Rip Esselstyn, an Austin, Texas-based firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet (Wellness Central, 2009), crafted a plant-based eating program adopted by Whole Foods Market.
He will speak about it at Natural Products Expo West, 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8, in Platinum Ballroom 6 at the Anaheim Marriott. Here, Esselstyn shares how the diet made its way into Whole Foods and how you can promote its merits to your customers.
NFM: What is the Engine 2 Diet?
Rip Esselstyn: Engine 2 is all about health. It’s about getting people to understand the power that lies right in front of them with food. I like to use the term plant strong. Most Americans are plant weak. On average, 95 percent of our calories come from refined and processed foods, meat and dairy. Only 5 percent come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. I’m not saying you have to be vegetarian or vegan; I just want to help people get more of these incredible whole and plant-based foods into their bodies.
NFM: Why did you start eating this way?
RE: I discovered this diet because my father had conducted groundbreaking research showing you can not only halt but actually reverse heart disease by eating a plant-based diet. President Clinton cited my father as his inspiration to begin eating this way to address his clogged arteries. Heart disease is the number-one killer of Americans, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a food-created disease.
NFM: How did you get involved with Whole Foods?
RE: [Whole Foods CEO] John Mackey went on his own health journey and discovered the power of food. The more he read, the more he realized that it’s not a better medicine or another surgical procedure that will help people—food is the missing link. In January 2010, he started a healthy-eating initiative at Whole Foods and brought me on board as a partner. I teach people about the exciting, often unrealized connection between health and food, but that’s just one of the relationships I have with the chain. Whole Foods licensed the terms Engine 2 and plant strong to use on its private-label foods. In 2012, it began rolling out a line of healthy Engine 2–approved products—pasta sauces, frozen entrées, cereals and more.
NFM: How important are retailers in helping customers get healthy?
RE: Health starts in the grocery store. There’s no better place for people to get educated and learn how to read labels. My hope, and I think Mackey’s hope, is that Whole Foods will set the bar so high that other stores will follow suit. If Whole Foods can do this and it works, I’d like to see other retailers adopt in-store healthy-eating programs.
NFM: Can any retailer promote Engine 2?
RE: Yes. Any retailer can put little bugs that say Engine 2 approved on products that adhere to the diet’s guidelines. They can hold classes to discuss my book and do cooking demonstrations. Really, they can do whatever they want. I just want Americans to get healthy. Right now, one in 10 people is prediabetic or has type 2 diabetes. If the trend continues, the projection is that 50 percent will be either prediabetic or diabetic by 2020. I’m on a mission to help Americans understand that health is only as far away as the foods in front of them. But I need help. With the right education, we can turn this ship around.