Real food is whole, single-ingredient food.
It is mostly unprocessed, free of chemical additives and rich in nutrients.
In essence, it's the type of food human beings ate exclusively for thousands of years.
However, since processed foods became popular in the 20th century, the Western diet has shifted toward ready-to-eat meals.
While processed foods are convenient, they also harm your health. In fact, following a diet based on real food may be one of the most important things you can do to maintain good health and a high quality of life.
Here are 21 reasons to eat real food.
1. Loaded With Important Nutrients
Unprocessed animal and plant foods provide the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health.
And a single Brazil nut provides all the selenium you need for an entire day (6).
In fact, most whole foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients.
2. Low in Sugar
Some research suggests that eating sugary foods can increase your risk of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease (7 Trusted Source, 8 Trusted Source, 9 Trusted Source).
Generally speaking, real food is lower in sugar than many processed foods.
Even though fruit contains sugar, it's also high in water and fiber, making it much healthier than soda and processed foods.
3. Heart Healthy
Real food is packed with antioxidants and nutrients that support heart health, including magnesium and healthy fats.
Eating a diet rich in nutritious, unprocessed foods may also help reduce inflammation, which is considered one of the major drivers of heart disease (10).
4. Better for the Environment
The world population is steadily growing, and with this growth comes increased demand for food.
However, producing food for billions of people has an environmental toll.
This is partly due to the destruction of rainforests for agricultural land, increased fuel needs, pesticide use, greenhouse gases and packaging that ends up in landfills.
Developing sustainable agriculture based on real food may help improve the health of the planet by reducing energy needs and decreasing the amount of non-biodegradable waste that humans produce (11 Trusted Source).
5. High in Fiber
Foods like avocados, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and blackberries are particularly high in healthy fiber, alongside beans and legumes.
Consuming fiber through whole foods is much better than taking a supplement or eating processed food with added fiber.
6. Helps Control Blood Sugar
According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than 400 million people have diabetes worldwide.
That number is expected to surpass 600 million within the next 25 years.
Eating a diet high in fibrous plants and unprocessed animal foods may help reduce blood sugar levels in people who have or are at risk for diabetes.
In one 12-week study, people with diabetes or prediabetes followed a paleolithic diet combining fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts. They experienced a 26% reduction in blood sugar levels (15 Trusted Source).
7. Good for Your Skin
In addition to promoting better overall health, real food nourishes and helps protect your skin.
What's more, switching from a Western diet high in processed foods to one based on real food may help prevent or reduce acne (20 Trusted Source).
8. Helps Lower Triglycerides
Blood triglyceride levels are strongly influenced by food intake.
Because triglycerides tend to go up when you eat sugar and refined carbs, it's best to minimize these foods or cut them out of your diet altogether.
9. Provides Variety
Eating the same foods over and over can get old. It's healthier to include diverse foods in your diet.
Hundreds of different real food options exist, including a wide variety of meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and seeds.
Make a point of regularly trying new foods. Some unique options include chayote squash, chia seeds, organ meats, kefir and quinoa.
10. Costs Less in the Long Run
It's said that real food is more expensive than processed food.
In some ways, this adage holds true. An analysis of 27 studies from 10 countries found that eating healthier food costs about $1.56 more than processed food per 2,000 calories (23).
However, this difference is minimal compared to the cost of managing chronic lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.
For instance, one study noted that people with diabetes spend 2.3 times more on medical supplies and health care than those who don't have this condition (24 Trusted Source).
Thus, real food costs less in the long run because it's more likely to keep you healthy, minimizing your medical costs.
11. High in Healthy Fats
Unlike the trans and processed fats found in vegetable oils and spreads, most naturally occurring fats are healthy.
What's more, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation and protect heart health. Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and sardines, are excellent sources (28 Trusted Source, 29 Trusted Source).
Other real foods that are high in healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, and whole-milk dairy.
12. May Reduce Disease Risk
Making real food part of your lifestyle may help reduce your risk of disease.
Eating patterns — like the Mediterranean diet — based on whole, unprocessed foods have been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (30 Trusted Source, 31 Trusted Source).
13. Contains Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that help fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage your body's cells.
They are found in all real foods, especially plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes. Fresh, unprocessed animal foods also contain antioxidants — though in much lower levels.
14. Good for Your Gut
Eating real food may be beneficial for your gut microbiome, which refers to the bacteria that live in your digestive tract.
Indeed, many real foods function as prebiotics — food that your gut bacteria ferment into short-chain fatty acids. In addition to promoting gut health, these fatty acids may improve blood sugar control.
Real food sources of prebiotics include garlic, asparagus, and cocoa.
15. May Help Prevent Overeating
By contrast, real food doesn't harbor the sugars and flavorings that load down processed foods and may drive overeating.
16. Promotes Dental Health
Healthy teeth may be another benefit of real foods.
The sugar and refined carbs in the Western diet promote dental decay by feeding the plaque-causing bacteria that live in your mouth. The combination of sugar and acid in soda is especially likely to cause decay (37 Trusted Source, 38 Trusted Source).
Cheese seems to help prevent cavities by increasing pH and hardening tooth enamel. One study found that eating cheese dramatically improved enamel strength in people with limited saliva production (39 Trusted Source, 40 Trusted Source).
Green tea has also been shown to protect tooth enamel. One study found rinsing with green tea significantly reduced the amount of erosion that occurred when people drank soda and brushed their teeth vigorously (41 Trusted Source).
17. May Help Reduce Sugar Cravings
A diet based on real food may also help reduce cravings for sweets like cakes, cookies and candy.
Once your body adjusts to eating whole, unprocessed foods, cravings for sugary foods could become infrequent and even disappear altogether. Your taste buds eventually adapt to appreciate real food.
18. Sets a Good Example
In addition to improving your own health and well-being, eating real food can help the people you care about stay healthy.
Leading by example can encourage your friends and family to adopt better eating habits. It's also a good way to help your kids learn about good nutrition.
19. Gets the Focus Off Dieting
A dieting mentality may be harmful because it limits your focus to your weight.
In fact, good nutrition is about much more than losing weight. It's also about having enough energy and feeling healthy.
Focusing on real food instead of dieting can be a much more sustainable and enjoyable way to live. Instead of forcing weight loss, let weight loss come as a natural side effect of a better diet and improved metabolic health.
20. Helps Support Local Farmers
Purchasing produce, meat, and dairy from farmers markets supports the people who grow food in your community.
In addition, local farms often provide much fresher and less processed food than supermarkets.
On top of everything else, real food tastes delicious.
The amazing flavor of fresh, unprocessed food is undeniable.
Once your taste buds have adjusted to real food, processed junk food simply can't compare.
The Bottom Line
Real food is just one component of a healthy lifestyle.
It's also important to get plenty of exercise, lower your stress levels, and maintain proper nutrition.
But there's no doubt that eating more real food will go a long way toward improving your health.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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