Let’s get Real (About Our Food)

Hey guys – Want to introduce you to our newest contributing blogger, Rachel Chemerynski.  She’s got a great style that fits in well with what we’ve been providing for the past three years and really knows her stuff.  She brings a more holistic element to what we’ve got going on here and we’re very excited to have her join the team.

For a bit of info on Rachel, check out her author bio below the post, and follow her on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest!

-Matt @ SIF

Hey There SIF Community!

Let’s get real for a moment, ladies and gents! As a Certified Health Coach, foodie, blogger and overall health nut I’m a sucker for anything and everything food, more particularly healthy food. Grocery stores and restaurant menus fascinate me, and attending a farmer’s market is my version of a little kid in a candy store.

After all, food is delicious, exciting, stimulating, nourishing and pleasurable all at once. BUT, and this is a big but, unfortunately food isn’t what it used to be anymore. Just as a calorie isn’t a calorie (and a fat isn’t a fat) all food isn’t created equally.

And lately there’s been a heck of a lot of processed, chemicalized, packaged food making its way in the market that, while may look like food, is far from the truth. I like to refer to these unnatural imposters as “fake” food: food incognito.

But wait, it gets even worse! Some of these fake foods are even labeled as “heart-healthy!” “low fat!” “calorie free!” or “all natural!” to trick us into buying something that’s “healthy.” But is it really? As you can see it’s a confusing world out there, and you’re definitely not to blame.

You see, back in the day there were hardly any marketing claims. Bread was bread. Eggs were eggs. Meat was meat. For the most part, you knew what you were buying and where it came from. I often times think about what my great-great-grandmother would say if she were a little birdie on my shoulder at the supermarket. I’m pretty certain she’d be horrified!

Dr. Mark Hyman describes the impact of such “industrial” food quite well in his article The Last Diet You Will Ever Need. “When a French fry has more than 20 ingredients and almost all of them are not potato, or when a fast food hamburger contains very little meat, or when the average teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day, we are living in a food nightmare, a sci-fi horror show,” Hyman writes.

While the current food industry madness can indeed be a bit overwhelming (and frightening) at times, I’ve found one of the most important steps you can make toward eating a healthier diet is quite simple really: EAT REAL FOOD.

Not quite sure where to start? Luckily, I’ve got some “Real Food” Guidelines to help you make the switch.

Real Food: What’s That?

Eat. Real. Food. Now what does that mean exactly? It means filling your plate with whole, natural foods that are going to nurture, satisfy and sustain you, simultaneously reducing or eliminating those processed, packaged “fake” foods that are going to deplete your body from energy and fail to satisfy you. When you’re loading up on the (real) good stuff, you have less room for (and begin to not even want) the fake stuff.

Fill your cart with these foods:

  • Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables (Right now peas, asparagus, and leafy greens like arugula, kale and collards are in season!)
  • Raw nuts, seeds and nut butters
  • Unprocessed nut milks (like coconut & almond)
  • Unrefined, cold-pressed oils (like coconut and olive oil)
  • Whole grains (like brown rice, amaranth, and whole rolled oats)
  • Cage-free eggs
  • Lentils, beans and legumes
  • Lean animal proteins (like wild fish, grass-fed beef and natural chicken)
  • Whole, organic soy products (like tempeh, miso and edamame beans)
  • Food that will go bad if left out

Usually these types of foods can be found at local health food stores, farmer’s markets or on the outside aisles of your grocery store. Note what works best for your body and dietary needs, and nourish yourself accordingly.

Weed Out the “Fake” Stuff

As you begin to introduce more real foods into your diet, you’ll naturally begin to cut out their unhealthier alternatives.

Reduce or eliminate:

  • Refined grains (depleted of natural nutrients)
  • Artificial sweeteners & sweetened beverages
  • Diet drinks & diet food in general (see below)
  • Most packaged snack foods including certain 100-calorie snack packs (ingredients, ingredients, ingredients)
  • Processed meats
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Partially-hydrogenated oils
  • Anything with funky ingredients you can’t pronounce
  • Food with a never-ending shelf life

Don’t Fall for the Diet Trap

It seems nearly every day I hear another friend, family member or random girl in my yoga class say, “I need to go on a diet.”  Heck, I was one of them until I woke up and realized that going on a diet is not always the answer. In fact, more often than not a good dose of real food should do the trick!

Most of the time, those who are dieting (my former self included) naturally stock up on “diet” foods from zero-calorie drinks to diet-friendly microwavable meals. While it sounds good in theory, these foods are often packed with chemicals, heaping amounts of sodium, and artificial sweeteners/flavoring, which not only pose health problems but also don’t properly satisfy your body. I say it’s best to just eat the real thing, and live a happy, diet-free lifestyle. For instance, if you really want that freshly grilled burger, go for the real deal and enjoy it slowly, versus attempting to banish your cravings with a fat-free, low-cal, less flavorful, processed version (with who knows what ingredients.) I’m not saying all “diet-food” is bad, but use your best judgment by weighing your options.

Be Wary of Marketing Claims

While you’re at it, question anything with a marketing claim. Just because a food is labeled as “healthy” or “all natural” doesn’t automatically make it qualified as a healthy food. There are organic jelly beans, potato chips “made with natural ingredients,” and “heart-healthy” sugar-laden cereals and drinks. Read beyond the claims to detect what’s actually in your food.

On that note, aim for foods that don’t come with fancy colored packages and labels such as whole fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs and nuts. These foods—the ones without all the advertisements and labels—are as close to real food as you can get.

Ingredients vs. Label

Speaking of labels, so many of us are obsessed with basing our opinions upon a label, from the size of our jeans to the nutrition information on our food. While labels have their time and place, there’s more to food than what first meets the eye (just as there is more to someone than the number on the scale.) I encourage you to dig deeper by reading the ingredients, as this will tell you exactly what’s in your food.

For instance, if a product claims it’s “made with whole grains” look for “whole grain____” as one of the first ingredients on the list. If you’re stuck on the low fat or fat free bandwagon—printed on everything from yogurts to crackers—examine the label to be sure the fat hasn’t been replaced with added sugar or other unnatural additives (which is often done to make up for the flavor). While sugar-free or low-calorie sounds convincing, scrutinize the back of the package to see what’s in the food you’re about to put into your body. (Artificial sweeteners like aspartame? Dyes? Coloring?) Similarly, while certain protein bars can be good for your health, there are plenty out there with more sugar than a candy bar, or other funky unnatural ingredients.

Can you recognize the ingredients in your food? Be a “food detective” and you’re sure to learn some invaluable information (and have some fun with it too).

The Bottom Line

The bottom line? Explore your individual relationship with food, and simply become more aware of what you’re putting into your body. None of us are perfect, but it’s nice to strive toward a more real, wholesome diet. Oh, and have fun with it and enjoy prepping your meals because if you’re not having fun well then what’s the point really?

Do you pay attention to the ingredients in your food? What “real foods” would you like to increase in your diet? What could you work on reducing or weeding out?

Rachel Chemerynski is a Certified Health Coach and freelance writer living in Boston, MA. She is the founder of Healthy Chicks, a wellness community dedicated to inspiring twenty-something women to live happier, healthier, more satisfying lives. Rachel offers a variety of innovative health coaching programs (which can be done remotely over the phone), and conducts Healthy Grocery Store Tours in the Greater Boston area.


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