Sunday, September 11, 2011

Special Feature: Navigating Whole Foods Market

I thought I would share with you the recent interview article featured on Paleo Comfort Foods and picked up by Robb Wolf. Julie and I met at the Ancestral Health Symposium in August as I addressed the crowd during a discussion on paleo eating on a budget. I would encourage you to pre-order Julie's cookbook for those mouth watering comfort foods you've been missing on your carbohydrate restricted diet. If you're not aware, I am the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market in my area. I assist the shopper with their nutrition needs and make recommendations based on their dietary goals and needs. It's been a real boost for me in this economy but more than anything, It has filled a need I have to share with the public, the value of a whole food diet. The picture above is of me at work handing out salad samples one of the easier duties of my job description.

Whether you are a Paleo or Low Carber, you will find a variety of recipes to work with. If you haven't read The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, check it out too as I know you won't be disappointed. When we can learn from each and every angle and take a few pieces from what we've learned and put them into place for our lifestyles and biochemical individuality, we truly began to expand our knowledge in a manner that was never available to us unless we spent countless hours at the library curled up with medical journals only to find ourselves in a dazed and confused state.

One of the most amazing surprises at the Ancestral Health Symposium happened during the fabulous talk given by Sarah Fragoso and Chrissy Gower (the two hot ladies who run the wildly popular Paleo Talk podcasts and seminars). Someone had asked a question about grocery shopping and affordability. A woman stood up and introduced herself (her name is Misty Humphrey) and she stated that she is the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market (WFM), and shared with the group gathered for Sarah and Chrissy’s talk some of the pieces of advice that she gives on her weekly WFM tours.

Realizing the need to share even more of this information with the masses, I connected with Misty to share some of her insights, tips, stories and inspiration with you all. So many times people refer to WFM as “Whole Paycheck.” Here, Misty shares with us some of her experiences and tips to make the shopping experience more economical and healthy!

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, what it is you do for Whole Foods?

As an 85lb. weight loss maintainer, I took my “Low carbohydrate diet” to a whole new level when I attended the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition. There, I learned the value of a whole food diet and turned my diet into not only a lifestyle but a journey I gladly share with others both in my home office as well, my position here at Whole Foods Market as the Healthy Eating Specialist. As a person who suffered ADHD, constipation, weight and other cognitive issues, I share with my clients and customers the value of transitioning from a SAD diet to that of a nutrient dense, whole foods diet. There are a few plans and challenges that are encouraged at Whole Foods but I have found that with my education and experience, my customers have great success with my advice to eliminate gluten, increase their fat and protein and decrease their carbohydrate.

What inspired you to get into this line of work?
Inspiration or obsession? I frequently tell others that I was so obsessed with how great I felt, how quickly the weight fell off and the thousands of ancedotal stories I was a witness to for the past 11 years on a variety of message boards. I was astounded with the amount of maladies disappearing as well as my own with this transition that it excited me to the point of further education. I am a Certified Holistic Nutrition Educator and am currently enrolled in Reed Davis’ Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program to further my personal practice goals.

Part of what you do is give food tours of WF and how to purchase good food for the family. Let’s pretend we’re a family, and on tour with you, and our food budget for the week is $200. What kinds of things will you make sure to point out and/or stress to us?
As I tour a family or individual through the store, I point out a variety of values. We work with many manufacturers to provide a coupon book called “The Whole Deal” where the customer can locate quite a few quality coupons not necessarily devoted to packaged and processed foods. Second, I remind all customers to review the Wednesday specials which feature a nice cross section of whole foods on sale. Our 365 brand is comparable to all major leading retailers so I always encourage customers to choose the 365 brand if no coupon or sale exists at that moment on other products. Finally, we have our Friday special where one can find a product at about 50% below retail. This sale will quite often pertain to seafood and meat. Wild Salmon, Grass Fed Ground Beef, Organic Air Chilled Chicken and of course the recent sale on prawns. So frequently, we get into the rut of serving the same dishes week after week. I encourage my customers to watch ads, be aware of the Friday special and browse the coupon book while making their choices for menu planning. Look outside the box and try something new if it’s on sale and for the lowest prices, choose local, in season products.

What purchases do you advise families against?
I’d like to begin with the gluten free lecture and store tour that I provide twice weekly. So many are attracted to the gluten free products which I am quick to remind have an equal if not higher impact on blood glucose than that of the wheat. I generally recommend they experiment with squash, zucchini and root vegetables rather than that of a low quality pasta dish. I find it’s less expensive, more filling and of course, nutrient dense. I also encourage the purchase of a quality water canteen for children and the school lunch as opposed to high sugar fruit juices.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in educating families?
I find the biggest challenge to be the resistance in home preparation of whole foods. Overcoming time objections with a busy family is difficult but I might make recommendations such as packing the picnic for a soccer game, enjoying a variety of easy to grab finger foods and of course taking one day off per month to pre-cook some animal proteins to quickly put together family meals, and we must never forget about the slow cooker. I will frequently remind the “cook of the home” that an investment of time in the human frame now will save time from illness later.

If you could name one (or two) best “bang for your buck” meat/veg/fish/nuts/staples at Whole Foods Market, what would you say?
Wild Alaskan Salmon while in season is frequently on sale for $9.99 lb., our 365 brand Extra Virgin Olive Oil is $5.99 for a one liter bottle and a bunch of Kale is $1.99. I challenge anyone to find these values at their local Safeway.

No doubt you’ve met a lot of individuals and families in your work and seen some amazing changes. Are there any particular moments or experiences with customers that most resonate with you?
I have two very special stories for you:
Barbara is a 67 year old diabetic and breast cancer survivor. Barbara has been a diagnosed type 2 diabetic for 20 years. She came in to my class room one day and during our appointment she mentioned that she had been using Dr. Barnard’s vegan diabetic plan and was finding that she was utilizing a great deal of insulin which consequently was making her sleepy and ill. I recommended she try a lower carbohydrate approach. After 3 days Barbara’s blood sugars were dropping but when she entered my office she exclaimed “My Dr. doesn’t like your diet, I’m going back to Barnard’s program”. I said “I know and I’m not surprised. Barbara, you must do what makes you feel comfortable but understand you have a glucose metabolism imbalance”. I knew at that point that Barbara’s decision was made out of fear for her cancer but 4 days later, Barbara is in my office again and almost in tears because she had once again lost control of her blood sugar and with the previous information I had shared with her regarding glucose metabolism and cancer, she was scared to death. In this short period of time Barbara had felt such dramatic differences that her trust in me escalated. From over 200ml on her glucose readings now down to 120ml and dropping, Barbara wrote on her customer comment card and is not hesitant to announce in every group class “Misty has literally saved my life”. Barbara happens to be a senior citizen who has a $200 shopping budget and with some hints and tips, she is able to shop at Whole Foods primarily.

Tina brought her 8 year old son Zach in to see me after we met at an event where I was representing Whole Foods and the Wellness Center. Tina was desperately defending her son in school with his teachers because his ADHD was so extreme. Keep in mind this child is enrolled in a special education school so you can imagine her frustration. I gave Tina some information that I had studied regarding food and ADHD including gluten, food dye elimination and reduction to elimination of sugar. 2 weeks later Tina entered my office with tears in her eyes. Zach brought home his first progress report showing “All Stars” on every level. “Misty, he’s a different child” exclaimed Tina and with this information, Tina’s entire family has not only eliminated gluten but endured testing as well and have all proven to be gluten intolerant. That day, Tina and I cried together because not only was I so sympathetic to Tina’s case, I wished I had this information when both of my children and myself suffered ADHD.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to share that when I began this job, there was no information on the floor regarding a Paleo lifestyle. Currently, we are carrying Loren Cordain’s books and are working to expand on this. I have a lot of customers who are finding themselves leaner, healthier and of course happier than they’ve ever been. When I first began here almost 8 months ago, my meat dept. was skeptical. I am happy to report, their sales have increased and we have a mutually beneficial relationship. Of course when there’s a great sale, they come to me and ask “how many pounds?” now. I have also teamed up with a local boot camp and am excited to announce our 100lb. challenge sponsored by Live Fit Boot Camp and Whole Foods Market. In one year, with a collaborative effort, we will transform 10 Men and 10 Women in a kind and paleo manner.

We applaud Misty and the work she is doing to really make a difference out there for so many, and for sharing some great tips for all of us! Thank you, Misty, for what you are doing and sharing your “insider’s tips” and inspirational stories with us!


  1. I'm amazed and I wish I lived near your Whole Foods. Mine is still pushing healthy whole grains and low fat. :( I say I am a low carber and get the worst reactions from staff.

  2. Rowan, that's too bad. We know that there is no one diet that will fit everyone's needs.

    While the Health Starts Here program is considered a low fat largely vegetarian plan, the Eat Right America plan designed by Joel Fuhrman is not a grain based nor vegetarian plan. In fact, Fuhrman discourages grains and encourages more legumes.

    Whole Foods has a meat and seafood department, sells a variety of artisan cheeses, butters and ghee. These too as you and I know can contribute to a healthful well rounded diet specifically for the person who suffers from metabolic syndrome.

    I do wish that the Weston Price foundation was taken into consideration when the Health Starts Here program was implemented.

    I encourage you to write to corporate and your local Whole Foods Market. Only then will the potential for change arise and a traditional diet can then also be included.