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21 Reasons to Eat Real Food

Health + Wellness
Povareshka / iStock / Getty Images

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

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.

For instance, 1 cup (220 grams) of red bell peppers, broccoli or orange slices contains more than 100% of the RDI for vitamin C (1, 2, 3).

Eggs and liver are especially high in choline, a nutrient essential for proper brain function (4 Trusted Source, 5 Trusted Source).

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

Fiber provides many health benefits, including boosting digestive function, metabolic health and feelings of fullness (12 Trusted Source, 13 Trusted Source, 14 Trusted Source).

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.

For instance, dark chocolate and avocados have been shown to protect skin against sun damage (16 Trusted Source, 17 Trusted Source).

Studies suggest that eating more vegetables, fish, beans, and olive oil may help reduce wrinkling, loss of elasticity, and other age-related skin changes (18 Trusted Source, 19 Trusted Source).

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.

In addition, including unprocessed foods like fatty fish, lean meats, vegetables, and nuts has been shown to significantly reduce triglyceride levels (21 Trusted Source, 22 Trusted Source).

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.

For example, extra virgin olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that promotes heart health (25 Trusted Source).

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which may increase fat burning and assist with weight loss (26 Trusted Source, 27 Trusted Source).

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).

In addition, several large observational studies link a balanced diet heavy in fruits and vegetables to a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease (32 Trusted Source, 33 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.

For instance, egg yolks offer lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect against eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration (34 Trusted Source, 35 Trusted Source).

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

A high intake of processed and fast foods has been linked to overeating, particularly in those who are overweight (36 Trusted Source).

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.

21. Delicious

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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