Guest Post: A Real Food Journey

Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by Renae Porter, one of our official January Rulers!  Last year she gave herself a challenge of eating “REAL” food for 100 days. She enjoyed it so much that she’s now into her second 100-day challenge! She writes about her experiences on her blog, 100 Day Challenge – Real Food Journey, and here she offers some thoughts on her own eating rules, my January Rules, and how to put it all together.

– Andrew

Good Food Served Here

I have no scientific proof that the explosion of illness and disease that runs rampant in our society is linked to the foods we eat, but I’m a firm believer that the chemicals and preservatives in our foods have a direct correlation to those diseases that dominate our culture. I hold no degrees in nutrition nor do I have formal medical training. I’m simply someone who has strong opinions and beliefs about the food we put in our bodies and the effect that food can have on our health.

I’ve always been conscious of what I ate but that doesn’t mean I was always aware of what I ate. (If that makes sense). I’ve recently challenged myself to eating REAL food which basically means I am eliminating chemicals, preservatives, growth hormones, and other “science lab experiments” from my food.  As a guideline I’m following three rules, which I’ve borrowed from Michael Pollan:

  1. Eat only food that your great grandmother would recognize as food.
  2. Any store bought food must have five ingredients or less.
  3. If a third grader cannot pronounce an ingredient in a food, don’t eat it.

Rule #1

This rule alone cuts out an enormous amount of food available at the grocery store. My great grandmother would not recognize Honey Nut Cheerios cereal or yogurt with fruit on the bottom. She wouldn’t recognize prepackaged dinners or cereal bars covered in chocolate stripes. Her breakfasts consisted of bacon (from a pig grown in her own back yard), eggs (from chickens strutting around her yard), bread (homemade of course), followed by milk (fresh from the cow in the barn).

Rule #2

This rule doesn’t seem that difficult to follow but it’s been the most eye opening rule of all for me. I’ve always been a label reader but I’ve watched for words like “healthy” or “heart smart” or “low fat” rather than really looking at what is actually in the food. Finding foods with five or less ingredients has been a challenge but there are a lot of foods out there! The more I look, the more I find.

What I’m also finding is how many foods I used to eat that are basically made up of one big science experiment! One that completely shocked me was the ingredient list of a 10 oz. “Supreme Party Pizza.” It contained 96 ingredients. Seriously — 96! We all know what it takes to make a pizza and it sure isn’t 96 ingredients! Of course I couldn’t pronounce most of them but I did notice the “mechanically separated chicken and mechanically separated turkey.” If you aren’t familiar with those terms, it will be an eye opening experience for you when you Google it!

And to think, I used to feed these pizzas to my kids when they were little. To both my daughters: I apologize!!

Rule #3

This one is the easiest rule for me to follow. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s safe to say I don’t know what it is, so I don’t eat it! I’ve also begun researching ingredients that I can technically pronounce but have no idea what they really are and I’ve found several that are quite frightening.

Recently, while shopping for beans to make chili, I was surprised at how many ingredients a simple can of beans has. In my mind, I’m thinking the only ingredient should be “beans,” but that wasn’t the case. One ingredient that caught my attention on so many cans was calcium chloride. It sounded too much like a scientific term to be in a can of beans so I did some research when I got home.  The FDA calls this substance “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). The FDA also reports that the average person ingests between 160 and 345 mg of calcium chloride each day as an additive in food and “shouldn’t” have a negative health effect. Calcium chloride is also used as a deicing agent in road salts! Ok, I don’t know about you but I’m not comfortable eating something that is “generally regarded as safe.” I want to eat something that IS safe.

Another ingredient that was prominent in many of the beans I looked at was calcium disodium. I found that this is “a preservative for color retention” AND “used medically to detoxify poisoning by lead and other heavy metals. It may cause intestinal upsets, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. It’s on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic reproductive effects.”

Wow! All I can say is – wow. I don’t have much trust in our FDA system when it comes to protecting the public from chemicals in our food. Sadly, I think they are much more concerned with politics and money than the health of the American public.

Beyond the Three Rules

On top of the three rules, I do not buy meat in the store because of the chemicals and growth hormones pumped into those animals. I worked at a feedlot for several years and I saw how much medicine and hormones were pumped in to the cattle to keep them healthy and make them grow faster. The faster the cattle gain weight, the sooner they can be sold and the sooner the profit is made. Yes, the cattle are tested when they are shipped to packing plants, but I question the amount of residue left in the meat from these hormones and what effect it has on our bodies. We grow our own beef, eat farm fresh eggs which we purchase from a gentleman nearby, and farm fresh chickens which we also purchase locally.

I’ve also chosen to make all our bread from scratch which we have just loved! The ingredient list on a simple loaf of bread might surprise you! I ate Sarah Lee whole wheat bread with 45 calories and I thought I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing to eat “whole grains” and still watch calories. Once I began my REAL food journey and looked at the ingredient list, I knew I wasn’t on the right track at all. The ingredients are:

Water, stone ground whole wheat flour, wheat gluten, cottonseed fiber, yeast, brown sugar, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate,  dough conditioners-mono and diclycerides, ethoxylated mono and diclycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium peroxide –  honey, wheat bran, wheat protein isolate, sulfiting agents, vinegar, natural flavor, soy lecithin, guar gum, sucralose, cornstarch, L-Cysteine, sorbic acid, calcium propionate.

Obviously there are more than five ingredients in this bread, a third grader couldn’t begin to pronounce many of them, and those that I can pronounce sound like they’ve come from a science laboratory. I can honestly say that I will never purchase another loaf of bread from a store again.

On the Positive Side

I’ve found that eating REAL food isn’t as difficult as I had anticipated it to be. It does require some serious label reading and a little bit of planning, but the rewards are worth it in so many ways! I was a little apprehensive about being limited to what I would be able to eat once I started this, but I’ve found that you can tweak nearly everything by swapping out an ingredient here and there. I’ve also found that you can be very creative with what you find in your cupboards and in your fridge. The other day I wanted to make some chicken soup but I was out of fresh chickens and I’m not about to buy one at the store after researching the amount of chemicals and growth hormones those poor chickens eat, so…. I searched through my fridge and found carrots, onions, corn, green beans, and a potato – cooked it in chicken stock and topped it off with homemade dumplings and it was delicious! I didn’t miss having the meat in there one bit! It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to taste good!

For me, it’s all about investing.  Investing in myself and investing in my health. Shouldn’t that be the most important investment of all?

Where do you begin?

The answer to that will depend on where you are right now. It’s easy for people to be overwhelmed at the idea of change and simply throw up their hands and say, “Just forget it – I’ll never be able to do this anyway.” To that I would say: “B-R-E-A-T-H-E” ?

Start small, start slow, and be patient. Let’s start with Andrew’s January Rules:

  • When you eat grains, eat 100% whole grains.
  • Don’t eat high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  • Don’t eat hydrogenated oil, trans fats, or anything deep-fried.

It’s the perfect place to begin! This can be your personal challenge to test yourself, see what works for you and what doesn’t but most importantly to see how your body reacts to cutting out these things in your life and in your diet.

The First Step is to Read Labels

Food companies are out to make a profit and they use marketing strategies and phrases to mislead the consumer into thinking their products are healthy when in fact many times they are not.

When you hear “whole grain” many people think only of bread, but there are other wonderful foods to add to your diet. Maybe add brown rice to your next meal or add some barely to your next soup for a great new taste and texture.

HFCS is used by the food industry because it’s very cheap and it also works as a preservative; therefore it’s the perfect match for their profit margins. From a business standpoint it’s a smart move but as a consumer we need to take responsibility of who we give our money to. It’s not impossible to find food and drink without HFCS, but it is a challenge. Look at the ingredient labels carefully.

Like it or not, things that are deep fried aren’t the best choices for you. They tend to be higher in fat and calories compared to those same foods prepared in other ways such as baking or grilling. I honestly think foods that are baked or grilled taste better! You actually taste the food and not the oil it was fried in.

Put Yourself First

So here you are, ready to take that first leap of faith. Make yourself and your health a priority and decide what you want to do differently. Put yourself first – everything else will be better once you do. Good luck, my friends.

Remember, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”   – John Bingham

Photo by Alicia Griffin.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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Rita Iannone
November 9, 2013 9:09 am

You have given me the inspiration I need to get going once again on the path to good healthy eating. I have struggled my whole life with food, yoyo dieting, every fad diet out there and a feeling of defeat when it comes to eating well. I will try your rules and treat myself with love when it comes to what I put inside my body.

January 15, 2011 9:28 am

Jean – I agree! When we make our homemade ‘treats’ we know what’s going into them. It’s safe to say we won’t be grabbing any of those additives, chemicals and preservatives we can’t pronounce from our cupboards! 🙂 You have been very fortunate to have been raised by a mother that took pride in how she ate and how she fed her family! It sounds like she was a pioneer in food and FAR ahead of her time! By being raised in that manner, I’m sure it’s been much easier for you than for those people who have always eaten the ‘normal’ Western diet and are now trying to learn about what REAL food actually is. The entire food industry is a subject that I simply step back from and ask the same question “How did we let it get to this point?” It’s going to take everyone doing their… Read more »

January 15, 2011 8:23 am

Andrew and Renae, I totally agree with this excellent post! Sustainable, local, organic and ethical are my watchwords. While I eat mostly whole grains, I do enjoy some white flour-white sugar treats occasionally–ONLY if they are homemade, organic, chemical-free. While I’ve had no objections to my whole wheat pie crust in a quiche, I’ve yet to have anyone truly appreciate it in a dessert pie. So I use organic unbleached flour for my dessert pie crusts, or else I’d have to eat the whole pie myself! I was blessed with a mother who got interested in natural foods in the 1940s, waaayyy before it became fashionable, so I had a head start on avoiding hydrogenated oils, bad fats, chemical additives, etc. I don’t understand how consumers have allowed things to get to the point where a commercial pizza has nearly 100 ingredients! I’m glad more people are finally speaking up.

January 14, 2011 4:12 am

Since my food enlightenment, after watching Food, Inc. in early 2010, I have been on/in information overload. Overwhelmed – I am! The grocery store makes me hyperventilate. Thank you for the reminder to B-R-E-A-T-H. My family’s eating habits have changed tremendously (only because I am the cook). I am still working on the communicating and convincing part. My 12 year old is the most difficult – she is old enough to understand, yet thinks I have put her in food hell. Love the John Bingham inspiration…have to go write that down!

Reply to  KathieW
January 14, 2011 7:46 pm

Kathie~ Starting small and keeping things simple can keep you from feeling so overwhelmed. As far as the grocery shopping goes, if I don’t have a list I find myself rambling aimlessly and then not getting the most important things I needed! So I can relate to hyperventilating at the store! 🙂 I think it’s great that you’re involving your family; afterall, they are the most important people in your life! Small changes will become bigger ones eventually. Keep up the good work!

John KEogh
January 12, 2011 8:34 pm

I agree whole-heartedly with your belief about the effects that food can have on our bodies. We are what we eat, after all. You’re correct to say that correlation doesn’t prove causation when it comes to food additives and disease, but it’s awfully compelling. I’ve spent the last few years working for a non-profit breast cancer support organization. We all know cancer rates are rising. But the rate of increase for most cancers is staying fairly even with increases in total population. Per capita, they’re fairly stable. However, there are some cancers that are increasing at rates that significantly outstrip the rise in population – and they’re all hormonal cancers (breast, uterine, cervical, ovarian, prostate, testicular, etc.) When we trace the history of these cancers in this country, we notice that they begin their exponential rate increase just after the food industry started introducing synthetic hormones into our food supply… Read more »

Reply to  John KEogh
January 13, 2011 3:14 am

I agree with you 100%! It’s not just a coincidence that the explosion of cancer and other diseases began when our food source was inundated with additives, preservatives, and chemcals. Cancer has become so ‘common place’ now and that is very sad. We as consumers should be doing all we can to be voicing our concerns over the food we are eating and the ingredients in them! And I agree with you – it may not “prove” anything, but I’m going with my gut feeling that there is a direct connection. Thanks so much for your comments!

January 12, 2011 7:01 pm

Wonderful post, Renae!

We have a lot of the same principles, and I’d say the hardest thing for me in the beginning was convincing my husband of why he also needed to change his habits. But, with time, he has changed his opinions 360 degrees from when we started our real food journey about a year ago, so much so that he pays attention to labels, asks for fresh bread, and has completely stopped his 3X/week cheeseburgers and chicken nuggest habit. (The mechanical separation thing was a huge help there…)

I make our bread twice a week, base meals around fresh veggies now, we hardly eat out, and the 5 ingredient rule is our guiding principle on the few packaged items we buy. Our food life is so much simpler now, which is kind of the opposite of what most people would think!

I look forward to reading your blog!

Reply to  Angela
January 13, 2011 3:08 am

I’m so glad to hear that your journey is successful! My husband has become a label reader as well. Once in a while he’ll come home with something new and be so proud of himself for choosing something with “the right ingredients”. It makes me smile knowing he’s more aware of what he’s eating as well.