My Thoughts on Processed Foods
When I first started learning about real food, I only found a handful of Real Food blogs out there. I’m sure there were many more, but I only Google’d “Real Food”. The first blog that came up was 100 Days of Real Food. So I read her blog for hours and absorbed as much information as I possibly could.
One thing I liked about Lisa’s blog was that she bought packaged foods from discount big box stores and she also purchased the store brands. To me at least, this made her not only real, but relatable. This was important to me as I was brand new to the Real Food way of eating. Buying big box discount brand packaged foods is probably not something Lisa does now, but when she first started, she did. Her rules were if it comes in a package, it shouldn’t have more than 5 ingredients.
At first I tried to abide by her rules, but as time went on it just wasn’t jiving with me. It wasn’t something that fit us, and since this is *my* real food journey and *The Stud Muffin’s* real food journey, I had to be true to the two of us. Not to a food blogger I’d never met. Even though I looked up to her.
I personally think more than 5 ingredients is acceptable, and, here is why:
Let’s say you find a great organic granola and it has oats, flax, raisins, coconut, pecans, honey, maple syrup, cranberries, apples, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat bran… you get the picture. We’re up to 12 ingredients, all are organic, and it’s minimally processed. I’d buy this. Or take some quality cinnamon-raisin bread from an organic bakery or a GF bakery. Flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, butter… we’re already up to 8. If this recipe happened to use eggs or another leavening agent, we’d be up to 9. And based on some of the “Real Food Rules” I’ve read online this bread would be “wrong” to eat/buy or would be “breaking the rules”. That’s insane in my opinion. Why are we so hell bent on strapping ourselves to a bunch of rules that someone else constructed? It’s like expecting one single pair of size 8 jeans to fit each and every single woman in America. It’s not going to happen.
What ever happened to taking a set of rules and using them as guidelines for the betterment of our health? Not all rules fit all individuals, families, or budgets. What ends up happening is you feel like a failure because you can’t possibly comply with inflexible rules that by design are faulty. Moreover, why does food need rules? My son-in-law made a comment the other day when he was helping wash the dinner dishes that they had “Too many dishes with rules.” Being a chef and having a plethora of tools and dishes that have to be hand washed vs. being tossed in the dishwasher, I understood his pain. Food is sort of becoming like the specialty tools in our kitchen. Filled with too many rules.
Instead, what I witness as I continue my research is that people become so dogmatic when it comes to processed foods (and real food for that matter). Yet no one bats an eye over the fact that honey is processed, coconut sugar is processed, sucanat is processed, coconut milk in a can, molasses, maple syrup, lard, butter. You get the idea. I personally think it boils down to what level of processing YOU are comfortable with and then decide which items you are willing to buy or not buy. We don’t buy a lot of package foods in our house, but the ones we do buy, I won’t apologize for because they fit our budget and our lifestyle and they help on days when I’m pressed for time and have to get dinner on the table, or want to prep some make ahead meals, like granola for example.
I buy a very minimally processed organic cane sugar that has quite a bit of the molasses left on it so it is far from GMO-sugar-beet-bleach-white granulated sugar. For me and The Stud Muffin. Guess what? That’s totally all right if it isn’t the case for you–Yes, I am crazy enough to say it is ALL RIGHT if this isn’t the case for you–I like plain, organic cane sugar best. We eat so few treats with real sugar that I don’t have a problem with continuing to use it. For now. I may change my mind, but it’s doubtful. Coconut sugar and sucanat are my #2 choices for baking, followed by honey and maple syrup because those two are extremely pricey and using them in large amounts isn’t in our budget. I also don’t feel as well when I eat things made strictly with maple syrup or honey as the main sweetener. This is why I tell people to do what is best for themselves, their budget, their families and their situation.
What I’m not saying:
I’m not saying that you should just throw in the towel and eat processed foods because they are more convenient. I’m not saying that real, clean, whole foods aren’t the best option if given a choice between that and a packaged food. I’m not saying to no longer read labels and be wise when it comes to the packaged foods that you put in your shopping cart while at the grocery store. I’m not saying that there isn’t merit to the myriad of real food rules out there. I’m not saying that processed foods don’t have their issues. I’m not saying you have to avoid processed foods or you aren’t a real-food-foodie and I’m also not saying you should buy them all the time just because there are some that I don’t have a problem with. I’m also not saying what you cannot eat. I’m not the boss of you, nor is a list of rules written by people that don’t know you. I’m also not saying to just go ahead and pooh-pooh the rules and go about the Real Food way of eating in a haphazard, half-committed sort of way, either.
So what am I saying?
When I started my blog I was just a chef that wanted to have a place to put all my recipes where my grandchildren and friends and family could could find whatever they needed once I was long gone. I really wanted to share what I knew about the cooking and food, and I desired to teach people to cook from scratch using as many fresh, seasonal, ingredients as possible. I wanted to share what I’d learned about the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup and eventually share my extreme love of French Food and my ability to make a wicked good pan sauce. As time passed and I began to educate myself, I started to eliminate certain processed foods from our diets and eventually I stumbled upon the amazing documentary titled Genetic Roulette and things changed dramatically.
I’m saying to use the Real Food Rules you see on my blog and other Real Food blogs as guidelines. Take as many as you can that work for you and your family without changing. Then take the ones that need tweaking to fit your health issues, budget, lifestyle, location and access to certain foods, personal tastes and family’s needs and tweak away baby. Tweak away. Just don’t tweak so much that you’re right back onto the Standard American Diet. That would be SAD… Pun intended. Be sagacious about the rules you need to tweak. And reevaluate the rules every few months and see which ones you no longer need to tweak. In this journey you’ll be growing and changing and won’t desire foods or ingredients that you did 6 months before, so take the time to adjust the deeper you get on your journey.
My main focus is and always will be cooking good food from scratch that is free of GMOs- to me it is more real if it is GMO-Free than if it is something that happens to be processed. I’m Real Food Girl UNMODIFIED. GMOs are modified and I use as many (genetically) unmodified ingredients as possible, I keep it real, I am real, I am on a real journey and I make real mistakes, real progress and lay it all out on the table for you guys in a very vulnerable and honest way. I understand that my definition of real food somewhat flies in the face of the conventionally recognized Real Food definition, but I’ve always skipped merrily to the beat of a different drummer.
From time to time I may use an ingredient that doesn’t line up with your interpretation of the Real Food Rules because many of my readers live a 80/20 Real Food lifestyle. You are not required to like it or agree with it. Just understand that there are over 12,000 people that read this blog, each on a very different place in their journey so my very occasional use of a questionable ingredient to help people feel less like a failure for not being able to follow all the insane food rules to a “T” is something I will continue to do to because I can reach more people by being real and down to earth than I can being a dogmatic real food elitist.
Sources: The link sources for the photos are imbedded- just click on the photo to take you to the original source.
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Love this and I completely agree! I don’t want to feel guilty for the occasional dinner out, or for the packaged granola bars I buy for my kiddos from time to time, etc. We’ve come a long way in our 12 month journey – much farther than I expected! I know I will have a different adherence 12 months from now as we continue our journey- but where we are works for us, our budget and our bodies ARE healthier than 1 year ago! You’re a great mentor through the process and I’ve learned so much about from-scratch meal prep through your blog- keep up the great work!
Real Food Girl
Thank you so much, Tana! I’m glad you are here along with me and TSM on this crazy Real Food journey! 🙂
Daja at The Provision Room
Sharing your post with our FB readers!
Real Food Girl
Thank you, Daja! 🙂
Great post! This really resonates with me. Thank you!
Real Food Girl
You are so welcome! I’m glad that it hit home with you. I had so much to say on this subject that it was just time to put it in black and white.
Thanks for the realistic view on real food! I think the 80/20 lifestyle is a more approachable way of life, at least for me and my family, right now. I enjoy your blog and love checking out your recipes for inspiration!
Real Food Girl
Thank you! It is nice to hear feedback about my posts and the blog. I agree on the 80/20 lifestyle. Some months I hit as high as 95% and others I am down to 80%, typically those weeks/months I feel worse, but it’s what works for you and your family. It shouldn’t be about rules. That’s what diets are for. 😉
Wow this really hit home for me. I struggle to allow myself to buy/eat/make things that may not follow all “the rules” because I fee like I’m doing something wrong. Even some of my friends who are not clean eaters but know I am will say “Are you supposed to eat that” if I have something other than plan grilled chicken and broccoli. I have to let this go and know that even when I’m not perfect, I am still feeding me and my family 100 times better than I was before I began this lifestyle. Thank you for reminding me.
Real Food Girl
I think years of being bombarded with rules from popular main stream diets (whether we were ever on any of them or not) has conditioned us to believe we HAVE to have these unbreakable rules or we’re failures.
Well I say poppycock to that! There is more to life than chicken breasts and broccoli. WAY more! 🙂
Thank you for posting this today, friend. I cried. I really needed to hear it.
I’ve been so extremely sick over the past few weeks, that a few times…I bought soup (organic, but with some “questionable” ingredients), or had a slice of cheese (low-temp pasteurized, instead of raw), to make it through the day and just…make sure I ate. Then I felt guilty.
I get so bound to the should and shouldn’ts that I don’t give myself any grace, and when life inevitably happens and I inevitably have to make some changes or compromises in my “real food” plans, I suffer emotionally as well as physically.
Much love from Texas! I owe you an email soon.
Real Food Girl
I am glad this was a message you needed to hear! <3 I’ll patiently await the email.
I love this 🙂 After I read it I said, “Amen sister!” I think you do a marvelous job on educating and raising awareness while at the same time not being over-bearing. I love that you keep a sense of humor and whit in your posts and hopefully people can read your posts, as I do, without you needing to point out what you did here, and walk away at least feeling informed, enlightened and use what works for them and not feel guilty by “breaking” the “rules.” We are ALL ever learning and personally, the more I read the more I have to strive for or throw out, for that matter if something someone else does doesn’t work for me. I personally love your blog and what is “real” isn’t a one fits all, nor should or could it be. We all have our own “real” and everyone’s real is ever evolving. Your posts say that just fine imo 😉 Keep on keeping on!
Real Food Girl
Thank you so much, Machele! I appreciate this comment, and each time you stop by to share your thoughts. 🙂
It’s amazing how many rude comments I get on my blog from people judging one or two ingredients in a recipe- I don’t have time for that kind of attitude and felt this post was long over due. 🙂