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Real Food

A recent purchase from my local bookstore has really got me thinking. It’s a book about processed food. The author deconstructs a popular snack cake, ingredient by ingredient.

It got me thinking about real food and why that’s good for us. I’m guessing I’m like you: I want to feel my best, be my strongest. And I don’t want to spend a lot of time fiddling in the kitchen. For our bodies, the best fuel is real food and it’s the easiest to prepare.

What exactly is real food?

I put the question to a number of my friends. In the middle of this informal poll, it dawned on me that most people aren’t thinking about real food. The answers were mostly a shortlist of top childhood favorites, veering toward “what Mom used to make.” Other answers reflected comfort, like this one: “fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy.” And in one case, “meat, not processed, and vegetables.” Only this last idea was the one I was pursuing.

If you are newly gluten-free, you might think you are missing real food in the form of soft white bread or cake. Maybe you think that gluten-free means you’ll never eat real food again.

I’m convinced that gluten-free is a very healthy diet when you stock your refrigerator (and your plate) with a variety of wholesome, single-ingredient foods and work with a smart dietitian and doctor to make sure your nutrient levels are in sync. All vegetables are gluten-free. All fruits are. All dairy and eggs are. All unprocessed meats and fish are. So are all nuts, seeds and beans. Not to mention grains like rice, millet and quinoa. There are tons of healthy items we can eat. Real food.

Besides gluten, the bugaboo in our diet is, of course, processing. It’s in processing that cross-contact and cross-contamination become an issue. Another problem with processing is removing nutrients—and then there’s the additions. Our bodies—celiac or not—may end up paying a heavy price for the artificial colors, stabilizers, preservatives and other often unpronounceable chemicals added to almost all processed foods.

For a number of years, I was the round-the-clock caregiver of a very sick and debilitated loved one. Because it was easier at the time and it’s also what he craved, we spent that final year living on almost all processed products and junk food. I was constantly bloated. My skin was pasty. My joints ached. I had no energy.

When that stage of my life ended, another began. I suddenly had time to take care of myself. A couple of months on a modified plant-based diet really turned my system around. Not one bite of processed food entered my mouth. After a while, my craving for junk food disappeared. I didn’t have to read ingredient labels because usually there weren’t any: everything was a single ingredient. Surprisingly, food preparation was a lot easier. And tastier!

These days, I am neither vegan nor vegetarian but I do strive for a gluten-free diet composed of a wide variety of fresh, wholesome, single-ingredient foods. Real food. This has made a huge difference in my overall health, energy level and mood. It’s even benefited my appearance, an unexpected (and welcome) result. It has been truly remarkable.

I urge you to take one day and think about everything you put in your mouth. What’s in it, exactly? Sure, those potato chips are gluten-free—but are they real food? How are you fueling your body?

We are what we eat. It’s certainly food for thought.

Laurel Greene, former special projects editor for Gluten Free & More, lives in Florida.