The REAL FOOD Guide

I’m hungry…what should I eat? Low fat? Low sodium? Low carb? High protein? When did eating get so complicated? It hasn’t always been like this. Before modern conveniences we ate in-season food grown locally and we cooked recipes passed down to us from our mother or grandmother. We didn’t calculate the number of calories we ate, or grams of carbs or fat. We ate real food and we enjoyed it.

As a society, we’re arguably better fed than we have ever been, but are we better nourished? There are many new theories that say "no" – we have an abundance of food but we’re undernourished. I’ve spent the last 10 years totally consumed by nutritional research, trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix this…and I have a few theories.

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact place in history where our diet and our idea of healthy eating got off track…but if you really want to know, I’d say everything went wrong when we started to define healthy foods vs unhealthy foods.

You see, the nutritional sciences are full of inaccuracies. It’s very hard to use the current scientific method to study the effects of diet on a population. You can’t use a placebo-controlled study (like they do with drugs), because you can’t create a placebo food. Most dietary studies are weak as they use a small group of people and they rely on their memory for their data. What did you eat for lunch last Wednesday? Do you remember? Now try to remember everything you ate last month and you get an idea of some of the inaccuracies in the nutritional sciences.

Health Canada is trying their best; they would really like us to be as healthy as possible. It’s in their best interests that Canadians are fit, healthy, and age well. The Canadian Food Guide is based on the current trends in nutritional science (notice I used the word “trends”) and unfortunately a nice big splash of politics.

The Canadian Food Guide is designed primarily by an advisory committee of 12 people, made up of industry professionals including employees from:

  • The Vegetable Oil Industry Council - the folks who bring us refined and processed oils.
  • The BC Dairy Foundation - who have a big stake in keeping the recommended daily dairy intake level high
  • The Food and Consumer Product Manufacturers Board – who bring us the many calorie dense/nutritionally void products that stock the shelves of your average grocery store.

As a Nutritionist, I question the validity of letting industry professionals who profit from what we eat dictate how we should eat. Instead of eating whole, unprocessed food, and listening to what our body wants (our gut instinct), we now decide rationally what we should and shouldn’t eat. We’ve learned to ignore our own instincts for rationality.

Our instincts are right...well in general. With one exception (more on that in a minute), we can trust our cravings.

Craving salt? That’s because your body wants more salt – add some healthy sea salt to unprocessed food and you’ll feel less anxious and have more energy.

Craving fat? Your body may be deficient in essential fats or fat-soluble vitamins. Roast some root veggies or steam some broccoli and add grass-fed butter or olive oil and help your body absorb some additional Vitamin A or K.

Craving sugar and sweets? Well, that’s the craving you can’t always trust. A sugar craving is usually due to an imbalance in your gut bacteria. Rebalance your gut bacteria and you’ll find your sugar cravings will go down dramatically.

The REAL FOOD Guide (otherwise known as “How we ate 100 years ago”):

  1. Eat a diet that makes you feel healthy, vibrant and full of energy all day. For some this might be a high protein diet, or a raw food diet...or a balance somewhere in between. You know you’re eating well when you feel vibrant all day and sleep well at night.
  2. Eat whole, unprocessed food. This includes unprocessed meats, fats, grains, fruits and vegetables.
  3. Consume foods that are high in vitality every day; like raw fruit and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and naturally fermented foods.
  4. Take time to prepare and enjoy your food everyday!

A balanced, healthy diet doesn’t come from a chart or book, and it won’t be the same as your neighbour or your partner. Your healthy diet will be a unique balance of whole, unprocessed food, including healthy fats, sea salt, and natural sugars. Eat more REAL food and enjoy every bite!