Step 2: Eat Real Food
Okay kids, this one seems like a no-brainer at first glance, and you might have even rolled your eyes at me when you read it. That's okay--just don't be too quick with the sass. Believe it or not, there are a lot of "foods" out there that aren't actually anything of the sort. How can we tell and by what definition should we consider things real food? Good questions.
Our modern society has brainwashed us into outsourcing almost all personal authority to some “expert” or higher power who knows better. Shame. This detriment has many symptoms. When it comes to food and health, we've lost the wisdom of our great grandparents and generations past. We've lost our connection with nature and the role all things play in the cycle of life. We've lost the understanding of how the earth, the animals, the ranchers, the farmers and how what we see on the shelves at the grocery store all relate to each other. (Or don't in the slightest!) As a result, we've lost good discernment.
What can we do? Well, right now we just make the best choices we can with the information in front of us. Unfortunately, that information is typically provided by big industry and big government and the conflicts of interest there run deeper than the Atlantic.
I think we can all get on board with the fact that Doritos and margarine aren't real foods. Sure, they're labeled safe for consumption by the FDA. But you know better. Aha. Now we've arrived at a crosspoint when our intuition and someone else's opinion are differing. Pay attention.
Think about it for a second... WHY did you decide those weren't real foods? Once you have that answer, hold on to it, because it's pivotal in becoming highly in tune with yourself. Let's do our best to fully unveil that reasoning. We're also going to talk about some of the artificial foods that are NOT on your radar, and then I'm going to share an easy way you can test all foods everywhere to determine whether or not they are real.
To begin, here's a most basic frame of reference:
Does it come in a package? No - Then it's probably a real food. Yes - Go straight to the list of ingredients. Forget about the nutrition label--it doesn't matter. The ingredients are what is most important.
Okay now listen to this part. It's not necessarily the length of the ingredients list that is the kicker (although that's usually a dead giveaway). The part that counts is that you recognize each one as something familiar to you. Something that you are likely to have in the kitchen at home.
It is true that you can take all kinds of real foods (as raw materials) and combine them to make more real food! Praise Jesus, cuz that kind of creativity in the kitchen can make everyone's day (uh, cheesecake, anyone?!?). The key here is that YOU can do it. If you come across a packaged food that has a list of ingredients, the question you should be asking yourself is:
Can I make this in my kitchen?
That "in my kitchen" part is key. Typically, people don't have a ready stash of soy leghemoglobin, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, methylcellulose and red 40 in their cupboards... So, was the item you're looking at buying manufactured in some lab somewhere? Or could it have been made from scratch in granny's kitchen two blocks down the road?
We start with this mental shift. We make a point to THINK critically about where our food actually came from and if it's something we could recreate at home. If so, does it mean we put it back on the shelf and go home and become Betty Crocker? Uh, let me think... NO. You buy it and eat it in peace! But if you CAN'T recreate it at home, then you shouldn't be shoving it in your pie hole to begin with. If you're having a hard time wrapping your mind around what I'm saying, here's an example. Head to the peanut butter aisle at the grocery store. Pick up a few jars and you might see something like the following...
Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter ingredients: roasted peanuts, salt.
Skippy Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter ingredients: roasted peanuts, corn syrup solids, sugar, soy protein concentrate, salt, hydrogenated vegetable oil (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed oil) to prevent separation, mono- and diglycerides, minerals (magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, ferric orthophosphate, copper sulfate), vitamins (niacinamide, pyridoxine, hydrochloride, folic acid).
Whoa! What a difference. Got it now? I'm happy to take specific questions if you have some. But the point here is to get you to start thinking critically about the processing of your food.
Nearly all food is processed to some degree. Whether the butcher did his job and packaged the meat for you, the harvester simply picked the berries for you, or scientists carefully heated and cooled and added chemicals to it--these are all processing methods. The question to ask is, which is the most natural and familiar to me? Why is that the question? Because the less your food has been manipulated, the greater the chances that your body will actually recognize it as food and not a toxic invader.
In fact, most foods with health claims blasted across the package have been more manipulated and tampered with than other foods. Here are a few to watch out for: low-fat, reduced-fat, light, low-sodium, multi-grain, low-cholesterol, etc. These are all red flags and should cause you to do a double take.
Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. So if you can handle it, grasshopper, read on.
Let's go back to those "raw materials" we mentioned earlier. Now this is key, and it's the place that gets the most muddy for most people. Say grandma DOES have some of those ingredients in her kitchen, but you're not quite sure what they are or how they got there. Things like vegetable oil, corn starch, bleached or enriched flour of any kind, nutritional yeast, etc. Again, given the right basic tools (a stone grinder, sifter, press, dehydrator, etc.) could you make them in your kitchen? Could you isolate your own vitamins and minerals (or create your own synthetic versions) and enrich that flour you just ground and sifted yourself? Maybe so. The answer is up to you. But be asking.
Let's look at another example--a controversial one that might strike a chord with some. That's okay. I'm not afraid.
OILS. Dun dun dun...
Olive oil is easy to make at home. Time consuming? Yes. Tedious? Yes. But oh, so simple. Think about it. Olives are naturally oily. And you can easily cold-press them and make your own oil to store in a dark colored glass jar away from sunlight where it won't go rancid overnight.
What about vegetable oil? Canola (rapeseed) oil? Safflower oil? Corn oil? Soybean oil? Well what are those exactly and how do you make them? It's a fair question. Are corn kernals or soy beans oily at all? Well then how do we get oil from them? These oils have long been touted by government and industry as superior than any natural oils that our great, great grandmothers used in decades past (tallow, coconut oil, lard, full-fat butter). Red flag.
Does that jive with your intuition? Maybe there's a good reason. But before you take someone telling you that their highly processed, heated and cooled, bleached oils are superior to real butter as gospel, you have to check in with your gut. Maybe you need more information. Fabulous--go get it. (I'm all for educating the gut!) But if you don't have time and energy to devote to understanding how things are processed by industry, then your default needs to be to side with the most basic, natural way of doing things. End of story. And this requires some critical thinking and reflection of times past.
Now, do you remember your WHY when it came to determining that Doritos and margarine weren't real foods? Was it because you couldn't make them at home? Or because you knew they can't sustain your life? Or because you understand how they harm your body? Whatever the reason, your intuition is ticking and that's a good sign. If you're new here and you didn't realize that Doritos and margarine are NOT real foods, that's okay. It just reveals how out of touch you may be with yourself and the natural world.
Time to change that.
So let's recap. How can we tell what foods are real and which are just edible food-like substances?
1. Do I know what it is at it's most basic level and roughly how it got to the shelf?
2. Given the proper basic tools, could I make it in my own kitchen?
3. What does my gut instinct say about it?
Now that we know what real food is and how to determine what's what in this modern age of artificial living, we get to move on to the concept that not ALL real food is beneficial for all people. And this is where really knowing your body comes in handy... Step 3 is up next!