The Real Food Diet: Eliminating

When I introduced the idea of The Real Food Diet, there was understandably some confusion and skepticism. Sounds a bit too good to be true, no? Husband most certainly thinks so, and the majority of people that I’ve talked to about it have expressed similar reservations.

The other thing I’ve found is that a lot of people say “Oh I already eat that way”, but really, they don’t. It’s not a competition on who does it best, and really I don’t care how they eat, but I think their assumption that they are already eating “the Nina way” stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the diet is all about.If it is a food altered from it’s original state, or includes ingredients not found in nature, it’s not “real”. Graham crackers? Out. Pretty much every kind of cracker? Out. Laughing cow wedges? Out. Every single type of chip you can imagine? Out. Margarine? Out. Lowfat yogurt? Popsicles? Anything other than 100% whole wheat bread? Flour tortillas? White rice? Fruit snacks? Anything other than whole wheat pasta? Cereals containing some form of corn oil (most do)? Out. Out. Out. Out. Out.

All of the above listed are things I used to eat on a somewhat regular basis. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had any of these things since I first read Nina’s book, but like anyone trying a new eating plan, I’m doing my best to avoid and minimize them in any way.

Overall I’ve attempted to eliminate 4 things that have really revolutionized my diet.

Trans Fats

This one should come as no surprise to anyone. If you haven’t eliminated Trans Fats from your diet you should do so immediately, no matter what you believe about The Real Food Diet. Trans fats = bad. You know what item is filled with Trans Fats? Chow Mein Noodles like these . I was so sad when I realized this as the Mormon staple dish called “Hawaiin Haystacks” was one of my favorites growing up.

Paritally and Fully Hydrogenated Oils

Oh those sneaky food manufacturers. They always know how to find the loopholes! Did you know that under the new guidelines Trans Fats only have to be declared present in a food if the product in question has more than .5 grams of Trans Fat per serving. What’s the best way to get around the rule then? Change your serving size! I urge you to go into your kitchen right now and read the ingredient list of every single food item you have. Did you know most peanut butters have hydrogenated oils, and thus Trans Fat? That’s why graham crackers are out. I never pick up a single thing at the grocery store anymore (unless it’s produce) without reading the label. I learned that lesson when I brought home a container of trail mix and realized that the raisins found inside were coated with hydrogenated oil.

Now on to the ingredients eliminated that modern science might disagree with!

Plant Sterols

It’s industrial, so it’s no surprise that Nina advocates staying away from plant sterols. The ADA loves them, but did you know that Plant Sterols were once regarded as mere waste products of the wood pulping or soybean industries? According to the Weston Price Foundation:

As reported in the BMJ, sterols can trigger adverse reactions in people taking statin drugs. This occurs because both sterols and statins lower cholesterol, thus causing potentially dangerous dosage problems. In addition, plant sterols can increase heart disease risk by thickening the arteries. Consumers should also be concerned about hormonal disruption, as sterols are estrogenic. In Australia and New Zealand, sterol-containing “functional foods” must carry warning labels advising against their use by pregnant women and children.

All authorities, including the FDA, should publicly and conspicuously warn consumers that phytosterol-containing products are unsuitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and for infants and children. This is because they accumulate in the fetus by transplacental transfer.17, 18 As they are fat-soluble, they can be found in breastmilk.Studies have shown that phyto- sterols have adverse effects in ovarian structures, and also alter follicular development;19 they work synergistically with the natural hormone estradiol to promote anabolic effects,20 and to alter the sexual balance of the neonate’s brain. It is an accepted axiom that “the hormonal environment during the critical period exerts permanent organizational effects that may affect the behavior in adult animals.”21

I won’t be eating them even after the baby comes, but if you are pregnant or nursing, you might want to think about avoiding them as well.

Vegetable oils

This includes corn, vegetable, safflower, sunflower, and soybean. I find the argument against such oils rather compelling when obesity rates are compared to those of other countries around the world, and when one considers the immense amount of vegetable oil Americans consume, especially corn and soybean oils. Corn has been taking a particular hit lately, lampooned in the documentaries Food, Inc., and King Corn, both of which I watched recently on Netflix on Demand. Michael Pollan is one of the most recognized opponents of the overconsumption of corn in the US, and I agree with the things he says below:

Q. You look at the three food chains which sustain us: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we hunt and gather. In industrial food, corn is king. Why is corn so important to the modern food industry?

To try to understand how we got into this predicament, and how we might get out of it, I decided to do some detective work, tracing a handful of the most common foods in our diet back to their source in nature. I quickly realized there are several different food chains in America, but the biggest and most important food chain—the one that feeds most of us most of the time—is based on a remarkably small number of plants, most notably corn. This was a revelation to me: if you follow a Big Mac or a Coca-Cola or a Twinkie or a box of breakfast cereal or virtually any snack food or soft drink back to its ultimate source you will find yourself, as I did, in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa. Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the beef; is refined into the high fructose syrup that sweetens the soda; is shaped into the Fruity Pebbles or distilled into any one of the hundreds of food additives in our processed foods. Of the thirty-eight ingredients in the chicken nugget, no fewer than eighteen of them come from corn. The Mexicans have always called themselves “the people of corn” but in fact, now, it is we Americans who deserve that label—without even realizing it we have become the corniest people on earth.

That’s not just a conceit, either. If you take a snip of hair or a nail clipping from an American and run it through a mass spectrometer, as I have done, you will discover that most of the carbon in his or her body (and we consist mostly of atoms of carbon) originally came from corn. We’re even cornier than the Mexicans, who still sweeten their sodas with cane sugar and feed their cows on grass. As the biologist who did some of these experiments for me put it, “to the machine, we look like corn chips on legs.” This plant has not only colonized our land—80 million acres of it—and our food supply, but it has literally colonized our bodies.

Q. What are the implications of eating so much corn?

There are several reasons it’s not a good idea to base your whole diet around a single species. First, we are omnivores, designed by evolution to consume a wide variety of nutrients and micronutrients. The need for a diverse diet is built into our biology, and there are all sorts of important nutrients we simply can’t get from corn. To turn a bushel of corn into so many different foods involves a lot of processing, and processing diminishes the nutritional value of any food. We’re finding that people who eat an exclusively fast food diet (highly processed corn-based food) not only get fat but are actually malnourished, because they’re not getting the essential micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables. Overweight inner city kids are showing up in health clinics with rickets!

Second, growing all that corn is disastrous for the environment. Corn is, as farmers say, a greedy plant, requiring more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop—nitrogen that runs off the fields into the water and has created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that is now the size of New Jersey. It also requires more pesticides, so all that corn we’re growing is polluting the environment. Feeding livestock corn on feedlots produces huge amounts of pollution too, not to mention misery in animals which, like the cow, were never designed to eat a corn diet. It makes them so sick we have to feed them antibiotics.

Finally, it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, as the Irish learned in 1845 when the Potato Famine hit. The Irish had a relationship with potatoes much like our relationship with corn—it was the mainstay of their agriculture and their diet. Monocultures are inherently precarious, which is why you don’t find them ordinarily in nature. When blight hit the Irish potato crop, it was decimated overnight, and a million Irishmen starved. We’re tempting fate by basing so much of our food supply on a single plant. A more diversified agriculture would be much more secure as well as healthier. (Source)

Vegetable oils are made up of polyunsaturated fats, which the Weston Price foundation has detailed some of the dangers of here.

Eliminating vegetable oils from my diet was certainly the toughest step I had to take. In fact I think it’s impossible and so I should probably say I’m working to severely limit them. Grocery shopping takes much longer now as I spend the majority of my time scanning labels looking for any sign of vegetable oils, and often trying to decide if the offensive oil in question is far enough down the ingredient list to make it something I feel okay buying. Out of all of the things I’ve eliminated, I consider this to be the number one reason why most people aren’t following a “Real Food” or “Traditional Food” diet. Again, go to your pantry and start reading through your pantry ingredient lists. I was shocked at how many things are packed full of vegetable oils!

I’m also working to limit several other foods (admittedly, with varying success), including:

White flour


Carbage (carb garbage)

Attempting to buy organic produce when it comes to The Dirty Dozen (when our teeny tiny food budget allows)

High Fructose Corn Syrup

I don’t think anyone can argue that my diet is better off without these things. Well except firm believers in the benefits of plant sterols and the producers of vegetable oils. I’m hoping for good cholesterol levels in my future so that my kids can consume diets low in the above ingredients as well.

Next week? Ingredients I re-introduced. (Whole milk!)

61 thoughts on “The Real Food Diet: Eliminating

  1. Hey! I was going to email this to you, but why not comment? :) You should check out the website called Mark’s Daily Apple, there is alto on there about carbage, and also about myths surrounding grains. my best recommendation is to sign up for his email list and you are sent a very informative pdf.

    Also, the best way to avoid crap food is to sign up for a CSA and buy your meat in bulk,. check out and localharvest for more info!

    Jenna Reply:

    I click over and what do I find at the top? An article on circumcision. Great day for me to head over there and start reading!

  2. Will you also be switching to pastured meat/eggs? This has been the biggest change to my diet as I started eating more whole foods. This is an issue brought up in Michael Pollan books as well. if you are what you eat, cows / pigs chickens and animals raised on factory farms, are primarily corn! Corn is a large part of their (unnatural) diet, not to mention the hormones, antibiotics, etc.

    Sophia Reply:

    I was going to bring this up as well Gigi. The very reason we have so much corn is because the US government gives almost *all* of their ag. subsidies to corn and soybean growers. The corn is then used as cheap- and TOTALLY inappropriate- food for feed animals. But since they’re not supposed to be eating ground up corn mixed with ground up animal waste meat *yes, that happens*, they are then pumped full of daily antibiotics that are mixed in their feed. Those antibiotics are then bio-amplified in their tissues, and when you eat factory farmed meat, you’re eating that. Not to mention that cows used to be much leaner on a grass fed diet. I would argue that any proponent of a real food diet would have to try and commit to eating grass fed, organic, antibiotic free meat. Our huge meat demand in America is a large part of the reason corn is so cheap, and therefore corn syrup and all the other byproducts are so cheap and made into awful food that is terrible for you.

    christiana (us meets uk) Reply:

    it’s definitely an “you are what you eats eats” type of thing. That’s why I’m so passionate about buying pastured/grass-fed meat in bulk! It’s better for you and a decent cost comparison!

    Sophia Reply:

    And it’s much better for the animals and the environment as well! I’m a vegetarian bordering on vegan, but I usually just try and get people to at least switch to grass fed, organic, humanely treated meat, and maybe eat less meat overall. It’s an easier switch than quitting meat altogether, and it still makes a huge positive impact :)

    Jenna Reply:

    No because we can’t afford it. With the cost of gas and wear & tear on the car to drive out somewhere and get them, on top of the inflated cost over conventional eggs, it’s just not feasible with one income and a baby.

  3. The bad part about eating like this is the best place to shop is Whole Foods, and I feel like everything there is twice as expensive.

    It takes a lot of dedication to eat that way…I know because I tried and failed!! I think the more chemicals you can eliminate from your body the better…especially all of those corn products!

    Sarah Reply:

    That’s they key right there — cost. Food makers and distributors are going to do whatever is cheapest, and corn products are cheap. It’s part of the reason it’s so hard to eat well. When a McDonald’s meal is less than 5 bucks and fast, and cooking something is more expensive and takes longer, it’s not hard to understand why many people are overweight and unhealthy.

    You’re right, it takes a lot of dedication and time to eat well.

    Stephanie Reply:

    Try searching out smaller Health Food stores in your area. Not all cities have them, but they do exist. Also.. Trader Joe’s isn’t the best.. but try looking at labels there. You can get SOME good pork there, chicken and fish. Although the frozen fish there is pretty gross.
    My family is lucky enough to afford Whole Foods, but it’s definitely a sacrifice. They do have sales and coupons on their websites.. so check those too!

  4. This Real Food diet is very similar to the Anti-Cancer diet that I currently follow! It is sooo hard to read all of the labels at groceries, but you’ll quickly learn what is good and what isn’t. I’ve found that since we started the anti-cancer diet about 6 months ago, that we’ve started spending around 25% more each week at the grocery store… one of the negative aspects of trying to eat healthier…. :o(

    Sophia Reply:

    But think of all the money you’ll save on medical bills :)

  5. I think one big thing is just not buying things with labels. I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought a box or a package of anything other than whole wheat pasta or an all natural box of high fiber cereal. The flip side of this is that it is so much easier to shop, and *so* much cheaper. Plus, it’s better for the environment because you’re not wasting all of that packaging.

    For example, 10 days ago my partner and I purchased approximately $45 worth of groceries- roughly half was organic, the rest was all natural, no preservatives, etc. Again, no boxes of anything. And that has fed us three vegan meals a DAY, plus snacks, and we still have two more meals to cook plus leftovers. We’re talking at least 7 different fruits and 5 different veggies. This was simply by shopping the weekly deals at Newflower and Sprouts *in the Dallas area* but other areas have Trader Joe’s that are similar in price and quality.

    I posted a pic on my blog of what I made last night, and it was right at $1.50 per serving- with 6 different fruits and vegetables in each! The chips were brought over by my partner, I don’t usually ever eat them. I’m really glad Jenna is highlighting being thoughtful about our food and where it comes from, and what it does to us. I can tell a tremendous difference in myself when I’m fueling my body with things it needs, not things the marketing industry has tried to convince me I want :)

  6. On your advice, I started reading Real Food and I’m about 2/3 of the way through it. I like it a lot (though sometimes she seems a little overzealous about dairy). I think I like Michael Pollan’s advice to eat “mostly vegetables” better, but so far it is a good book!

  7. I definitely think it’s a great thing to start reading labels. It’s so important to know what you’re putting in your body!

  8. hey – just curious, but does excluding oils include allll oils? olive, grapeseed etc? i only ask because i already do pretty much all of this, i eat as cleanly as possible (except for the occasional cupcake) but i gave up margarine for olive oil, and i doubt i could ever give up eating quality olive oil :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Nope, just “vegetable” oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean). It’s not about eliminating all fats, as they are certainly a necessary part of any diet!

  9. Jenna, I am glad you brought this up. The diet industry is a multi-million (probably billion) dollar industry due to the fact that most people don’t deem their health important to invest the money, time and energy into their bodies. My husband and I are budgeting strictly and rarely purchase extraneous items (i.e., I have not purchased a new work shirt in 4 years), but the way we look at it, we “deserve” to not have a food budget (for groceries – we do not allot money for eating out). We rarely (less than 1xmonth on average) eat out, but we spend our funds on fresh fish, organic chicken, and fresh fruits and veggies. For the most part there are no cookies, cakes or processed snacks in our house other than those gifted to us or those purchased for guests who enjoy them. I agree that it is important to restrict so much of what has become accepted in our daily diets, but the key in all of this is moderation. It is so common place to want to eat out and enjoy life’s luxuries that it is easy to forget that a crucial luxury is a home-cooked nutritious meal. We have no control in what is fed to us in most restaurants, but still see it as a treat, and I know it is because “we” feel so time crunched. I think you are doing a great job Jenna, but just don’t feel like you have to take it overboard or that you have failed if you can’t abide by these strict rules!

    Barb Reply:

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that I know eating like this is expensive if you don’t have access to local vegetable stands, etc -Sophie brought up a good point earlier about the food with labels. But if you look for things in season, etc, it can be somewhat cost-effective in the long run, and if I think about how hungry I get so soon after I eat carbage, you realize these nutritious and fiber filled food keep us fuller for longer!

    Sarah Reply:

    I agree about buying things in season. I’m reading Animal Vegetable Miracle right now and she talks about eating locally, which definitely means IN season. Getting very excited to do some old fashioned gardening this year and lots of preserving!

  10. Hmmm. So, my question is, if you make crackers, pasta, yogurt, tortillas, etc from scratch would they count as whole foods? (As long as you didn’t use vegetable oils, etc). I guess it would also depend on if you used white flour vs. whole wheat and processed sugar,etc.

    The Husband and I have taken to making almost everything that we eat from scratch (with a few exceptions). While some of the things we make may contain some form of white flour (our pasta will be a combination of white and wheat flour for example) or processed sugar, at least we can control the amounts of these ingredients as well as avoid all the other crap that is found in packaged foods such as preservatives, filler, stabilizers, etc. I guess that is more important to me than whether it falls under the “found in nature in this form.”

    Oh, and homemade graham crackers are pretty awesome, and would probably fit into the “whole foods” category–depending on the recipe you find.

    Evelyn Reply:

    Honestly, I think making things from scratch is absolutely key, because like you said we control the ingredients. I think any of those things (crackers, pasta, yogurt, tortillas, etc.) can be considered whole foods if they are made from whole ingredients… especially when made in your kitchen. I mean, if you make a stew from whole ingredients, the stew would still be considered whole food, right? That’s the way I look at it anyway…

    Jenna, I know a lot of condiments and things also have vegetable oils&stuff and sometimes the organic versions without that junk are pretty expensive. I found this site [] a while back and although the woman who writes it can be a little annoying (referring to herself in the 3rd person) some of the information is good. I’m a fan of substituting so if you see something you don’t like in an ingredient list, replace it with something you do. =)

    My sister’s family is doing the specific carbohydrate diet to assist with celiac disease and some other health issues she’s had. Talk about limitations… she makes her own bread/biscuits regularly… after grinding up her nuts to make the “flour” for the bread!

    Jenna Reply:

    yes, the 3rd person is VERY annoying. But I’ll see if I can stomach it and get something good out of her writing.

    Cristin Reply:

    From Lady Susan: “The Husband and I have taken to making almost everything that we eat from scratch (with a few exceptions).”

    Where do you find the time?! I would love to be the sort of person that made things from scratch (particularly marinades, which I always buy from a bottle/envelope), but unless I was willing to eat at 9 pm every night (and I already do, plenty of times), there’s no way that I could spend that much time in the kitchen after work?

    Lady Susan Reply:

    Well, we both work, but our work schedules are such that we get home around 4:30-5:00. (This is nice I will admit.) That means that we can cook dinner from scratch and have it on the table by 6-6:30. (It all depends on the complexity of the recipe.) On weekends, when we have extra time, we bake things like bread, tortillas, etc. Also, we might save the longer recipes for the weekends as well. Also, The Husband and I both cook and enjoy cooking so it isn’t just one person preparing all the food. Sometimes we cook together, sometimes I will bake the bread and the husband will make something else, etc. Right now it is a nice system. However we will see how this all changes with the bun that is currently in the oven.

    I guess that I don’t see a huge time difference in throwing a few ingredients together for a marinade versus using something that is pre-packaged. And the taste factor usually is the deciding factor as well.

    Like everything else, you prioritize your time based on what is important. The husband and I just really like good food. ;)

    Cristin Reply:

    I suppose the beauty of Jenna’s site (although, its hard to appreciate when I’m having a rough day) is that there are readers and perspectives from people with such different lives and lifestyles. It can be challenging to swallow counsel from someone who gets home at 5 every day and has dinner on the table before I’m even thinking about getting on the subway.

    As a New Yorker who works two jobs and goes to school and night, I’d love to hear from people who have met the challenge of real food in an urban setting, while working. Just reading comments or affirmations among people who agree on the same thing (about how GREAT the taste is and health benefits are) and who don’t share my time constraints doesn’t make me want to jump on the bandwagon. I’ve read the literature. I’ve taken graduate courses in urban health and in nutrition, but nobody’s had any great suggestions on how to balance this with a life of other commitments. Suggesting I reprioritize is a little offensive…

    Its a bit like reading about people who make all their own clothes but don’t work and live next-door to a textile factory that sells wholesale silk. Kinda hard to relate to.

    Lady Susan Reply:

    You asked me where I found the time and I told you. I didn’t mean to be offensive. Obviously, your schedule doesn’t allow you the luxury of making a lot from scratch. At which point, I guess you have to make due with what you have available.

    I think everyone is just trying to make the best decisions with the resources (time, money, location, etc.) available to them.

    christiana (us meets uk) Reply:

    slow cooker slow cooker slow cooker. Put it all in, in the morning and it will be ready when you get home. Even better, cut up your vegetables at night together, and toss them in in the morning.

    Join a CSA and get your vegetables delivered weekly to your door. Buy quality meat in bulk and keep it in your freezer. Having meat and vegetables in your home, ready and waiting for you will save you time. On Sunday or Saturday carve out some time (or slow cook it) and freeze the meals for the week. Then defrost them in the fridge while you’re at work.

    My train commute is at best an hour each way and I love the slow cooker. Also, the other night I made a whole clay pot chicken, saved some of the meat for lunch the next day and made a broth out of the body.

    We made salmon last night on the grill, we made enough to have cold salmon salad tonight.

    It’s all about stretching your meals and buying bulk, it can be done.

    Here are stores that sell grass fed meats

    Here are grass fed/pastured farms in NY, many of whom will ship to you

    and here are some NYC based CSAs

    amen to Lady Susan :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Freeze ahead meals? I’m a huge fan lately.

    Evelyn Reply:

    I’m gonna jump in! =) I’m now a SAHM, but before our first came along, I left home at about 7 am and got home around 6/6:30 pm (if I didn’t have school, the nights I had classes I was home around either 7:45or9:30pm). The key for us was making big casseroles that would feed us for a few meals, crock pot meals, and quickly thrown together soups. I didn’t really get into the freeze ahead stuff, but wish I’d considered it more.

    One of the big factors as I consider what I could have done differently and what I can do to shorten preparation times now is preparation (I am pregnant..which means tired, and I have a toddler that doesn’t want me to cook). The more you plan & do ahead of time, the less you have to do to get a finished product when you are ready for it.

    I would definitely recommend prepping the ingredients beforehand. If you can’t do it on the weekend, maybe consider “backwards prep”? Ex: Get home and throw ingredients prepped last night together for tonight’s dinner and then begin to prepare tomorrow’s dinner.

    Save the bottles for the marinades you’ve been buying and start making your own so they are the ingredients you want (and trust). You can find recipes online. There’s obviously a little hit and miss with that, but it’s about the same as buying a new marinade you’ve never tried. =) If you start marinating the meat/veggies the night before or the morning of, it usually ends up better than 30 minutes before too… so there are some definite pluses to early prep.

    It can be really difficult and frustrating to want to do things and find yourself in some really tough constraints, but I’m sure you have & can brainstorm some solutions.

    Jenna Reply:

    I for sure think that homemade crackers/yogurt/etc are whole foods! But I do think they need to be made whole wheat, which is where things get challenging.

  11. I love this post. Ever since I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan last year, I have been obsessed with eating more whole/real foods and getting off the corn diet. I haven’t yet successfully talked my frugal fiance into spending more money for pastured beef, but it is next on my Food: To Do list because it’s so very important to me.

    I recently watched Food, Inc. too, but I wished it would have been longer with more information! The good news is that I watched it with my fiance so he no longer thinks I’m losing my head when I start ranting about corn’s evils!

  12. Great post! My two ingredients I’ve been checking the boxes for are High Fructose Corn Syrup and Hydrogenated Oils. That’s what I’m starting with as far as cutting out of the diet. I also get completely turned away when the list is so long and I can’t pronounce anything. That usually means bad!

    I’d love to see some of the recipes you are finding to cook the ‘right’ things. Also some ideas of what your new favorite snacks are. I can get sick of fresh veggies and homemade hummus or organic yogurt :)

  13. I want to play devils advocate here today… sort of. I read Real Food after you blogged about it a while back and I enjoyed it. Also, I go out of my way (and my budget) to purchase local foods, including my meat and poultry. (Local, meaning they never go to a feed lot and I can speak to the butcher myself.)

    However! I get bogged down in all the negativity of these authors getting on their soap boxes and being very judgy. After WWII when all the farming changed, the people who “invented” industrial foods did so because they wanted to feed the world. They had good intentions. Unfortunately, things got a little corrupt and there were unintended consequences, that we must deal with now.

    Yes, if the whole world decided to “buy local” tomorrow, there are things that would change for the better… but let’s not make the same mistakes of those that originally got us into this corny predicament. There is a lot of politics and economy, both domestic and foreign that goes into our food supply and it’s not as simple as all that.

    So, I guess I’m just saying, I don’t know $h*t, and neither do “they” so we can all just try to educate ourselves from a WIDE variety of sources and do the best we can.

    And finally (sorry long post) since I’ve learned to actually cook things properly, and grow my own foods too, the most important thing for me is TASTE. If you learn to cook and buy the freshest stuff, you will never turn back :)

    Sophia Reply:

    Sarah, I agree with you about the negativity. For example, a lot of people turn up their noses at the “ignorance” of people who would eat processed foods, sugary things, corn syrup. What they fail to realize is there is a very real economic inequality factor in eating well. It is shocking when you look at how few grocery stores there are in inner city neighborhoods, yet there are fast food restaurants on every corner. When access and nutritional education is limited, and when you have access to very cheap, very bad food, it’s no wonder there is a poverty/obesity/disease link.

    I wish more of these authors would be more committed to plans and suggestions for ensuring that we can *all* have access to better food, not just those with a farmer’s market in their backyard. One huge,huge place to start is our school system. It makes me SICK the way we dump crap food into the school systems. So many children *myself included growing up* literally get almost all of their food from free breakfast/lunch programs, yet they are fed excess processed meat and dairy products to soothe those industries and things out of cans and boxes packed with cheap ingredients.

    I get wary when the talk veers into food snobbery or judgments as well. I like learning about nutrition, and sharing ideas, but when people tell me I’m going to die young because I don’t eat meat, or that the only way to go is a raw diet, or that you have to take 8,000 supplements, etc. etc. my eyes start to glaze over with opinion overload :)

    Barb Reply:

    I completely agree with both of you. I think education plays a large role as well, because the people in the poverty stricken areas don’t always have access to all of the information available and just like you said, children grow up getting fed fast food or the boxed stuff which is affordable at home and go to school and get fed tater tots and processed food/snacks. There is such an inequality it is striking.

    I also agree with the negativity associated with eating one way or another. We are all human and no one knows it all, all we can do is educate ourselves the best we can and in the end, what works for someone’s body may not work for someone else’s. Many people have never had access to all of this information but thankfully had great genes and were able to enjoy a nice long lifespan. Others have not been so lucky.

    Hannah Reply:

    I have to agree here. There is a significant amount of snobbery and judgement when it comes to nutrition. And everyone believes their food gospel is ‘true’.

    I have the same issue with Jamie Oliver’s new approach to eating and ‘educating’ Britain. He might mean well but it just comes across as judgemental and snobbish a lot of the time.

    Gigi Reply:

    On that same note however, while there may have been good intentions, the switch to monoculture had a great deal to do with subsidies the government instituted in the Nixon era. Instead of rotating crops to keep land healthy, farmers were encouraged by gov’t subsidies to produce Corn/ Soybeans only.

    On that same end, who am I to say to a farmer in my home state (Iowa) don’t grow only corn and soybeans, when those are the crops with the subsidies, and thus they can survive on? I agree its all very tricky. And I agree, I don’t think getting on a soap box really helps anyone, but our whole agriculture set up is a mess! ;)

  14. Eating whole foods is better – no way to argue with that! I’m glad you posted about this because it affects everyone regardless of weight, pregnancy, etc. I highly recommend looking for local farmer’s markets or joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) group!

  15. Jenna, good for you–I bet you’ll find yourself feeling really good, and I’m sure the baby’s going to love the new diet too!

    I’ve always avoided transfats like the plague, and tend to cook from mostly ‘whole’ foods as well, partly for health and partly because, frankly, I find it a ton cheaper. I also don’t eat a ton of meat, but I remember you writing somewhere that your husband feels like you can’t serve a meal without meat.

    So I haven’t read that book and I’m not a hundred percent clear on the guidelines, but I wanted to share a few of my favorite recipes with you in case you’re running out of things to eat. :)

    The first is one I’ve been making a lot lately because it’s cold here in California, and also what I’ll probably make for dinner tonight!

    Lentil soup
    In a stock pot, saute one chopped onion and 4-6 minced garlic cloves and about 2 large chopped carrots in olive oil with about 2 tsp dried thyme until browned. Deglaze with white wine (though you could skip that step–I know you don’t drink alcohol, but can you if the alcohol is cooked out?) Add about 8 cups chicken stock (I make my own just by simmering chicken bones with onion, garlic, celery, carrot and salt and pepepr–so easy, and so cheap if you just roasted a chicken) and about a half-pound of lentils. (I usually use brown, but sometimes I splurge and add the French green kind, and they’re great! They hold their shape a little better.) Add about 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 Tbs mustard (dijon works well–not the grainy kind) and 1 Tbs good balsamic vinegar. Simmer until the lentils are very tender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, and maybe tomato paste/vinegar/mustard if you want. It’s REALLY good, and very healthy/inexpensive.

    The second: shakshouka. (My best friend lived in Israel for several months and came back with this recipe, which we all fell in love with.)

    In a heavy stock pot, saute about 2 chopped onions and some garlic in a good amount of olive oil with a few dashes each of sweet paprika and basil. Once the onions have softened, add chopped tomatoes, about 8 (or sub the equivalent of canned, but drain first) and cook until thickened slightly. Crack about 6 eggs into the pot so that they don’t overlap, then cover the pot and let the eggs cook over medium-low heat until just done. Serve with pita bread or regular bread.

    Also–here’s what I make when I want crackers. You could probably sub whole wheat flour, or use white whole wheat:

    They’re DELICIOUS. Better than any crackers I’ve ever had in the store.

    These also might fit the real foods specifications:

    (Of course, all these are assuming you can eat olive oil–but I hope so, because it has great health benefits!)

    Also, do you bake your own bread? If not, this recipe is SO easy and basically fool-proof, and also really good! :) Try it! I bet you’ll never buy a loaf of bread again.

    Good luck! :)

    Jenna Reply:

    I’ve made my own crackers once before. I found it so difficult to roll out the dough to a consistency thin enough to give that satisfying “crunch” that you get from Ritz and Saltines. Hopefully my kids won’t grow up on things like that so they won’t know what they are missing. Thanks so much for the links!

    Kelly @ The Startup Wife Reply:

    Ugh, I hate rolling thinly. Actually, I’ve found that if I roll them kind of to where I want them, bake them, and then flip them over (I usually bake in one large sheet to make that part easier, and then break them into ‘rustic’ –aka lazy–shaped crackers) and bake until they’re browned on that side, too, I get that crunch.

  16. Very interesting. It goes back to the rule of “if great grandma didn’t have this, I probably shouldn’t, either.”

    You mentioned a small grocery budget. Would you mind sharing your typical grocery list at some point? I am constantly examining my grocery budget and would love to get more ideas on cost cutting while also keeping our fridge and pantry stocked with nutritious foods. Thanks!

    Jenna Reply:

    Oh my, you want me to share my grocery list/budget as some kind of example? I’m not sure I am the best candidate for this. Maybe we can petition Sophia to write up a guest post!

  17. Nutrition is such a scary subject for me. I really do want to eat better – not just want, but really need to. I have so many less seizures and other problems when I’m eating good, non-junk food. I know some basics, avoid processed foods, eat whole wheat, avoid high fructose corn syrup, lots of fruits and veggies, yada, yada, yada. But there is so much I’m clueless about. Like transfats – I know that they’re bad, but I’m not sure why, what they are or how to find if food has them.

    I probably should pick up a copy of that book, or something similar. I’m just scared of biting off more than I can chew, or worse not being able to eat some of my food loves. It’s probably worth it, but still..

    Sarah B. Reply:

    I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of at least one nutrition book, your library should have some. This Real Food book is not written in too much “science” speak, and the author is good about translating complicated nutritional science into information you can really use.

    You might be afraid about “losing” your favorites if they include anything processed… (although everything in moderation is more important than any nutrition labels, if it’s something you love) But think positively, maybe you’ll find some NEW favorites that really feed your body. Honestly, I thought I would never give up cool ranch doritios, but now I can feel how they make me sick if I have more than just a few.

  18. My husband and I have been following a “real food” diet of sorts since May. We live in Rochester, NY – not exactly the mecca of healthy eating – over 60% of the children in this urban population are overweight. But we simply stopped buying anything that came in a package. We do not have a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe’s, we have one small locally owned natural foods store. And it is perfectly easy to buy only whole, real foods in our local grocery store and not break our budget. Simply eating and buying fruits and vegetables that are in season we spend even LESS than we used to on groceries. Meat and dairy are our greatest expense, since we have to drive out to the country to purchase our grass fed chicken and occasional beef as well as our dairy. So we had to change everything about what we eat. Much less meat, since it is so expensive – but Americans tend to eat too much meat anyway. You really don’t need it every day. Since we do live in a colder climate it meant getting used to root vegetables – about all that is locally available 7 months out of the year. But we do it because I don’t suffer as much (mostly migraine free!), and the environment doesn’t suffer as much.

    Yes, it is harder. We spend more TIME on food preparation than ever before. I spend most of my day off preparing food. But as for the arguments that it’s expensive? No way. It only gets expensive when you buy that Whole Foods prepackaged “organic” junk – which really isn’t better for you than other prepackaged stuff. Organic Oreos are still Oreos.

    Sorry for such a long post. It’s a long winded way of saying eating this way doesn’t have to be more expensive, just more time consuming!

    Sophia Reply:

    This has been my experience as well. And you’re right- most of the ridiculously expensive organic all natural stuff is the highly processed version of some not very good for you stuff anyway.

    As to the meat, you’re right. Many Americans don’t realize that almost all of us (Americans) get too much protein and fat, and too much protein carries risks as well. For some reason people think the only place to get protein is animal products, when in reality lots of other foods have adequate protein, and the old myth of combining to get complete protein has been found to be unnecessary. Plus, we subsidize the cost of meat so much that it is unnaturally cheap, which contributes to our eating it three meals a day. Circa 2003 I was reading that without subsidies, regular old crappy hamburger meat would be $18 a pound! Kudos to you for making the drive to get your meat.

    Lauren Reply:

    I should add that our one big purchase that makes a lot of this possible – our Food Saver vacuum system. And a big freezer!

    Jenna Reply:

    What do you consider to be “too much” protein Sophia? I should be getting at least 70 grams of protein/day (I believe this is according to the RDA guidelines) find it really difficult to reach 100 grams a day when I try really really hard.

    Sophia Reply:

    Well, by too much I think we’re a tad bit obsessed with it, even though Americans rarely have any problem getting enough protein, and I was agreeing with Lauren about how we don’t need meat every day. As to personal protein needs, I was always told to divide my weight in half, and subtract 10, and that would be the number of grams of protein I need. For me, I’d need 60 grams of protein a day, which sounds like a lot, but almost everything I eat has protein in it, even though I don’t eat meat/fish/poultry, and I don’t drink milk, eat eggs, or use butter, and eat cheese rarely. I don’t find it difficult to get enough protein in my diet, and a lot of times I’m over my suggested level. As to those who do eat meat- one skinless, boiled chicken breast is 45 grams of protein. If someone needs 60-70 grams daily, they could easily make up the remaining 15-25 grams with vegetables and grains.

    I just think a lot of Americans, or Western cultures, have gotten into the meat three times a day is necessary and healthy habit and people sometimes seem to have this view that protein comes from animal products, and the 18 grams of protein in a serving of lentils, or the 9 grams of protein in my wheat spaghetti, or the 9 grams in peas, or the 5 grams in spinach etc., is overlooked. I think my comment was also influenced by my having had a conversation with someone that very day about how I get enough protein since I don’t eat meat, and I remember feeling frustrated that I never ask non-vegetarians “yeah, but how do you make sure you get enough fiber when you’re filling up on all that meat?” :)

    There are problems associated with too much protein- it is thought to leach the calcium from your bones, ketosis is a common phrase linked with the Atkins diet, and it places a lot of strain on your kidneys. But I think this situation is really more of a problem when you get into meat and potatoes type people- red meat and simple carbs, done! ;)

  19. One more thought on cost that is a little tangential- of course there are those who simply do not have access and education to make better food choices, or have limited incomes, etc.c

    But what annoys me are people who smoke and drink and eat out all the time, or spend a ton of money on some random hobby who blithely say “Oh, I can’t afford to eat healthy, it’s so expensive!” Or people who say they don’t have time to cook, but they watch three hour of television a day..

    Eye. Roll. I know it’s awful, but I can’t help it! I wish they’d say “eating healthy isn’t a priority for me, I’d prefer to spend my money on ____________ or ________”. It’d be more honest. I remember a food writer- I think Marion Nestle- saying she would tell people to “eat their car” when she heard that. In other words, re-prioritize where we spend our money.

    Cristin Reply:

    Marion Nestle is brilliant! I’m taking a class with her at NYU this Spring on Food Ethics. I love her book “Food Politics,” which (in part) recaps her experience working for the government putting together food recommendations and being told she can’t tell people to eat LESS of anything (because of the cattle lobby, corn lobby, etc). She has to tell them to eat MORE. Great book.

    Barb Reply:

    Sophia, that is exactly what drives me nuts! I would rather hear the exact same thing; it is just a matter or priorities for lots of people who still manage to eat out all the time or buy a 70 inch TV or an iphone. My old style cell phone works just great – in our house we would rather spend the extra money per month on nutritious and fresh food. It takes time to prepare meals and lunches but it is worth it to us, and I am aware it is our personal choice, but it still drives me nuts to hear those people, but I know I can’t change their mind!

  20. One thing I would like to add to this conversation is that eating more Real Foods is good for people as well.
    Big food companies treat their workers like slaves. In addition to keeping some of their farmers in debt, they often use illegal immigrants as workers and then they have an agreement with the gov’t to just take 15 workers a week.. and some how that is acceptable? These workers aren’t allowed to join unions, etc and are paid low wages in order to keep their costs down.
    Also these cows that are fed corn have a higher risk of Ecoli. Grass-fed cows are naturally able to fight off Ecoli in their diet.
    I encourage everyone to watch Food, Inc. It really opens your eyes.
    Thank you for making this post!

  21. Over the last year, my body decided that it no longer tolerated fructose, and at the molecular level, this also means that I can’t eat any gluten, either. I’ve finally, finally figured out what this means I can eat. It means corn, rice, but no wheat. I’ve been really excited to see that places like Target have started stocking gluten free foods.

    The hardest thing was definitely giving up high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and fructose – mostly because it’s in so much stuff. And because in today’s society things like soda are so prevalent and desired. HFCS is popular because its CHEAP. Don’t get me started on “”

    You should watch the documentary King Corn. It’s really, really good, and tells a lot about how the USA became so dependent on corn.

  22. I am very glad you’ve posted on this subject – if nothing else than to bring these ideas to a wider audience.

    I read Real Food last year and began making some changes – adding back whole milk and butter, cutting processed foods, but only to a degree.

    This Christmas I found “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon and the Weston A Price Foundation ( and I feel that my eyes are really now fully open to the need to eat only real food* (as much as possible and within reason of course)

    After only 2 weeks following some of Nourishing Traditions’ ideas, I feel noticeably better – I used to be hungry all the time, even when I ate a lot – now with more fat and less carbs I am actually satisfied! I am making my own (whole wheat) bread and crackers using the ‘soaking method’ to fully utilize the nutrients in the grain.

    I am not a novice baker and let me tell you – this method of bread baking is easy and Delicious! The very best homemade whole wheat breaad I’ve ever eaten!

    I have a long way to go, adding coconut oil and seeking grass fed meat and raw milk, but the changes I’ve made thus far (no: fake foods, mixes, nothing boxed and all homemade bread and crackers, all grains soaked) has already made a difference for my husband and I.

    So Jenna in particular and all the readers who enjoyed “Real Food’ I encourage you to seek out Nourishing Traditions and the Price Foundation

    Some other great blogs of people following a Nourishing Diet are: and


    PS – My 2 cents to those who don’t have much time or say they’re already eating dinner at 9pm – make your food a priority and make the time. Make a menu for the week (this is KEY) and you’ll spend way less time deciding what to eat and more time cooking. I spend almost all weekend shopping, prepping and cooking food so that I can have meals already made for the week, and to get my bread baked etc. I also sacrifice some (maybe 30 mins) of sleep some mornings to set up things for dinner – such as a crockpot meal. There is nothing better, or more worth a few minutes in the morning than coming home from work to a house smelling like a delicious dinner that only needs to be dished out!

    You have the time to do anything, if you decide that it’s important enough.

  23. Hi Jenna – I apologize if this has been asked, but it’s burning in my mind and I’ve not the time right now to scroll through all the comments.

    I’m curious as to how you are going to measure your ‘success’, given that you are expecting!

    Normally when people undergo a diet or lifestyle change, they measure success in several ways, but a big one is weight loss or changes in your figure. Obviously this doesn’t apply to you right now – just curious on if and how you’re thinking of measuring the success of this plan. You strike me as someone who takes great satisfaction in measuring strides towards goals – a great thing!


    Jenna Reply:

    I think right now I’m measuring my success by my happiness. And lack of swelling. And the ease of my pregnancy. Things are going great so far, so I plan to continue on this path!

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