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.

Do You Need a Health Coach?

Health Coaching

The Health of Our Nation is Declining

It’s estimated that as much as 70% of the adult population is either overweight or obese and 81% of the population takes at least 1 medication a day, with most people averaging closer to 2-3 meds daily. Reasons include symptoms such as high anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, stroke, stress, heart disease, insomnia, heartburn, hypothyroidism and more. Most of which are diet related and are both preventable and/or reversible with healthy lifestyle changes.

It’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.  Clearly all this “healthy” eating isn’t so healthy after all.

What’s the Best Diet?

In today’s society we are bombarded with conflicting health information. One day fat is bad, the next day it’s good. Adkins is the best diet, then Paleo is all the rage. Fruit has too much sugar, now we aren’t eating enough of it.  We have completely overcomplicated healthy eating and it’s no wonder our heads are spinning! But it’s really much simpler than we make it out to be. I love the way Michael Pollan puts it in his book In Defense of Food, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Wanting to change to a real food lifestyle and actually doing it are two different things. When we first started out over 3 years ago, the information was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t know what to make, when I thought I was making good choices I actually wasn’t and I spent a lot of time sorting it all out. Eventually, I learned how to navigate my way around the grocery store, how to convert recipes to real food ingredients and put an actual meal on the table. But the process was long, hard and often frustrating.

What is a Health Coach?

Health coaching is a term that’s slowly gaining momentum nowadays, and with good reason. Millions of people nationwide are finding that the Western diet and medicine is often times leaving them fat and sick, without answers to their ills and they’re repeatedly finding themselves disappointed and depressed.

Health coaches can bridge the gap and offer more in-depth support where you otherwise might not know where else to turn. They can also help you achieve health goals that don’t require medical intervention, such as losing weight, creating better eating habits or establishing a new exercise routine. They can fill the roles of confidant, cheerleader, motivator, friend, and when necessary, they can give you a good kick in the pants to get you back on track.

How I Can Help

Our blog has become a source of information to help you achieve your real food lifestyle. But when you find that you need some extra one-on-one attention and guidance this is where I can help. Learn what we can achieve by working together.

Here are 10 things that I can do for you:

  1. Help you understand what real food is.
  2. Determine what is “good” food and “bad” food.
  3. Help you clean out your refrigerator and/or pantry.
  4. Help you navigate the grocery store aisles with ease.
  5. Give you personal feedback on any questions.
  6. Help get a health plan in place.
  7. Help you pick real food recipes that fit within the rules.
  8. Help you feed your family well regardless of your schedule.
  9. Teach you how to cook.
  10. Help carry out a doctor’s nutritional advice.

Don’t try and go at this alone. Together we can get you and your family on the road to a healthier, happier you!

Contact me at for more information or check out our services page to book your service. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss important posts.

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.

40 Real Food Snack Ideas

Real Food Snacks IdeasMy kids are ALWAYS hungry. More times than I can count I will feed them lunch and an hour later they say to me, “When are we going to have lunch? I’m hungry.” True story. Because of that, I always have snacks on hand whether we are at home, at school or on the road.

If you follow us on Facebook, you saw in my post yesterday that my daughter came home with a Fruit Roll-Up that a friend gave her on the bus. When she asked, “Mom, look what my friend gave me! Can I have it as a snack?” I read the ingredient list (Lord help me!) and found nothing but GMOs, food dyes and chemicals in that pretty package of poison. But, because 80% of the time we really do eat well and I never want to be the mom that gives my kids a complex about food, I let her try it.

I don’t mind giving in to temptation every once-in-a-while and making choices that don’t otherwise follow the real food rules. As we talked about in my Real Food Pantry and Real Food Refrigerator posts, though, it’s essential to be well stocked so you don’t go grabbing processed foods whenever you feel hungry. This also includes snacks. Take a look at some real food snack ideas to inspire you to make better choices in between meals.

  1. Assorted fruit
  2. Dried fruit
  3. Fruit leather
  4. Cucumber slices, broccoli, baby carrots, grape/cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, etc. These are all great eaten plain or dipped.
  5. Ants on a log. Take a celery stick and spread cream cheese or nut butter in the groove. Top with raisins to make it look like “ants” walking along the celery.
  6. Edamame (organic only)
  7. Cucumber sushi or veggie cups
  8. Unique Wholegrain Sprouted Pretzels
  9. Lundberg brown rice cakes topped with nut butter or cream cheese and sliced fruit or raisins.
  10. Whole wheat crackers (like Triscuits but made without oil. Whole Foods 365 brand or Giant’s Nature’s Promise brand) or RyVita with Artichoke and White Bean Dip.
  11. Organic popcorn. Pop yourself on the stove top with a small amount of oil and sea salt.
  12. Larabars 
  13. Mary’s Gone crackers with tabbouleh.
  14. Ak Mak crackers (vegans beware-these do contain dairy) topped with organic cream cheese.
  15. Trail mix
  16. Apples dipped in nut butter or hummus or made into a apple sandwich.
  17. Applesauce. Make yourself or find “one ingredient” applesauce like Eden Organic or Trader Joe’s. Try these Little Green Pouches for the little ones.
  18. Banana “nice cream” (try my mint chip version!)
  19. Chocolate “milkshake” (with spinach! Recipe to come).
  20. Chocolate fudge pops. Add chia, spinach and/or zucchini and blend to make it even more healthy.
  21. Muffins- I love the muffins from Let Them Eat Vegan. I usually sub 1/2 almond flour for some of her recipes and use applesauce in place of some of the oil. To make them really fun, I use these Pantry Elements Silicon Baking Cups. My kids love them and I love that they are reusable and create less waste.
  22. Maple Banana Bread
  23. Smoothies (like my green smoothie)
  24. Chocolate PB avocado pudding
  25. Chocolate zucchini muffins
  26. Fresh fruit popsicles. Like these layered ones or just throw in chopped fruit like this one. Make them more enticing by using these Zoku Classic Mold Pops.
  27. Raisins
  28. Plain whole milk (or unsweetened coconut milk) yogurt with granola.
  29. Fresh squeezed juice (if you own a juicer).
  30. Dates. Try them plain or stuffed.
  31. Whole grain toast with fruit spread or nut butter. I love Ezekiel raisin toast.
  32. Applegate Farms organic lunch meat roll-ups (only on occasion).
  33. Whole grain pita triangles and salsa or hummus. Make chips by taking pita bread and cut into triangles. Spritz with water and sprinkle on spices of your choice. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes turning once.
  34. Guacamole with homemade corn chips
  35. Go Raw Cookies
  36. Sushi. Take a whole grain tortilla or whole grain bread that has been flattened with a rolling pin, crusts cut off, and load it with veggies, bean dip and roll up. You can also use nut butter and jelly. Slice into small sushi rolls and let the kids use chopsticks for a fun treat.
  37. Roasted chickpeas. From Sally’s Baking Addiction or Weelicious
  38. Chocolate banana bites. Melt Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Chips in a double boiler. Cut up bananas in large chunks. Dip in chocolate so half of the banana bites are covered and sprinkle chopped almonds, peanuts or cashews on the chocolate. Freeze for approximately 30 minutes.
  39. Leftover pancakes/waffles.
  40. Chia pudding

So there you have it. I’d love to hear from you. What are you and your family’s favorite go-to snacks?

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.

7 Steps to a Real Food Lifestyle


7 Steps to a Real Food Lifestyle

By now you have a better understanding of exactly what real food is and the rules of real food hopefully you are convinced a real food lifestyle is the way to get healthier, slimmer and feeling better. Congratulations! What’s the next step?

  1. Have a family meeting and decide on a starting date.
    Make your family aware you will be making some changes. Assure them although things will be different, there are still many great tasting foods similar to the ones they are used to. Keep everyone involved in shopping and picking out new recipes to try. The more involved everyone is the more likely they will embrace the change.
  2. Throw away all the processed junk.
    I know, I know, I know. You’re going give me some shameful debate that you spent good money on all that food. Look, I can appreciate your argument, but let me make this easier for you. You didn’t buy “food.” You bought “garbage” and “garbage” belongs in your garbage can. Not your pantry. You should feel good about returning it to its rightful spot. There is no nutritional benefit to processed food. You are not fueling your body with the best. Instead, it is keeping you from being your best.
  3. Go shopping.
    While at the store, read ingredient labels and remember the rules of real food. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. If there are more than 5 ingredients on the label, don’t buy it. If it’s white, it ain’t right, and therefore, don’t buy it. If it isn’t made with something you’d likely find in your great-grandmother’s pantry, you guessed it, don’t buy it! Check out my real food pantry and real food refrigerator for inspiration. Better yet, sign up for your FREE real food shopping guide with all the products that are real food approved.
  4. Fill your refrigerator with whole plant foods in a variety of colors.
    Never tried a dragon fruit before? Don’t be shy, give it a go! Don’t even know what a jicama looks like? Ask the produce man! Have no idea how to roast brussel sprouts? Google it! Try new things. Food will taste different once you retrain your palate. If you don’t like something today, don’t give up on it. Soon an orange will taste like the most amazing thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.
  5. Meal plan.
    Get a few new recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner and put them in your meal rotation. The recipes don’t have to be elaborate or time consuming. One meal a day should include a large salad with oil-free salad dressing. Check out our recipe page for ideas. Find out why meal planning is so important and how I do it here.
  6. Start cooking from scratch.
    The simplest way to avoid processed foods are to make things yourself. Then you know exactly what is going into them. I like to “bulk bake” or “bulk cook” and freeze foods for later. This technique can save you from those nights or mornings you are in a rush which often leads to slipping up.
  7. Breathe.
    This lifestyle is not about perfection. If you slip up at lunch time, you still have dinner to recover. Standard American Diet (SAD) foods will be all around at work, school, family gatherings and restaurants tempting you at every. single. turn. Aim to “get it right” 80% of the time and you will be making vast improvements.

Until next time, keep it real.