Health, safety, and overall wellness have taken the center stage. If it hasn’t crossed your mind in the past, then surely this year, you have heard the terms like “high-risk persons, pre-existing medical conditions, or most susceptible age groups” getting floated around in the news. These defining words serve both as a warning and a determiner of where you are at health-wise.
The prevailing health crisis may have inspired (or shaken) you to take a closer look at your health. You may have arrived at the understanding that real fitness does not just mean hitting the gym religiously every day. You may have experimented with fad diets that promised drastic weight loss within one week. That might have shown you how dangerous quick fixes are, as you gained all the weight back and binged on even more unhealthy food.
The prospect of a meat-filled holiday season might have gotten you wondering how to enjoy meals without being guilty and bloated all the time. Or you’re here because you’ve always wanted to be more deliberately environment-friendly in your food choices. Whatever your reasons, your desire to shift to a whole-foods plant-based diet is commendable.
So now you’ve made up your mind, and you are committed to starting this new lifestyle and health journey. But where do we even begin? Does it mean going meatless forever? Does it mean becoming that person that brings their own non-animal milk to a cafe?
We’ve got you covered! We’re going to look at what whole foods plant-based diet or WFPB diet means, the numerous benefits, and some meal plan examples you can test out.
What is a whole-food, plant-based diet?
There’s actually no straightforward textbook definition for going on a plant-based whole foods diet. Many people confuse going vegetarian or living on a vegan diet as a WFPB diet. Some people add fruits and vegetables to their meals and call it a day. While others reduce meat and dairy altogether.
To better understand the WFPB diet, let’s first define the vegetarian and vegan diet.
These diets are definitely similar in some ways, but they are not entirely the same. Vegetarians take on a lifestyle diet of excluding meat and poultry from their meals. There’s no limit to the vegetables and fruits that they can eat. Some vegetarians, though, do get eggs, seafood, or dairy.
Vegans, on the other hand, abstain from consuming, using, wearing and eating, animal products, and processed animal foods. That means not only avoiding dairy, meat, poultry, or honey on food, but also not wearing leather, wool, or silk.
The principle behind the whole-food, plant-based diet is more flexible and allows more room for you to work with what’s best for your body and circumstances. That means some WFBP diet followers eat plants but also have small amounts of eggs and other meat.
Whole-food describes natural foods that are not heavily processed. So, refined foods like white flour, all added sugars, and refined oils are out of the equation. There’s also a great emphasis on minimally-processed products. Plant-based foods then are from plants that meet your nutritional needs. The meals in plant-based eating should not include any animal ingredients. Yes, that includes the animal-produced honey.
What’s more, some practitioners of the whole-food, plant-based diet pay special attention to the food quality and the ethical sourcing of plants. That’s why, if you notice, brands and supermarkets are scrambling for the title “wholistic, organic, and ethical” because it is rightfully on-trend.
Benefits of a whole food plant-based diet
The plant-based, whole-food diet isn’t just gaining popularity for no reason. There is a handful of research and studies that show how beneficial this lifestyle change is for a person. Chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer can be controlled and avoided by going on a plant-based diet.
Dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, talking to Cleveland Clinic emphasized just how powerful and beneficial the WFPB diet is for our overall health. “No matter when you start, a diet that is focused on plant foods will help you work toward the prevention of many illnesses and feeling better overall,” Zumpano says.
Helps with weight loss and easy weight management
The fact is, Obesity has overpowered the US population. According to the CDC, 71.6% of adults aged 20 and over are overweight and obese. It’s a shocking number! But, thankfully, it is not hopeless. Many fitness enthusiasts preach, “you get fit in the gym, you lose weight in the kitchen.” Eating clean does more for our bodies!
One of the most popular benefits of the Whole-Foods, Plant-Based diet is that facilitates weight loss. Taking on the WFPB path adds more fiber to your meal intake without the long term harm of processed foods. This is the kind of combination that makes shredding off the pounds faster.
In 12 different studies, it was conclusively found that people who took on a plant-based diet lost an average of 4.5 pounds over 18 weeks. This was compared to a control group that was assigned a non-WFPB diet. In another study, 65 obese and overweight adults were tracked on their WFPB diet. By the end of the study, they had individually lost an average of 9.25 pounds.
If you aren’t ready to shift your lifestyle to a full plant-based diet whole-foods diet, you can start by cutting out junk foods. This step of removing processed foods like soda, processed sweets, and fast food in itself will yield noticeable weight loss for you already.
Good for the planet
For most of us, the kinds of food we put on our plate might not seem consequential. It might even sound absurd to hear that choosing to eat a more plant-based meal can save pandas or cut carbon footprint! How can a simple actionable change to a plant-based lifestyle protect the earth?
For a start, did you know that the animal-based agriculture industry is one of the biggest contributors to toxic waste? In the US alone, factory farms produce over 300 million tons of waste every year. Switching to a plant-based diet is not only beneficial for your health – but is also good for the planet.
When you choose WFPB foods you have a lesser environmental footprint. That’s because you are not participating in activities that add to the factor of global warming. A plant-based diet means you are not supporting businesses that emit damaging greenhouse gasses and use a large number of lands for factory farming.
Not only that but going for whole-food meals mean you are intentionally choosing foods that are ethically produced. You buy local, thus helping small and micro-farms earn more. Indeed, small seemingly inconsequential actions such as this help create a sustainable economy in your community.
Helps with a number of health conditions
If your priority is your health and not so much your waistline, the WFPB diet is still very much the best option for you! With the quality of foods you are feeding your body, it can improve disease prevention and lower your risk for chronic diseases.
The big C. The fact is, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. In the US, it comes second to heart disease. The Cancer Statistics for 2021 reports an estimated 1,600 deaths per day. According to the American Cancer Society, a total of 1,806,590 new cancer cases and 606,520 deaths are expected in the US in 2021.
The numbers are devastating, but here’s the good news from this study: “more than half of all cancer cases and deaths worldwide are potentially preventable.” The same study emphasizes that diet and nutrition are the game changers that can cause certain types of cancer or prevent it. The statistics show that 30% of all cancers in developed countries are caused by diet patterns.
Compared to non-plant-based eaters, vegetarians have a lower risk of colorectal cancers. Even those who continue to eat fish or pescatarians had greater protection from colorectal cancer compared to non-vegetarians.
A WFPB diet is not only good for weight loss, but it also comes with reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study concludes that vegan and Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diets were associated with the reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes. Plant-based eating was found to also lower the person’s Body Mass Index or BMI.
The quality of food involved in choosing a whole food diet, plant-based lifestyle also removes processed sugar and refined grains out of your meals. This helps you control blood sugar levels, an important factor for people with diabetes.
One of the most well-known benefits of the WFPB diet is that it improves heart health. For this to really be effective, you also need to look at the types of food and the quality. Dr. Ambika Satija of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says, “For heart health protection, your diet needs to focus on the quality of plant foods, and it’s possible to benefit by reducing your consumption of animal foods without completely eliminating them from your diet.”
If you think about it, white rice is still a plant-based food as it is a refined grain. But this is not the quality type of plant-based diet to improve your heart health. So instead, you must consume whole-grains like brown rice, legumes, and nuts. Focus on protein-rich plants and vegetables. Instead of processed fruit juices, swap it for eating real fruit or water. That’s what is meant by quality plants based diet.
With fruits and vegetables containing nutrients and antioxidants, it makes sense that this diet would slow down or prevent the decline of one’s cognitive capabilities. We’re talking of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia in older adults.
In many studies, a complete change from an unhealthy lifestyle and environment, to one with a plant-based diet whole food diet is seen to reverse cognitive decline. Even as much as eating more fruits and vegetables with lesser animal product intake can already improve one’s brain health.
Foods to Eat
Does this mean that all you have to look forward to on your plate is plain and dry food? Of course not! One Harvard study encourages slowly reducing the consumption of animal products while focusing on plant-based diets.
Many people have centered their meals on meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products. Many have bacon for breakfast and then end the night with steak. It will be a challenge at first to go completely vegan, vegetarian, or whole foods diet plant based. You can start by eating animal foods in smaller quantities.
And instead of making meat the main dish, consider it a side dish that should only complement your plant-based meal.
Whole foods plant-based diet Shopping List
It is easier to stick to any diet when you are stocked with the right foods. Any diet will benefit from a proper shopping list. Just think, when you are hungry in the afternoon and craving some snacks, it’s convenient for your WFPB diet discipline when there are more fruits than junk foods in your kitchen.
For a starters, you can swap the cereal and canned goods for the following healthy items:
- Whole grains: Brown rice, rolled oats, quinoa, minimally processed pasta, etc.
- Healthy fats: Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, etc.
- Fruits: Pineapples, Bananas, Mangoes, Apples, Peaches, Berries and Citrus fruits, etc.
- Vegetables: Carrots, Peppers, Spinach, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: Squash, Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, etc.
- Legumes: Peas, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Plant-based protein: Tofu or tempeh
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, tahini, peanut butter, etc.
Add flavors to your meals with spices, herbs and seasoning. Stock up on condiments like soy sauce, vinegar and mustard.
- For beverages: coffee, tea, and water. (If you are trying to stop drinking soda, a healthy alternative is sparkling water)
- If you must have milk, swap full cream for unsweetened plant-based milks like coconut milk or almond milk.
Foods to avoid or minimize on this diet
The focus of these plant based diets and whole foods is consume food in the most natural form. In the groceries, check for the label and buy the items with the fewest possible ingredients added to it.
Foods to avoid
The best way to approach this diet is to slowly take out some of these harmful foods and swapping them with something healthy. You can start by removing artificial sweeteners and processed foods from your grocery list and going instead to the farmer’s market for organic honey.
- Fast food: There’s no if’s and but’s here. Fast food is out of the equation!
- Added Sugars and Sweets: Soda, Juice, Pastries, Candies, etc. (You’ll have to get your sweettooth fix from fruits)
- Artificial Sweeteners: Whatever these brands claim, the fact still remains, they are artificial.
- Refined grains: White bread, white pasta, white rice, etc.
- Processed animal products: Sausages, Beef Jerky, Hotdogs, Bacon, etc.
- Packaged junk foods: chips, crackers, cereals, etc.
Foods to minimize
If you’re taking it step by step, these healthy animal foods can be part of your plant-based diets. They should not be the main focus of your meals, but rather consumption should be minimized. If possible, purchase them from local farms.
- Eggs: pasture-raised, and from free range chicken
- Poultry: Free-range, organic
- Beef, Pork and Lamb: pastured or grass-fed
- Seafood: wild-caught and if possible from sustainable fisheries
- Dairy: Organic dairy products from free-range, pasture-raised animals
Simple meal plans to help get you started
This does not have to be a challenging transition. Here’s a sample of a doable healthy meal plan to help you get started.
- Banana Oatmeal Smoothie
- Rolled oats
- Almond or Soy Milk
- Veggie burrito (whole grain tortilla spread with vegan refried beans stuffed with mixed greens, tomatoes, peppers, onions and nutritional yeast).
- 1 ounce of corn tortilla chips.
- Fresh salsa or guacamole.
- Whole-wheat pasta with roasted tomatoes
We’ve also rounded up a list of websites you can get the best vegetarian, vegan, and WFPB diet recipes:
- Recipes that won’t break the bank: here.
- Recipes that will help you forget milk and cheese: here.
- Recipes with five ingredients or less: here.
- Recipes for breakfast: here.
- Recipes organized by dish: here.
Your Typical Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Questions Answered
What can you eat on a whole food plant-based diet?
Fruits, vegetables, and even meat! Plant-based eating does not technically mean going on a vegetarian or vegan diet. And it’s not a restrictive diet, either. When you choose to eat healthy plant based food, you can still have animal products on your dish but it should only be a compliment to whole grains, vegetables, and whole foods. You may have nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes, protein, healthy oil, and more.
Can you eat bread on a whole food plant-based diet?
Yes, you can eat bread on a WFPB diet. But not all bread is allowed. The diet encourages eating whole food, white bread is heavily processed and does not fall under this category. You can only get bread made out of whole grains.
What can you not eat on a whole foods plant-based diet?
On a whole food plant based diet, you can not eat junk. You have to avoid fast foods, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and any food that has been far removed from it’s natural form. Minimize or avoid food that is high in saturated fat, these cause heart disease and long term chronic diseases.
What do you eat for breakfast on a plant-based diet?
There are many options for a healthy plant based breakfast. You can start the day with oatmeal and fruits, chia seed pudding, fruit smoothies, or even tofu scrambled with eggs. Eggs are allowed on the whole food plant based diets, ensure that they are organic and pasture-raised.
Is eating a whole-food, plant-based diet the same as being vegan?
The whole food plant based diet is different from going vegan. Although both diets encourage consumption of whole food and plant food, WFPB has room for animal products. Going vegan is a stricter discipline and lifestyle. For those who are currently meat consumers, WFPB is a friendly diet to start.
Can I eat out on a plant-based diet?
Yes! As you dive deeper into research you will understand the principle behind the whole food plant based diet. It’s mindfully choosing food that isn’t heavily processed. Order a salad with a small portion of meat on the side.
Can I get all the nutrients I need on a plant-based diet?
For the most part, a plant-based diet will supply all your major nutrient needs. Plan your meals well and you will get an adequate supply of fiber, vitamin A, C, and potassium from all the fruits and veggies.
If you go on a stricter plant-based diet and completely remove animal products, be mindful of your vitamin b12 levels. This vitamin is found primarily from egg yolks.