real food vs 'food': some real food alternatives

I bang on and on about real food – on this blog, in my personal life, at work (I work for an organisation all about real food) – but I find that people who aren’t already ‘converted’ don’t really get what I mean by real food. This, I think, is a sad testament to how engrained 'food-like stuffs', as Michael Pollen puts it, have become in our dietary psyche.

To really get my point across, I thought I’d put together a nifty list of common food items and their real food counterparts.
First though, I need to point out that for me, food has to tick a few check boxes before I call it real. For food to be real, it has to:

  • be healthful
  • be chemical-free
  • have had very little, if any, processing
  • have been produced in an ethical way, for any animals or humans involved
  • create zero to very little waste
  • come in very little to no packaging
  • have travelled as little distance as possible.

These criteria have to apply all along the supply chain, from the farm right through to my plate.

It really
isn't that hard to find food that meets this criteria - in fact, I have an amazing diet rich in variety, flavour and nutrients. I'm truly and wholesomely satiated by my food.

Why should I be so picky with my food choices? It’s not always easy to imagine how much of an impact food choices have (in fact 60% of our eco-footprint is embodied in the food we buy), because we don't see how things are made. We're too far removed from the origin of our food. Which is why I love this break down of ingredients of a packet of potato crisps, by the people at Choice:

So... you can see that if we want to keep our food choices from impacting heavily on our environment (as well as our health), we have to be a little careful with what we pop in our shopping trolleys. 

With that in mind, these real food alternatives use less, if any, packaging, reduce waste, reduce food miles and are healthier for you and your family. In most instances they're also cheaper:

Real Food Alternatives:

Instead of... supermarket bread
Whilst I don’t eat a lot of bread myself, I have a real thing about it because it’s a staple part of so many people’s diet. And so many people get it wrong - not by their own fault but because real bread is not readily available these days. 

In its truest, most healthful and traditional form, bread contains only 4 ingredients: flour, water, wild yeast culture, and salt. Yet here’s a list of ingredients in a loaf of Sunblest Soft Multigrain

Wheat Flour, Water, Mixed Wholegrains (16%) (Kibbled Rye, Kibbled Wheat), Baker's Yeast, Vinegar, Wheat Gluten, Iodised Salt, Canola Oil, Emulsifiers (481, 472e, 471), Soy Flour, Vitamins (Thiamin, Folate). 

Burgen, which is marketed as a healthier alternative than it’s mass produced counterparts, isn’t too much better: 

Water, Wheat Flour, Mixed Wholegrains (13%) (Kibbled Corn, Oats [3%], Kibbled Rye, Kibbled Wheat, Kibbled Barley), Wheat Gluten, Oat Bran (6%), Linseed, Canola Oil, Baker's Yeast, Honey, Vinegar, Iodised Salt, Cultured Whey, Vitamins (Thiamin, Folate).

When I do buy bread, I choose authentic sourdough bread from boutique bakeries like Lievito and Red Beard. Authentic sourdough is made using wild yeast culture and stone-ground flour, and is fermented for hours and hours, which has the affect of releasing nutrients in the grain and breaking down most (almost 90%) of the gluten – making authentic sourdough easier to digest and less of a problem for people who generally experience gluten sensitivity. Read this to learn why authentic sourdough is the way to go, and watch this short video about Red Beard that explains the authentic bread making difference.

Instead of... pasteurised milk
I drink raw milk - that is milk that is neither pasteurised nor homogenised. It's not legal in Australia, which is why it can only be found in farmers' markets and some organic produce stores (sold as bath milk). There's a general fear of raw milk amongst consumers, but know this - pasteurised milk is dead food. The treatment processes it goes through to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present also kill any good bacteria and destroy most nutrients and vitamins. You may as well drink water. 

Whilst some people fear raw milk because of potential harmful bacteria, this shouldn't be a concern if you're buying your raw milk from a trusted small-scale artisan dairy farm. Pasteurisation became essential when milk was sold on a mass-scale via a co-op, which is how it's distributed and sold here in Australia. If you want to learn more about raw milk and why you should make the switch, you really should read thisYou might also like to read this fact sheet about the ethical issues concerning large-scale dairies, and why you really should avoid dairy products from large-scale farms.

Instead of... bottled tomato passata
If I don't have any left of my own home-made stash (click here for recipe), I simply chop up a few fresh tomatoes and cook them down a little before adding other ingredients. I find the flavour sweeter, nicer overall. During winter when tomatoes are out of season, I alter recipes to avoid the need for them.

Instead of... tea bags
Stock up on some loose leaf organic black tea or dried herbs and make up your own blends. Not only will your teas taste better, you’ll be able to tailor them to suit your taste or health needs. And you’ll get rid of all that excess packaging and processing that comes with getting tea into those little bags, attaching string, packaging them into boxes, printing labels etc....

Instead of... fruit juice
I don’t drink fruit juice at all. It’s too much of a fructose-hit all at once. Read about why this is not ideal here. Instead, try whole-fruit smoothies blended with raw milk, coconut milk, almond milk or yoghurt, or better yet  make fruit and vegetable thickies (thick smoothies) in a blender – the more veg you can pack into your day, the better. Baby spinach, lemon and avocado is a great mix.

My raspberry, chia seed and coconut cream smoothie/slushy concoction... healthful and delicious. I freeze in silicon friand moulds and defrost whenever I want a little treat.

Instead of... canned beans or canned tomatoes (or anything canned really)

I’ve written about why I avoid canned foods before - read my Slow Death by Canning post. Buy dried beans and soak them overnight in water and a bit of apple cider vinegar (to neutralise the phytic acid and release nutrients). You can also go a step further and sprout them to release even more nutrients. Canned tomatoes? Why would you use up that excess packaging and processing when you could have the real, zero-waste thing, purchased directly from a farmer at a farmers' market, or delivered via an organic box system to your door?

Instead of... margarine or soft butter spread
Choose pure butter from grass-fed cows (available at organic produce stores, farmers’ markets or some health food stores). Not the soft butter you find in plastic tubs in supermarkets. Real, block butter, preferably wrapped in paper. The methods used to produce margarine and other table spreads leave much to be desired. For a run-down on the butter versus margarine debate, read this. I leave my butter out of the fridge, on the shelf in room temperature so it's easily spreadable. I've never had a problem with it going rancid.

Instead of... frozen peas
Buy fresh ones from the farmers’ market and pod them yourself. It’s meditative. Again, it reduces unnecessary plastic packaging and food miles, and ensures you're eating food that is in season.

Pea podding = deep meditation.

Instead of... ready made salad dressing
Salad dressings almost always contain sugar and other additives, and rarely do they contain good quality oil. I simply use cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or macadamia oil, a dash of raw apple cider vinegar and some salt. You can always add herbs for extra flavour.

Instead of... bottled thai curry paste
Make a super quick paste in a mortar and pestle or food processor yourself. Here's a recipe for red curry, and for green.

Instead of... packet biscuits
Try these raw lemon and almond cookies. There's no baking involved. They take all of a few minutes to put together. And they're terrific for kids. Try them also with lime zest instead of lemon. Nom nom.

Instead of... white sugar
You can catch up on why I quit sugar here, and read about how sugar farming impacts the environment here. Instead of white sugar, opt for unrefined natural sweeteners (in moderation) such as raw organic honey, rice malt syrup, rapadura (unrefined dehydrated cane sugar), or organic maple syrup. Or try a few of my sugar-free sweet treats.

Do you have any real food alternatives to commonly consumed 'food-like substances'? Please do share.


  1. Great post! Again, you are just so good at putting in info where needed and pointing to other sources when needed.
    As for making real food on your own, I definitely am a fan of home-make pasta! It's simple and easy and the process makes the end product even more enjoyable because you made it yourself. Just egg, salt, water and flour. It's pretty quick if you have a roller, though taking the time to roll it out by hand makes it a product you can connect with that much more.

    1. Thank you! Do you have a fool-proof pasta recipe? Would love to share with readers!

    2. yes! the ingredients are: (and I'm sorry it's in pounds and ounces, that's all I know!)
      1 lb all purpose flour, 1 lb tipo "oo" flour, 14 oz egg yolk (you will need 18-24 eggs) , 1 oz EVOO

      Weight out the flour and incorporate together with a pinch of salt.
      Place flour on a work surface and create a well in the center big enough to fit the egg yolks.
      Use a fork to wisk the egg yolks and a bench scraper (a special tool in pasta making) to incorporate the flour into the yolks.
      Once the dough starts to form, get as much together as you can and discard and pieces that do not bind with the ball of dough.
      The most important step is kneading the dough. Knead the dough for 5 minutes and it is really about the best judgement here. The dough must have some give back when you push your finger into it.(So when you push your finger into it it should go in and then spring back out a little) DO NOT OVER WORK THE DOUGH! it will make rolling it near impossible!
      Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Roll out on a pasta roller of your choice and cut to your likeing!

    3. also I want to say that it is simple and easy only after you've done it a few times! dont' get discouraged if you don't find it that easy at first. just keep trying!

  2. Amen sister! I couldn't agree more with your philosophy and I also use many of the same alternatives. I have never tried raw milk and wouldn't know where to get a safe supply but I agree that the pasteurised homogenised stuff is unhealthy. I make nut milk in my vitamix (todays batch is a mix of almond, walnut and brazil nut) and I gave conventional pasta the flick and use zucchini instead. If I have guests coming I use a spirooli or mandolin but otherwise I just use a vegetable peeler to make zucchini fettucini. I also use Stevia as a sweetener. After much trial and error I found that Sweet Leaf Vanilla Stevia is the nicest. Cheers, Jen

  3. Thank you for sharing such fantastic information. Your philosophy on food, beauty and home care is so refreshing and inspiring! I like to think I eat a pretty good, 95% organic diet with lots of homegrown greens and real foods, but even so I still have cans of beans and tomatoes plus boxes of tea (all organic) in my pantry. This has definitely inspired me to aim to eat more real food :-)

    Keep up the amazing work!
    Miss City Down

  4. Great post - completely agree on all points! As for milk, I didn't have any in more than 15 years (simply couldn't digest it) - until I started drinking raw milk! I get it from Farmers market (as 'Bath milk'), and absolutely love it!!! Also, I'm a big fan of hand churned butter (Myrtelford one is truly life changing! :)).

  5. I have only recently found your blog and have tried to take it all in at once..... shouldn't have done that. I am really drawn to all of the things you talk about and will slowly try to steer my family in a better direction. I really take your point about having to be organised. I have three children between 11 and 2 and all that goes with their busy lives. Main meals I do well with but it is the snacks food where I fall down. Savoury biscuits are a consumed regularly here and I am wondering what I could possible replace that with.
    Thank you for your recommendation of toothpaste I like it and I also slathered my face in the virgin coconut oil and it is heavenly. I really like the fact that I can cook with it and also use it for my face and hair. I put some on my 2 year old rosy winter cheeks and she said "Yum". One question I have with regard to cleaning with vinegar, you mentioned to get distilled vinegar. I couldn't see this mentioned on the vinegar at the supermarket is it possible to give me specific brand examples. Thank you. I am so glad I found you.

    1. Hi Regina, excited to hear you're heading on your own journey. I had the same issues with snacks when I first started... stay tuned for some recipe ideas, I'm testing some out this weekend!

      Good question re: vinegar, there is actually a difference. Distilled vinegar is vinegar produced by naturally fermenting grain. Heinz is one of the only supermarket brands of naturally distilled vinegar.

      Vinegar that isn't labelled 'distilled' is manufactured in a factory using artificial processes, and possibly using petroleum-derived ingredients. I found this blog post that gives some interesting detail:

      Best thing to do is to choose distilled vinegar, and like I said, Heinz is the go at the supermarket.

    2. I forgot to mention that you can also replace vinegar with lemon juice, or mix the two to bulk out the vinegar... it's the acetic acid in both that does the cleaning job.

  6. that's so scary re: the amount of BPA in one can. Gives me the heeby jeebies

  7. Very informative and trustworthy blog. Please keep updating with the good posts like this. I have booked marked your site and am about to email it to a few friends of mine.



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