Foundations of Healthy Eating: Step One - Eat Only Real Food & The Real-Food-O-Meter

Foundation of Healthy Eating - creating a step-by-step systematic approach to health and wellbeing. 

Step one - Get Real, Eat Real

There are thousands of reasons why we eat the way we eat and equally countless times we have to make a choice about how to nourish ourselves.  We are motivated by hunger, emotions, desire and make choices based on taste, disposition, social interaction, proximity, health… wait… health…. well maybe not health.  At least, not often enough is the choice based on health and rarely is it the driving factor to make a choice.  There’s the rub.  As I sit here at Starbucks, eating a bacon and egg sandwich with an almond milk latte, it's really clear, optimal health is not on the menu, but it could be.  

We may think, believe and try to make our food choices about health but we are often duped or misguided by ulterior motives in the health care, diet book and food industries.  Everyone is confused about what ‘healthy’ means.  Congress has been trying to figure out the definition of healthy. The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015 went through a lot of special interest banter and commercial protectionism and then who knows what 'healthy' will mean.  Does it mean the amount of sugar in a product, the fat content, carbs? Is ketchup a vegetable?  The government is so twisted around by special interests and capitalism that even a Sanders/Warren inspired health nut couldn’t wade through the bureaucracy to figure it out.  Paleo, Atkins, Blood Type… the list of dietary theories goes on and on and the "health industry" makes a lot of money with each new theory.  Some catchy marketing gets the ball rolling, passionate, determined people want something new to cling to and when the masses jump on the band wagon the snowball of anecdotal miracles sweeps the market because we are all desperate for a solution.  There are so many diet books out there its ridiculous and confusing to know what’s right for you.   Truth be told, human beings have survived for thousands of years without a book to tell us what to eat and these miracle weight loss diets are not successful.  Over 98% of people who lose weight on a diet gain all that weight back within a year, and usually a little more.  And then they go out and find another diet book and try again.  Only 2 out of 100 people actually succeed by following the typical diet advice offered in any diet book or health magazine.  2%!  If that was the moniker of success for the industry, instead of profit, it would be a failure.  However, the industry succeeds because of our individual failures.  They are banking on our failure.  This post is not to attempting to decipher the why’s and why-nots of various dietary theories.  Any one of them can be successful for any one individual but there is one obvious element that seems to elude most of the plans.  Eat Real Food!  The famous paleo-diet approach should remind you that Paleolithic man did not eat anything artificial or from a box. Paleolithic man did not measure the amount of protein, carbs and fats they ate.  Paleolithic man did not drive to the grocery store for their animal protein.  It was instinct and some intense daily exercise in the form of survival that kept the paleo healthy.  That and the lack of any processed artificial food-like substances!   Thats why they are a great role model for dietary habits.

The challenges our culture has created around food and body have nothing to do with which dietary theory you follow or how consistent your exercise routine is.  Instead they have everything to do with the way you think and feel about food!  Did you know that 97% of women confess they have at least one “I hate my body moment” each day? Now that is a complex topic and not one I'll complete in this particular post but we have to start somewhere and if we create a step by step systematic approach to changing our attitude and understanding of food and health, we can get there.  What I'm talking about is not a short term dietary theory but a life style change or shift that is founded on long term incremental progress that allows us to take back control of our well being from the hands of corporations or government.  To be able to rely on your own instinct guided by clear knowledge and common sense.  You know, like the good old, old, old, old days, thousands of years ago.  We have to get our culture out of the way to see food for what it truly is.  You are what you eat is not just a quaint idiom, it is fact.  

Let me simplify! You can eat fish, cows, milk, vegetables, corn, rice wheat… whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter what your dietary theory might be or what dietary restrictions you have, as long as you adhere to these two guiding principles about what you choose to eat:  

#1 Eat only real food. (Emphasis on only)  

#2 Eat more plants than animals.

It is really that simple but… simple ain’t easy!

Why real food only and what is real food?

Let’s get more specific. Only foods that you can pick off a tree or bush, pull out of the ground etc, and are ready to eat are perfectly real foods.  Its actually what paleo man ate most of, and although we have cultivated some new fruits and vegetables that weren't even around in the Paleolithic era, corn for example, whole fruits and vegetables are still recognizable by our body and easily digested.  That is the best end of the scale.


On the other side of the scale is overly processed food.  Edible products that are synthetic with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives.  Food-like products that perhaps at one point came from plants or animals yet have been so transformed they are unrecognizable and misunderstood by the body.  Insidious food additives have been used for decades to enhance the appearance and flavor of food and prolong shelf life but these food additives do not “add” any value to your food?

Food additives find their way into our foods to help ease processing, packaging and storage, enhance flavors and textures and make it look pretty.  A typical American household spends about 90 percent of their food budget on processed foods, and in doing so are exposed to a plethora of artificial food additives, many of which can cause dire consequences to your health. You can check this link here for more details about the negative health affects of many ubiquitous artificial food additives.  


Whatever you eat, be it an apple or an artificially flavored lollipop, must be used, stored or discarded by the body, right?  What goes in must be used or go out.  Nutrients from whole, real food are easily absorbed and serve the body well; developing the brain, muscles, skeleton, nervous system, immune system and so on.   Our body has evolved with these naturally occurring foods and can easily understand the value and make-up of these foods, distributing the nutrients, utilizing the insoluble fibers, burning the sugars, sending fat to the brain, etc.  

Isolated nutrients like added vitamins used to fortify foods or additives that preserve or change the flavor and appearance of food, like hydrogenated or interesterified oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and flavors, anything not found in nature that is added to food, is not easily processed by the body and does not serve the body in anyway.  It’s like dragging an anchor behind your car.  It won’t stop you, may not kill you but it takes a lot of extra energy to just have that hanging around and you get nothing for it.   These useless products MUST GO THROUGH the digestive system to get out.  They must pass through various organs of the body as the body tries to figure out what to do with it.  The liver says, “No, this red stuff isn’t for me…  don’t know what it its.. Get rid of it.” and kicks it over to the kidney and the same things happens as the little red guy finds his way back out of the body, leaving a little trail of red dye everywhere he went.  It’s like a 3 year old child with a magic marker running through your body, except its not washable.  

Or worse still, these useless products get bogged down and stored by the body until it can figure out what to do with it.  Kind of like those leftovers that have been in the fridge forever and nobody wants to throw it out yet nobody wants to eat it, until it gets moldy of course and assumes a life of its own.  Then someone has to remove it.  (Think excess hydrogenated vegetable fat from too many Oreos.)

To sum it up; what doesn’t serve your body, STRESSES your body.  So to take care of yourself, eat as much food as you can that will support your body’s health.  That is really the definition of a diet by the way.  When you think of the ‘diet of the African Elephant’ you’re not thinking about low fat straw or sugar free carrots…  You think what does this animal eat to stay healthy, get strong and thrive.  Again, it's not the dietary theory that matters but rather your understanding of the food you choose to eat.  Simplify the choice, real or artificial.  Thats the first step in rethinking your  food.  The miracle is not to eat this one food that will eliminate belly fat, it's simply to eat from the earth.  

Now we have two types of food.  Real and artificial.  Food that makes sense or food that makes money; real food or food like products.   All food fits somewhere on this spectrum or scale; I call it the Real-Food-O-Meter.

What is the “The Real-Food-O-Meter.

The Real-Food-O-Meter is an imaginary scale on which you can place all food and decide if you should eat it.  There are two ends of the scale, the “No, I shouldn’t eat that no matter what” end and the “I can eat that and as much as I want” end.  These are the optimal ends of the scale and are determined by these three principles.  

        • Does it occur in nature? 

        • Is it edible without processing? 

        • Does it provide absorbable nutrients? 

If the answer is yes to all three, then eat it! Thats the ideal end of the scale. Eat a lot of it and don’t worry.  Your body will tell you when you’ve had enough and will let you know when you need more.  If the answer is no to all three of these questions, don’t eat it!  If there is a combination of yes and no then you need to see which side of the scale it falls on and make a thoughtful choice about what you are going to eat.  From the middle of the scale all the way to the bad end is any food that contains any artificial products in it.  That's the "Do Not Eat" side.  I'm advocating no artificial foods or ingredients in your optimal diet.  So, that is your fist step.  Remove any and all artificial foods from your diet.  Just try to do that and see how much more care you have to take with your food choices.  You can't go into Giant Eagle or Safeway and not buy artificial foods.  Even Whole Foods Market, which puts a lot of restrictions on the ingredients in their products and claims nothing artificial, which is arguably true, has unnecessary ingredients in many of their processed and packaged products.  Unnecessary for our health but serve only to preserve and or to provide texture or color to food for marketability.  Or they provide products that have been stripped of nutrients.  So although some stores claim to be a health food store, it still requires our attention and knowledge to make the best choice.  

As long as you continue to walk toward the better end of the scale, to move the majority of your food choices to the far end or the real side of the RealFoodOMeter, you will continually improve your health.  

Mark Staley