The Real Food Diet: Introduction

I’ve been hinting at my new approach to eating for weeks now, but as with all serious posts it has taken me awhile to get there because I only have so much time in a week to sit down and type out these high-quality posts.* I wanted to introduce you to my midwife, and my insecurities about my weight, and a host of other things first, but I’ve dragged this out long enough and it’s time to stop teasing those who are curious and tell you all about my new lifestyle.

I was introduced to Nina Planck and her very unique views concerning nutrition (by todays American standards) through an article publish by FitPregnancy magazine (thanks to Kelli Nicole for that treat in my mailbox each month!). The magazine cover announced the header with the usual gimmicky headlines “EAT REAL FOOD: The very best prenatal diet”, but the article title that stated “Simple, fresh, unprocessed foods are your best choices during prenancy. A new book explains it all” made it sound a little bit less like a fad, and a lot more like something I would be interested in.

Although I think raw and vegan diets can certainly be a great choice for some, they’ve never appealed to me as I’m a lover of dairy and the calcium it provides. Milk and meat are my favorite parts of my diet and I have no interest in cutting them out anytime soon, especially during pregnancy, a time when iron and calcium are vital for a developing baby. I grew up in a family of dieters, and the one thing I’ve held firm to is that saturated fat is bad, bad, bad. Meat and milk were always present in our house, but our choices were always the leanest meats and dairy products. I drank whole milk (unpasteurized, delicious!) and ate butter on my toast at my grandma’s dairy as an indulgence, but generally my dairy intake consisted of fat free milk/yogurt/sour cream, throwing away the yolks and only keeping the whites, limiting my cheese intake to the least amount possible, and other typical American practices when it comes to dairy. My dietary focuses were low -fat, high amounts of lean protein, and as many whole grains as possible, although I spent most of my energy focusing on fats and protein so carbohydrates and vegetables often took a backseat. Nina took all of that and turned it right on its head, and I love the changes I’ve made and the new way I’m approaching my diet.

Nina defines real food as old and traditional. Meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, berries, potatoes, leaves, lentils, chickpeas, honey, sea salt and all other old foods should be emphasized in one’s diet. Dishes and recipes made with real food like mayonnaise, sausage, dark chocolate, whole grain bread, coffee, tea, wine and beer.

The antithesis of real food is industrialized food, ingredients and recipes introduced into our diet within the last few hundred years. Nina cites white sugar (1600′s), margarine made from vegetable oil (1900s), and corn syrup (1970s). She believes that real food is whole and fresh, while industrial food gives us spray-dried skim milk, powder and pasteurized egg whites, and cattle fed on grain instead of grass. Soybean juice flavored with brown rice syrup and vanilla, vegetable oil mixed with orange dye and other additives and labeled as cheese, corn oil pumped full of hydrogen atoms to keep it solid and sold as the replacement for butter. High-protein bars, low-carb bread, low-fat diary products like cheese, those are all industrial.

The easiest way to know if an ingredient is real or industrialized? Use the great-grandparents test. Did your great-grandparents have access to this ingredient? Did their parents? And their parents before them? If you can answer yes each time, then you’ve found a real food. Marshmallows, jello, yellow oils, hydrogenated oils. Those are new, and thus, industrial.

Sounds pretty easy to accept, right? Not so much. In a society where saturated fat is the ultimate devil, it can be hard to embrace the idea that modern science may not be keeping us alive any longer with the crusade against traditional fats. That Husband is still having a tough time with this, but I think the research that the Weston A. Price Foundation in defense of traditional foods is thought provoking. Read more about their viewpoint on fat here.

From Real Food For Mother and Baby:

Some real foods, such as red meat and butter, have been blamed for modern diseases, especially heart disease. More precisely, experts said that too much fat, and saturated fat in particular, was killing us. On close inspection, this theory, known as the lipid hypothesis, has some notable weaknesses. One problem is timing. We’ve been eating pork and butter for milennia, but heart disease is a modern problem. The first heart attack was diagnosed in 1912. Epidemiological evidence also contradicts the assertion that traditional foods cause chronic metabolic condition. People who (still) eat traditional diets, diets rich in real food–saturated coconut oil, whole milk, and red meat–don’t get fat. They don’t get diabetes and heart disease, either–that is, not until they switch to industrial foods, like white flour and corn oil.

We’ve got sat fat equals bad pretty deeply ingrained in our psyche, so it’s a pretty huge change to make in regards to one’s approach to nutrition. My next few posts will be on foods I’m working on eliminating, introducing (or reintroducing), and the different ingredients/nutrients I’m focusing on.

Anyone else heard of the diet the Real Food Diet? Following it like I am?

*I use the term high-quality loosely, as it seem a bit presumptuous to assume my own writing is high quality. :)

68 thoughts on “The Real Food Diet: Introduction

  1. Hi Jenna! This is my first time commenting and I feel privileged to be the first commentor on this post! Woo!
    Anyway, I have a friend who follows something similar and she uses a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions. It can be a little extreme, but all of the recipes focus on using good fats, good grains, etc. You should check it out!

  2. Does she look at lifespan from the past and in the present as part of her analysis? I’m very interested in that.
    It’s important to remember that while industrial foods are modern, so is medicine and our ability to diagnose problems.
    I’m a fan of eating whole/real foods and try to do it (although it’s really hard!) and I try to make meals out of natural things (meaning occurring in nature, not organic necessarily), and I have started to shift to naturally lower fat cheeses like goat cheese, but when I make a really cheesy pasta dish, I use low fat cheese because I find eating too much fat is hard on my stomach when I go running.

    Does it talk about quantity of food? Is it an “everything in moderation” approach? This interests me about diets today – a lot of them talk about moderation, but they don’t talk about adjusting our bodies to moderation enough.

  3. Yes, yes, YES! I never realized that there was a real term for this kind of eating, but it’s something that I’ve believed in and have been working towards for awhile now. We live in a very small Midwestern town so raw foods (milk, honey, etc.) is hard to come by in the small grocery stores, but I do what I can. I very rarely buy any kind of food that is processed much more than it would have been 100 years ago, with the exception of frozen veggies (when you don’t have access to fresh, frozen is always better than canned, nutrients-wise). Of course, most of our dairy products are much more processed (pasteurization, homogenization, etc.) than it was, but like I said, I do what I can.
    When we have our own place in the country, we plan to have our own milk cow, steers for beef, and chickens. My husband and I have both worked on dairy farms and know how to take care of farm animals, so it’s not a totally naive plan. I can’t wait until we can have our own raw milk, fertilized eggs, and mostly-grass-fed beef (we’ll supplement with a little grain just because it makes the meat quality better- they did this 100 years ago too)!
    Go you as you discover REAL food!

  4. Glad that you’re looking into this. My shorthand rule is that raw fat=good, processed, heated, whatever fat=bad. Raw coconut oil is great, but the pasteurized butter from the store isn’t something I imagine is actually helping my body.

    While I think that the Weston Price people go off the deep end in a big way in some places (the science is just bad when they talk about things like canola oil!) I do agree that skim milk is not better for you (especially in terms of fertility!) than whole milk. Have you considered using unpasteurized dairy? That would seem consistent with the great-grandparent test and actually much healthier, from everything I’ve read.

    While I think that some of the underlying assumptions are wrong (how much calcium from that cows milk is actually getting to your baby in a usable form?) I am thrilled that you’re reconsidering your diet and cutting out processed food. Such a good step! Just don’t let them scare you away from the flax!

  5. When my family they lived in LA before I was born they had access to raw milk and they always ate real food, whole grains, etc. While we didn’t have access to very healthy foods growing up in the south I always ate generally real foods, though they were probably the least healthy of the genre (people in the south just didn’t seem to get it and there were few options in our tiny mountain town). I have ALWAYS used butter and things like that and absolutely cannot stomach the taste of margarine. I’ve always believed that low-fat things are bad unless they’re naturally occurring that way :) and I’ve always eaten the whole egg! When I don’t travel as much and am really able to eat super healthy (tons of eggs and spinach and nuts by the way) I always feel better and lose weight. I’ve never been a fan of milk, so I don’t drink it, but there are other things I like, such as kefir. I don’t think I knew you found Real Food through the magazine, that’s great! I’m so glad you’ve found something you love :).

  6. Oh, have you heard of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? I haven’t read it, but I think it’s about a family that eats only locally produced, seasonal food for a year (unless that’s a different book…). You might want to look into it. I hear it’s interesting!

  7. I agree that eating natural foods is likely better for you in the long run. have you red the omnivores dilemma?

    However, I do somewhat disagree with the part you quoted.

    ” We’ve been eating pork and butter for milennia, but heart disease is a modern problem. The first heart attack was diagnosed in 1912.”

    I don’t think its only ‘industrialized foods’ that contributed to heart disease, industrialized foods is also tied to the industrial revolution, which changed our way of living, as well as eating.

    Eating a high fat diet is fine if your working manual labor all day long. Along with the shift to industrialized foods, we were also doing much less physically. I do not agree with the assertation that white flower, sugar and other industrialized foods have a greater effect on heart disease than a sedintary lifestyles currently seen in society.

    Moderation is key. Eat these foods in moderation, while exercising moderately.

    Starry-Eyed Barefoot Bride Reply:

    The other issue with that quote is that 1912 was the first time a heart attack was diagnosed…. not the first time it happened.

  8. Yes! My dad (a doctor) has always taken this approach to our family’s diet (and his patients’) and it’s something I’ve retained into adulthood because it’s healthy, natural, and it makes me feel SO good. When I eat a lot of processed foods, I feel sluggish and slow. The great-grandparents’ test is a good one, but I tend to just try to get as close to the way God made things as possible.

  9. I think less processed food is generally better, however, the Mediterranean diet seems more healthful (fish, nuts, olive oil) than tons of beef, butter, etc. I agree with posters above about life expectancy, activity level, etc. We also have to take into account portion size — I think today we are likely to choose larger portions with less physical activity than our ancestors.

    Re: raw milk — people rave about it, but be careful, especially for pregnant moms and young kids. e.coli is real and it ain’t pretty.

    TJ Reply:

    I definitely agree with the caution regarding “raw milk.” I wholeheartedly agree with staying away from processed foods, but I don’t regard pasteurization as a processing of food. It’s a food safety measure that has saved thousands of lives. We don’t refuse penicillin because our great-grandparents didn’t have it. And our great-grandparents didn’t have refrigerators, but I’ll store my food in one anyway. Let’s not go Luddite crazy-style.

  10. My husband and I have started being more conscious of this. We recently read some resources such as Food Inc and Fast Food Nation and realized that not only was our current diet bad for our bodies, but bad for the environment in which we live. I have to admit, we grabbed some Taco Bell the other night when dinner was an epic fail, but for the most part we try to stick to our guns by shopping at the farmer’s market (season ending!!) and Whole Foods and not buying “convenience” food. So far it’s worked out great.

  11. I am a “real food” enthusiast, but I have to disagree with this statement, “One problem is timing. We’ve been eating pork and butter for milennia, but heart disease is a modern problem. The first heart attack was diagnosed in 1912.” Yes, people have been eating pork and butter and full fat dairy and red meat for much longer than heart disease has been a problem. However, the American diet is now “super sized.” My husband would laugh if I put a 4 oz steak on his plate because he is used to eating 10-16 oz steaks. Our grand parents and great grand parents ate smaller portions, and in many many cases, had occupations that required much more physical activity than we do today. I sit at a computer all day, and I have to make time to exercise or else I wouldn’t. In order to combat that, I try to eat leaner foods in order to not have heart disease at an early age.

    I would suggest reading Michael Pollen’s books “The Omnivores Dilema” and “In Defense of Food.” One of my favorite quotes is, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    Woman with a Whisk Reply:

    Definitely agree with the Michael Pollan recommendation. He’s done extensive research on the subject, and his books aren’t written to be the next big diet craze, but more to showcase some of the faults with the industrialized food industry (for me, it’s a modern version of The Jungle). It seems like it covers similar concepts to the Nina Planck book, but might be more appealing to TH, as it comes from more of a research-based angle.

    Also, TJ (below), Pollan does mention that these days, you probably have to go back a number of generations for that rule to still stand.

    Brigid Reply:

    I was coming here to recommend Michael Pollan, too. In addition to your comment about servings of saturated fat being supersized, modern Americans eat meat far more often than in the past. Meat used to be a very expensive treat, and now people it at nearly every meal. Also, the vast majority of meat is produced on factory farms, which are far from ideal conditions. (Corn-fed beef is a big part of the rise in E. Coli infections, for one.) I agree with Michael Pollan: meat isn’t inherently unhealthy, but eating lots of it at every meal is not good for anyone. I say this as a non-meat eater, for what it’s worth.

    christiana (us meets uk) Reply:

    My husband and I visited polyface farm (mentioned int he book) and let me tell you – what they say about the eggs? so true – they’re amazing! We haven’t tried the meat other than the bacon we purchased, but we will soon.

    I haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years and I’m coming around to the idea of consuming it slowly. My husband and I both agree we only feel comfortable eating meat that we know where it came from. We’re also planning on joining a CSA and a friend of ours has several chickens for us to get the excess eggs from.

    I’m glad more of us are starting to look at the “big picture” our diets impose. :) I like to rock the 80/20 rule. 80% should be real, non processed foods and the other 20% I let slide.

  12. I agree generally with a lot of what you said, but FYI, marshmallows and jello have been around for a LONG time. They haven’t been produced industrially, obviously, and I’m sure it introduces corn syrup or other mass-production model ingredients, but both would easily be recognized by your great-grandparents (especially the jello–gelatin desserts go WAY, WAY back).

    Evelyn Reply:

    One of the stipulations of the great-grandparent rule is that it should be in a form they would recognize too. Jello and marshmallows found at the grocery store today may look similar but they are profoundly different from the versions previously made at home… simply because of manufacturing and ingredients. Yogurt is a good example of this too, our g.gparents may have had yogurt but they probably wouldn’t recognize go-gurt, for instance, in all its processed, artificial ingredient goodness. =D Bread is another one too… but really, the list can go on and on. One of the other stipulations that Polland gives regarding the g.gparent rule & “processed” food rule is that the ingredient list should be roughly 5 items or less, all of which you know by name (ie, no crazy chemicals!). I would guess that some of these principles are encouraged in Real Food too.

    TJ Reply:

    Yeah, fair enough. I think I read “Jello” as the “Xerox”-type “brand name has come to mean the concept, rather than the brand.” So you are right that Jello (big J) is probably full of chemicals, but jello (little j) meaning any gelatinized dessert may or may not (Trader Joe’s, for example, has jello-like fruit pectin cups that as far as I remember look A-OK).

    Jenna Reply:

    “gelatinous fish” (as I call it, I’m not sure what they do) is actually a traditional dish in Poland they eat at Christmas, I assume it’s been around there much earlier than industrialization has. I think in regards to things like jello and marshmallows it’s important to note that industrialization made ingredients/items/recipes available to us that were never part of a regular diet before. So even if our ancestors had the ability to make marshmallows and gelatinous dishes, how often did they really do it? I think the Real Food movement focuses on everyday consumption, not necessarily special occasions when native cultures may go out of their way to make uncommon dishes that we as Americans have turned into easily accessible processed foods.

    TJ Reply:

    Those are all fair points–I think I have jello (little j!) on the mind because I read about a big Victorian-replica dinner with a ton of ridiculous gelatinized desserts. I actually think gelatin-based foods were quite common–I’ve read a lot of food writing, including sort of food history, and things like aspics (meat jello..::shudder::) and fruit jello desserts were pretty common. But it was undoubtedly quite different than the Jello you get in a box at the supermarket, and you’re quite right about marshmallows.

    Sarah Reply:

    I try to do some of both things you are talking about… My version combines 80-20 and the 5 ingredients. If I’m buying something pre-packaged and I actually recognize the first 5 ingredients (and not like, yeah I recognize HFCS)… I mean the first 5 ingredients are “real” then I figure it’s at least 80% ok, and I don’t worry any more about it.

  13. Michael Pollan has two books regarding this very thing- In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In particular the former uses the grandparent’s rule, and it includes lots of interesting historical data and information about nutrition. I read it in about a day, it was fascinating and really informative.

  14. I completely believe in eating real foods. Did you know that they did a study with mice and gave the mice the real food and then gave the mice the same food made out of chemicals but the same calories, and the mice gained more weight on the chemicals.

    I never check calories, I feel like if it is real and the portion is okay it’s okay to eat. I try not to eat meat and dairy, but that’s extreme and I know it doesn’t work for some people but I love it, on the other hand, I could never do a raw food diet….I would go crazy!

  15. This, again, sounds a lot like the diet my chiropractor put me on. For me it was kind of hard to start since I wasn’t big on Veggies and neither is my husband. However, once I really started to find recipes that worked to go along with it, everything went soooooo much better. Mostly, I did a lot of Kabobs. I’m still sort of searching for other ways to incorporate Real Foods. Any cookbook suggestions?

    Hannah Reply:

    My standard cookbook recommendation is Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” It has hundreds of recipes as well as a lot of basic cooking techniques. I like it because he organizes the book mostly around basic recipes and variations on them, and is very encouraging of experimentation in your cooking. He has lots of great recipes for vegetables. He’s also one of the big proponents of eating real food (he recently published a book on it, “Food Matters”) and pretty much all the recipes are what I would consider “real food” (although some of the desserts use white sugar and things like that).

    TJ Reply:

    I second, with a plug for “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.”

    Jenna Reply:

    My dinner last night was made from “How To Cook Everything”. And I also subscribe to several different food blogs and just pick and choose recipes that look like they work with my mentalities.

    Jenny Reply:

    Thanks guys!

  16. I’ve recently been trying to get on the real food bandwagon. I’ve never picked up any book discussing it, I just heard people talking about avoiding high fructose corn syrup (which is the main thing I try to pay attention to) and other things, it made sense, and I’ve slowly but surely been transitioning. It helps that my husband was raised on more natural foods and generally prefers them. It’s just taken me a while to let go of my processed loves.

    It’s funny, this last summer (largely inspired by you) I was trying to loose my 1L/newlywed weight by counting calories. I still ate a decent amount of processed crap, maybe even more than I had before, but most days it was at or below 1,200 calories a day. I barely lost a pound. When the school year started up again I decided that calorie counting added more stress than I needed. I still wanted to generally be healthier, even if I couldn’t be skinny, so I started trying to eat more natural things – plus they taste way better. Since then I’ve lost about 10 pounds and feel so much better. Needless to say, I’m a fan of the more natural foods. Like others, I’m skeptical of some of this woman’s statistics – especially that heart attack one – but I can’t argue with the basic results.

    Now if only I could figure out a way to make eating like this less expensive. I’m optimistic that as more people start to eat like this, there will be more provided at lower prices, but until then I’m watching Whole Foods eat up a huge chunk of the budget.

    Penny Reply:

    For me, I’ve found that the best deals are at produce markets (those mom and pop type deals.) Most areas that are at least above rural size have some sort of local market, where I have always found the best deals. For instance, at my local grocery, I can buy a large(!) bag of fresh basil for $1.98

    Evelyn Reply:

    If you live in an area with international grocery stores/markets you should check those out too. I have found the produce there to be just as good (maybe even better) than the stuff at a standard grocery and TONS cheaper (but it’s rarely local, if that’s important to you). We leave weighed down with produce (at least 15 lbs of a large variety of things) and spend only $10-20. I love it! (When you can find good deals on herbs you know you have a good place, they have bunches of cilantro, parsley, etc for .69-.99!!)

    Hannah Reply:

    Is there a Trader Joe’s near you? It’s way cheaper than Whole Foods. It’s not the best place for produce, although you can get some there, but they have good grains, meats, and cheeses. And it’s a great place for snack food, because they have dried fruit, crackers, and other snacks that always seem healthier to me than what you can get from the big companies. I’ve found it’s a good place for prepared food, too, if you don’t have time to cook, because they tend to be more careful about the ingredients in their processed stuff.

    Sophia Reply:

    I second the Trader Joe’s recommendation, but I have to say I’m always confused when people talk about how expensive it is to eat healthy. Perhaps it’s because I’m a vegetarian, and probably also that I make a lot of things from scratch, but even here in the middle of Dallas my grocery cart is loaded with fresh, often organic fruits and vegetable, and all the ingredients to make about three to four homecooked from scratch meals, plus breakfasts and snacks and lunches and such, and I often only spend about $25-$40 a week for myself and my partner, plus I’m usually pawning off excess food to my two roommates and taking leftovers to work. I don’t know if I’m just buying something different or what, but I find it much cheaper to buy produce on weekly sales than it is to buy food the way a lot of my friends do. But I also don’t drink anything but water, if I eat sweets I make it at home from scratch, and now that I think about it I lean towards vegan, and organic dried beans are way cheaper than the organic humane dairy/meat, so yeah, that might be where the difference comes in.

  17. I have largely removed processed foods from my diet. What a difference! I have so much more energy, and I just FEEL better. My workouts feel good, and now on the occasions when I DO eat something processed, I feel sick – my body doesn’t like them anymore. I don’t make my diet complicated though. It’s easy to get obsessed with the food you eat. Healthy living is really common sense – I think sometimes people like to spend lots of time obsessing about it instead of just doing it. It’s moderation… work out regularly, eat a well-balanced diet with un powderized, chemicalized foods. Don’t eat high-fat all of the time – get whole grains and leafy veggies and yummy fruits in there. Really, I think we all know how to live healthfully, it’s just a matter of doing it.

  18. I’ve totally heard of the, “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize” rule. I am totally going to check out this book because I suspect I’m going to love it. Thanks Jenna!

  19. Before I begin this comment, I should note that I did not read The Omnivores Dilema. I didn’t need to because my husband and best friend read it and they talked about it – constantly! Corn is bad was the take home message :)
    We’ve made an effort to eat grass-fed beef, properly free range chickens and eggs, and to purchase locally grown products. It helps that we are in a CSA and live in Souther California – we pick up a giant bin of produce from a farm every Thursday. BUT – we are big fans of everything in moderation. It is impossible (for us at least) to eat perfect 100% of the time – thus that is not our goal. Converting our eating habits (and cooking and shopping habits) is a gradual process. We are getting there, slowly but surely.

  20. I’m with Becky in agreeing with the “In Defense of Food” recommendation.

    I do have reservations about this statement “[D]airy and the calcium it provides. Milk and meat are my favorite parts of my diet and I have no interest in cutting them out anytime soon, especially during pregnancy, a time when iron and calcium are vital for a developing baby.” — Iron and calcium can be derived from other “real” foods, including dark leafy greens, legumes and nuts.

    I am definitely an advocate of food. I tend not to define it in terms of “good”, “bad”, unhealthy or not… but rather in terms of where it came from and how it was made. What Pollan notes is that we spend far too much time focusing on macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrate) and not on the quality of the food itself. In other words, any food that has health proclamations splattered across its packaging is probably something you should avoid. I think packaging, in general, is an environmental albatross… it’s amazing how much is spent to contain, plaster, and preserve consumables when the packaging itself will likely be around for many many years to come. Anyway…

    “Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it”.

    Real food is a real effort – I think it’s great that you’re taking these steps!

    Sarah Reply:

    So true, it IS real effort. We all must learn to cook! I cannot convince my husband to eat anything, no matter how Real, if it doesn’t taste good… and then we’ll end up at Taco Bell.

    My favorite for recipes that look like your g-gma made them is America’s Test Kitchen, a.k.a. Cook’s Country. All real food, not a stick of margarine in site! They’ve been helping me learn more about technique, rather than just recipes which helps me overall to cook yummy real foods. :)

    Sophia Reply:

    Charmaine, I too had the same reservations, probably because I’m vegetarian leaning to vegan. Thank you for pointing that out. Have you read The China Study? It’s another good read on diet.

  21. Thanks so much for this recommendation! I’ve been casually trying to eat less processed food, but I need a good kick start for a change in eating. I’ll definitely be checking out this and the Pollan books, which have been sitting on my to-be-read list for far too long. Let us know how it goes!

  22. I heart butter. Any book that says it’s OK, sounds awesome to me. Just kidding. (Repeating to self: moderation, moderation, moderation.) Thanks for sharing this information. My husband and I are working on getting rid of the processed stuff in our lives. We eat mostly whole grains but we do love takeout pizza. I like the great-grandma rule, too. One of my friends used that rule in convincing me not to register for nonstick pans. We are now a cast-iron family.

    Evelyn Reply:

    I agree! Butter is great! =) Read Julia Child’s My Life In France, and it’ll make you love it even more! =D

  23. This was the first book that my husband picked out and read once we found out we were expecting (early March). We do our best to eat “real foods” the majority of the time and I think it’s had a tremendous impact on my pregnancy and lifestyle. I, too, recommend Michael Pollan. Also, I really believe that living and eating more simply, even amidst our busy Chicago neighborhood, greatly contributes to our general health and well-being. It seems so basic and common-sense, but it’s easy to lose sight of as well. Glad we’re not the only ones with this “diet!”

  24. Since I cook all my meals from scratch, I avoid almost everything processed. But the one thing I cannot give up is nonfat milk. I can’t stand the taste/texture of whole milk… it feels like I am choking because it is so thick! But I absolutely believe in eating real, authentic foods for everything else… why would you ever choose a bowl of processed cereal for breakfast when you can make a bowl of steel-cut oats and stir in some bananas or pumpkin?

    Rebecca Walters Reply:

    I think organic whole milk is WAY better than non-organic whole milk. It makes a huge difference with the whole. lowfat/nonfat milk I just drink the non-organic kind.

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    Mm, I love steel cut oats!! I HATE rolled oats (so slimy and mushy). I love putting nuts, berries, and honey in mine :).

    Jenna Reply:

    Raw whole milk from my grandmother’s dairy tastes infinitely better than the stuff I buy at the store. But since TH doesn’t want to move back home anytime soon, grandma’s milk isn’t an option right now. :)

  25. I am really excited to read this book. I read Animal Vegetable Miracle over a year ago and **LOVED** it. I had been meaning to get to Polland’s books after that, but ended up reading In Defense of Food with my book club recently. It is also really good and informative. I took an intro to nutrition class when I was just barely pregnant with Addie and many of the things that were covered in these books were actually taught by our teacher, who must be a little ahead of the curve due to her hands-on-experience with diet as a nutritionist helping patients with diet-induced health problems (like heart disease, diabetes, etc.). [ there's a run-on sentence if ever I saw one!]

    I concur with previous comments… you need to read these books too! AVM was super fast reading because it’s a re-telling of their experience, and IDoF is pretty quick reading too (though some think it reads like a textbook and thus needs time to “digest” mentally).

    One of the benefits of changing your diet to real foods is that those are the types of foods available internationally! We don’t eat much processed food and living abroad was great for improving that habit because the foods that are most accessible and most easily identifiable are the fruits, vegetables, milk & dairy products & meats. You practically always know what you’re getting when you buy those, but when you stray to boxed or packaged things it’s an adventure (and not always a pleasant one!!) =D

  26. I briefly worked at a regimen like this for a while, and gave it up as misery, but I hope you have better luck!

    That said, the best vegan recipes I found, by FAR, were from a book called “Skinny B!*ch in the Kitch”. Tacky title, good recipes. I had to skip through the first two books in her series, because I felt like I was being preached at. I, personally, think God put animals here for us to eat them, so while I’m totally against cruelty to animals, I also feel no remorse when enjoying a good steak. :)

    Anyway, long story short, check out some of the Skinny B!*ch recipes. I think they’ll fit nicely into your new way of noshing!

  27. Yes. I’m crazy about this idea. I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma this summer and my ideas about food have changed DRAMATICALLY! (Now, I haven’t implemented all of those ideas yet… it’s SO hard, especially when your SO lives on things that are boxed or super-sweet!) This is a great post, and something that more people need to be aware of.

  28. Also have read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and liked it. If you ever convince TH of your views, let me know, because I’m having a hard time with my own fiance–especially when he decides to dig into research and try out point out any little “inconsistency” just for fun…

  29. It sounds like how my paternal grandparents have eaten their whole lives and they are SO healthy! My gpa just celebrated his 95th bday. They always have taken great care to select the best and most delicious foods. One time my gpa took us out for lunch (all the cousins when my gma wasn’t up for cooking…her meals were WAY better than any restaurant…the ultimate gourmet natural meals! I always leave a meal at their home feeling so healthy and satisfied and WONDERFUL!) and there was this one random guy at the table and we couldn’t figure out who he was…he was the produce guy at the grocery store my gpa shopped at…he makes friends with people like that in his quest for the best possible food choices!

    (sorry for the rambling:)

  30. Hey Jenna, I think it’s great that you’re trying to eat less processed food. However, I gasped when you wrote about the first heart attack being diagnosed in 1912. Sure, the first heart attack (or Myocardial infarction) was first described as a thrombosis (clot) in the corornary arteries by Dr. James Herrick in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1912 – but if you look back in history at the disease called “angina” (chest pain) you’ll find it is documented way back to 1500′s. Just because people didn’t have the science to explain why they had the symptoms didn’t mean they didn’t have the disease.

    For example, one could argue that H. pylori gastric ulcers didn’t exist until 1982, but that’s because that was the year they discovered the link between the bacteria and the ulcers. Did people in 1981 have H. pylori-induced ulcers? You better believe it. As a matter of fact, prior to CT scans and MRIs, your herniated disk was a condition known as lumbago and has been around for millennia.

    Sorry, the medical historian in me just had to get that out.

    I agree with others who have voice that it’s portion size and sedentary lifestyles which have led to our big butts and weak hearts.

    I do recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. A fabulous book where she accounts the year she moved her family from Arizona to rural Appalachia and tried to grow or obtain locally every-single-thing the family put in their mouths ~ Even in the winter. It was an eye-opening and fascinating read by one of my favorite writers.

  31. Wow! They have to categorize eating real food now? I grew up in CO and Sweden, and my family ate just as this book described. No one in my family (immediate or extended) has had heart or obesity problems. Probably because we’ve never messed with how our metabolisms by introducing “false” foods.

  32. Great post, although I agree with many of the commenter that you need it with portion control and exercise. I think it’s easy to go to town with “hey, cream is totally pure and natural.” Yeah, but it still has a lot calories and if you’re are sitting around all day, your body won’t burn it off on its own.

    I’m currently listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it is TERRIFIC. Very inspiring. In the last year or so, we’ve really tried to bulk up our vegetable and whole grain eating, while decreasing processed foods.

    I am just SO interested in food and nutrition. Fascinating.

    By the way, have you not had any food aversions or anything in your pregnancy? Because that seems like it would make a big difference in how well you’re able to eat while pregnant.

    Jenna Reply:

    Once I ate two cans of tuna because I really, really wanted it, and then I felt sick and couldn’t eat tuna for weeks. Other than that I haven’t had any food aversions though, although TH has tried to make me eggs a few times but he keeps putting a bunch of garlic in it and that makes me sick.

  33. this is kinda tangential, but my synagogue is very crunchy granola/hippy/earth conscious and last year started a CSA partnership. We didn’t do it because the dude is a VERY picky eater, but basically they set up a farmers market in the parking lot of synagogue on a non-farmers market evening (Thursday, because our local market is Sat/Wed), and people picked out their allowed number of lbs. worth of veggies, with all the leftovers going towards our synagogue’s community lunch on shabbos (I volunteer in the kitchen, so I got to help prep lots of tasty veggies, yum!). Maybe you can pull something similar together with your church this winter (and before the baby), you can enjoy the bounty of fruits and veggies come spring. it’s a fun way to interact with the farmers, your community, and the food!

    Jenna Reply:

    I just got an email today from a lady in my church who heard about a CSA that is starting up. I hope I can find someone interested in going in on it with me!

  34. I grew up eating that way in France. My parents pretty much always cooked from scratch. But we also ate dinner at the table, rarely went out to the restaurant and took the time needed to cook.
    We did buy processed potato chips and cookies though, but besides that it was mainly fresh. Bread came from the bakery and was made the night before,

    I brought that lifestyle with me and adapted it to my husband being vegetarian. I don’t trust half of the animal things here so we eat organic as much as we can when it comes to dairy.
    I do buy some processed foods like tomato sauce, broth, some cookies, pasta and vegetarian meat substitutes. But I make bread and pizza from scratch. I love to make tasty dishes, I take pride in cooking, it’s an activity I enjoy.
    My husband has a book called The Passionate Vegetarian by Cresent Dragonwagon. It doesn’t matter whether you are vegetarian or not because many recipes could be side dishes. But I love the fact that there is always an introduction to the recipe, a story that makes you want to discover it.

    And as far as heart disease and what not, it’s been mentioned but our lifestyles have changed a lot, processed food just doesn’t help that.

  35. I’m interested to see how this goes for you!
    I’m a bit skeptical because its not just the food that has been modernized – its our lifestyles too. Yup – our grans ate food that had lots of calories and fat and they had minimal weight problems…. but they also worked their tails off doing hard labor that used all those calories. I think reverting back to historical ways in one aspect of life (food) and not others (hard physical work) could prove disappointing in the area of weight management. … But fingers crossed that you prove me wrong! :)

    Kristin Reply:

    I totally agree with this comment. People like the Amish, who still work very hard outdoors, eat like this and are not overweight. I read the article that this link is refering to a while back and it is really interesting to read the whole thing.

    I think it really comes down to portion sizes and also realizing that either activity level needs to be increased and decrease the amount of highly sat. fat foods…because even though modern medicine didn’t diagnose a heart attack until last century doesn’t mean they didn’t happen undiagnosed before.

    Good luck, I am interested to see how this works for you, maybe it will make a believer out of me :)

  36. Just started a “real food” diet earlier this year, which includes traditional fats (not from grains). As a prior low-fat eater, this horrified me initially. Now, after 9 months of consuming lard, bacon fat, butter (grass-fed), whole raw milk and yogurt (grass fed), coconut oil, and fermented cod-liver oil–we haven’t gained a bunch of weight like I thought we would! (We’re not eating much processed food, grains, sugars, and no soy products.)

    I learned about “real food” through Weston A. Price Foundation started by Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions cookbook). Price studied the native diets of healthy people/tribes around the world and photographed them. His pictures show healthy people with no cavities (despite no dentists), large dental arches, etc.–the same people eating processed foods show crowded teeth, cavities, etc. It’s fascinating.

  37. A – HA! I thought you had mentioned this in passing many months ago, and even searched your archives to find it again. Love the concept, and can’t wait to check out the book. Thanks for the hot tip!

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