10 Tips for Eating More Real Food

Basket of fresh red apples with leaves, wheat, outdoors in sunshine.

When we focus on the fact that we eat to nourish our bodies, we find we can simplify our nutrition philosophy to one simple concept: Eat real food. Whole foods are more nutrient dense and protective than their processed counterparts. Plus, they lack the added sugar, salt, additives, preservatives and more that we find in most processed foods. Moving away from processed foods and toward a whole-foods diet is one of the most meaningful lifestyle changes you can make. Here are 10 tips to help you make the switch.

    Switch the statistics. The average American consumes far more processed food than fresh. Commit to reversing this. Create meals and snacks that are fresh first and only use processed foods to supplement the diet. Stock up on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats, poultry and fish as well as nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and unrefined, healthy fats. Keep costs down by limiting the animal proteins on your plate and buying in-season produce or their frozen counterparts.

    Set goals. Give yourself a guideline for including more whole food. Set achievable goals like having a fruit and vegetable at every meal. The good news is that you'll be focused on the foods you're trying to include, which will naturally crowd out some of the junk.

    Sensibly sip. It's no secret that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to obesity and health problems. Plus, they're often laden with chemicals and artificial colors as well. Do yourself a favor and stick with the basics. Drink more water – set a daily water goal for added motivation.

    Plan ahead. This straightforward concept is imperative. Maybe your first step is planning the time to head to the grocery store on a weekly basis. It could be putting together a whole foods-based shopping list. You may even choose recipes and plan out a menu of meals and snacks for the week. Wherever you are in the process, know that planning is a very important first step.

    Shop smarter. Eating more whole foods doesn't mean you have to abandon packaged foods all together. If a food is packaged, make sure you read the ingredient list. Choose foods that use the same ingredients you would use at home, period, and the fewer the ingredients the better. Another great tip is to avoid foods that have ingredients listed that you cannot purchase in the grocery store. This is a great way to weed out non-food ingredients, chemicals, preservatives and highly-processed foods.

    Avoid added sugars. Refined sugars have made their way into most processed foods, including breads, cereals, salad dressings, nut butters and more. It’s hard to find a packaged food that doesn’t contain sugar. What’s the best way to find out if a food has added sugars? Read the ingredient list.

    Start swapping. Challenge yourself to remove a few processed foods from your grocery cart each week, or at least make healthy upgrades in your processed food choices. You could choose a nut butter that lists nuts as the sole ingredient instead of one with added sugars and hydrogenated fats. Maybe you swap your fruited yogurt for plain, or canned beans for dried? You could ditch your tortilla chips and stock up of vegetables for dipping. Once you get motivated you can even start making DIY versions of your favorite packaging products, such as salad dressings, bread, sauces and nut butters. You may find it's easier than you think.

    Eat dinner foods for lunch. Many modern lunch foods, such as wraps, soups and sandwiches, are convenient yet highly processed. Why not enjoy dinner foods for lunch as well? Whole foods such as chicken and fish can be paired with vegetables and whole grains or beans for a satisfying lunch, whether it's a hot meal or cold, salad-like preparation. When you eat dinner foods for lunch, you tend to eat more vegetables as well.

    Purchase a small cooler. Packing fresh, whole foods is easy if you have a small, on-the-go cooler and a reusable ice pack. When you have whole foods-based snacks and meals planned and packed, you'll be less likely to grab junk food in a ravenous moment. Make it easy on yourself and pack your cooler the night before so you only have to grab it on your way out of the house in the morning.
    Cook. Getting to know your kitchen is essential if you plan to ditch processed foods. Relax, you don’t have to cook every meal, but learning a few simple recipes will allow you to avoid the need for last minute take-out or that microwave dinner. You may find it's advantageous to cook-ahead as well. Pre-cook oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs – they make for simple, breakfast options any day. Instead of lunch meat, roast a turkey breast for use throughout the week. Cook a batch of a grain or bean you can incorporate into meals. A whole foods-based meal is as simple as a salad with colorful vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.