physical activity. Even as little as a century ago, when the American diet consisted of mostly whole foods, we did not see the high instances of these diseases that we see today. Cultures who follow traditional diets have a longer life expectancy and much lower rates of these chronic illnesses. What does this mean? Well, to me it means that some of the conveniences of modern society, like fast food and frozen dinner, might be doing more harm than good. Let me be clear that I am not saying NEVER eat another double cheeseburger, Christmas cookie or piece of Halloween candy. I am speaking about your day-to-day food choices. If you are eating real, whole foods that make you feel awesome 95% of the time, there is a little room for those modern-day conveniences. Your body is totally able to handle that, especially if you are giving it the fuel it needs day in and day out.

So, tell me, what is YOUR definition of real food?

13 Responses

  1. Lauri Riggs

    Real food is eaten to live, a healthy, energetic, fun, flavorful life…….

  2. Cara

    My definition is eating foods that have grown naturally and food that I prepared and did not come in a box or a bag.

  3. Amy

    To me, real food would be consuming what nourishes my body to make it the best that it can be.

  4. jaysbakingmecrazy

    Real food is food without a label. No ingredient list and that you can grow or buy from growers. For us, that means paleo. No grains, beans, or dairy. But I know some people can handle those okay. Everyone needs to determine the best option for their body 🙂

  5. teresamarierun

    Generally accepted term is something like “..if your grandma knew what it was when she was growing up…” chances are it’s real/whole food 😉 But that would also depend on your age quite a bit 😉 Ha!

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