All of the statements you see above are actual headlines that have popped up in the news over the last year. I gathered them to show you just how crazy we have become about analyzing the food that goes in our mouth.
It’s no wonder we are all so confused about what we are supposed to eat. One day we wake up and meat is bad for us. The next day, meat is good for us and is the reason we are alive today. Another day, eating low carb is great for weight loss and great for blood vessel function. Wait, low carb is not good for cardiovascular function though. But isn’t weight loss easier on a low carb diet? And isn’t weight loss good for cardiovascular function?
Dammit! Im so confused!
Well, at least we all can agree on something….
Everyone knows that shit will kill you! It’s true. I read that somewhere.
Anyways, I’m clearly off track. I think what I am trying to say is that knowing what to eat is extremely complicated. Seriously, how can we be expected to eat healthy, when we can’t even agree on what healthy is?
Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed or confused about what to eat, I try to remember one word…JERF.
What is JERF?
Just. Eat. Real. Food.
That’s it. No boisterous claims or elaborate studies to confuse you. Just real food.
But what exactly is real food?
Here’s how I define it:
Real food spoils.
Want to know the difference between a 12-year old McDonalds hamburger and one that comes “fresh” off the grill? Not a whole lot. The picture below shows a McDonald’s hamburger from 1996 on the left and another McDonald’s hamburger on the right that was brand new in 2008. This is clearly not real food. Real food has a short shelf life and should go bad within a few days of being picked or purchased. You will know you’re buying lots of real food when your refrigerator fills up and empties itself every few days.
Real food has a recent connection to the earth.
When it comes to getting the most nutrition out of our food, time is not on our side. The shorter time a food can spend away from its natural environment on earth, the more we can consider it real food. Even superfoods like spinach lose most of their nutrition content within just 8 days of being harvested. Imagine what kind of nutrition you are getting from the box of cereal that’s been sitting in your cabinet for months. Real foods preferably come from a local source so they can be consumed within days of being harvested.
Real food doesn’t need a fancy package, or any package at all.
Its funny to me when I see protein bars like Detour using their package to promote their “lower sugar”, “15 grams of protein”, and “richness in branch chain amino acids”. I would much rather have a few ounces of grass-fed beef that has more protein, more BCAA’s, and a lot less sugar. But grass-fed beef is a lot more humble so it doesn’t need the fancy label to tell you how cool it is. All this good stuff also comes without the “milk chocolate flavored coating” and “sugar free caramel made from maltitol syrup” that make up the ingredients list of the Detour bar. Don’t get caught up in fancy marketing techniques or outlandish claims. Most real food doesnt’t have any packaging at all.
Real food doesn’t need to be cooked in order to make it edible. Real food can be eaten raw.
Most legumes are toxic in their raw state. They need to be cooked in order to make them safe for human consumption. Likewise, most of us wouldn’t dare go up to a wheat plant or other grain and start eating it. The same can be said for factory farmed meats and eggs that need to be cooked to prevent the spread of salmonella and other diseases. Im not saying that you shouldn’t cook your food. But if a food is so low quality that it has to be processed or cooked in order to make it edible for you then its probably not real food. And you’re probably better off without it.
Real food doesn’t need to tell you how healthy it is.
The other day I saw a Cheerios commercial that shows the ingredients list on the box to prove to consumers that whole grains are the first ingredient in their product. They even conveniently circle the whole grains like you see in the picture below. What most consumers miss though is that the second ingredient is sugar, and most grains, (even the whole ones) are quickly converted to sugar once they enter the body. So essentially, Cheerios are just a box of sugar. Be suspicious of any claims that companies use to promote their own products. Real food should speak for itself.
Real food ate real food.
It makes sense that unhealthy plants and animals could lead to unhealthy humans that are consuming those plants and animals. Whether its cows that are supposed to eat grass, but are fed grains, or plants that are supposed to thrive off water, nutrient-dense soil, and sunlight, but are grown on depleted land and loaded up with pesticides.
Its even gone as far now as cows that are accidentally eating parts of other cows because the cow parts in chicken feed are spilling over into the chicken litter and being fed back to the cows. Factory food production practices are getting out of control. Do your best to consume products that were raised organically and humanely and you will greatly increase your consumption of real food.
Real food does not need to be altered.
Low fat, reduced fat. Reduced sugar. Fortified foods like breads and cereals. Skim milk. Egg whites. Gluten-free foods. There are an endless amount of foods that are altered in order to make them more appealing to consumers.
Real food doesn’t need to have components added or removed to make them healthy. Real food is either healthy in its whole form, or its not. Its that simple.
Real food does not need to be fortified.
Breads, cereals, and grain-based products are the biggest culprits here. Almost every single one of them is depleted of their vitamins and minerals during processing. The only reason you see those things in the final product in your grocery store is because food companies have learned how to artificially add them back in after processing. Im sorry, but if I have to eat bread to get my daily multivitamin then I would rather just take the multivitamin and skip the bread. Real food should retain its vitamins and minerals from the earth all the way to your mouth.
Real food is not a supplement.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Except for when you live in a society where everyone is looking for a quick fix or the next miracle drug. Don’t be fooled by companies like General Nutrition Center (GNC) that don’t sell a single product that could be considered real food. That’s not to say that some supplements can’t be beneficial, but they are no replacement for real food. Make sure whatever supplements you choose to take are in addition to the real food diet you are already eating.
While we can’t expect to hunt and gather all of our food straight from the earth and eat it immediately, we certainly can make better decisions when it comes to eating more real food. Next time you think about reaching for that protein bar, box of cereal, or loaf of bread because you’ve been told its healthy for you, just realize that it fails most, if not all, of the real food rules you see above. Don’t get caught up in the hype. Just Eat Real Food.
Speaking of JERF, Sean Croxton over at UndergroundWellness.com just released the Real Food Summit which is a series of 27 presentations by some of the smartest people in the world of health and wellness. All of the presentations cover varying topics on the matter of real food, and Sean was nice enough to throw in some cool bonus gifts as well. Sean is one of the most down-to-earth bloggers on all aspects of health, and from what I know, he is the creator of the term JERF. If you don’t end up purchasing the Real Food Summit package, make sure you at least check out the Underground Wellness podcast, which you can find for free on iTunes. Or hop onto Twitter and tell Sean how much you like to #JERF.
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