If you find labels, health claims and dietary advice confusing, you're not alone. Every day it seems as though there's a new study out touting the benefits of eschewing dairy or taking vitamins, only to be trumped by yet a more recent news story that contradicts these directives. What to do?
With over 40,000 items at a standard supermarket, it seems as though simple grocery shopping has become a herculean task for most of us -- a "job" so tough it requires we cart along some food expert to help us effectively navigate the ocean of information screaming at us from all kinds of food. Information that just seems to get more complex year after year. Should I buy this cereal because it says it's made of "whole grains"? I remember a segment on the local news that praised the benefits of the Paleo diet -- should I skip bread today? This yogurt says its "all-natural." That must be a good thing, right? Vegan cookies? Check.
As the years go by, its becoming more and more obvious that all these labels and advice aren't really helping the majority of us -- we're still in need of more energy, we still want to look younger and feel better, we're still battling overweight and obesity (over two-thirds of Americans fall into these two categories), and we're still succumbing to chronic diseases that result from our lifestyle choices -- food being one of the most influential of these choices.
Luckily, there's a path to food and eating that can help us -- one that is honest and one that can put an end to the constant barrage of information that tries, but continually fails, to keep us healthy.
I call it WAMP. WAMP stands for Whole And Minimally Processed foods. WAMP foods are foods that work in concert with our biological makeup -- they're not altered from how we find them in Nature (or only altered by us in small ways), and they're harvested, raised and produced in ways that ensures the sustainability of our health and planet.
WAMP is a simple, seemingly obvious, yet highly powerful concept. It has the ability to entirely reset the way we buy, crave and understand food. Here's what makes WAMP so special:
• Think of WAMP as the new Gold Standard for food labeling. WAMP is better than the "USDA Organic" label because these days, even refined sugar, cupcakes and pizza can be labeled "organic". Not so healthy, right? WAMP is better than "natural" because -- as surprising as it is -- the word "natural" isn't regulated by the FDA (apart from how it relates to meat and poultry). WAMP is quite possibly the only way to correctly choose healthy food.
• Consider this: eating WAMP foods, in a balanced, moderate way, may be the best diet for the vast majority of us. That's because there is no diet that works for everyone -- no diet that science has concluded is the "healthiest diet." If you think about it, countless potential flaws have been found in the Paleo diet (some say why avoid grains if humanity has been thriving on them for centuries?).
Just this week, for example, a new research study found that a diet high in protein could be as bad for your health as smoking (1). The same poking of holes goes for the Vegan diet where studies have shown that even if you delete meat from your diet, you're still not "heart attack proof" (2).
We don't have to go into the failures of the low-fat, the Atkins or the no-carb diets -- all we have to do is take a look at obesity rates and death rates from chronic disease -- they're only getting worse. These diets consistently fail us. Even worse, they're no fun! In contrast, eating whole and minimally processed foods as part of a balanced diet, doesn't have these foibles, there aren't any hidden pitfalls. Scientists agree that foods eaten in their whole form have more nourishment than foods that are highly processed (3).
Science has also tipped its hat to the synergistic power of whole foods, powers that it cannot replicate. About seven years ago, Michael Pollan famously put forth the argument in favor of whole foods (4) when he noted that ingesting beta carotene in supplement form may increase the risks of certain cancers while eating a carrot (chock full of this nutrient) doesn't do the same. There's a wonderful, life-giving chemistry inside whole foods that is the secret of Mother Nature, and Mother Nature alone.
• Saving the best for last: Perhaps the best attribute of WAMP is the fact that eating this way can guarantee that we crave healthy foods. In fact, we're chemically hardwired to find pleasure in whole, minimally processed foods. If we remove processed foods from our lives (foods that desensitize our taste buds and mess with our natural cravings) and eat WAMP for period of time, healthy foods will start to taste incredibly yummy! Steamed broccoli sprinkled with a bit of ponzu becomes yum! Fresh avocado with raw scallions -- yum! Plain, grass-fed yogurt with a dollop of raw honey -- yum! Snickers, soda and super-sweet cookies? Not so yum. Eating WAMP can restore us to our natural cravings for foods that nourish us and automatically help us dislike the nutrient-deplete stuff.
Now, to the question you're dying to ask: how do we know what foods are WAMP and what foods aren't since there isn't a WAMP label on foods (at least not yet!).
Identifying whole foods isn't hard -- these foods don't usually come with labels, claims or packaging. Whole fruits, whole grains, legumes, meat from the butcher counter, sustainably caught fish -- these are all great examples of whole foods. And what about minimally processed foods? This can be a bit more tricky but with just a wee bit of investigation of our food -- asking questions, learning the provence and history of our foods -- we'll get the skills we need. You can get the hang of this by reading a blog I wrote on identifying minimally processed chocolate here on HuffPost a couple years back.
At the end of the day, raw, organic sauerkraut, peanut butter without additives or preservatives, and fresh-squeezed OJ are all great examples of minimally processed foods. You can learn more about my step-by-step process for understanding WAMP in my upcoming book, The 3-Day Reset.
In the end, we can no longer afford to be confused, desperate shoppers and consumers. We need better information about food -- for our long-term health, wellness and happiness. WAMP can finally close the gap and put us on the path to eating healthily forever. WAMP isn't anything new and it's not meant to be trendy. For the most part, prior to the 20th century, we had been eating whole and minimally processed foods. Now all we need to do is get back to what we have been doing all along.
(1) "Eat Plants And Prosper: For Longevity, Go Easy On The Meat, Study Says," NPR.
(2) Mozaffarian, Dariush, Eric B. Rimm, and David M. Herrington. "Dietary Fats, Carbohydrate, and Progression of Coronary Atherosclerosis in Postmenopausal Women." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, no. 5 (2004): 1175-1184.
(3) Barr, Sadie B., and Jonathan C. Wright. "Postprandial Energy Expenditure in Whole-Food and Processed-Food Meals: Implications for Daily Energy Expenditure." Food & Nutrition Research 54 (2010).
(4) "Unhappy Meals," New York Times.