Real Food in 100 Words—Plus How to Read a Food Label

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Want to know the ultimate human diet? Answer: “Eat real food!”

However, while it sounds simple, “real food” is actually quite confusing to MANY people.

In fact: 80% of Americans are “confused” about what healthy eating means (International Food Information Council, 2017)

Unfortunately, many people think: If you buy it at Whole Foods is it good for you, right?

Eh…not quite. “Organic” boxed mac and cheese, pepperoni pizza and knock-off organic Cocoa Puffs are still processed foods and not quite real food.

“Healthy Eating” Confusion: Common Questions

Other common questions I get about real food include:

Aye aye aye! How do you determine what is REAL FOOD?!

Here’s a simple definition…

Real Food in 100 Words:

Eat real food—as close to its natural state as possible. If it didn’t grow on the land, roam the earth, or swim in the sea, it’s not real food.

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Meat and fish. Healthy fats. Veggies. Fruits. Some starch. No added sugar. Lots of water. Support local, responsible producers.

Food is not about perfection. Keep an 80/20 balance—with food and life. Let life happen.

When in Rome, eat pasta. Enjoy your birthday cake.

Don’t let fear (of food) keep you from all that life has to offer. Above all, ditch the obsessive diet mentality and question conventional wisdom.

The Bottom Line

REAL FOOD does NOT have a label.

The Exceptions to “Real Food”

In modern day, there are SOME exceptions— like coconut flour tortillaskombuchaseed crackers and sun-butter.

How do you know what’s ACTUALLY legit and “good” for you?! Here’s a fast track checklist in how to read a food label so you can put more REAL FOOD into your life…


Pexels Photo 449518 | Real Food In 100 Words—Plus How To Read A Food Label

Step 1: Check the Ingredient List.

Ideally, a “real-ish” product has 5 ingredients or less.

Do you know the ingredients (and how to pronounce them?). If not: Put it back.

Step 2: Check Sugar Content

How many grams of sugar is in it? (5 grams or less is ideal. Some kombuchas have 12 grams of sugar alone!)

What names of sugar or artificial sweeteners does it include? High fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, corn syrup solids, fruit juice concentrate, dextrose, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, Stevia, Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharin? (i.e. NONE of these are ideal. If anything, a little bit of raw honey or maple syrup, natural date/fruit sugar or coconut sugar is better than synthesized sugars).

Step 3: Check the Seals and Sourcing.

Who is the manufacturer?
Generally the “big dog” manufacturers like General Mills, Nestle, Coca Cola, MarsInc, PepsiCo, ConAgra, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, Smuckers, Kraft Foods do NOT have a track record of nourishing, quality foods.

Is it certified Organic, Non-GMO?

Is it produced in America or overseas? If created in America, there’s a better chance it’s less weathered by shipping conditions and a bit “fresher,” with a few exceptions (such as super fresh organic seafood, or quality olive oil or wine flown in from overseas)

Step 4: Check the Expiration

For real food: It should expire within at least 7-10 days of opening for peak freshness.

For packaged goods: Does it expire within the next 6 months-1 year?

Was it manufactured within the past 3 months that you bought it or has it been on the shelf a long time?

Step 5: Check the Protein Content (for meat and protein foods)

Sure, it may claim to have protein—but what is the source? (Soy protein does not digest the same way chicken or beef does, with much of it indigestible)

Is it grass-fed, organic, wild-caught or pastured? (Ideal). If not, is it a lean cut of “natural” meat (ideal if not buying organic)?

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