What is real food?

“Eat real food.”

Sounds good, right? Sounds perfect, actually. Food that’s real. We should eat that.

But when you’re standing alone in the middle of the supermarket, ready to change your life by changing your food – in particular, by “eating real food,” things get a little more complicated. More than once, I’ve abandoned an empty grocery cart and opted for takeout. It’s just. Too. Much.

Because…well…what the heck IS real food? And once we figure that out, how the heck do we COOK it?

We’re constantly assaulted with advertisements for processed products dressed up as “real food;” from bars and shakes to unwrap-and-zap meals packed with preservatives. Corporations spend millions of dollars on marketing, packaging, and advertising to convince us that their food is the healthiest, best choice possible.

Their business hinges on their ability to convince us that their product is, in fact, real food.

Or, at least, on their ability to distract us from the fact that it’s not real food.

Somewhere in this fake-food quicksand, for many years, was me. On one side, there were the foods I knew were bad, despite their shifty marketing jargon (cheese puffs “made with REAL cheese” and “low fat” candy “made with natural flavors”).

On the other side, there were the foods that I figured must be healthy, even though they were made by the same companies, from many of the same ingredients, with many of the same buzzwords: “all natural” margarine full of trans fats and emulsifiers. Cereal made with “REAL whole grains” that had a highly suspicious list of additives. “Lean Cuisine” that was “low-fat” but over-stuffed with unpronounceable ingredients, stabilizers and preservatives.

These so-called foods were quick-and-easy, sure; all you have to do is unwrap, pour, or zap in the microwave. Five minutes max for instant gratification. But just because the prep work is easy and the packaging CLAIMS it’s “healthy” doesn’t make it good for us.


It’s no wonder we’re confused.

We’ve been taught that fake food is real food, that real food comes from a box, a bag, or a package, that the calorie count is more important than what’s on the ingredients list, and that the truly healthy foods that humans ate for thousands of years in good health (animals and whole plants, pure and simple) are either dangerous or, by contrast, not enough – they must be combined with other so-called health food (like “whole grains” that aren’t actually “whole” at all and highly processed low-fat dairy or soy “milk”) to achieve that “balanced diet” we’re all supposed to eat.

Even so-called “diets” that claim to be based around “real food” are often more focused on lists of arbitrary rules than the foods that truly support health.

It sounds complicated because it is complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Eating and cooking real food is simple when we ditch all the dogma, myths, and marketing jargon. Because that’s what real food is: it’s simple. It’s easy. It’s healthy. And it doesn’t require a team of marketing executives.

Real food is not: packaged, multi-ingredient products, so-called “whole” grains, low-fat foods, muffins (even the “low fat” or “low calorie” kind), cakes, granola bars, processed meats, processed oils, cereals (even the “high fiber” kind), pastas, low-cholesterol egg substitutes, fake soy meat, low-fat high-temp pasteurized skimmed milk, or anything out of a box or a bag – even the ones that look, act, and claim to be “healthy.”

Because the world of processed junk disguised as “health food” is a never-ending maze of new products and factory-made garbage, it’s actually much more simple to talk about what is real food than what isn’t. Let’s start with that.

So what is real food?

Real food fits a few requirements:

  • It’s not processed or highly refined.
  • It has a long history in the human diet.
  • It’s the food that supports good health.
  • It’s the food that exists in nature, without a factory or a team of food scientists working to create, process and package it.
  • It is the food that has lots of nutrition – nutrition that supports everything from clear skin to athletic performance to fertility.

With those requirements in mind,
here’s what real food is:

  • Properly raised animal products of all kinds (which provide healthy protein, healthy fat, minerals, and vitamins)
  • Wild-caught oily fish and shellfish (which provide healthy protein, minerals, vitamins, and omega 3 fats)
  • Whole vegetables of all kinds (which provide healthy carbs, phytonutrients, vitamins, and fiber)
  • Whole fruits of all kinds (which provide healthy carbs, healthy fats, phytonutrients, vitamins, and fiber)
  • nuts and seeds (which provide healthy fats)
  • Dressings and garnishes like natural herbs, minimally-processed cold-pressed oils, vinegar, lemon juice, and unrefined salt in amounts that add flavor to nourishing food.

We can literally get all the nutrition, vitamins, minerals, calories and fiber we need to thrive from that food.

That’s real food. Let’s eat that.

And while we do, let’s remember that this isn’t a Diet. This is the beginning of a lifetime of loving to choose the most delicious, nourishing foods possible. Here’s the bummer about any “Diet-with-a-capital-D:” any time you buy in to a branded, Trademarked Diet (think any “The _____ Diet” book), truth takes a backseat to what will sell. Certain foods are often demonized thanks to persistent myths rather than actual science. Animal products, avoided by many, are actually healthy – when we choose the right ones. Starchier foods like white rice and potatoes, which many people fear thanks to their carb content, can be healthy, too. “Grey area” foods from dairy to beans to chocolate to alcohol and certain grains are ALL addressed here, so you know what’s healthy, what’s not, what the myths are, what the truth is, and what might work for YOU. If this is any kind of “Diet” at all, it’s the eliminate processed junk, get back to our real food roots, and know the myths and the truths about what we eat Diet. Good Food for Bad Cooks cuts through the myths, even bringing some surprising foods back – because we’re here to help, not sell. We’re direct about what’s real and healthy, even when it doesn’t fit into a “Diet” box; and we’re honest about why certain “grey area” foods can, for some people, be enjoyed (and we’re truthful about who should avoid them).

Just remember: when in doubt, stick to the basics:

Properly raised animal products, whole vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and a bit of the basic “garnishes” to make it all taste great. That’s how our recipes are built.

The recipes in Good Food for Bad Cooks are created with real foods. EVERYTHING you find here is safe, healthy, free of junk, and easy to make. In this space, you’re totally safe from industrial garbage, food lies, and Diet myths. There is NO Diet Dogma here. Just the truth about real food (and how to enjoy it without burning down the kitchen). Of course, we’ve been fed so many myths for so long that it’s only natural to have questions. Continue exploring the Guides for more insight, and more answers.