When it comes to real food, if you’re just starting out, it can be a little overwhelming. There’s a lot to take in and it’s tough to do it all at once. That’s why I’ve created this easy to navigate guide to real food basics. You can take it one step at a time and focus on implementing each category at your own speed. Pin this guide to refer back to when you’re ready to take on another step.
If you would like more recipes, guides and tutorials to start your real food journey, check out my ebook Gluten-Free Vegetarian.
1. Organics/GMOs – Real Food Basics
As many of you may already know, GMOs are dangerous. In several studies they have shown to cause cancer and defects in lab rats. In addition to these studies, they are poorly regulated and have not been tested for safety by the FDA or by the biotech companies that produce them, like monsanto. The easiest way to avoid GMOs are to buy organic food. You can also learn more about GMOs and how to identify them in your food by reading my article 7 Ways GMOs are Hiding in Your Food. To learn more about the dangers of GMOs and how it contributes to autoimmune disorders and food allergies, I highly recommend this documentary.
Apart from GMOs, it’s important to choose organic in order to avoid toxic pesticide residue. Moving to organic foods can be tough, mostly because of budget constraints, but there are a few tips and tricks that you can implement to lower the cost. If you want more tips to eating real food on a budget, check out my article here and follow my pinterest board here. You can also check out this article for some inexpensive meal ideas.
- Dirty dozen & Clean fifteen
- If you can’t afford all organic produce, just try to buy organic from the dirty dozen list. These are the fruits and vegetables that are most susceptible to soaking in pesticides. The clean 15 list are items that soak in the least amount of pesticides, but watch out for GMOs. Corn is on the clean 15 list, but is over 90% GMO, so I would always choose organic when it comes to corn. To see the list click here.
- Buy in season and locally
- Buying in season can help ensure that you’re getting a lower price for your organic fruits and vegetables. Since produce that is out of season has to be imported from distant locales, it costs more to buy it because you’re also paying for all the fuel and labor hours that it took to get to you. During the summer I’ve been able to buy delicious organic tomatoes for $1 per pound at my farmer’s market, but if I were to try to buy organic tomatoes during the winter, they would probably be anywhere from $2-$3 per pound, and not worth buying. To find out what foods are in season in your area check out this eat well guide.
2. Grains & Legumes
Grains are notoriously hard to digest and contain phytic acid, which can block the absorption of key vitamins and minerals. If you eat grains, it’s important to either soak, sprout or ferment (sourdough) them in order to break down the phytic acid and improve digestibility.
- Although soaking grains and legumes takes time, it’s actually very easy. See this article for more details on how to soak grains and legumes.
- Once you get the hang of it, making sourdough becomes second nature. In addition, sourdough bread is just about one of the tastiest things ever! You can get sourdough starter cultures here. Once you have your sourdough starter alive and bubbling you can use this recipe to make sourdough bread.
- Once you have that down, you can also use your sourdough starter to make various recipes like easy sourdough crepes, sourdough cinnamon rolls, sourdough pizza, and sourdough pretzels.
If you choose to avoid grains, learning to bake without them can be a little tricky. For the most part though, the main flours you can use for grain-free baking are coconut flour and almond flour. This is a great guide to tips on how to optimize your grain free baking. I also recommend the Nourished Kitchen Guide to Grain Free Baking, which has lots of grain and dairy-free dessert recipes and tips for successful grain free baking.
For grain-free bread recipes, check out my post for the top 10 grain-free bread recipes.
4. Healthy Fats & Oils
Using the right fats and oils is a big part of getting into real food. Using the wrong oils can cause inflammation which can lead to allergies, heart disease and other autoimmune disorders. There is so much bad information out there about which oils are the right ones to use, that it can be so confusing. That is why I wrote these two articles to clear things up about cooking oils:
5. Natural Sweeteners
This is another important factor in switching to real food. Processed sugars can be very damaging to the immune system and can even feed cancer cells. One of the most eye opening articles I read that got me off of processed sugar for good was this article. It’s best to limit sugar consumption overall, whether it’s natural or not, but if you’re coming from a background of eating lots of sugar, sometimes it’s helpful to ease off of it by replacing regular sugar with natural sugar before reducing total sugar intake overall.
My favorite natural sweeteners are raw honey, coconut sugar, date sugar and maple syrup. If you need more ideas or want to know if a supposed “natural sugar” is in-fact natural, check this guide to natural sweeteners.
6. Fermented Foods
Fermentation is a great way to get more probiotics, improve gut health and the immune system. Fermentation is a time-honored traditional practice that even increases nutrient content to food and helps make it more easily digested.
If you want to learn how to ferment ANYTHING, I highly recommend this comprehensive fermentation cooking class from Nourished Kitchen. She is an absolute pro when it comes to fermentation!
7. Pastured Eggs & Grassfed Dairy
When it comes to animal products, quality is of the utmost importance. Not only does this ensure that you’re getting clean food without antibiotics or hormones, but you also know that you are getting more nutrients, more vitamins and minerals and that the animals are raised humanely.
Eggs are a great source of vegetarian protein (if you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian) and fat soluble vitamins that are easily absorbed because of the saturated fats in the yolks. When choosing eggs it’s best to go with pastured eggs, that way you know that the chickens are allowed to forage on green grass like they are naturally supposed to rather than cooped up in a dark cage and fed GMO corn and soy. To read more about why organic pastured eggs are best read this article.
Dairy is best consumed grassfed and preferably raw. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated and kills a large portion of the beneficial enzymes naturally present in raw milk. The same goes with any dairy products like yogurt, cheese, kefir or butter. If you can get them raw and grassfed, you’re getting the best of the best. However, just organic and grassfed is another good alternative. To learn more about the benefits to raw milk read this article.
8. Dairy-Free Alternatives
Although I believe that grassfed dairy can be beneficial, some people are allergic or choose not to consume it. There are a lot of dairy-free alternatives out there when it comes to milk, but not all of them are good.
I don’t believe that soy is healthy and I try to avoid it for the most part, so soy milk is not a good option in my opinion.
Almond milk can be a good option, but only in certain circumstances. Store-bought almond milk has a lot of added sugar and even if you get unsweetened almond milk it still has a lot of additives in it that I wouldn’t want to consume on a regular basis. Homemade almond milk is the best choice, that way you know what’s in it and exactly where it came from. Learn how to make almond milk (and a few other DF milks) Here.
Coconut milk is by far my favorite option. It tastes delicious, it’s good for you and contains a lot of beneficial fats. However, like almond milk, most store-bought ones can have a lot of additives and in addition to that, many of them come in BPA lined cans. I always buy this brand online to avoid additives and BPA. If you want to make your own coconut milk, check out this post.
9. Avoiding processed foods – Real Food Basics
Just because this is last in the list doesn’t mean it’s any less important…on the contrary! It’s probably the most important! Learning how to make your own meals at home and cutting out processed and boxed foods is such an important step when it comes to real food.
Check out my article 5 “Vegetarian Foods” I Never Eat to learn more about which processed foods I avoid.