10 Signs It's Not Real Food

Now - I hate click baity headlines or blog posts, but sometimes it is the only way to connect with people to share a message. Don't worry, this blog doesn't contain cat videos or "you wouldn't believe what she did next" stories!!!

When I connect with you beautiful readers, I commonly talk about real food, and what that means. I like to use the mantra, "how many steps from nature is this food?", to dictate the quality and nourishment a meal will give me. To add more detail to this, I have put together a checklist which discusses when food is not REALly food, that is, when it has become so modified or compromised that it is not the best fuel or nourishment for your body.

Here are my 10 Signs It's Not Real Food!

Disclaimer: This list is a broad brush, there are outliers for each point, but most of the time these points hold true. If in doubt, comment with the product in question and I will let you know my thoughts!

1. The ingredient list contains E-numbers.

Many modern foods are built in a lab, to combine real food ingredients with artificial additives to create foods that have long shelf lives, have big flavour or lots of colour. 90% of the E-numbers used in the food industry are known to have significant side effects (and no combination studies to identify further effects when mixed), and should be avoided.

This is the legal definition of a "food additive" from the FDA website: "any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result -- directly or indirectly -- in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food."  Sooooo.....not really food at all.  The other little side note is that, "Most [emphasis mine] direct additives are identified on the ingredient label of foods."

If in doubt, refer to my list of E-Numbers, which provides details on what the E-Number is and links through for further information.

2. It needs excessive packaging.

To catch the attention of the consumer, food manufacturers use packaging to stand out on the shelves. This is for two reasons, 1) if they were to use plain packaging for the contents it would likely not look very palatable and 2) the colours and shapes of the packaging have been created to attract the eyes like bees to a flower. This is not only wasteful (War on Waste anyone?), it using marketing techniques that have been tested on humans to have them buy the product.

Next time you are in the supermarket, have a look at ALL THAT PACKAGING!

3. It has the word "flavour/flavoured" on the label.

Many processed food ingredients are inherently bland and require the addition of flavourings to enhance the taste of the product. Some food manufacturers use real flavour options for their products, whilst many resort to lower cost artificial or 'natural' flavouring to create flavour. If the food product has the word "flavour" or "flavoured" on the product, this will likely mean it contains the artificial version (check the E-Numbers). The only difference between an artificial flavour and a natural one is that the natural one initially started as that food, ie. natural strawberry flavour may have begun with a strawberry but by the time the chemists are done with it, it is usually a clear or white liquid/powder - nothing like a strawberry and not recognised as strawberry by the body. The artificial one begins and ends as chemicals. The word "flavour" often conceals hundreds of individual chemicals or 'ingredients' and is allowed on the ingredient list without further detail because it remains the proprietary IP of the manufacturer. See the list of ingredients in strawberry milkshake/ice cream flavour at the end of this post...

How much banana is in that banana-FLAVOURED yoghurt? How much maple syrup is in that maple-FLAVOURED syrup? 

4. It has impossible colours in it.

There are certain colours in real food that stand out, greens, reds, oranges, yellows and browns - in their real form they look beautiful and eye-catching on your plate. Sometimes you will encounter foods that contain "impossible" colours, as in, there is no plant on this earth that could produce that colour. Think BLUE sports drinks, or RED cordials and PINK bubble gums. These extreme colours are more than likely artificial and should be avoided. Check the E-Number for the colour and see whether it really is REAL.  An interesting experiment you can do at a children's party is set the timer when you see the red cordial go into their little bodies. Observe how long it takes to notice visible signs of behavioural change. Most red food colourings are known to cause cancer, and have been shown to lower reproductive success in rats. Please do more research if you or your children are still consuming colourings.

The beauty of this is that there are many gorgeous, wholefood colours that can be used to enhance food, I will cover that off soon for another blog!

5. It is preserved with sugar or salt.

Many foods that sit on the shelves require a bit of support to not "go off", there are a handful ways to do this, one being the addition of artificial preservatives. As people shy away from these ingredients, food manufacturers are utilising two ingredients in particular to help improve shelf life. They are sugar and salt. Both of these, when used in significant quantities, help preserve food (prior to refrigeration, salt was used to preserve meats and cheeses, and sugar was used to help preserve fruits and some vegetables).

Salts and sugars are a maze when it comes to good/bad/evil options - but it is worth considering these when reading the ingredient label, is that sugar or salt there for preserving this food and adding flavour? What percentage does it take up on the ingredient list? And how many different sugar names appear on the list, which if all were to have been listed as "sugar", might appear instead as the first ingredient?

6. It has a shelf life that puts a Mummy to shame.

Food manufacturers HATE waste and returns from retailers when it spoils. To manage this problem, the answer for them was to identify how to improve the shelf life of their products to provide a win/win situation for the manufacturer and retailer. Long shelf life products mean manufacturers know that their product won't go bad for their retailer and the retailer knows they have time to sell the product. Aisles I have perused in supermarkets contain products with shelf lives that put Egyptians Mummies to shame. Some products have a BEST BEFORE date that exceeds 12 months, and I have in my "baddie" stash at home, foods that are two years past their BEST BEFORE date, and look brand new. These products are so full of preservatives that NOTHING will eat them, not even mold, mites or weevils!!!

I'll let you decide whether it is a good idea to put these foods in your belly.

7.  It has a "name" that is trademarked.

Many products resort to branding their product with a trademarked name. Immediately this rings alarm bells, if these products were marketed under the name of what they were, you might be less inclined to buy them. Would you like to buy some "Yeast extract with artificial flavouring, artificial colour AND fortified with artificial vitamins" or "Puffed rice with added yoghurt flavour, glucose, fructose, hydrogenated oils, salt and artificial flavours"?

I'll let you guess what the brands are, but I'll give you a clue that they are both in the grand majority of pantries I see. I am pretty certain these brand names are hiding the truth within their ingredient list!!!

8. It claims to contain a great ingredient, yet the ingredient is present only in tiny amounts.

Oh boy. This is a biggie. So many products love to highlight an ingredient that attracts a customer. With "super foods" being the marketing go-to for many food manufacturers, the addition and then highlighting of ingredients to improve the image of the product is rampant. Like the cashew spread that only contains 25% cashews, or the chia seed bread that contains 8% chia seeds. Fortunately, when a manufacturer markets a certain ingredient, they are also required to list the total percentage of said ingredient in their ingredient list, but it is up to you to actually check their work. 

When you see that claim "contains x", flip it over to see how much is really in there, and then see what the main ingredient REALLY is.

9. It needs a billboard or a television advertisement.

Now, there are some foods that you see on billboards and on television ads that are real food, so my apologies to the food manufacturers who are doing the right thing and use their marketing budget to spread the word via this form of advertising. BUT. If a food requires the spend of many thousands of dollars to tell you about it, there are two potential issues.

One, if the business can afford to spend large sums of money to have you buy their product, chances are the food is full of cheap calories and poor quality ingredients. If you removed the marketing cost for that product, how much would it really cost the consumer? Imagine if the marketing cost was replaced with sourcing better quality, real food ingredients with better nutritional returns for the consumer? The more you see that product/brand 'everywhere', the more of their budget ISN'T going into the quality of the food.

Two, if you weren't told about it via an advertisement, would you seek it out? I know many real food brands that sell their product (and do VERY well) without expensive marketing strategies, their product sells itself! It is worth considering this when you next go shopping, how much of a pull do you have for the gaudy shelf marketing and the abrasive television ads? Crazy isn't it?

10. The ingredient list (contains brackets).

Ingredient lists on manufactured foods are required to be in order of quantity (largest to smallest) to help the consumer understand the breakdown of ingredients. There are now laws or regulations as to how this implemented, and many food manufacturers use a sneaky strategy to hide the truth on their ingredient lists. This is done using (brackets), where they create a "component" and group the ingredients in that component together in brackets to boost that component up the list. A great example is a rice-based snack aimed at children:

Rice component (30%) (whole white rice, sugar, salt, barley malt extract), yoghurt flavoured compound (27%) (sugar, vegetable oil, milk solids, glucose, yoghurt powder, emulsifier [soy lecithin], food acid [330], salt), glucose, fructose powder, hydrogenated soyabean oil (antioxidants [304, 307b]), sugar, glucose solids, invert sugar, humectant (glycerol), gelatin, natural flavour, salt, emulsifiers (472e, 472a), skim milk powder.

If the ingredient list was broken down with a true representation of the contents of the snack, it wouldn't look like this. I've counted 10 different listings of various sugars (in italics) so surely sugar should be listed as the first ingredient no?!

(for demonstration purposes only....)
Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, whole white rice, salt, vegetable oil, milk solids, hydrogenated soyabean oil (antioxidants [304, 307b]), yoghurt powder, emulsifier [soy lecithin], food acid [330], gelatin, natural flavour, emulsifiers (472e, 472a), skim milk powder.

Not so appealing now is it? 

THE GOOD NEWS: Eating real food is not hard and your body will reward and thank you wonderfully as soon as you allow yourself to peel away the non-foods and Just Eat Real Food (JERF!). 


This is what is in artificial strawberry flavouring, such as the stuff in your fast food chain milkshake...

  • amyl acetate,
  • amyl butyrate,
  • amyl valerate,
  • anethol,
  • anisyl formate,
  • benzyl acetate,
  • benzyl isobutyrate,
  • butyric acid,
  • cinnamyl isobutyrate,
  • cinnamyl valerate,
  • cognac essential oil,
  • diacetyl,
  • dipropyl ketone,
  • ethyl acetate,
  • ethyl amyl ketone,
  • ethyl butyrate,
  • ethyl cinnamate,
  • ethyl heptanoate,
  • ethyl heptylate,
  • ethyl lactate,
  • ethyl methylphenylglycidate,
  • ethyl nitrate,
  • ethyl propionate,
  • ethyl valerate,
  • heliotropin,
  • hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol),
  • a-ionone,
  • isobutyl anthranilate,
  • isobutyl butyrate,
  • lemon essential oil,
  • maltol,
  • 4-methylacetophenone,
  • methyl anthranilate,
  • methyl benzoate,
  • methyl cinnamate,
  • methyl heptine carbonate,
  • methyl naphthyl ketone,
  • methyl salicylate,
  • mint essential oil,
  • neroli essential oil,
  • nerolin,
  • neryl isobutyrate,
  • orris butter,
  • phenethyl alcohol,
  • rose,
  • rum ether,
  • g-undecalactone,
  • vanillin, and
  • solvent.