Eat Real Food
Updated: Jan 30
Real food is wholesome and nourishing. It is simple, unprocessed food that nourishes our bodies and minds with essential nutrients, and it makes us feel great after we eat it. Real food has also stood the test of time, it’s the food that human beings ate exclusively for thousands of years (and were far healthier for it!)
There are often conflicting messages over what to eat for optimal health, which can lead to confusion, but food isn’t complicated and was never intended to be. Big businesses have distorted our views of what food should be by hijacking our media and supermarket aisles with their mass production of “food” products loaded with cheap (often genetically-modified) corn, refined sugar and processed oils. Before this, we weren’t obsessed with what we put into our mouths as we simply ate real food made from real ingredients.
A healthy real food diet includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed whole grains and starches, good fats and quality proteins.
“Real food doesn’t have ingredients. It is ingredients.”
Aim to get to know your food again.
Real food isn’t made from unpronounceable chemicals, preservatives or 12 different kinds of processed sugar, and it isn’t found in powder form or the latest supplement. So instead of focussing on well-marketed health claims telling you that a particular antioxidant-rich, high-fibre or low-cholesterol product will improve your life, read the ingredients list, or better still, choose foods that don’t require an ingredients list!
There are hundreds of different real food options, from meats, fish and eggs to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. It is unprocessed, free of chemical additives and rich in nutrients.
“The best advice is to avoid foods with health claims on the label, or better yet, avoid
foods with labels in the first place.”
Mark Hyman M.D.
We now eat for convenience, not health.
In our time-poor, fast-paced globalised world we seem to be devaluing the act of eating as we care increasingly less about how and what we are eating. Meal-times used to be a key part of our days, however it has become almost an inconvenience to have to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it. We are cooking far less than ever before and eating poorer quality food, at the expense of both our health and the environment.
Eating home-cooked food has repeatedly been shown to be the most healthy and nutritious way to eat, with research demonstrating that people who primarily cook at home eat a far better diet than those who eat out at restaurants, order takeaways or heat up pre-packaged meals. As home-cooking has declined, our access to cheap, nutrient-deficient processed food has increased, sky-rocketing our rates of obesity and poor health.
Far from the relaxed meal-time setting with loved ones, which was once commonplace, eating has become a mindless throw-away activity for many as we eat more quickly, more alone and more distracted by television or our phones or i-pads. We have lost the pleasure and comfort of eating good food as well as the human connection that takes place when we share food experiences with others. Good food does more than just provide our bodies with nutrients, it feeds our souls too, helps us build social bonds and is a great way to retain our cultural traditions such as Sunday roasts and special occasion dinners.
“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body;
it’s truly love.”
Giada De Laurentis
Choose fresh, seasonal produce where possible.
Procedures designed to extend shelf-life such as tinning, blanching and dehydrating can damage foods and reduce their nutrient content so make sure you eat as much fresh produce as possible. Eating seasonally is also healthier as well as more economical and environmentally-friendly. Seasonal foods have been allowed to fully ripen and develop rather than picked prematurely and therefore contain more nutrients, and taste better! It also encourages variety in our diets (we aren’t meant to eat the same foods year-round), supports local farmers and producers, and is often cheaper due to the lower costs and increased supply of seasonal produce.
We also reduce our carbon footprint and “food mileage” by eating seasonally so the environmental damage is less as our food doesn’t need to be transported and refrigerated over long distances. Less energy and fewer chemicals are required to grow and preserve seasonal produce as the outside temperature and surrounding environment naturally provides the resources needed. Pesticides and fertilisers contain toxic compounds that contaminate not only our health, but also the water and soil.
The environmental impact of our ever-increasing production of processed food is also threatening ecosystems across the world. Both soy and palm oil (common ingredients of processed foods) are major drivers of deforestation, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation including soil erosion, soil pollution and air pollution. Conversely, sustainable agriculture based on real food will help to improve the health of the planet by reducing energy needs and non-biodegradable waste.
Our diets really do control pretty much everything that happens in our body, from diseases and longevity to performance and moods so it is essential that we pay attention to what we are eating and try to make good food choices as much as possible. Our bodies require a constant influx of nutrients to function properly so they must be replenished with wholesome food. Following a diet based on real food is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure you maintain good health and a high quality of life.
Focusing on real food also means you won’t have to worry about “dieting” or forcing weight loss as you will reach a healthy weight as a natural side effect of a good diet and improved metabolic health. It really is a far more sustainable and enjoyable way to live.
“Food is not just eating energy. It’s an experience.”
We must also eat our food.
It's also really important that we actually eat and chew our food rather than drink it or swallow a supplement. Even just the thought of eating triggers the important cascade of biochemical processes within our bodies that are required for effective digestion and absorption of the nutrients in our food. The sight, smell and subsequent chewing of our food also individually stimulate the body to prepare for incoming fuel and nutrients by producing saliva, gastric juices and digestive enzymes.
Chewing also alerts our brain to produce specific hormones involved in the digestion, absorption and metabolism of our food. Tasting our food allows the specific flavours to be recognized by our tongue so that it can send signals to the brain, and in turn to the digestive system, resulting in the release of the appropriate digestive juices required for that specific food type e.g. carbohydrates or fats.
The digestive tract also begins its rhythmic movement so that nutrients can be mechanically digested and propelled along our internal ‘conveyer belt’. The secretion of stomach acid, release of digestive enzymes and proper movement of food through the digestive tract all rely on these important cues for the system to work properly. As much as 30 – 40% of the total digestive response is due to the initial thoughts, sight and smell of food (the cephalic phase) and over half of our gut peptides including cholecystokinin, somatostatin and neurotensin are released just by us thinking about eating.
All the central aspects of digestion and absorption are controlled by certain hormones and enzymes, which are directly affected by our mindset both before and while we are eating. The first phase of digestion only properly works when we are relaxed and focussed on eating so if we aren't paying attention to the food we are about to ingest, we are not activating our bodies’ full digestive response. Both stress and distraction have been proven to shut down digestion so ultimately we won’t be absorbing all the important nutrients contained within our food.
Eating proper food is also important for satiety. Our bodies release specific hunger and satiety hormones based on the length of time we spend eating our food, which cause us to feel satisfied and energized after eating. If we aren’t eating real food or we eat too quickly, our levels of satiety will be reduced, which can lead to dissatisfaction after eating and food cravings.
Chewing food also improves our oral hygiene since the additional saliva produced in preparation for eating helps to kill unwanted bacteria and protect our teeth from decay.
"For the most part, we eat with great automaticity and little insight into its critical
importance for us in sustaining life and also in sustaining health."
Jon Kabat Zinn, Psychologist
Benefits of Eating Real Food
Most people know that good nutrition helps to maintain a healthy weight, but the benefits of good nutrition go beyond this:
- Increased and sustained energy levels that last throughout the day without the need for a caffeine or sugar fix
- Stronger immune system as the body is better equipped to fight off illness and recover from illness or injury
- Lowered risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer
- Improved moods and feelings of well-being including lowered rates of depression, fatigue, sporadic emotions and uncontrolled anger
- Enhanced brain function, including learning and memory, with a lowered risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia and cognitive decline
- Improved gut health from the intakes of pre- and probiotics, which support the growth of beneficial bacteria, reduce gut inflammation and help to prevent bowel cancer and bowel diseases
- Better sleep as the body is provided with the nutrient precursors required for the production of sleep hormones, and less disrupted sleep patterns due to excess caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar
- Less stress and irritability, with more resilience and patience, as a result of better quality sleep, increased energy levels and better moods
- Healthy hair, skin and nails from the abundance of nutrients within a healthy diet including amino acids, fatty acids, collagen, vitamins and antioxidants
- A positive influence for children, who learn from the adults who surround them, and have been shown to greatly benefit from eating meals at home, particularly when they are involved in the preparations
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2. Buss C, Kraemer-Aguiar LG, Maranhão PA, Marinho C, Graças C de Souza das M, Wiernsperger N, et al. Physiology & Behavior. Physiology & Behavior. Elsevier Inc; 2010 Mar 18;105(4):1082–7
3. Liska D. Clinical Nutrition. The Institute for Functional Medicine; 2004.