10 Ingredients and Labels to Avoid

10 Ingredients & Labels to Avoid

Since we’ve been on this real food journey for awhile now, I have learned over the years the difference between what many labels and ingredients mean. It’s become second nature to me. It’s important to know what foods to buy but also what foods to avoid. Food marketers have become very sneaky and savvy in their advertising. Knowing that consumers want healthy food, they bet on the fact that many may not read or know exactly how to decipher food labels. It becomes a big marketing game at your expense. Keywords such as “natural,” “low-fat,” “whole grains,” and more are used to give us the illusion that we are buying healthy products.

This list contains ingredients or labels that I try to steer away from while shopping. I think it’s important to be aware of these so that you, too, can easily avoid them and make better choices. And while it may sound restrictive, the good news is that there are always alternative real food options that are easily found at many conventional grocery store, health food stores, or even on the internet in places such as Amazon.

  1. The words, “healthy,” and/or “natural.”
    Even after all these years, seeing these words still makes makes me pick up the package or box. It’s a truly magically marketing word that makes us think we are doing something good for ourselves. Avoid products that use these words on the front of the package to proclaim it’s qualities.
    Alternative: ALWAYS read the ingredient labels!
  2. High Fructose Corn Syrup, Refined Sugars, and Artificial Sweeteners.
    Stick with sugar that is as minimally processed as possible. Look for sweeteners such as raw honey, 100% maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar, or stevia. Read the ingredient labels as many products contain hidden sugars.
    Alternative: Look for products without refined or added sugars. These can include corn syrup, cane sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
  3. Carrageenan
    A highly debated product, carrageenan is found in many products ranging from dairy products to toothpastes. It’s used to make the texture of products creamier, but can be harmful if ingested in large amounts. I choose to steer clear of this ingredient since it’s not something that fits the real food rules and I would NOT have found in my great-grandmother’s pantry.
    Alternative: Look for products without carrageenan. Silk brand of almond milk does not contain this ingredient. Or make it yourself! This almond milk recipe is easy and tastes delish!
  4. Canola, Soybean, or Vegetable Oils
    Even though “vegetable” oil sounds healthy, in all actuality it’s not. All of these oils are highly refined and most likely genetically modified.
    Alternatives: Coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, or ghee. You can even use unsweetened applesauce as a substitute in baking or use water when sauteing.
  5. Low-Fat or Fat-Free Products
    In the late 1980’s the “fat free” and “low fat” craze hit and these products flew off the shelves. In turn, these companies added sugar, artifical flavors, and carrageenan for flavor and texture. Any time you see the words, “low fat” or “fat free,” put down the product and run!
    Alternative: When purchasing dairy products, always purchase full fat, plain varieties. For all other products, read the labels and avoid any artificial ingredients and sugars.
  6. Flavorings
    I try to avoid all artificial flavorings including the infamous “natural” flavorings. You’d be surprised how many granola bars or cereals contain “blueberries” or “strawberries” that are nothing more than an artificial flavor.
    Alternative: Buy real ingredients. Flavor foods yourself including oatmeal, yogurt, or baked goods.
  7. Food Dyes
    There are many questions to the effect of food dyes on our children, particularly their effects on mood and behavior. Naturally, we avoid it whenever possible.
    Alternative: When you need food dyes for things like a birthday cake, try to use whole food options such as strawberries or blueberries.
  8. Soy Lecithin
    Used primarily as an emulsifier, you can find soy lecithin in anything from salad dressings to tea bags to chocolate. Because it’s derived from soy, it most likely is genetically modified and is refined.
    Alternative: Make your own foods to avoid this ingredient. Try chocolate made without this ingredient. I love Theo’s chocolate bars and use Enjoy Life’s Dark Chocolate Chips.
  9. Too Many Ingredients
    A huge red flag for me is an ingredient label that is loaded with unidentifiable ingredients. Most companies will highlight ingredients on the front of the box to make you think they are healthy, but the ingredient list doesn’t lie. When you turn the package over to read the list, if you see more than 5 ingredients that you most likely wouldn’t find in your own kitchen, put it down and walk away.
    Alternative: Try to purchase ingredients rather than ready made products. If you do purchase a product, make sure the ingredient list is short and you can pronounce each ingredient.
  10. Pasteurized Juices or Ultra-Pasteurized Milk
    Pasteurizing or ultra-pasteurizing heats juice or milk to a high temperature to kill any bacteria. The problem is, it also kills any beneficial nutrients resulting in a  “dead” food.
    Alternative: Make non-dairy almond milk easily from scratch. If you are looking for a dairy milk, and your state allows the sale of raw milk, then purchase grass-fed raw milk from a reputable farm. You can make  your own juice at home using real fruits and vegetables. All you need is a juicer or try a green smoothie in your blender.

Take Aways

  • Read ingredient labels.
    Always ask yourself if you would use those ingredients in your own kitchen. If not, put it back.
  • Use ingredients instead of buying pre-packaged foods.
    Learn to cook with these ingredients and make your own homemade versions. Your food will taste better and you won’t have to worry if the ingredients are real or not.
  • Be informed!
    Question products and get to know which companies you can trust. Once you learn, shopping will become easier!

Until next time, keep it real.

Our recommendations:

Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase an item through our link you will not incur any additional costs but we earn a small commission. We only recommend products we have used, would use or trust. Your support is greatly appreciated so we may continue to spread the news about real food.

Easy {Vegan} Cornbread

easy vegan cornbread

It’s chili time of year, y’all. And you know what that means, dontcha? Cornbread. Sweet, sweet cornbread sitting along side of that piping hot bowl of chili. But none of that silly Jiffy boxed kind of cornbread. No, no no…you know better by now! We’ve got no room for that nonsense in our real food kitchens! When cornbread is this easy to make, you’ve got no excuses.

I love the original recipe’s taste. However, I wanted to cut down the oil a bit and swap out a few ingredients for more real food friendly ones. After a few attempts, a little tweaking here and there, I finally perfected this recipe and got a thumbs up from the fam. It now permanently earns a place in my meal plan rotation.

easy vegan cornbread ingredients

Easy {Vegan} Cornbread
Recipe type: Bread
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 loaf
This easy, real food cornbread is dairy, egg, soy and nut free. Adapted from: Hey Morningstar!
  • 1½ cups corn flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 flax egg (1 T ground flax seeds + 3 T water)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • ¼ cup neutral flavored oil
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together your flax and water and let sit 10 minutes to gel up.
  3. In large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.
  4. In small bowl, mix together the remaining wet ingredients minus the flax egg.
  5. Slowly combine the liquids with the dry ingredients.
  6. Add the flax egg and mix until just combined.
  7. Pour into a parchment lined 8x8 pan.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
I used canola oil in this recipe since it's a neutral flavored oil. However, it is a refined oil. So, if you are looking to make this 100% real food approved, use coconut oil. Please note, that you may have a slightly coco-nutty flavor.

Eat this cornbread along side a hot bowl of chili or with pulled pork and coleslaw.

What’s your favorite cold weather dish?

If you make this recipe, be sure to snap a photo and tag us @realfood_life, or hashtag it #realfoodlife. I’d love to see what you make!

Until next time, keep it real.

Real Food on a Budget

Real Food on a Budget

Feeding a family of 4 can be expensive. Feeding a family of 4 real, organic food can just about blow your budget if you are not careful. Most people will stop trying because they think it just cost too much, but in all actuality eating real food on a budget is very doable with a little planning. And while it may be a little more pricey upfront, buying good quality food is insurance for your future. You’ll get sick less, have fewer missed days at work and cut down on medications now and as you age. In my opinion, health is worth the extra cost.

There are several ways you can make a switch to real food without breaking the bank. Let’s take a look.

  1. Get cooking!
    Be aware of convenience vs. saving when shopping at the store. Those premade/prepackaged convenience foods we have all become accustom to don’t come without a hefty price tag. For example, a small container of sliced fruit can run you $3-4, while buying the whole fruit may cost you $2. With 5 minutes of time you will potentially save $2 and get nearly double the amount of fruit. Not only will you save money, but often times prepackaged foods require unwanted preservatives to be added to keep them fresher longer.There are a ton of items at the grocery store that are easy and cheap to make yourself. I make our muffins, breads, granola, nut butters, condiments, some salad dressings, dips, cakes, almond flour, almond milk and more from scratch. While I know it’s not always feasible to make everything from scratch, spending a little extra time in the kitchen can save a lot of money, and even better, you will know exactly what is going into your foods making for a healthier you!
  2. Buy locally and in season.  
    Buying local, in season produce not only taste better but cuts down on the overall environmental impact and supports small local farms. During peak season, we visit the local pick-your-own farms, pick way over what we will eat and I prepare, package and freeze the remaining produce. This way we can enjoy peaches, blueberries and other fruits all winter long without paying top dollar for out of season fruits that travel thousands of miles to my grocery store.
  3. Stock up.
    Whenever I find a staple item I use frequently on sale I typically buy more than what I need at that very moment. Items like flour, honey, maple syrup or oats all store easily and are used often in my home. Most fruits and veggies can be frozen as well, so if you find organic produce on sale make a large purchase and freeze.Likewise, if you do eat meat, you can plan large once-a-year purchase of pasture meats from local farmers. It might seem like a hefty price upfront, but over the long term it’s considerably cheaper to buy in bulk  The freezer is your friend.
  4. Get to know the “clean fifteen.”
    While it would be nice to buy all organic produce every time we are at the store, I know it’s not always accessible or affordable to do so. Luckily for us the Environmental Working Group has done a lot of research and organized a list of the most contaminated and uncontaminated produce. They call these lists the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” So if your budget doesn’t allow for ALL organic produce, try to stick to at least the Clean Fifteen. But, remember, even if you can only buy conventional produce, it is far better to do so than to buy prepackaged convenience foods.
  5. Plant an organic garden.
    What better way to save money than growing your own produce?! If you are short on space, at least try some potted plants or consider adding a small herb garden on your windowsill. You may even find a community garden in your area.
  6. Join a CSA
    We eat a lot of produce in our house. I mean a LOT! So last year when we joined our first CSA I thought a half share would be nothing for us to tackle each week. Let’s just say, even for us, eating a half share was sometimes a struggle. That gives you an idea of just how much produce you actually get for your money! Find a neighbor to split a share with. You’ll help support local farms for a great price!
  7. Don’t waste food. 
    Turn unused vegetable parts into veggie broth, run lemon peels with water on HIGH to clean a blender, soak orange peels in vinegar to make a homemade citrus all-purpose cleaner, crush egg shells or banana peels to fertilize plants, turn almond pulp into almond flour, freeze greens that are starting to go bad and add to smoothies, freeze the ends of bread and make breadcrumbs….in other words, don’t waste anything!
  8. Beans are your friend
    Good quality grass fed, humanely raised meat can be expensive, especially if you are eating it everyday. Cut down on meat to 1-2x’s per week and you will save big. Beans and lentils are an easy way to add protein to your meals and are very cheap! I love Dr. Fuhrman’s Lentil Shepherd’s Pie recipe or Engine 2’s Beans and Rice Extravaganza is easy and super duper yummy.
  9. Shop online or at a wholesale club.
    We are members at both Costco and BJ’s. With organic becoming more mainstream, wholesale clubs are stepping up to the demand as well. I have found organic chia seeds, quinoa, brown rice, hummus, fruits, veggies, vinegar, nuts, whole grain crackers, frozen produce, Kerrygold grass fed butter, spices, sunscreen, coconut sugar and more all at great bulk prices.Shopping online at sites like Amazon or Vitacost are a great place to start and find deals on your staple items. Not only will some items be cheaper, but they are delivered right to your door which keeps you from having to drive to multiple stores just to find the best deals. It’s a win/win!
  10. MEAL PLAN!
    Probably the MOST important task you can do to help your grocery budget is meal planning. Not only will you eliminate food waste, last minute trips to the grocery store and eating out, but you will get healthier meals on the table and spend far fewer dollars doing it. I admit I have not always been good about meal planning and struggled with finding time to actually sit down and do it. Since signing up for Plan to Eat, meal planning has become a breeze. Try it out FREE for 30 days and see how easy it will be!

Do you have any tips for eating real food frugally?

Until next time, keep it real.

Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase an item through our link you will not incur any additional costs but Keepin’ it Real earns a small commission. We only recommend products we have used, would use or trust. Your support is greatly appreciated so we may continue to spread the news about real food.

Why I Don’t Count Calories

Why I Don't Count Calories

We have probably all resorted to the cumbersome task of counting calories or points, weighing, measuring and calculating amounts of food we eat to help us control our weight. Following a diet such as this isn’t easily maintained for a lifetime. Who has time to count calories all day, every day for the rest of your life?

If calorie counting worked long term then we would be the thinnest country on the planet. Americans are obsessed with dieting and spend nearly $40 billion a year on weight-loss programs and products. Yet, you would never know it by looking at us. According to the CDC, 2011-12 data shows that 69% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Sixty-nine percent! That’s insane!

Since eating real food, I have freed myself of that daily burden. To me, eating real food isn’t about restriction and worrying about how many calories a certain food contains. It’s not about depriving myself of good wholesome treats. Eating real food is about eating unrefined, nutrient-dense foods that fill me up, make me feel good, and are helping to fight disease rather than fuel it. In my opinion, this is a much more sustainable way to stay healthy long term.

Here’s why I stopped counting calories and chose real food instead.

  1. All calories are NOT created equal. For example, 100 calories of anti-cancer, immune-building, high fiber berries or pomegranate is far superior than a 100 calorie snack pack that is loaded with chemicals, refined ingredients and coloring. It’s more about quality, not quantity.
  2. Crap is crap no matter how many calories it contains. Healthy, nutrient-dense foods will help keep hunger at bay, minimize cravings and help maintain stable blood sugar levels. Nutrient-dead foods will spike insulin, cultivate cravings and encourage overeating.
  3. It’s too restrictive. I love to eat and I eat a lot. Just ask my husband. But nothing takes the joy out of eating like counting how many crackers I can have, writing down my points in my food journal or measuring how many beans I throw on my salad.
  4. You don’t listen to your body. If you are constantly worried about tracking every scrap of food you are eating you are far more worried about meeting your calorie goals then satisfying your hunger. If you eat 500 calories at one meal and leave feeling hungry do you just have to suck it up until the next meal? Or if you are closing in on bedtime and haven’t reached your caloric goals do you eat even though you’re not hungry? Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied is a much easier, enjoyable experience.

If I’m not counting calories, what do I do?

I eat in a way that is not just focused on weight loss, but also focused on optimizing health and promoting longevity. Eating delicious, health promoting meals has allowed my body to lose cravings for sugary, greasy, disease-causing foods while filling me up. Once I started focusing on nutrients rather than restrictions the weight fell off naturally and dieting was a thing of the past.

Get back in the kitchen.

The real remedy is to return to the kitchen and embrace good, old-fashioned home cooking. It’s an important commitment, but can be done…and is fun too! Strive for a diet of at least 80% unprocessed food (focusing on a wide variety of vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts and fruits) while allowing “life” to happen the other 20% of the time. Not only will you gain numerous health benefits but you will gain the satisfaction of being able to control the ingredients that go into your food.

Until next time, keep it real.

Dr Fuhrman’s ANDI list is a great place to find the nutrient density of certain foods and how well they score.

For additional info, Dr. Mark Hyman has a great article about Why Calories Don’t Matter.

10 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

10 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat HealthyIt’s no secret obesity is becoming a huge problem, even in children. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Type 2 diabetes, once considered a disease of middle or old age, is now affecting a staggering number of overweight children. Today’s children, based on research, might be the first generation to live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents.

We are busier than ever running to soccer practice, attending dance classes, scheduling play groups, and completing homework, making healthy eating more of an after thought. Our rapidly paced lifestyle makes it easier to just grab and go rather than plan real food meals even if it means less nutrients for our family. Sometimes it may seem easier to throw up our hands and give in to the convenience foods we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

As parents, we all want the best for our children, but think “what’s the use of preparing healthy meals?” Throwing a salad in front of them could cause an all-out tantrum and at the end of a long hard day, is that really what we want to deal with? At least we know they will eat McDonald’s, pizza and hot dogs. Is there any hope? Why does it have to be such a struggle? Can kids really learn how to be “good” eaters?

Absolutely! I would consider my kids to be pretty decent eaters, most of the time. Sure, they are picky about some foods. One likes tomatoes – the other doesn’t. I’ve never put an avocado on their plate without fuss. The challenges are inevitable and often frustrating. But when I compare them to what I see their peers eating, I have to say I feel pretty confident about their food habits. Check out my tips and tricks that have gotten my kids to try, and like, a different variety of real foods.

  1. Use the 5 “Magic” Vegetables.
    Did you know that spinach, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and purple cabbage all have no taste when used in small amounts in your food? When I make smoothies I always add at least one of these veggies to the mix. Chocolate real food “milkshakes” and “green” eggs are fun and easy with a handful of spinach. Frozen zucchini makes a great addition to homemade “nice” cream, carrots, lemons, honey and ice make a fantastic sorbet.
  2. Dippity Doo Da.
    Kids love to dip their food. If your child won’t eat a veggie raw then put out a homemade dip for them. Last weekend I set out a plate of veggies for snack and my kids wouldn’t touch the broccoli or red bell peppers. As soon as I oohed and aahed over how great it tasted dipped in my homemade vegan ranch dip, they were all over it. I couldn’t get them to stop.
  3. Sprinkle it with “Love.”
    There was a time when my kids would moan and groan over every little speck in their food. Whether it be oregano in their pasta sauce or nutritional yeast sprinkled on their salads. Oh, who am I kidding, they still do fuss a bit over little tiny, minuscule flakes on their foods! So, I started to tell them that I sprinkled it with “love.” Now every time they ask, “Mom, what is this black thing on here? What did you make this with?” They remember and quickly reply, “Did you sprinkle love in here?” Yes kids. Yes I did. If it makes it easier, grab an old spice container, peel off the label and make a new one that says “Love” on it. They will eat it up!
  4. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” and “no thank you bites.”
    These are familiar phrases around here. Offer them what you make yourself for dinner. No separate meals for the kids. That’s it! You get what you get. Another trick we found helpful is implementing “no thank you bites” into our routine. You don’t have to finish something if you don’t like it, but you can’t tell me you don’t like it unless you have tried one “no thank you bite.” If I am making something that I am pretty confident they won’t eat much of, I add something familiar to their plate. Whether it be orange slices, carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, a fruit salad or crusty whole grain bread. Salads are always a good side dish for meals that I know won’t go over too well.
  5. Presentation is everything.
    Kids will try anything as long as it’s wrapped up in a pretty little package. Why do you think food companies package their foods in fun shapes, colors, and sizes? Because it grabs the kid’s attention and it says “I am fun to eat!” Get creative in your kitchen and they are bound to try your fun foods as well. Peanut butter and jelly again? They won’t mind if it’s rolled up like sushi and they can use Cute Monkey Chopsticks. Applesauce is boring just plopped in a bowl. Try these fun Little Green Pouches instead and blend in some “magic vegetables” for an added nutrition boost. A smoothie can go from ordinary to extraordinary when you freeze them in these fun Zoku Classic Pop Molds or use these Silicone Ice Pop Molds. Try fruit roll ups that look exactly like the store bought version and tie them with little ribbons. And don’t forget colorful silicone baking cups for muffins or to use in lunchboxes.
  6. Leave it out and forget it.
    Try leaving out a plate full of cut up fruit and veggies on your kitchen table or counter and say nothing about it other than they are free to pick at it as they wish. I am often shocked how much will get eaten within a few hours, and surprised by what they will try if no one is watching.
  7. Create a snack container.
    Last weekend I cut up a bunch of veggies and threw them in a container in the fridge. I told my kids it was their snack container and they were allowed to go in the fridge and get it whenever they wanted. Having authority over it was the best thing since sliced bread. By the end of the day it was more than half empty. In fact, the next day when Kaiden pulled it out, he said, “Mom, this is almost gone. You need to refill it.” Try this idea in the pantry as well. Have some containers/bags with pre-portioned trail mix, whole grain pretzels, Larabars, etc. and let them grab when they want.
  8. Never assume they won’t eat it.
    I can’t tell you how many times I have made this mistake. I think as parents we just assume that because it’s healthy our kids won’t like certain foods and, in turn, don’t offer them. Or when your kids ask for a bite of whatever you’re eating we say, “You probably won’t like this, but here, try it anyway.” Don’t do that! A few weeks ago I ordered a tabbouleh/hummus/roasted cauliflower wrap (oh yes, it was good!) at the mall and my son asked to try it. My first reaction (in my head) was to tell him he probably wouldn’t like it because of the tabbouleh he tried before and didn’t like. Instead I refrained and quickly handed it over for him to try. Guess what? He LOVED it and ended up eating an entire half proclaiming next time he was ordering it for his lunch. Never, EVER assume your kids won’t like something or that they won’t try it.
  9. Encourage helping hands.
    I am sure you have heard that allowing kids to help in the kitchen will encourage them to try new things. By golly, it’s true. If they feel like they are a part of something they created, then they are certainly more inclined to try it. Involve them at the store as well – for example, have them pick out new produce. Hand them a real food cookbook and let them pick out a recipe for your meal plan. It may take some extra time and patience, but it’s worth it.
  10. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And again. And again. And again.
    Don’t give up! Today might be the day they take a bite of something you have offered 20 times before. And, fingers crossed, they might actually decide they like it after all.

Remember, we as parents are the biggest role models in our children’s lives and the ones that make powerful decisions on their behalf. If you only keep real food in your home, you will only eat real food. Clear out the junk and set your family kids up for success.

Was there ever something that you didn’t like as a child only to find that you finally liked it after all these years?

Until next time, keep it real.

Our recommendations:

Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase an item through our link you will not incur any additional costs but Keepin’ it Real earns a small commission. We only recommend products we have used, would use or trust. Your support is greatly appreciated so we may continue to spread the news about real food.