Dear Leah Renee,
I eat well (I think!) but I’m constantly hearing ‘eat real food’ or ‘whole food’. I think I am, but how do I really know?! Thanks! ~Laura, RI
When I was younger, I remember getting some candy that looked like M&Ms. I was very excited until I began to eat them. They were nothing like M&M’s! Impostures! The chocolate did not taste right and I knew I did not want those again. I told my Mom it was fake chocolate and I did not like it. We can typically discern between something fake and something real. I can tell the difference between a bunch of fake flowers for decoration or real flowers from the garden. When I go shopping I know the boots made out of leather and which ones are synthetic. Heck, we even can tell when someone is real or fake, right?! And it’s deceiving! But I thought she was…
And that’s a lot like food these days. They’re in disguise! Many foods come across as “real” and “natural”–good for us even, but they’re not. Why?! What happened?! I’m pretty sure this didn’t used to be an issue. My Grandmother looks at me cross-eyed when I talk about buying organic. She doesn’t get it. It’s because she didn’t need to in all her years! All the hormones, pesticides, and packaged items were much, much less (as were portion sizes but that’s another story!). Whether it’s a marketing claim or a simple assumption, these days it’s easy to eat foods that would not be recognized as foods just 50 years ago.
Marketing, hype, labeling, packaging, wording, logos–all of these tactics are used to convince us that a product is worthy of consumption. Some are just darn good and we don’t really care if it’s good for us or not, and that’s OK in moderation, but convincing us it’s healthy is quite different.
Here’s the problem: our bodies know the difference. Our liver recognizes and can process real food properly, and the rest it cannot. The similar case for our gut. We get inflammation, bloating, discomfort, and many other things (you know what I’m talking about) because it’s able to distinguish between what is good for it and what’s not. The only way our body can inform us is by giving us those signals but it’s easy to ignore when it’s oh-so-good or simply just the norm after awhile. Our stomach and other organs don’t know about marketing, deals, super-sizing, and two-for-ones. Two-for-one is great when it’s a free ticket at the movie theater, not so much when it’s a hamburger and you’re the only one eating.
Here are the biggest red flags when you see it on a label:
What do all of these have in common? People, companies, and corporations are changing food which meet the criteria above. If you eat real fruit, it’s not going to have a label on it reading “made with real fruit”. It’s simply fruit. And guess what?! Fruit contains sugar–and it’s still good for you. Because it’s real. It contains antioxidants and fiber and vitamins and mineral our bodies recognize and need. That’s what “real” or “whole” food is. It’s in its purest state. The further we get from that, the less “real” it becomes. Why eat fortified foods (when companies add protein, fiber, or vitamins and minerals) when you can get it from something else healthier and equally enjoyable. Fortified bread is only fortified because it’s been stripped of the nutrients it originally contained. Think white rice versus brown rice; brown rice has its outer layer in tact where the fiber is. Take it off and you get the inner white portion that does not contain the same amount of nutrients (i.e. fiber, etc.).
Not all labels lie. It’s a matter of staying informed so that you can decode which ones are deceiving and which ones are legitimately healthy. Knowledge is power. Even if you are choosing to eat some of these foods sometimes, at least you know what you’re consuming. The closest you keep to how the food looked and tasted when it was picked, grown, sprouted, and caught, you’re good. Mindfulness, moderation, and a little mastery!