Want to know the secret to longevity? Eat Real Food. It sounds so simple, but it in today’s food world it is far from easy to do. Open your cupboards and refrigerator and take a look at what you’ve got. If you’re looking at a big collection of boxes, jars, and bottles, you may not be eating as many real foods as you thought.
March is National Nutrition Month with the theme “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” Why not use this month to define what real food means to you and challenge yourself to upgrade your food choices.
What qualifies as a real food? The definition varies depending on whom you ask. For me, real food fits this definition:
- I can picture where it was grown or raised.
- It contains one ingredient (real foods don’t contain ingredients, they ARE the ingredient).
Examples of foods that meet this definition include fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, beef, poultry, pork, fish, whole grains (quinoa, rice, barley, etc.), milk, butter, coffee, tea.
Why choose Real Foods?
It’s simple: real foods are going to be higher in components that promote health and lower in components that destroy health.
Nutrients that promote health include vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, healthy fats, and phytonutrients. Not only are they more nutritious, they also provide these nutrients in amounts that work synergistically to protect our cells and even to influence how our genes express themselves relating to the development of disease.
Ingredients in processed foods that have potential to destroy health include trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, refined white flour, refined sugar, additives, preservatives, colorings and flavorings. They often provide more calories and fewer nutrients than real foods. Many processed foods add back vitamins and minerals essential to health, but you will never get the full spectrum of phytonutrients that exist in real foods.
This strategy doesn’t mean that ALL you can eat is real food. It means making these foods the foundation of your daily diet. Think QUALITY, not CALORIES. Take a look at what’s in your kitchen, read the ingredient label, and trade up to a higher quality choice.
Start with your salad dressing (you do eat salads, right?) Commercially packaged dressings typically contain a long list of ingredients. Why slather your fresh, delicious vegetables with chemical soup and rancid oil? Instead, make a simple vinaigrette using extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh garlic. Or try an Asian-inspired vinaigrette with sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger, and honey. Make a batch of dressing and store it in the refrigerator to quickly dress your salads and vegetables on busy weeknights.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to nutrition, but implementing this super-important strategy will help you optimize your health at every stage of life.