First, change your diet.
“Processed foods are the worst thing you can eat,” said Debi Golebiewski, owner of Healing Ways Nutrition Shoppe, which opened late last year in Saltillo. “They’re higher in chemicals, cholesterol, high-fructose corn syrup. You need to avoid all the chemicals and additives you can.”
Michelle Barbieri at The Health Food Store in Tupelo agreed.
“You want to eat more whole foods, whole grains and non-genetically modified foods,” she said. “Studies are showing that mice fed genetically modified rice and corn now have tumors. Reduce your use of processed foods and totally take high-fructose corn syrup out of your diet just like you do trans fats.”
Susie Buskirk, owner of Healthy Habits in Tupelo, which opened in 1986, said this time of year, people come in her store and say they actually want to eat better. They ask her for ways to get more good things into their diets.
“Most of them start by buying beans and lentils for protein,” she said. “They want to buy organic or less processed. They say this time, they’re going to stick with it, this time they’re ready to change for good.”
Mark and Bruce Welch, co-owners of Sunshine Health Foods, the oldest health food store in Tupelo, are likely to emphasize the importance of exercise as well. The brothers owned Warehouse Gym in Tupelo for 12 years.
“Getting healthy is really a combination of diet and exercise,” said Mark Welch. “Supplementation can certainly play a role in that. We give personal service, advice, to individuals.”
Bruce Welch noted that health food stores have come a long way since theirs opened in 1982.
“We started in the old mall,” he said. “We were in business before anybody knew anything about health food. People would come in and snicker. It was quite a challenge at that point in time.”
But that’s not the story anymore.
“Especially around the first of the year, people flock in here, flock to the gym, trying to get healthy,” he said.
Back to nature
The word organic generally describes food that has been grown or processed without the use of chemicals of any sort, including fertilizers, insecticides, additives and artificial coloring or flavoring.
A wide range of organic foods are available today, including fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, herbs, nuts and dairy. You can even buy organic gum, hair dye, lipstick, cooking oils and cleaning products.
“Try to eat as much organically grown food as you can,” Barbieri said. “The smaller the load of toxins you put in your body, the better your body will function. Food-related disease is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S.”
The definition of what constitutes a processed food can vary, but it usually refers to foods that are packaged in boxes, cans or bags – in other words, things not normally found in nature.
“If you can grow it, eat it,” Golebiewski said. “If you can’t, don’t.”
The Welch brothers sell organic meats, flours and cereals and carry seeds, nuts and dried fruits in bulk.
“We also carry gluten- and wheat-free products,” Mark Welch said.
In fact, all the health food stores are attuned to the needs of many of their customers who are gluten- or wheat-intolerant.
“No one diet is perfect for everybody,” Barbieri said. “We have vegans, vegetarians, paleos, which are meat eaters, people who eat gluten-free. We don’t try to sway people in here. We see a variety of diets.”
Buskirk said after people begin to make positive changes in their diets – and get regular exercise –the next most important thing she recommends is a multi-vitamin.
“You’re not getting everything from your daily intake, and this is a way to start without changing your whole life,” she said.
Golebiewski goes for the immune system.
“Regular doses of Vitamin B12, turmeric, and Vitamins A, C and E will keep your immune system strong,” she said. “And fish oil keeps your arteries clean and your heart strong.”
Barbieri touts what she calls superfoods – gogi berries, raw cacao, kale and super green powders you can add to meals.
“You have to start phasing out the unhealthy and phasing in the healthy,” she said. “Practice instinctive eating. You have to listen to your body when you eat certain foods.”