"You picked the veggies, rice, and beans over a piece of pizza? You've got to be crazy! How do you have the willpower and discipline?"
Over the years, these are some of the hundreds of remarks and questions I've fielded from clients, friends, and family alike. People want to know my "secrets." They want to know how they, too, can figure out what the healthiest foods and drinks really are among the ocean of choices at the supermarket.
The truth of the matter is that healthy eating need not be confusing, nor should it require rules, restrictions, or sacrifices in flavor. In fact, we are all biologically hardwired to crave healthy, whole foods. All we need to do is restore ourselves back to what comes naturally. In other words, we need a reset. It all begins with these two simple principles:
- Processed Foods = BAD
- Whole and Minimally-Processed Foods (WAMP) = GOOD
WAMP It Up
The idea that eating whole foods is good and processed foods is bad may seem self-
evident, but it's not as obvious as you might think. In fact, pinpointing WAMP foods isn't simple. Processed foods can be sneaky and disguise themselves as healthy foods without our noticing. For example, we all know that chips, fries, and doughnuts are processed junk-type foods -- that's obvious. But what about bagels, cereal, and yogurt? Maybe not -- it all depends on the ingredients that make them what they are.
Direct From Mother Nature
Let's start by defining "whole foods." Whole foods are foods that come directly from Mother Nature, period. What this means is that these foods look pretty much the same whether you find them at a grocery store or on a farm. Whole foods, for the most part, come from the plant, animal, or fungi kingdoms. Carrots, whole chickens, mushrooms -- they're all considered "whole."
Take cinnamon sticks, for example. They're bark, from plants, and we find them essentially as is, direct from nature. Same with coconuts, apples, lettuce, and hundreds of other foods. Once those foods are processed, though, they lose their nutrient power and goodness -- they're no longer WAMP. The key here is that whole foods are unaltered from the way you'd find them in the wild.
Minimally Touched by the Human Hand
With "minimally-processed foods," a little common sense goes a long way. For example, minor alteration by the human hand is necessary for some whole foods to be stored, shipped, preserved, and consumed. Some fish are smoked to prevent them from going bad. Whole chickens are skinned, deboned, and fit into convenient packages for us to pick up from the supermarket. In the preparation of chocolate, cacao beans need to be extracted from the pods they came in, fermented, and dried prior to consumption. Butter needs to be made by humans from the milk of animals. Juice needs to be squeezed out of a fresh orange in a similar way to how olive oil needs to be extracted from the olive. All of these are great examples of minimally processed foods. We don't find them as is in nature, but they're changed only in small ways for us to better consume them. With just a little common sense and some thinking about the origins of foods, knowing what's minimally processed becomes simple.
Okay, so you must be thinking at this point, Why aren't we talking about "organic" or "non-GMO"? If WAMP foods are organic, local, sustainable, or otherwise produced in a healthier way for us and the planet (i.e., without pesticides, without antibiotics, without genetic modification, etc.), they're superior -- or what I like to call "Super WAMP."
Now we get to the part about why WAMP foods are the best foods for us, and why they're so "good." Science loves WAMP. Researchers agree that whole and minimally-processed foods are more nutrient-dense than processed foods, and therefore healthier. WAMP foods contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and so on -- more of the disease - and cancer-fighting good stuff -- than processed foods.
WAMP vs. Diet Plans: No Contest
Over the last 70 years or so, hundreds of diet theories have come and gone with none of them accomplishing what they set out to do. For example, the seeds for the "low-fat, low-cholesterol" diet were sown back in the 1950s based on work done by a physiologist named Ancel Keys. Yet despite all the decades of developing low-fat foods, Americans are still fat, and heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in America. The vegan diet -- which is all the rage these days -- isn't bulletproof either. Studies have shown that even when red meat is eliminated from the diet, you're still not "heart-attack proof." The "low-carb" diet doesn't make any sense, as some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet are vegetables, fruits, and greens -- all carbs. And as far as the Atkins diet is concerned, plenty of renowned physicians have refuted its effectiveness, even going as far as calling it "disease promoting" and "clearly atherogenic" (promoting fatty plaque in the artery).
Staking a claim in the "best diet" arena is nothing short of a futile practice. Given the inability to scientifically control the hundreds of factors that play into our unique lifestyles and genetics, and the deep complexity of the human body, making a judgment call on which diet plan is perfect for the broad population is pretty much impossible.
Yet the one thing we do know is that foods in their least altered state -- WAMP foods -- are, hands down, better than processed foods, and when we start consuming these foods exclusively, we'll no doubt be a lot better off than we are now. It's just that simple. For many people, just the transition from processed to whole food can help reverse and stave off many ailments such as overweight, allergies, and chronic disease.
Adapted from The 3-Day Reset: Restore Your Cravings for Healthy Foods in Three Easy, Empowering Days, by Pooja Mottl. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014.
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