John Mackey, the CEO and founder of Whole Foods, didn’t eat any vegetables growing up.
He discovered his love of veg in his 20s, just a few years before starting the health foods store. Now Mackey shares his story, and the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, in his new book, The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longetivity.
“In my 20s, I moved into a vegetarian co-op and that was the beginning of my own food consciousness journey. I was a very picky eater. I never ate vegetables, but within a pretty short period of time I became a vegetarian,” Mackey tells NBC News.
But he didn’t completely stick to vegetarianism, and started eating fish.
“Gradually, over time, I was starting to gain weight,” Mackey says. “My biometric measurements were not as good as they used to be. I was getting older. I just thought, ‘Oh, this is coming with age.’ ”
Then he discovered Colin Campbell’s book The China Study, which convinced him to go vegan, and ditch processed foods entirely.
“When I stopped eating all those processed foods and combined that with a plant based diet, my health was just amazing,” Mackey says. “I now weigh the same as I weighed when I was 18 years old. My cholesterol is under 140. My LDL is under 70. My blood pressure is 110 over 65. I’m an extremely healthy person now.”
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But Mackey says you don’t have to cut out meat and processed foods all at once, “move through the transition on a relatively slow basis. Mostly because we need to re-educate our taste buds. You have to expose yourself to a food about ten times before you really come to like it.”
Mackey used this method to train himself to love vegetables, which was the key to his weight loss, and what he says is the best way to eat.
“When you combine the things our body naturally craves — whole starch foods (sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, etc.) with fruits and vegetables — you can eat all you want and you’ll lose weight,” he says.
Still, though, he isn’t perfect, and other foods slip in to his diet.
“I’m still on a health journey too,” Mackey says. “I do not put myself out as a perfect human being in terms of healthy eating. However, it’s the overall diet pattern that matters. If you occasionally make a mistake, or you occasionally indulge yourself, it doesn’t matter. It’s about the overall pattern: when you have the next meal, or the next snack, just do better.”