Welcome to Part 2 of my primer on Real Food 101 for Nourishing Newbies! In my last installment on the Pillars of Real Food, we talked about the important role that nutrient-dense nourishment such as organically grown fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats and dairy, and fermented foods play in sustaining our health. We got a little sassy when it came to the vast quantities of industrially processed “food” we consume, and I know that might have ruffled a few feathers.
Well friend, I ain’t gonna lie to you; these remaining Pillars are even a bit more on the…controversial side. They will further challenge what you’ve believed about nutrition coming from health magazines, news stations and food manufacturers. The Real Food circle calls the claims made by these groups “dietary dogma”, meaning the set of nutritional principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. We’re going to lay some of these principles to rest today, and kick off…
What I’m offering you today are food facts back by actual research (a lot of current dietary dogma isn’t) and thousands of years of instinctual knowledge of food preparation passed through generations of radiantly healthy human beings (until now).
To properly set the stage, we need to take a closer look at a diagram that you’ll likely recognize:
Yeah, you know this guy: it’s the famous / infamous USDA Food Pyramid, the defining symbol of the dietary dogma in the US of A. It has a surprisingly unsavory history, but more on that later. Now, I’m going to do a side-by-side of this pyramid with the Real Food Pyramid as envisioned by the folks behind Mark’s Daily Apple:
Did you catch some major differences between the two pyramids? First, animal protein is the foundation of the Real Food pyramid instead of way at the top. In Part 1 we already discussed the valuable role high-quality meat plays in our diet, especially for those struggling with thyroid and autoimmune conditions. But first, there is a glaring omission from the Real Food pyramid, and that is….drum roll…SUGAR.
Pillar #7: Real Food is the End of Sugar As You Know It
Uggggh this is a tough one for so many. Man, we love our sugar. To indulge ourselves, to comfort ourselves. To be clear, I’m talking about refined sugar, the generous sprinkle that gently lands in your morning coffee and what Mary Poppins used as a Robitussin chaser.
Yeah, that’s the one. I think deep down in our purest soul, we instinctively know that the ooey, gooey, sprinkly and powdery substance know as sugar isn’t good for us, but I don’t we realize just how bad it is for us. Put ‘er this way: there’s another white powdery substance that bears a disturbingly similar effect on our blood and brain chemistry. Dr. Mark Hyman, renowned functional practitioner and eight-time New York Times bestseller (um, creds much?) gives us a sobering look at the effect of sugar on our brains. In a nutshell…
Further, Dr. Hyman talks about how the brain “lights up like a Christmas tree” after ingesting refined sugar. But here’s some welcome good news: some of the most incredibly delicious, decadent and satisfying treats I’ve ever eaten were made without refined sugar; instead we moderately use fruit, raw honey, Grade B maple syrup and molasses as sweeteners and the bonus? They actually contain nutrients like B vitamins. Try these Protein Cookies from Kula Mama or Paleo Chocolate Lava Cakes from Paleo Grubs and you won’t be missing the white stuff, blue stuff or pink stuff anytime soon! I want to emphasize the “moderately” part, because in no way am I suggesting you replace all your refined sugar with natural sweeteners pound-for-pound. You can have too much of a good thing, too!
Pillar #8: Real Food is Minimal Consumption of Properly Prepared Grains and Nuts
Erm, did I just say the words “minimal” and “properly prepared” grains? Yessiree. Now see here Maverick Mama: every magazine article for the last 30 years has talked about the importance of 6-11 servings a day of whole grains (oh hai USDA food pyramid) , and no one said ANYTHING about properly preparing them. What in tarnation does that mean??
The way I came to understand why grains must be properly prepared is how a grain is structured: grains and nuts are seeds. To survive, they evolved to pass through the gut of animals intact so they could be, ahem, “deposited” into the earth with the animal’s “fertilizer”. Their hull was not designed to be digested. Weston A. Price discovered that the hull of every grain and nut contains a substance called phytic acid, which is an anti-nutrient that blocks the absorption of other nutrients in your food. Real Foodists soak grains in an acidic medium to neutralize the phytic acid so as to properly absorb the other food nutrients. Traditional cultures around the world have done this for centuries, but this practice faded with the industrialization of cash crops. What this means is, that side of brown rice under your tofu stir fry veggie bowl may be duking it out with the veggies’ vitamins and minerals. I know, we are bombarded by magazine articles spouting the benefits of whole grains and the food pyramid is plastered on every box of cereal and loaf of bread. But the truth is, if they’re not properly prepared, grains could be doing you harm especially if you have chronic autoimmune or digestive issues like myself.
The ugly motivation behind the pyramid’s pushiness on grains are that they are super cheap and easy to process, extrude and adulterate into endless permutations for consumers. Breakfast cereal is ingrained in our morning DNA, and yet it can contain up to a day’s worth of gluten or GMO corn, processed sugar and preservatives; even many organic cereals. Worse, we combine that cereal with skim milk, fruit and honey which gives it the potential to drastically spike our morning blood sugar, which is precisely when we need to stabilize it. So that bowl of Smart Start with skim milk and fruit we thought was so healthy is actually a blood-spiking, nutrient-blocking glutinous cereal “dust bowl” of beh. Still need a grain fix? Stick with white rice, and a tiny portion at that. I’m not kidding. Now if you think that was controversial, just wait for…
Pillar #9: Real Food is Loads of Healthy, Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Fat. Streams of golden butter dripping down veggies. A dollop of bacon grease shimmering in a cast iron pan, ready to infuse a frittata with redolent, smoky bacony-ness. Mouth watering yet? There no question that fat is yummy and delicious but…nutritious? YES people. Read my lips: WE NEED FAT TO SURVIVE. SATURATED FAT. High-quality saturated fat was and always has been a crucial building block for our bodies, yet the last few decades have barraged us with messages about the “evils” of saturated animal fat and bullied into use vegetable oils for cooking and dressing. Children in particular need high quantities of quality fat to sustain their rapid brain and immune development [source], so the idea of feeding them low-fat yogurt is completely counterproductive. Check out these 10 signs of nutritional deficiencies in children from my friend DaNelle at Weed ‘Em and Reap for more clues on the subject.
So dear reader, I bravely submit for your consideration, the A-list of true healthy fats:
- Grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter)
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil (responsibly harvested)
- Pastured pork lard or bacon grease
- Grass-fed beef tallow
- Extra-virgin, cold-pressed organic olive oil (as a finishing oil, NOT for cooking)
You might notice some glaring omissions from this list, such as vegetable oils (including corn, soy and canola) and margarine. Big Food has demonized these fats for decades and readily offered replacements that now coat nearly every bite of prepared food we eat. And yet, with the advent these “Franken-fats”, heart disease climbs every year and is now the leading cause of death in the United States. Even Time magazine recently published a notable article debunking the myth of saturated fat’s role in disease and obesity, a stark contrast to the article the very same magazine published in 1984 demonizing saturated animal fat. After incorporating these fats into our diet and seeing a major health boost, I know in my healthy heart that this “new” fat research is here to stay because it is the fat that successfully sustained human health for thousands of years. Now, turning the spotlight back to vegetables oils…
Nope, canola oil is extracted from the inedible rapeseed, corn is a grain, and soy is a legume. In order to extrude oil from these seed crops, some very naughty industrial processing is required and believe me, the details would turn your stomach. And guess what else: HEALTHY FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Need proof? When I went Paleo by removing grains and dairy and began including generous heaps of real saturated fat in my diet, I lost over 10 pounds of baby weight in 3 months. No. Joke.
Check out this post from Nourished Kitchen for the skinny on the “real healthy fats“; it will delectably blow your mind.
Pillar #10: Real Food Tastes Real Good
Have you ever sunk your teeth into a stack of juicy heirloom tomato, fresh raw mozzarella, fragrant garden basil and true olive oil? How about a deeply comforting bone-in chicken stew with rich root vegetables? When you do, savor each bite knowing that the sumptuous flavor and textures you’re experiencing were created by the earth, not by well-paid people in lab coats.
It may not have sugar or grains, but there be a whole lotta flavor up in there.
Top Tips for Starting Down the Real Food Road
- Don’t go in all at once. I tend to approach life changes with an all-or-nothing “Huzzah!” and it’s come back to bite me in the ugly forms of exhaustion and anxiety. Don’t do that. Start small: try replacing vegetable oils with coconut oil or leftover bacon grease (my FAVORITE cooking fat), or buying pastured eggs instead of just “organic”. You’ll start to see these small changes add up in a big way, and you can decide when you’re ready for the next step!
- Read up on the subject. Here are some great books, e-Books and online crash courses to get you started:
- To find some of the ingredients you’ll be reading about, check out my Shopping Guide for a handy-dandy one-stop shop!
- To help me remember the guidelines for Real Food, I’ve printed out this awesome Real Food infographic guide by DaNelle Wolford, the rockin’ farmer chick and friend behind Weed ‘Em and Reap. The message here is, work towards the “Best” column if you can, but don’t sweat it if you don’t have access to all of those food sources. Just cutting out processed foods with refined sugar and creepy ingredients is a huge step in the Real Food direction.
And there you have Full Monty on the most nourishing, nutrient-dense and delicious “diet” in the world, and it has been that way for quite a long time. If you’re constantly battling weight, skin or immune issues, I beg you to take a hard look the food you’re chowing and ask yourself these questions: did this food come with a jingle? Are the ingredients unrecognizable and/or unpronounceable? If the answers are yes, now is the time to embrace real food. In the coming months I’ll be posting more information on each of the Pillars of Real Food, as well as my favorite recipes from the Crunchy Corral. You will be rewarded with a difference you can see, taste and truly feel.
And that’s my real food for thought.
What does Real Food mean to you? Let me know!
Alice Waters: Wikipedia / David Silfy
Produce: Flickr / Skånska Matupplevelser
Real Food Pyramid: Mark’s Daily Apple
Rice: Flickr / Ray_From_LA
Sugar: Flickr / Uwe Hermann
Butter: Flickr / Taryn
Stew: Flickr / Meg Lessard
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