WHAT is the REAL FOOD Challenge?

Give up ultra-processed food products and reduce moderately processed foods for one to seven days, while increasing the amounts of natural, whole foods in your diet.

WHY should I take the REAL FOOD Challenge?

The proliferation of highly processed, food-like products in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is literally killing us. Chronic diseases are responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the U.S. and the majority of these conditions (e.g., heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes) are caused in part by what we put on our plates, so it’s safe to say we are enthusiastically digging our own graves with knives and forks.

By taking our REAL FOOD Challenge, it is our hope that you will:

  • Raise your awareness on how little real food is actually in your diet and/or how much ultra-processed food-like products you are currently eating without even knowing it.
  • Learn what to look for on nutrition labels and how to identify unnecessary and potentially harmful ingredients, added sugars, preservatives and chemical additives.
  • Educate yourself on how to eat for optimal wellness and good health. It’s quite remarkable that humans are the only animals who seem to have lost this instinctive skill.

In short, we believe you should take our REAL FOOD Challenge to motivate yourself to add years to your life and life to your years!

WHEN should I do it?

NOW.

The sad truth about chronic disease in this country (and around the world) is that most of what’s killing us can be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes. And the best time to change what you eat is not after the medical diagnosis —although that’s usually part of the prescription— but way before that. Actually, today would be a good choice. Because no one goes to bed perfectly healthy and wakes up with heart disease, cancer or T2 diabetes the next morning. Make no mistake, what you are eating TODAY is what’s fueling your future quality of life.

HOW long should I do it?

For the rest of your life! Just kidding, well, actually…

As long as you can, with the goal being at least one week. For some, 24 hrs may be a challenge. If you can make it past one day, we suggest you shoot for 3 days, and then 5, and at 7 days you will hopefully see how much better you feel when you have been nourishing your body with foods that can help prevent disease, instead of fueling it. And we have some added incentives in the way of discounts and gifts for those who make it the full week!

Being reasonable people, after this challenge is completed we don’t think that anyone can – or should – remove ALL highly-processed foods from their diets forever. The occasional treat, cheat day or vacation binge will not make a whole lot of difference toward the end game. Our goal is that the REAL FOOD Challenge will open your eyes to how insidious highly processed foods have become in our daily lives and that you will gradually strive to remove as many of them from your normal routine as you can. The key is remembering that the further we stray from REAL food, the sicker we become.

WHO is the challenge for?

Whether you eat three meals a day out of a bag, box, or plastic carton – or if you already consider yourself a “healthy” eater – we think it will be surprising to most just how many stabilizers, flavor enhancers, dyes, preservatives, fake sugars, humectants, emulsifiers and chemical processing aids the large food corporations are surreptitiously adding to the products we put into our bodies.

Individuals can do it on their own, challenge their friends or decide to conquer it together as a family. The more the merrier and it’s a great way to teach children what REAL FOOD actually is by cooking and preparing delicious meals and snacks together!

Now, let’s get started….

Our rules for this challenge are simple:

  1. You are allowed to eat anything in the GREEN zone: It goes without saying but please, think variety and use common sense. Just because potatoes are in the GREEN ZONE doesn’t mean you can eat nothing but mashed potatoes or think this is a good time to try the Carnivore Diet (ugh).
  2. No more than 3 servings per day from the YELLOW zone.
  3. Avoid all products and additives in the RED zone.
  4. Go for as long as you can, with the goal being at least one day and up to one week.

Keep a Food Journal (form attached or use your own) and write down everything you eat and drink and note what zone it was from. Start with ONE day. If you make it past the first 24 hours without a Pop Tart or Flaming Hot Cheeto, keep going! We encourage a week’s worth of journaling to get a good idea of how deep your reliance is on ultra-processed food items. Our goal here is PROGRESS, not perfection. But if you make it a week without ingesting any RED ZONE products, we’ll have some rewards to dole out!

Email your food journals to cindi@thenoblepathfoundation.org, along with comments, suggestions and any feedback you can provide. We fully expect our REAL FOOD CHALLENGE to adapt and grow in accordance with your valuable input and we greatly appreciate your participation! Time to eat…

The three categories being used for our REAL FOOD Challenge have been adapted from the global NOVA classification of processed foods. It is a system used worldwide and has been approved and endorsed by the World Health Organization.

EAT FROM ZONE 1: THE GREEN ZONE

Foods in the GREEN zone include unprocessed or natural foods that are obtained directly from plants or animals and do not undergo any alteration following their removal from nature.

Also included are minimally processed foods, which are natural foods that have been submitted to cleaning, removal of inedible or unwanted parts, fractioning, grinding, drying, fermentation, pasteurization, cooling, freezing, or other processes that may subtract part of the food, but which do not add oils, fats, sugar, salt or other substances to the original food. Sounds complicated, but really, it’s not.

Here’s the list:
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Natural, packaged, cut, chilled or frozen vegetables, fruits, potatoes, and other roots and tubers
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Bulk or packaged grains such as brown, white, parboiled and wholegrain rice, corn kernel, or wheat berry
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Fresh or pasteurized vegetable or fruit juices with no added sugar or other substances
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Grains of wheat, oats and other cereals
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Flours, flakes and grits made from corn, wheat or oats, including those fortified with iron, folic acid or other nutrients lost during processing
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Dried or fresh pasta, couscous, and polenta made from water and the grits/flakes/flours described above
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Eggs, preferably organic, pasture raised and certified humane
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Lentils, chickpeas, beans, and other legumes like soybeans.
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Dried fruits
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Nuts, peanuts, and other seeds without salt or sugar
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Fresh and dried mushrooms and other fungi or algae
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Fresh, chilled or frozen meat, poultry, fish and seafood, whole or in the form of steaks, fillets and other cuts. Choose grass fed, pasture raised and animal welfare approved or certified humane sources for meats and wild-caught, sustainable sources for fish*. Limit red meat, (which includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat) to one or two servings per week
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Fresh or pasteurized milk; fresh nut or soy milks
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Plain yogurt without added sugar or artificial sweeteners
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Tea, herbal infusions, with no added sugar
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Coffee, unsweetened
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Water, tap, spring or mineral
*For a comprehensive guide to labels on meat, eggs and dairy:
https://www.aspca.org/shopwithyourheart/consumer-resources/meat-eggs-and-dairy-label-guide
A subgroup of the GREEN zone is PROCESSED CULINARY INGREDIENTS
These are products extracted from natural foods or from nature by processes such as pressing, grinding, crushing, pulverizing, and refining. They are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and as long as they are used in moderation in culinary preparations based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute toward diverse and delicious diets without rendering them nutritionally unbalanced.
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Vegetable oils crushed from various seeds, nuts, or fruits
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Sugar and molasses obtained from cane or beet
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Honey extracted from honeycombs
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Syrup extracted from maple trees
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Starches extracted from corn and other plants
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Butter, lard and coconut fat
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Refined or coarse salt, mined or from seawater
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Also any food combining 2 of these, such as ‘salted butter’ or ‘nut butters’ with only nuts and salt as ingredients.
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A NOTE ABOUT ADDED SUGARS
The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization recommend that one’s daily intake of added sugars should be lower than 6% of total calories. Based on a 2,000 cal/day diet, this means a total of less than 120 kcals or 30 grams of added sugars. A good figure to shoot for would be about 24 g./day and around 12 g./day for children 7 and under.
EAT SPARINGLY (3 or less per day) from ZONE 2: THE YELLOW ZONE
Moderately processed foods are products manufactured by industry with the use of salt, sugar, oil or other substances from the culinary ingredients added to GREEN ZONE foods to preserve or to make them more palatable. They are derived directly from REAL foods and are recognized as versions of the originals. Most moderately processed foods have two or three ingredients but for the REAL FOOD CHALLENGE, we allow up to FIVE GREEN ZONE ingredients. Examples of YELLOW ZONE foods:
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Canned or bottled vegetables, fruits and legumes, some preserved in salt (brine) or vinegar, or by pickling
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Canned fish, such as sardine and tuna, with or without added preservatives
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Tomato extract, pastes or concentrates
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Fruits in sugar syrup (watch added sugar intake – may NOT exceed a total of 24-30 grams per day)
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Salted nuts and seeds
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Salted, dried, pickled, smoked or cured meat and other animal foods
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Organic tofu or tempeh
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Freshly-made cheeses
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Freshly-made (unpackaged) breads made of wheat flour, yeast, water and salt
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Fermented alcoholic beverages such as beer, alcoholic cider, and wine (limit one per day)
AVOID ENTIRELY any items from ZONE 3: THE RED ZONE
Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, are not modified foods but formulations made from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any, intact GREEN zone foods. The ingredients of ultra-processed products make them fatty, sugary, salty, often high in saturated fats or trans-fats, and depleted in dietary fiber and various micronutrients. They can wreak havoc on our body’s ability to regulate hunger and satiety, thereby making it difficult to control how often and how much of these products we consume. To make matters worse, ultra-processed foods are often formulated to be habit-forming, which makes it even harder to avoid overconsumption.
Many ultra-processed products create a false impression of being healthy by adding dietary fiber and some micronutrients; replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners; or by reducing levels of sodium. This enables manufacturers to make health claims despite the product remaining quite unhealthy. Vast sums of money are spent by the biggest corporations on advertising and promotion of their products to make
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them attractive, exciting and even glamorous, especially to children and young people. All these practices impede our ability to make healthy choices.
Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products are often used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and color stabilizers, flavor enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners and processing aids that carbonate, firm, bulk, anti-bulk, de-foam, anti-cake, glaze, etc. You get the picture. (We’ve included a list of 50 additives to avoid which details why they’ve been added and the potential health risks they carry.)
In summary, the overall purpose of ultra-processing is to create convenient, durable, ready to consume, attractive, hyper-palatable and highly profitable food products designed to displace all other food groups. We encourage you not to be fooled by intensive marketing ploys and obnoxious packaging and remember that REAL FOOD has nothing good taken away and nothing bad added. Quite the opposite of these following RED ZONE items…
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Fatty, sweet, savory or salty packaged snacks
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Cookies, ice creams and frozen desserts
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Chocolates, candies and confectionery in general
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Soda and other carbonated soft drinks
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‘Energy’ and sports drinks
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Canned, packaged, dehydrated (powdered) and other ‘instant’ soups, noodles, sauces, desserts, drink mixes and seasonings
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Sweetened and flavored yogurts, including fruit yogurts
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Sweetened dairy drinks, including chocolate milk
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Sweetened juices
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Margarines and spreads
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Processed cheese
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Pre-prepared (packaged) meat, fish and vegetables
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Pre-prepared pizza and pasta dishes
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Pre-prepared burgers, hot dogs, sausages and reconstituted meat products made from remnants
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Pre-prepared poultry and fish ‘nuggets’ and ‘sticks’
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Packaged breads, hamburger and hot dog buns
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Baked products made with ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fat, sugar, whey, emulsifiers, and other additives
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Breakfast cereals and energy or protein bars
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“Health” and “slimming” products such as powdered or fortified beverage, meal and dish substitutes
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Premade pastries, cakes and cake mixes
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A NOTE ON THE BENEFITS OF COOKING:
Almost all common dishes, spreads and sides can be made using only ingredients from these first two GREEN zone groups, e.g., salsas, hummus, tahini, guacamole, etc. are all easy to make GREEN zone foods when done properly. The trouble comes in packaging and processing in order to extend shelf life, look more appetizing, or improve otherwise stale flavors and colors from long transport times.
And if you feel like you can’t live without some of the items in the RED ZONE, many of them can be made at home, using ingredients from the GREEN zone list. Our laziness in the kitchen and need for speed when trying to throw something edible on the table has lined the pockets of fast food corporations, factory farms and industrial chemical companies – all to the detriment of our personal health and to the health of our planet. With a little effort, time management and some basic cooking equipment, there will be a lot less deprivation

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