Understanding What ‘Real Food’ Is, Part 1

by Jeff V. on January 18, 2013

Last Friday, I told you we’re going to do a multi-part series on taking control of your health. Today, we’re going to start discussing food, because your diet is the cornerstone, the 90% component, of any fitness effort.

Yes, 90%.

There are two parts to taking control of the food you eat:

  1. Deciding what foods to eat and not to eat now that health is a priority, and
  2. Understanding what food is from a biochemical perspective (we’ll get into this another time, and I promise it won’t be boring.)

So for today, here’s what we’re talking about…

Rule Number One: Eat Real Food

Most folks think that ‘real food’ is merely the stuff they get from their local supermarket or specialty store, minus the obvious nasty-bombs like Double Stuff Oreos. That’s not exactly all there is to it, because our supermarkets are full of processed, refined, industrially-farmed food, which isn’t food at all – at least as far as our evolutionary history is concerned. (In other words, for the first time in our species history, we are eating foods that do not and did not exist in nature. Being a guinea pig to spark evolutionary adaptation to garbage food is not the honor you want, trust me.)

The real food you’re looking for is:

  • Unprocessed and unrefined
  • “Real”: obtained from its real source/biome, not industrially-farmed (examples of this included wild-caught fish (not farmed) and grass-fed beef (as opposed to corn-fed).

The second aspect is tougher than it sounds. We live in a world where a few agricultural conglomerates control about 80% of our mainstream food supply, so finding wild fish and grass-fed meats takes some effort. We will get into this in another post, when I will recommend you some sources.

What Do ‘Unprocessed’ and ‘Unrefined’ Mean?

It means if it comes in a bag or a box, you shouldn’t be eating it, or you should at least be severely limiting your intake of it. The introduction of modern agriculture processing is, in my opinion, one of the most destructive things that has happened to our health in, well, maybe forever. Proponents argue that it increases convenience and shelf life, leading to less spoiled/wasted food, and that’s true. But that comes at a massive cost to our health, because these things are contributors to so much disease.

You are already familiar with some of the evil horsemen of processed food, because they are starting to get mainstream media attention: white flour, refined sugar, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), processed seed oils. Even soy products, often marketed as ‘healthy’, fall into this bucket.

The effects of such food is slow and insidious. They’re not going to degrade your health overnight, but their effects are a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ – their harm is inflicted on us every day, in small increments, until we start suffering problems.

For instance, high fructose corn syrup, something commonly found in myriad processed foods and beverages, has an absolute plethora of health problems associated with it, ranging from hypertension to diabetes to kidney stones. Then there’s another study that illustrates that emulsifiers used in food packaging can increase intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”), which leads to a host of inflammatory and other disorders.

And that’s just two studies. I could write another 600 words on the studies that show the ravages of other processed ingredients. Easy.

The bottom line: if it’s in a box or bag, it’s been processed. Processing means the food and/or packaging has undergone some industrial treatment to improve shelf life, color, smell, taste or appearance. These are engineered foods: hyperpalatable, incredibly shelf- and transit-stable, and they’re frankenfoods, and you want nothing to do with them if you want to get your health under control. I cannot stress this enough.

All this technology is great for processed food companies, but not so great for you.

Here’s another useful rule of thumb: the center aisles of supermarkets are filled with processed foods. The edges, the out perimeter, not so much. If you get the lion’s share of your food from the perimeter of the grocery store, you’re off to a good start.

Next week, we’ll get into sourcing your food from better places, and why food sourcing is so important. I will also recommend to you some places to get some excellent fish and grass-fed meats.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions in the meantime, email me.

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