True Cellular Formulas Team - August 23, 2023

Beyond Calories

Embracing Real Food in a World of Processed Poisons

Beyond Calories

In the bustling aisles of today's supermarkets, it's easy to fall into the trap of calorie counting. From diet plans to fitness apps, the mantra seems simple: eat fewer calories, lose more weight. But what if this commonly accepted belief is leading us astray?

While there's no denying that calories play a role in weight management, the fixation on numbers often overshadows a more vital aspect of our diets: the distinction between real, whole foods and the hyper-palatable, highly processed products that fill our grocery store shelves. Shockingly, over 70% of items sold in grocery stores today fall into this latter category.[1]

This article aims to peel back the layers of mere calorie counting and delve into the more meaningful relationship between food and nourishment. We will explore how focusing on the quality of what we consume, rather than merely the quantity, can lead to a healthier, more fulfilled life. Join us on a journey back to real food, to an understanding that shifts away from restriction and embraces nourishment, balance, and natural wellbeing. The path to wellness may be simpler than you think – it begins with what's on your plate.

Understanding Food vs. Poison

Our bodies thrive on nourishment, and the foundation of that nourishment is real food. But what constitutes real food, and how does it differ from what we're calling "poison"?

Real Food Defined: Real food refers to natural, whole, unprocessed items that are rich in nutrients. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. They are foods that have been part of the human diet for thousands of years and are recognized by our bodies as nourishment.

The Poison in Our Diets: On the other hand, the term "poison" might seem harsh when applied to food, but it accurately describes items that are hyperpalatable and highly processed. These foods often contain artificial additives, preservatives, and excessive sugar and salt. They're designed to taste good, leading us to eat more and, in turn, may contribute to various health problems.[2]

Why Quality Matters More Than Quantity: Counting calories can provide a rough guideline for weight management, but it falls short when it comes to overall health. A calorie from a sugary soda is not the same as a calorie from a fresh apple. The quality of the calories we consume impacts not just our weight, but our energy levels, mood, and overall wellbeing.[3]

The Shift Towards Nutrient Density: Understanding food as nourishment rather than merely fuel involves focusing on nutrient density. Nutrient-dense foods provide more vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients per calorie. Emphasizing these foods can lead to a more satisfying and healthful diet, without the need to obsess over calorie content.

The way we perceive food has profound effects on our lives. Recognizing the distinction between real food and "poison" allows us to make conscious choices that serve our bodies rather than harm them. As we proceed, we'll explore how our modern diets have become overrun by processed foods and why it's time to reclaim the value of real, whole foods in our lives.

The Problem with Hyperpalatable, Highly Processed Foods

In today's age of convenience and instant gratification, our grocery store aisles are bursting with attractively packaged, highly processed foods. But what exactly does "hyper-palatable" mean, and why should we be concerned?

The Allure of Hyperpalatable Foods: Hyperpalatable foods are engineered to hit the "bliss point," a perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that stimulates our brain's pleasure centers. This makes them hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. Companies spend billions in research to perfect these recipes, ensuring consumers come back for more.

The Health Impact: Overconsumption of these processed foods has been linked to a myriad of health issues, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.[4-5] But beyond these well-known conditions, there's also a significant impact on mental health, including mood disorders and depression.[6]

The Overbearing Presence in Modern Diets: It's alarming to note that these foods have crept into every meal. Breakfast cereals laden with sugar, lunchtime sandwiches with processed meats and dressings, and dinners made from boxed meals with a list of ingredients a mile long. Not to mention snacks, which are often nothing more than refined carbs coated in salt or sugar.

Breaking Free from the Processed Food Cycle: One of the biggest challenges is that these foods are everywhere, and they're often cheaper and more accessible than whole, natural foods. However, understanding the detrimental impact they have on our health is the first step in making a change. Being aware means we can start to make more informed choices about what we put into our bodies.

As we navigate through the complexities of modern diets, it's clear that hyper-palatable, highly processed foods are more than just a minor inconvenience. They've reshaped our eating habits, our health, and the way we relate to food. But by recognizing the pitfalls, we can start to take back control and prioritize real, nourishing foods.

The Restriction Mentality

Over the years, the world of dieting and weight management has ingrained in us a pervasive mindset: restriction. We're told to limit our intake, avoid certain food groups, and, at times, to view food as the enemy. But is this the right approach?

Historical Relationship with Real Food: Throughout history, humans have enjoyed a wholesome relationship with real food. Meals were centered around community, celebration, and nourishment.[7] Foods were consumed in their natural states without the barrage of artificial additives and preservatives we see today.

Misdirected Restrictions: It's curious that, while we've been conditioned to restrict wholesome, real foods, the same urgency isn't often directed towards the highly processed, artificial foods flooding our diets. Instead of being cautious about a box of sugar-loaded cookies, we might find ourselves second-guessing the avocado because of its fat content.

Real Food to Self-Regulate: Contrary to modern dieting dogma, our body knows how to regulate its needs when provided with nutrient-rich, unadulterated foods. Restricting whole foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies and feelings of deprivation, which often result in rebound overeating.[8] Although some people may need more support with their relationship to food, it starts by eliminating the things that distort our capacity to self-regulate. 

Redirecting the Restriction Lens: Instead of viewing all foods through a restrictive lens, we need to be discerning. The restriction mentality is better suited for the "poisons" – the artificial and highly processed items that contribute little to our health. By focusing on the quality of our intake and treating real foods as allies rather than adversaries, we can foster a more balanced and sustainable relationship with our meals.

As we chart our way forward, it's important to revisit and reshape our relationship with food. By grounding ourselves in a mentality that values nourishment and wholesomeness, we set the stage for a healthier, happier life.

The Benefits of Real, Whole Foods

In a world overwhelmed by convenience foods and catchy marketing, the timeless virtues of real, whole foods often fade into the background. But these nutrient powerhouses offer a plethora of benefits that far outweigh the fleeting pleasures of processed alternatives.

Natural Nutritional Powerhouses: Whole foods are dense in nutrients, including essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Unlike their processed counterparts, which are often stripped of these beneficial compounds, whole foods deliver a more complete and balanced nutritional profile.

Satiety and Satisfaction: Real foods, thanks to their fiber and nutrient content, help keep us full and satisfied for longer. This naturally aids in portion control and reduces the urge for mindless snacking, which is a common pitfall with hyper-palatable processed foods.[8]

Positive Impact on Health: Consistent consumption of whole foods is associated with reduced risks of many chronic diseases. From cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes to certain cancers, the evidence is robust in favor of a whole-food-based diet.[9]

Improved Digestion and Gut Health: With their fiber and natural enzymes, whole foods promote a healthy gut. A flourishing gut microbiome has been linked to not only better digestion but also improved mental health and stronger immune function.[10]

Cost-Effective in the Long Run: While processed foods might seem cheaper upfront, the long-term health costs associated with their consumption can be staggering. Investing in real foods is an investment in health, potentially saving on future medical bills and enhancing the quality of life.

Reconnecting with Nature and Tradition: Choosing whole foods allows us reconnecting with nature and culinary traditions. It brings back the joy of cooking, understanding the origin of our food, and cherishing every meal as an experience rather than a mere task.

In the vast sea of food choices available to us, real, whole foods shine as beacons of health and well-being. By choosing them more often, we're not just feeding our bodies; we're nurturing our very essence and paving the way for a life of vitality.

How to Shift the Focus

The call for embracing real, whole foods is clear, but how do we practically transition in a world dominated by convenience foods? Here are steps to realign with natural nourishment:

  • Educate and Read Labels: Understanding what's in your food is the first step. Read labels diligently. If an ingredient list is lengthy with unfamiliar terms, it's likely highly processed.
  • Cook at Home: By preparing meals at home, you regain control over ingredients and cooking methods. Start with simple recipes that highlight the natural flavors of whole foods.
  • Prioritize Whole Food Staples: Stock your pantry with whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and other non-perishable whole foods. Fill your fridge with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and dairy or plant-based alternatives.
  • Shop the Perimeter: Most grocery stores have fresh produce, dairy, and meats on the outer aisles, while processed foods dominate the center. By shopping the perimeter, you'll naturally focus on whole foods.
  • Limit Processed Snacks: Instead of chips or candy, snack on nuts, seeds, fruits, or vegetables with hummus or guacamole.
  • Connect with Local Farmers: Farmers markets or community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs can provide fresh, locally-sourced produce. It's a way to support local communities and get high-quality ingredients.


The journey to wellness is multifaceted, and while calorie counting has its place, it shouldn't overshadow the profound benefits of quality nutrition. In shifting our focus from mere numbers to the essence of what we consume, we rekindle an age-old relationship with food—a relationship rooted in nourishment, balance, and respect.

By centering our diets around real, whole foods, we do more than just fuel our bodies. We nourish our minds, cherish our traditions, and lay the foundation for a healthier future. In this transformative process, we might discover that the path to true well-being is not about restriction but about embracing the abundant gifts of nature. Let's journey back to the basics and see where real food takes us.

  1. Menichetti, G., Barabási, AL. Nutrient concentrations in food display universal behaviour. Nat Food 3, 375–382 (2022). 
  2. “Cravings.” The Nutrition Source, 2 Feb. 2023,
  3. Firth, Joseph et al. “Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 369 m2382. 29 Jun. 2020, doi:10.1136/bmj.m2382
  4. Poti, Jennifer M et al. “Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?.” Current obesity reports vol. 6,4 (2017): 420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4
  5. Scully, Tiffany et al. “Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cancer Risk.” Frontiers in oncology vol. 10 615375. 2 Feb. 2021, doi:10.3389/fonc.2020.615375
  6. Lane, Melissa M et al. “Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Mental Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Nutrients vol. 14,13 2568. 21 Jun. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14132568
  7. Julia Darnton, Michigan State University Extension. “Foodways: When Food Meets Culture and History.” MSU Extension, 21 Jan. 2022, 
  8. Meule, Adrian. “The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation.” Current nutrition reports vol. 9,3 (2020): 251-257. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00326-0
  9. Schulze, Matthias B, et al. “Food Based Dietary Patterns and Chronic Disease Prevention.” BMJ, 2018, doi:10.1136/bmj.k2396.
  10. “The Microbiome: How Gut Bacteria Regulate Our Health.” New Scientist, 19 Oct. 2020,