Ready to Take Our 30-Day Real Food Challenge? Here's What You Need to Know
We challenge you to eat fewer processed foods and less sugar this month.
If you're feeling like your diet could use a refresh, you've come to the right place. Every once in a while, that balance of a lot of good fresh foods and a few treats here and there gets thrown out of whack and you want a plan to help you get back on track. That's where our 30 Days of Real Food Challenge comes in.
Why 30 Days of Real Food?
At EatingWell, we believe that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. That's why you'll find recipes that deliver on health and taste and won't make you feel deprived. But we all need a little healthy-eating boost sometimes. So for one month, we're encouraging you to put your focus on whole food and cut way back on processed foods. Over these 30 days, you should save money, eat healthier, feel better and lose weight (if that's your goal).
Unlike other detox plans or super-restrictive diets, such as Whole30, our plan doesn't cut out healthy foods like beans, peanuts, whole grains and fruits (yes, some diets instruct you to avoid fruit). Our challenge means embracing whole foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats. It also means cutting back on refined grains, added sugar, additives, preservatives, unhealthy fats and large amounts of salt.
Are you ready to take the challenge? Read on for more about which foods are allowed, what to watch out for and what to avoid this month. We can't wait for you to join us on this journey!
Get the full 30 Days of Real Food Challenge.
Which Foods Are Allowed?
Quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley and farro are whole grains that have been super-minimally processed to get to your plate. Choose these often, but whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread with simple ingredients (no sugar!) are allowed on the challenge too. Sometimes you just need a hearty slice of avocado toast or a bowl of pasta-and we think that's A-OK. By ditching refined grains (white pasta and white bread) for whole grains you'll boost your fiber intake and get more antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients.
The more the merrier for the next 30 days. Amazingly, 87 percent of Americans don't get the recommended 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day. Veggies are low in calories and packed with nutrition, and eating more of them can reduce your risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Aim to add vegetables to every meal and choose veggie-heavy snacks like celery sticks with peanut butter, carrots and hummus or bell pepper dipped in guacamole.
Some people are wary of fruit because it's higher in sugar than some foods. However, that sugar is all-natural and packaged together with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fiber helps slow the digestion of sugar into your bloodstream, so stick to skin-on fruit over juices to get your fill. Plus, since you won't be consuming added sugar for 30 days, fruit can fill that void. Aim to get 2 cups of fruit daily.
Protein helps keep you full and is important for building muscle and keeping your skin and hair healthy. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, women need 46 grams of protein and men need 56 grams of protein daily (but this does vary depending on your specific needs). Fresh meats and seafood all fit in your diet this month. Vegetarian proteins like eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, nuts and tofu fit as well. Watch out for sauces and marinades that may contain added sugar and weird ingredients. Also, protein bars and shakes tend to have added sugar (and questionable ingredients), so aim to consume whole foods for your protein needs this month.
Just in case you haven't heard it enough: Fat does not make you fat. You do not need to be afraid of fat! In fact, fat helps you absorb fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K), helps keep you full, adds lots of flavor to your food and can help keep your heart healthy. We use different oils for cooking, but tend to fall back on olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil and sometimes coconut oil for flavor. Nuts, avocado and olives are also great sources of healthy fats. You'll want to avoid all partially hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats, but that shouldn't be hard this month since you're cutting way back on packaged foods, which is where they live.
Which Foods Do You Need to Watch Out For?
If it works for you-go ahead and cut out alcohol for 30 days. More power to you. Beer, wine and liquor for the most part only contribute calories and not much nutrition to our diets. However, red wine does have heart-healthy antioxidants. And having a drink with dinner is how some people like to relax, slow down and savor their meal. For our month of whole food you can still have a glass of wine (preferably red, for those nutrition benefits) or a beer 3 to 4 times per week.
Not all packaged foods are bad. Sometimes you're just opening up a bag of pistachios or dipping into plain yogurt. Other times, you try to read an ingredient list and can't pronounce anything. It's those foods you should watch out for this month. You'll need to check the labels diligently on foods like whole-grain breads and crackers. Also, this is a great month to make your own homemade versions of packaged foods-salad dressing, pesto, tomato sauce-where you control the ingredients. Avoid any food with added sugar and aim to eat whole, real, one-ingredient foods as much as possible.
Which Foods Are Not Allowed?
Sorry, not sorry: no added sugar on this challenge. You can last 30 days without the sweet stuff. Plus, you'll get your fill of naturally sweet fruits that can satisfy your sweet tooth. Too much added sugar is bad for your weight, your heart, your teeth and more. Plus, once you acclimate to eating sugar-free, your taste buds will start to be satisfied with less sugar.
Don't Miss: Treats with Zero Added Sugar
The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. The average American gets about 4 times that amount-28 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Cut down on added sugars by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. But it's more than just desserts-keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce and cereal. And by added sugar we mean honey, maple syrup, agave and other natural sweeteners too.