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  • Jordan Olenginski

What is 'Real Food'?

I decided to dedicate this month’s post to explaining what I mean when I say, ‘eat real food.’ In my last post, I recommended including as many whole, minimally processed foods in your diet as possible. But what does this mean in practice? What does it look like to eat whole, minimally processed foods?

To start off: why eat real food? There’s a lot of debate out there about what’s more important: quantity or quality. There’s no denying the science – quantity IS important. Generally speaking, if we eat more than we burn, we will gain weight. If we eat less than we burn, we will lose weight. That’s how our bodies maintain homeostasis. However, quantity isn’t the only thing that matters. The quality of a diet is extremely important for overall health and wellbeing. While there’s no denying that quantity is important from a physiological point of view, I don’t think most people need to be tracking their intake precisely. Yes, being aware of serving sizes is important, but for most people there’s no need to hit a specific calorie or macronutrient goal. Why don’t I prescribe that? For starters, an action plan should be consistent with the person’s goals. Most people are trying to lose some weight, feel better, get stronger, etc. Most people DO NOT have highly specific performance or aesthetic goals. Individuals with specific and aggressive goals definitely need to be tracking their food precisely and have certain numbers they need to be hitting if they want to achieve those goals. However, most of us don’t fall under that umbrella. If your goal involves losing some weight, feeling better, getting stronger, etc there’s no need to precisely track. It’s just as beneficial to be aware of portion sizes and intake, eat mostly whole foods, and eat your food slowly and mindfully. That third part, eating slowly and mindfully, is something most people neglect, but it’s so important. Which leads me to another reason I don’t believe food should only be consumed based on a numbers. It can cause people to completely disregard what their body is telling them because they know they have to hit a certain number of calories or macronutrients. I have experienced this myself. I have tracked my macronutrients my entire college career, mostly to ensure I am eating enough to perform every day. But I have noticed that I have lost touch with my bodily signals. I eat even when I’m not hungry because I know if I under-eat I will feel it on the field the following day. Because of this, I have become unaware of what my body is feeling and telling me. The fix? After I’m done playing division I, I plan to stop tracking for awhile. I plan to get back in touch with my body and listen to the signals it’s telling me.

So, what do I recommend if I don’t think a specific calorie or macronutrient protocol is necessary? I advise people to start with eating real food. I start with quality over quantity, because believe it or not, quantity usually falls in line when we fix our quality. Why? It’s really hard to overeat whole, minimally processed foods. Think about it, have you ever said to yourself “Man, I really ate too much broccoli today.” NO! That’s absurd. What do we usually think of when we picture ourselves overeating? It’s the foods that are easy to overeat – the highly processed foods – like chips, cookies, pastries, cereals, etc. By focusing your diet on whole, minimally processed foods and by listening to the physiological cues your body is telling you, quantity almost always falls in line.

So how do you do this in real life? What does this look like? As I said in my last post, I don’t believe in restriction diets. Instead of thinking about restricting processed foods, think about adding more whole, minimally processed foods. Start where you are. For example, if you are eating the standard American diet which includes little to no whole foods, try adding just one whole food a day. Slowly add whole foods over time in a way that is sustainable for you. Whole and minimally processed basically means eating foods as close to the source as possible. Unless you grow your own food, raise animals, or hunt/fish for food, it’s impossible to eat foods that have no processing – that’s why I’m saying minimally processed. The food we see in the grocery store had to be packaged and shipped to get there, but it’s not worth it to stress too much over that. Yes, if you feel like it one day you can go to your local farmer’s market and get a bunch of fresh produce, but if that’s not possible the grocery store is just fine. What should we be getting at the grocery store? Most of the minimally processed foods will be on the outskirts of the store, so try to spend most of your time there. If you do venture into the middle aisles, turn over the item and take a look at the nutrition label. The less ingredients the better and the less added sugar the better. The items I get in the middle aisles have few ingredients (for example, the peanut butter I get only has peanuts in it). The following foods are considered whole and minimally processed:

The Proteins: fresh, lean, minimally processed sources such as eggs/egg whites, plain Greek yogurt, fish, shellfish, chicken, duck, turkey, lean beef, bison, lamb, wild game, etc.

The Carbohydrates: beans and lentils, oats (steel-cut and old-fashioned), quinoa, buckwheat, whole-grain/black/wild rice, potatoes (white and sweet), fresh and frozen fruit (both are fine!), barley, yuca, whole or sprouted grain bagels/breads/English muffins, etc.

The Fats: EVOO, avocado oil, walnut oil, egg yolks, avocados, cashews, pistachios, seeds, almonds, pecans, peanuts, olives, nut butters, fresh coconut, etc.

Vegetables: No vegetables are off limits! Try to change it up and eat as many colors as possible. Each vegetable provides different nutrients and health benefits! (FYI the potatoes and sweet potatoes are included in the carbohydrate category even though they are vegetables because they are starchy vegetables and have more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables)

Although the above foods are considered minimally processed, it’s still important to listen to your body. Even if a food is considered ‘healthy’ you may not tolerate it well. If you notice a certain food doesn’t sit right with you, stay away from it! Another reason why it’s so important to be in tune with your body! If you are curious about other foods and where they fall on the whole food continuum, please feel free to DM me! I hope this post was helpful in providing you with information you can actually use the next time you shop for groceries. My challenge for you: the next time you grocery shop, add one whole, minimally processed food to your list that you normally don’t buy. Experiment and try new things! You will be amazed at how delicious these whole foods can be :)

Until next time,

Just a Sprinkle of Jordan

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