What Does Eating “Healthy” Mean?


I had the opportunity to speak to a small group this last weekend and a few who wanted to come but couldn’t, asked if I could send them my notes.  Might as well share it with all of you.

I’m always nervous talking about nutrition because I never know where people are coming from. There are so so many ideas about what healthy eating is out there, it all is so darn confusing. Low fat, high fat, low carb, high carb, vegan, Paleo, raw food, oy. If you can think of it, there is probably a diet out there for it. I remember my mom doing a rice and grapefruit diet way back when.

This post is not meant for my readers who are already seasoned nutrition freaks. This post is meant for my neighbor who knows I eat organic and “healthy” but has no idea what that means. This is a back to basics, where to start post. I’m not going to try to blow your brains with too much information but I will provide links if you do want to do further in-depth study.

Just Eat Real Food

I’m not sure who first coined this phrase, just eat real food, but pretty much sums up how to eat healthy. The first time I remember hearing it was from Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness Show. He even sells the t-shirts. . Forget all the diets, forget all the new fangled laboratory made foods, don’t worry yourself about which of the bazillion supplements/vitamin pills out there to take. Just. Eat. Real. Food.

*Plug for Sean’s book* If you are looking for an entertaining, easy to read and purely awesome book on nutrition, check out Sean’s book “The Dark Side of Fat Loss“. He breaks things down into a very easy to understand way and is fun to read at the same time.

What do I mean when I say real food? I’m talking about food that actually is food. Below I’ve complied a list of things to ask when you are trying to discern whether something is real or not.

What Real Food is not:

  • If the label says “Food Product”, it is not real food.
  • If the label contains a list 25 ingredients long, the majority of which are unpronounceable, it is not real food.
  • If there is a commercial for it, it’s not real food.
  • If it’s shelf life is longer than yours, it’s not real food.
  • If it requires a factory to make it, it’s not real food.
  • If it’s made in a laboratory, it’s not real food.
  • If you can’t make it yourself at home, it’s not real food.
  • If its DNA has been combined with frog DNA, it’s not real food.
  • If it wasn’t part of the human diet a thousand years ago, it’s not a real food.

What Real Food is:

  • If it had a face and maybe a name, it’s real.
  • If you can grow it in your backyard, it’s real.
  • If you great-grandmother ate it, it’s real.
  • If it came from a farm and not a factory, it’s real.
  • If it doesn’t have a label, it’s real.
  • If it has a label with less than 5 ingredients and each of those ingredients falls on this list, it’s real.
  • If it was made in a kitchen, it’s real.
  • If it’s in the package God put it in, it’s real.

Basically it comes down to this: Man made vs God made.

A Few Basic Examples…

For meat it’s simple. Just eat fresh meat. If it has a slew of chemicals added to it (think hot dogs and lunch meat), it’s not real food. If you can find meat that is raised in open pastures the way God intended (cows eat grass not corn, chickens eat seeds and bugs not soy), that’s even better.

For milk, skip the soy milk and set aside the over processed skim (God put fat with milk for a reason). Go for full fat, fresh from the farm, milk from happy cows.

For vegetables, eat vegetables. A bag of veggies that comes with a package of a creamy sauce doesn’t count. Eat the veggies, toss out the sauce. Better yet, visit your local farmers market and get it fresh. Of course this time of year in most places now is not the time for farmers markets. Visit the fresh produce section of your grocery store instead.

The biggest fake food culprit out there is vegetable oil. I’m talking canola, soybean, cottonseed, corn oil and safflower oil. Any oil that takes laboratory to make is bad news. If it’s an oil that’s been part of the human diet for thousands of years, that’s the real deal. In our house we only have butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and animal fats like lard and tallow.

Where to Start

Ok, did I overwhelm you? I sure hope not. This is still a lot to take in for most people who are used to eating from a box labeled “Fat Free” as if that were a good thing. Some people are dive-in-head-first kind of people. That’s me. I purged my house and never looked back. Since my only child at the time was super young, it wasn’t too hard to do and my husband could get his junk food fix outside the house (but he was pretty good about it).

Not everyone works that way and I’m finding more people do better with a step by step approach, especially children. You are more apt to stick with something if it’s done slowly and intentionally. So don’t fret over getting everything perfect right away. Slow and steady wins the race.

Week by Week

Pick one processed food a week, just one food that you know is bad for you and your family and replace it with something good. I strongly recommend replacing your bad vegetable oils with good saturated fats (I know, that’s the opposite of what most dietitians will tell you but trust me). Switch out your “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” for butter. Throw out your Pam cooking spray and replace it with a good fat (olive oil or coconut oil for starters).

Switch out your store bought salad dressings for homemade. The vast majority of salad dressings on the grocery store shelf are full of bad oils (amid other not so savory ingredients). Make your own dressing! Here are a few of mine, Lemon Poppyseed Dressing, Ranch Dressing, Caesar, Curried Lemon Dressing. This dressing from Whole New Mom is amazing as well Moroccan Vinaigrette (I add a couple tablespoons of honey for extra yum factor). In a rush? A simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top is perfect. You don’t even need to mix it ahead of time.

For more in depth reasons for why this is the most crucial thing to tackle first, check out these articles on fats.

Loving Our Guts, Basics: Cooking Fats

Real Food Freaks, Big Fat Lies: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Mark’s Daily Apple: The Definitive Guide to Fats.

Butter Believer, PUFA: What is it and Why Should it Be Avoided.

Ok, what is the first thing you are going to replace?



**This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support Pickle Me Too, allowing me to post and store all of my free recipes. Thank you!**

6 comments to What Does Eating “Healthy” Mean?

  • Thanks Melanie, you are amazing!

  • Totally agree! We’d be so much better off if folks ate real food and the food industry wasn’t so messed up. I usually only use coconut oil or ghee and have gotten rid of vegetable oils. I still need to try beef tallow.

  • This is a great post! I think it’s a great explanation of the way we eat and I’ll be sending some people this way. The only problem with your suggested gradual approach is that food additives are highly addictive and “break” our ability to recognize good flavor. People that are accustomed to eating overly processed foods full of brain-fooling chemicals (msg, hydrolyzed proteins, etc.) will think real food without additives tastes bland and yucky. MSG has been tricking their brain into believing processed foods taste good for so long that their taste buds are “out of practice”. Luckily, this is a reversible problem that will correct itself in a week or so away from those chemicals. I think this is why so many young people prefer fast food to home cooked meals and it’s also the main hurdle to healthier eating for most people (kids especially).

    I had heard that chemical food additives are addictive, but I didn’t really “get” it until our withdrawal several years ago. The first two weeks were miserable with cravings all over the place, elaborate and time-consuming but bland tasting dinners, withdrawal symptoms of all kinds, but after we made it through to the other side a wonderful thing happened. We started really tasting (with our taste buds) all that wonderful real food and it was heavenly. It opened up a whole new culinary landscape for me and my children and we are healthier than we’ve ever been. Hopefully, there is a tide turning so that we will no longer be thought of as freaks just because we know every single ingredient of every single bite that goes into our bodies.

  • […] rule for nutrition is to eat real food.  You can read my definition of “healthy” here: What Does Eating Healthy Mean? The Paleo diet fits perfectly with that.  It’s all real […]

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