Real food is whole, single ingredient food.
It is mostly unprocessed, free of chemical additives and rich in nutrients. In essence, it’s the type of food human beings ate exclusively for thousands of years.
However, ever since ready-to-eat foods became popular, many people have been eating them as a dominant part of their diet. While processed foods may be more convenient, it’s hard to argue that they have made us healthier or happier.
In fact, following a diet based on real food may be one of the most important things you can do to maintain good health and high quality of life.
Here are some reasons to eat real food.
Real Food Is Loaded with Important Nutrients
Unprocessed animal and plant foods contain the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health. For instance, one cup of red bell peppers, broccoli or orange slices contains more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDI) for vitamin C. And just a single Brazil nut provides all the selenium you need for an entire day.
Most real foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients. Unlike supplements, it’s nearly impossible to overdose on most nutrients from unprocessed food.
Real Food Is Low in Sugar
Some research suggests that eating sugary foods can increase the risk of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease. Generally speaking, real food is low in sugar and isn’t very sweet. Even though fruit contains sugar, it’s also high in water and fibre, so it’s much less concentrated than sugar in soda and processed foods.
Real Food Is Heart-Healthy
Real food is packed with antioxidants and nutrients that support heart health, including magnesium and healthy fats. Eating a diet rich in nutritious, unprocessed foods may also help reduce inflammation, which is believed to be one of the major drivers of heart disease.
Real Food Is High in Fibre
Benefits of fibre include helping you feel more satisfied with fewer calories, as well as improving digestive function and metabolic health. Foods such as avocados, chia seeds, flaxseeds and blackberries are particularly high in healthy fibre, along with beans and legumes.
Getting fibre as it naturally occurs in real food is much better than taking a fibre supplement or processed food with added fibre.
Real Food Helps Control Blood Sugar
Numbers from the International Diabetes Federation indicate that more than 400 million people have diabetes worldwide. That number is expected to surpass 600 million within the next 25 years.
Eating a diet high in fibrous plants and unprocessed animal foods may help reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and people who are at risk of developing the disease.
In one 12-week study, people with diabetes or prediabetes followed a diet containing fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts. They experienced a 26% reduction in blood sugar levels.
Real Food Is Good for Your Skin
In addition to promoting better overall health, real food nourishes and helps protect your skin from the inside out. Studies suggest that eating more vegetables, fish, beans and olive oil may help reduce wrinkling, loss of elasticity and other age-related skin changes.
Switching from a Western diet high in processed foods to one based on real food may help prevent or reduce acne.
Real Food Helps Lower Triglycerides
Blood triglyceride levels are strongly influenced by food intake. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. They are the most common type of fat in the body and are necessary for health. However, in excess amounts they may be harmful and may increase the risk of heart disease. Because triglycerides tend to go up when you eat sugar and refined carbs, it’s best to minimize these foods or cut them out of your diet altogether.
In addition, including unprocessed foods such as fatty fish, lean meats, vegetables and nuts has been shown to significantly reduce triglyceride level.
Real Food Provides Variety
Eating the same foods over and over can get old. It’s also healthier to include many different foods in your diet. There are hundreds of different real food options, including a wide variety of meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and seeds.
Real Food Is High in Healthy Fats
Unlike trans fats and processed fats found in vegetable oils and spreads, most naturally occurring fats are incredibly healthy. For example, extra virgin olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that promotes heart health.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase fat burning and assist with weight loss.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation and protect heart health. Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and sardines, are excellent sources of these fats. Other real foods that are high in healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds and whole-milk dairy.
Real Food May Reduce Disease Risk
Making real food part of your lifestyle may help reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases. Eating patterns based on whole, unprocessed foods — including the Mediterranean diet — have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
In addition, several large observational studies link a balanced diet with a high intake of fruits and vegetables to a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease.
Real Food Contains Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that help fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage your body’s cells. They are found in all real foods, especially plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes.
Fresh, unprocessed animal foods also contain antioxidants, but their levels are generally much lower than in plants. For instance, egg yolks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect against eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Real Food Is Good for Your Gut
Eating real food may be beneficial for your gut microbiome, the bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Indeed, many real foods function as prebiotics — food that your gut bacteria ferment into short-chain fatty acids. In addition to promoting gut health, these fatty acids may improve blood sugar control and provide other health benefits.
Real food prebiotics include garlic, asparagus and cocoa.
Real Food May Help Prevent Overeating
A high intake of processed and fast foods has been linked to overeating, particularly in those who are overweight. By contrast, real food doesn’t contain the sugars and flavourings found in processed foods that help drive overeating.
Real Food Promotes Dental Health
Healthy teeth may be another benefit of a real food lifestyle that’s low in sugars and refined carbs. Sugar and refined carbs promote dental decay by providing food for the plaque-causing bacteria that live in your mouth. The combination of sugar and acid in soda is especially likely to cause decay.
Cheese seems to help prevent cavities by increasing pH and hardening tooth enamel. One study found that eating cheese dramatically improved enamel strength in people with limited saliva production due to radiation treatment for cancer.
Real Food May Help Reduce Sugar Cravings
A diet based on real food may also help reduce cravings for sweets, such as cake, cookies and sweets. Once your body adjusts to eating whole, unprocessed foods, cravings for sugary foods could become infrequent and even disappear altogether. When you limit or avoid processed foods and high-sugar foods, eventually your taste buds adapt and learn to appreciate real food more.
Eating Real Food Sets a Good Example
In addition to improving your own health and well-being, eating real food can help the people you care about stay healthy as well. Leading by example can help encourage better eating habits for your family members.
It’s also a good way to help your kids learn about good nutrition.
Eating Real Food Gets the Focus off Dieting
A dieting mentality isn’t good over the long term. It makes you focus on the number on the scale too much. Nutrition is about way more than just dieting. It is also about feeling good, having enough energy and being healthy.
Focusing on real food instead of dieting can be a much healthier, more sustainable and enjoyable way to live. Instead of focusing on weight loss, let weight loss come as a natural side effect of a better diet and improved metabolic health.
Real Food Is Delicious
In addition to all of the other reasons to eat real food, it truly tastes delicious. The amazing flavour of fresh, unprocessed food is undeniable. Once your taste buds have adjusted to real food, processed junk food simply can’t compare.