I finished up my week of eating only real food this past Sunday, and it went pretty well. It turns out it’s definitely possible to do, but takes a little extra preparation up front, and a lot more label reading and thought. I was secretly hoping that I would get a good start on dropping the 5 extra holiday pounds that seem to find me every year, but that actually didn’t budge – nor did I really feel any different by the end of the week. That led me to conclude that either 1) it takes more than a week of ‘clean eating’ to really see any effects and/or 2) I don’t really eat all that badly to begin with.

There are a couple of things that make me think the latter is true (and the first is probably true, too): First, my evening meals were really no different than the things I normally make – I usually cook dinner with whole ingredients. Second, during the work week I take food and eat during the day, and that food usually includes organic cereal made with whole wheat, dried fruit, nuts, and organic fat-free Greek yogurt — none of which are particularly horrible. The big changes I made to my day-to-day eating were 1) no low calorie/ low fat/ high fiber/ high protein/ ( highly processed and added to)  ‘Alternative Bagels‘, 2) no Luna fiber bars (or any other kind of bars), 3) no Guiltless Gourmet baked tortilla chips with Kraft Fat-Free Cheddar Cheese to make nachos, and 4) no over-snacking on dark chocolate or other sweet dessert items.

Despite the lack of any huge revelation at the end of the week, I am completely glad I did this, and I do plan to make some adjustments to my diet going forward:

  • Unless every ingredient is whole or organic, or all the spices are listed individually, I’m going to try to avoid foods that list more than 5-10 ingredients. There were several things that I normally buy that I think should have been perfectly allowable, but just had more healthy ingredients than 5. But some of the items I checked out at the store (lower-fat cream cheese, for instance) literally had around 20 ingredients, only 8 or so of which I could identify in any way. That’s just kind of gross when you think about it.
  • I’m going to investigate preservatives a bit more, and allow those that seem relatively safe, but try to avoid foods that seem needlessly preserved or use mysterious preservatives or those for which the verdict is still out. Given the fact that a full time job makes it difficult to cook everything from scratch, and some time-saving is necessary, I’m not going to bar a food item if it includes say, citric acid.
  • I’m going to think a bit more about whether the foods I’m eating are really nutritional, or if they’re just empty calories. I won’t cut myself off from nutritionally useless things like half of a dessert when eating out, or the above-mentioned baked tortilla chips completely, but I was eating them more than once a day, which I’d like to stop.
  • Now that I discovered it’s possible to make bread with literally ALL whole wheat flour that’s still light and tasty, just by adding a mashed potato, I’ll probably bake with more whole wheat.

And now, some pictures of my dinners last week:

Leek, Pepper, Rice and Heirloom Beans deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar

Leek, Pepper, Rice and Heirloom Beans deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar

I’ll post a recipe for the above dish later on.

Curried Chicken and Potatoes

Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes

The recipe for Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes is on my recipe page — BUT I used real coconut milk for it instead of the ‘lite’ chemical concoction I used for the original recipe.

Quinoa, Heirloom Bean and Kale Salad with Espresso Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quinoa, Heirloom Bean and Kale Salad with Espresso Sesame Balsamic Vinaigrette

This salad was really simple. Make a bed of  kale, red cabbage and carrot, then add 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup cooked heirloom beans, and dress with Espresso Sesame Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette (I used honey instead of maple for this week).

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce and Shaved Pecorino Romano (supplemented with a smaller version of the Quinoa and Bean Salad for protein)

When I don’t have summer-fresh tomatoes I just use a couple of cans of organic diced tomatoes for my home-made tomato sauce. Here’s the recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce.

Berbere Chicken with Oven-Baked Potatoes

Berbere Chicken with Oven-Baked Potatoes (the chicken looks charred, but it wasn’t – I think it was just that the dark spice rub got darker!)

This was boneless chicken thighs coated with berbere (a spice combination I make from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe) and then grilled. The potatoes were just tossed in olive oil then salted and peppered and roasted in the oven. We also had an arugula salad on the side.

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Monday was the start of my ‘only real food’ week. In some ways it’s been more difficult than I envisioned it would be, and in some ways easier. Aside from making my own vegetable stock and making regular brown rice (vs. quick cooking rice), not too much has changed regarding what I’ve made for dinners this week. But it was really difficult to find some of my breakfast and lunch items. Cereal was obviously out with the no-more-than-five-ingredients rule for packaged goods, so I made my own granola. Yogurt was insanely difficult to find (well, obviously not THAT difficult since I found some at the first store I tried). I looked at six or seven brands, and it wasn’t until I got to the Icelandic style Siggi yogurt that I found one without sugar or artificial sweeteners. They use a small amount of agave, and although it is processed, I decided it would be acceptable. (Today I discovered that the Yoskos honey yogurt I left in the fridge at work last week only has milk and honey – so that’s a go, too.) I wanted to try to avoid the high-calorie dried fruit that I usually take, so I’ve been trying to substitute whole fruits like grapes or sliced mango. Instead of the protein-fortified low-calorie bagel and olive tapenade that I usually eat for lunch, I’ve been taking brown rice with heirloom beans or chicken. And I’ve eaten a lot of my homemade whole wheat potato bread and whole wheat crackers. The only item that really carried over from my usual routine is pistachios.

Yesterday night I decided that I hadn’t really bought enough acceptable food, so I went to the store to get some emergency supplies.

Week of Real Food - Midweek Emergency Purchases

Week of Real Food – Midweek Emergency Purchases

I got some tuna, some more fruit (and dried figs just in case), some kale for salads, and figured I’ve never tried coconut water, so I found one of the only kinds with nothing added. Another thing I purchased was some raw ‘cookies’ and ‘chips’ made by Go Raw. I opened up the packages of cookies and chips when I got home and thought, ‘Huh. Hamster snacks.’ I tried a couple of the carrot cake super cookies (organic coconut, sprouted sesame seeds, carrots, dates, and nutmeg – nothing else), and was just about to make the decision that they would never become a staple in my diet, but then I ate a few more, and all of a sudden it was like they were the best things I had ever eaten. I’m not completely sure if it was because this was day three of only eating real food, or if they really are that great, but I’m definitely going to buy more to figure it out.

Hmmm...An Apple, Go Raw Carrot Cake Super Cookies and Spirulina Super Chips

Hmmm…An Apple, Go Raw Carrot Cake Super Cookies and Spirulina Super Chips

Once I finish out the week, I’ll post more about how it went, including pictures of my dinners. More than halfway there – and I haven’t even needed to go for the chocolate that I added to my rule exceptions just in case!

In preparation for my week of eating only real food, I did quite a bit of cooking and baking this weekend to get a head start. I needed to make sure I had some real food items for breakfast and lunch (which I take and eat at work), since those tend to be my most questionable foods normally. But I found that I also needed to make some basics that are difficult to find at the store in a package with less than five ingredients. It seems like everything has texurizers or preservatives or something that doesn’t really seem like it should be there.

Rio Zape and Spanish Tolosna Beans - Bean Liquid to be used for Stock

Rio Zape and Spanish Tolosna Beans – Bean Liquid to be used for Stock

Whole Grain Quinoa

Whole Grain Quinoa

Long Grain Brown Rice (that's what the bulk bin label said, so hopefully it's true)

Long Grain Brown Rice (that’s what the bulk bin label said, so hopefully that’s what it is!)

Boiled Chicken Breasts (really, it's a great way to cook them - nice and moist)

Boiled Chicken Breasts (really, it’s a great way to cook them – nice and moist)

Whole Wheat Crackers (made with tomato paste, pecorino romano, basil and oregano)

Whole Wheat Crackers (made with Tomato Paste, Pecorino Romano, Basil and Oregano)

Ingredients for stock - the liquid from the heirloom beans, onions, carrots and celery

Ingredients for Stock – the Liquid from the Heirloom Beans, Onions, Carrots and Celery

Okay, this is not an attractive picture, but the bread itself is wonderful - whole wheat made with purple sweet potatoes

Okay, this is not an attractive picture, and the loaf is indeed sadly misshapen, but the bread itself is wonderful – 100% Whole Wheat made with Purple Sweet Potatoes – as light in texture as if it were made with white flour

Homemade Granola

Homemade Granola

Colorful Carrots

I recently decided that I would try a week where I eat only real food. I generally try to avoid highly refined foods, but a lot of my breakfast, lunch, and snack foods could be considered sort of borderline. Sure I eat organic cereal made with with whole wheat, but there are a few added chemicals for texture and preservation. Nuts are healthy, but do they really need the honey or maple coating that I am so fond of? And then there is my penchant for low-fat nachos. Guiltless Gourmet chips, Kraft Fat-Free Cheddar, Spicy Pico Guacamole and Salsa? The last two are acceptable, the chips would be okay once a month, but the fake chemical cheese? I am fully aware of how gross that is, and yet I still eat it. And even in the not-highly-refined category, dried fruit is hardly a horrible snack, but it generally has twice the calories per volume of fresh fruit. So I started feeling curious about what it would feel like to only eat real food.

I checked out what rules other people have established for their No Processed or Real Food diets, and here are the rules I decided I would follow:

  1. No refined grains like white flour or white rice (wheat items need to be WHOLE wheat)
  2. No refined sweeteners, which include sugar, corn syrup, cane juice, and artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Equal
  3. Nothing packaged (or bottled or canned) with more than 5 ingredients on the label
  4. Nothing with a bunch of mysterious chemicals in it (I’ll allow some preservatives I recognize on a case-by-case basis if needed)
  5. Prohibited items which pertain specifically to my weekly eating habits:
    • No nutritional bars,  granola bars or cereal bars
    • No fat-free cheese
    • No tortilla chips
    • No soda pop (sparkling water is ok)
  6. Special allowances:
    • Coffee (this I will not give up)
    • Stevia (for my coffee)
    • Dark chocolate (this is a necessity)
    • Salt (no excessive added sodium, ok for cooking)

I’m also not going to consider items such as mustard, vinegar, or other condiments as being disqualified because they’ve been processed – if it only has a few ingredients, and it’s been around for over a century, I’m going to allow it.

Here are the types of things I envision eating during the week:

  1. Boiled or roasted chicken
  2. Fish or seafood (wild caught if possible)
  3. Eggs
  4. Beans (home-cooked, not canned)
  5. Yogurt
  6. Cheese
  7. Milk
  8. Nuts (roasted is okay, coated with sugary stuff is not)
  9. Brown rice
  10. Quinoa
  11. 100% whole wheat bread
  12. Fresh fruit
  13. Fresh vegetables
  14. Homemade soup, sauces, salad dressing (from whole ingredients)
  15. Homemade bread or crackers with whole wheat flour and other whole ingredients
  16. Homemade granola (we’ll see if I have the energy to make this)

So I start on Monday – I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Heirloom and Cherry Tomatoes

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