Natural food chef, healthy eating coach, (and mom!), Pooja Mottl has a golden rule: the key to a healthier diet is “wamp”–whole and minimally processed food. She coined the term as a simple guideline for healthier eating. As a healthy living expert, Mottl advises clients, teaches cooking classes, and has had numerous television and radio appearances. Her recent book The 3-Day Reset: Restore Your Cravings For Healthy Foods in Three Easy, Empowering Days, gives easy-to-follow tools to teach us how to break free from cravings for processed, nutrient-empty foods, and transition to a life-long path of healthy eating.
“I’m an omnivore, but the way I eat is completely whole, unrefined, and sustainable,” she explains. “We know that we need to focus on our health-and it starts with healthy food.” Mottl, who recently moved to the New York area from California, spoke with NYF, offering helpful tips for healthier eating.
Have you always been interested in helping people eat better?
Healthy eating has always been my main focus. But there are so many diet and health claims that we’ve found to be untrue, and many people don’t know how to eat healthily. Low-fat diets were big in the past, then came low-carb, and now vegan and paleo diets. It can be very confusing, and there are flaws in all these diets and not enough conclusive science. And there are so many “fake” healthy foods–foods that claim to be organic, all natural, probiotic. We’re told to eat yogurt and energy bars. But you cannot restrict eating or force people to eat food that they do not enjoy.
What is most important for healthy eating?
People must begin to eat and enjoy whole and minimally processed foods because they are the most nutrient-rich and provide the best diet for humans. When people begin to make this change, it is amazing to see how quickly they begin to dislike processed food because the sensitivity of their palates change.
What causes unhealthy cravings?
Processed food is the main culprit. We crave processed foods because they are made with high amounts of refined ingredients: sugar, salt, and fat. These refined ingredients affect our biochemistry and manipulate our taste buds. But the refined ingredients don’t truly satisfy, so we want more.
What is the hardest food craving to “re-set”, and how do you re-train your taste buds to enjoy healthier foods?
Sugar! Sugar is our biggest weakness. I advise people to read every label on your food and make sure there is no sugar in what you’re eating. If you can do this for three days, you’ll be on your way. Beware of ingredients like lactose, maltose, and evaporated cane juice. We must get smarter and try to satisfy our sweet tooth with what mother nature intended for us–dates, dried fruits, fresh ripe fruit, raw unpasteurized honey, pure maple syrup. These are pure sweet foods and we should use them as substitutes for sugar cravings
As a healthy eating expert, do you struggle with any food cravings or weaknesses yourself?
Yes! I admit that my biggest craving is chocolate. But the chocolate that I eat is healthier and much less refined than mass-market chocolate. It has over 70-percent cacao content (the first ingredient should be cacao, not sugar). Its much more dense and rich, and I only eat a small amount which is enough to satisfy.
You also have a chapter about yogurt. Please explain.
I feel commercial yogurt is “dessert”, with too much sugar, preservatives, and additives that are unhealthy. Most yogurt (especially children’s yogurts) have over 10-15 ingredients. Pure healthy yogurt should have only two ingredients: milk and active cultures. If we want to sweeten yogurt just add ripe fruit–smash up raspberries or use pureed apricot or raw honey. These are healthier ways to sweeten our food. We need to adopt better habits to start leading healthier lives.
How has becoming a mom affected your ideas about healthy eating?
I now have a 22-month-old daughter, and motherhood has made my loyalty to eating whole, minimally processed foods even stronger because I see how eating this way has positively affected my daughter’s health. My daughter has good digestion, rarely gets sick, and she is physically strong and active.
Being a mom has also made me realize how supermarket baby food is overly-processed. It is easy to make better, more nourishing, fresh food at home from scratch–and moms need to raise their awareness about food and how it affects their growing children. Most of the whole, fresh foods that I cook for my daughter can be made in a matter of minutes!