Getty Images It all started with my husband. When we got together 10 years ago, Mark would wrinkle his nose when he saw me eating some kind of low-fat diet food in an attempt to be healthy. "What is that?" he'd ask. His snack: plain, full-fat yogurt with berries, some nuts and a light drizzle of honey. Once I tried it, I wanted his.
No wonder. He was enjoying whole foods—foods as close to the way nature made them as possible. Not only did his snack taste better, it was far richer in nutrients than what I was having.
As soon as I started eating more like him, I noticed the benefits. I'm 43, have a full-time job, go to school part-time and chase after an active 5-year-old daughter, yet I'm in shape. I'm not Hollywood-actress skinny, but I'm fit, with lots of energy. I bet I could beat my 33-year-old self in a race.
There's nothing special about me. I don't have a gazillion dollars or a personal trainer. My "secret," aside from regular exercise, is a balanced diet of those whole, fresh foods.
Love to eat
Of course, the fact that I concentrate on whole foods and stay away from low-fat anything doesn't mean I indulge all day. You'll find vegetables and fruit dominating my plate at most meals, and I try to avoid sugar (except for small treats—check out a couple of my top picks at right). But I've learned that full-fat yogurt, whole eggs, coconut oil and other foods I used to avoid make a real difference in my health, energy level and how much I enjoy eating. I don't know about you, but if I don't like to eat something, I won't stick with it.
So what does all this mean? Back to the snack example: Sure, full-fat yogurt has more fat and calories than low-fat or fat-free, but it's also richer and more filling, and I think it tastes better. Plus, a 2010 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine connected eating whole-fat dairy to lower instances of type 2 diabetes. Delicious, indulgent-tasting food can be good for you.
Same with eggs: Some think you should eat just the whites for better heart health. Thing is, the yolks have most of the nutrients, like zinc, B vitamins and folate, as well as a healthy dose of antioxidants, which may help fend off heart disease. Score another one for nature.
The whole truth
Consider an apple versus apple juice, or whole-grain bread versus enriched white bread—in every example, you get more nutrients from whole foods. So your body performs all its tasks more efficiently, and you feel better.
The biggest hurdle I had to get over was the idea that fat is the enemy. It was hard to embrace that after years of standing in supermarket aisles, poring over nutrition labels. I still catch myself sometimes. But getting over the fear of fat is one key to enjoying food and good health.
The most surprising payoff: I feel a lot less guilt. Let's face it—stressing out about food isn't just unhealthy. It takes one of life's great pleasures and turns it into yet another worry. Who needs that?
Beth Lipton is Health's food director. Keep up with her inspiring food and fitness images at instagram.com/healthmagazine.