What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets are on the rise. From government to health experts, the message is clear. We need to eat more plant foods. Whether it’s for our health, environment or the animals, plant-based diets are the answer. So what is a whole food plant-based diet?
 
Metabroccoli is all about promoting plant-based diets. And, lifestyles that focus on eating plenty of whole foods. The Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) diet is one way of doing this.
 
Many people report improvements in their health from eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. So, it’s no surprise that more people are taking an interest in this style of eating.
 
Want to know more…

let’s dig in…

What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets vary depending on the degree to which they include animal products. There’s no clear definition of what makes up a plant-based diet. As a result, variations exist.
 
Many doctors promote the benefits of eating a diet centred on whole, plant-foods. And, have had great success treating patients with such a diet.
 
Despite the slight variations, the foundations of all these diets are very similar. They are all centred on consuming whole, plant foods. While at the same time avoiding highly refined processed foods.
 
Let’s take a closer look so you too can enjoy some of the benefits of eating a plant-based diet today.

What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?

A whole food plant-based diet is a lifestyle that centres on eating a variety of whole plant foods. Consuming foods in their most natural form.
 
You also cut or reduce the amount of highly refined foods. Fore example refined white flours, refined grains, refined sugars and processed oils.

Whole Foods, Plant-based Foods - Nuts, whole-grains, seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables.

Foods eaten include fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Additionally, you eliminate or reduce your consumption of animal foods. Such as meat, dairy products, and eggs. As well as avoiding processed foods.
 
Aim to get the majority of your daily calories from the most nutrient-dense whole foods. While reducing the amount of processed food.

Why?

Highly processed foods often contain sugar, unhealthy fats, and sodium. As well as preservatives. These all help to extend their shelf life. But they are not so great for our health.
 
Plus, they also tend to be very energy-dense.

What’s does this mean for you?

These foods often contain a lot of calories but don’t keep us full for as long – making them super easy to overeat. Plus, they’re also not very nutrient-dense.

So the major problem with these type of foods is that they can lead to obesity and chronic disease over time.

But, can I buy any packaged foods on a whole food plant-based diet?

Yes, you certainly can. This lifestyle centres itself on making the most healthful choices when it comes to food. While we’l delve into this more in another article, I’ll briefly explain what I mean here.
 
Not all processing is bad. Things like washing, cutting, freezing, or even cooking can be good. These are all a form of processing food. But these can be helpful and healthy.
 
For example, when you chop an onion. This is processing. But the onion is still in it’s purest form. We may lose a few nutrients while cooking but it’s still a whole food.
 
When buying packaged food you want to focus on foods that are minimally processed. These will contain the fewest artificial ingredients. So buying a salad that is pre-washed or canned beans in water, is perfectly healthy.
 
So let’s say you fancy a box of cereal. Here you’d try to find one that’s not heavily processed. To do this you’ll need to look at the ingredients on the back of the package.

What you want is the smallest list of ingredients, and ideally whole-grain and minimally sweetened.

So let’s do a quick example.

cereal example

This example shows a good cereal compared to a typical sweetened kids cereal. You want to choose packaged foods with the smallest number of ingredients. Plus that contains the least amount of added sugars.

So let’s recap what a whole food plant-based diet means.

Eat whole foods, that are plant-based or mainly plant-based. These should make up the majority of your daily calories. Increase low calorie, nutrient-dense foods and reduce high calorie, low nutrient-dense foods.

Whole Foods

These refer to foods in their most natural form. They have little or no processing. They will not have any added artificial ingredients.
 
Things like fruit and vegetable in the fresh produce section of your store. These food are nutritious and the most nutrient-dense. They contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Plus don’t have added sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats such as trans-fat.
 
For example, when you eat an apple, you are consuming whole food.

Plant-based Foods

These are foods that come from plants. They don’t contain any animal ingredients such as meat, milk, eggs, or honey.
 
Examples of plant foods: quinoa, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, and hemp seeds.

 

Is a whole food plant-based diet good for weight loss?

These foods often contain a lot of calories but don’t keep us full for as long – making them super easy to overeat. Plus, they’re also not very nutrient-dense.
 
There are many reasons for adopting a whole food plant-based diet. And weight management is another great reason.
 
This style of eating doesn’t usually need calorie counting. You eat when you’re hungry, and focus on consuming whole, nutrient-dense foods.
 
Eating more plant foods means your taking in more fiber. This helps to keep you feeling full for longer. Beans and legumes are a great source of fermentable fiber – important for a healthy gut.
 
At the same time your consumption of highly processed foods decreases. Thus fewer sugars, refined carbs and trans fats. This combined with increased fiber is a winning combination for weight loss.
 
A healthy lifestyle that doesn’t need calorie restriction is great. It’s for establishing a healthy relationship with food. Whereas calorie restriction can create an unhealthy relationship with food.
 
In fact, many studies show that plant-based diets are beneficial for weight loss. 12
 

What do the studies say?

 
One study compared a vegan diet to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) diet. The vegan diet was associated with greater weight loss than the NCEP diet at 1 and 2 years.3
 
Another study looked at the effect of various plant-based diets on weight loss. These diets included vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, and omnivorous.
 
The results concluded that the vegan participants decreased their fat and saturated fat more than the pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous groups. This was at both 2 and 6 month periods. Vegan diets may result in greater weight loss than more modest recommendations.4

 

Is a whole food, plant-based diet healthy?

Nutrition is a key component of your health. Your body runs on the fuel you put into it and the higher quality the food, the better your body will run.
 
According to T. Colin Campbell, PhD, nutrition is the master key to human health. How we fuel our body every day can have a tremendous impact on our health. And may help prevent illnesses like diabetes, heart diseases and cancer.
 

The China–Cornell–Oxford Project

 
Campbells nutritional philosiphy comes from his observational research. This was in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, Cornell University, and the University of Oxford.
 
The China–Cornell–Oxford Project is one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted.
 
Campbell discusses much of his research in the books “The China Study” and “Whole.” He suggests that optimal nutrition occurs when we eat food rather than using nutrient supplements. Our focus should always be on getting as many nutrients from our diet.
 
The China–Cornell–Oxford Project is one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted. Together with his son, Thomas M. Campbell II, MD, they analyze the results from the study. They also combine it with other nutritional research and offer some suggestions about diet and health.
 
The closer foods are to their natural state the greater the long-term benefits. And how we achieve this is eating foods with minimal cooking, salting and processing. Or, by using methods that maintain the most nutritional value.
 
Avoiding genetically modified foods and foods that contain a lot of pesticides, can do wonders for our health.
 

What are other health experts and doctors saying?

Other leading health experts and doctors are also researching whole foods, plant-based diets. Dr Dean Ornish and Caldwell B. Esselstynfor example, have shown with images of the arteries that a whole food, plant-based diet reverse heart disease.
 
In a 2003 study Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C.and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet that limited calories and carbohydrates. Within weeks on a plant-based diet, participants saw dramatic health improvements. They lost weight, insulin sensitivity improved, and HbA1c levels dropped.
 
When you look at the research carried out Dan Buettner in Blue Zone’s you see that they ate a primarily a plant-based diet. The blue zones are home to some of the world’s longest-lived populations. Let’s take a deeper look…

What are the blue zones?

Blue Zones

Blue Zones are regions of the world where author Dan Buettner claims people live much longer than average. The term first appeared in 2005 in the National Geographic magazine cover story “The Secrets of a Long Life” before Buettner went on to publish several books on the subject. 5.

Buettner identified five areas he considered “Blue Zones”:

  • Okinawa (Japan)
  • Sardinia (Italy)
  • Nicoya (Costa Rica)
  • Icaria (Greece)
  • among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.

In his book, Buettner provides a list of nine lessons, covering the lifestyle of blue zones people:

  1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
  2. Life purpose.
  3. Stress reduction.
  4. Moderate caloric intake.
  5. Plant-based diet.
  6. Engagement in social life.
  7. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  8. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  9. Engagement in family life.

Buettner isn’t the only one who has uncovered a plant-based diet as part of the key to longevity. Many other doctors and dieticians have likewise seen the benefits of treating their patients with a whole food plant-based diet. These include for example Dr Michael Greger, Dr Joel Fuhrman, Dr John McDougall, Dr Michael Klaper, and Pam Popper.

 

What are the benefits of a whole food plant based diet?

There are many health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, in particular, a whole food plant-based diet.

For example, in one such study, plant-based diets are associated with improved plasma lipids, diabetes control, coronary artery disease and a reduction in mortality. 6

Another study found diets rich in whole and unrefined foods, like whole grains, dark green and yellow/orange-fleshed vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, contain high concentrations of antioxidant phenolics, fibers and numerous other phytochemicals may be protective against chronic diseases. 7

Benefits of a plant-based diet

To get an idea of where a WFPB diet makes an impact, here are just a few more benefits this lifestyle provides:
 
  • Significantly lower risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. 8
 
  • Lower body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and cholesterol levels. 9
 
  • Lowers risk and fights the progression of breast cancer. 10
 
  • Lowers risk and fights the progression of prostate cancer. 11
 
  • Lowers risk of colorectal cancer. 12
 
  • Lowers risk of developing other forms of cancer. 13
 
  • Lowers plasma cholesterol and prevents the onset of many chronic diseases. 14

What about the Environment?

 
As if that’s not enough a WFPB diet also has many other positive impacts in other areas too such as the environment and animal welfare.
 
It has been estimated that if the US ate one meat-free day per week that the equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions would be greater than eliminating 31.5 million cars. 15

What Exactly Can I Eat on a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?

According to the Center for Nutrition Studies, the term “whole” describes foods that are minimally processed. So eat as many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes as you want. Foods to eat in moderation include nuts, seeds, avocados, natural sweeteners, and certain soy or wheat products that don’t contain added fat.

The WFPB diet should not include heavily processed foods. Highly refined grain products, such as white rice and white flour, should be avoided, along with other foods that contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners and added fat, even olive oil.

You might be surprised to learn that oils are not recommended on a WFPB diet. This is because oils themselves are heavily refined. Oils are liquid fats that have been extracted from whole plant foods. This means you miss out on the added benefits of fibre, amino acids, vitamins and minerals if you’re not consuming them in their original form.

It can take a bit of getting used to when learning to cook without oil. However, you’ll still be able to make delicious and healthy meals without it and consume the original foods while reaping the health benefits.

Animal foods can be included in some variations of the WFPB diet, but they are typically minimized in all plant-based diets. The whole foods, plant-based diet according to T. Colin Campbell recommends you avoid all animal products.

Examples of animal products include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Seafood

Restricting Animal Products

As the term plant-based suggests, we also want to eliminate, or severely limit, animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs.

Why the avoidance of animal products in your diet? Well, a lot of research carried out has shown plant foods are optimal for our health, whereas meat protein can be detrimental. 16 Especially when we consume it in the quantities we do today.

But what about fish, eggs and dairy?

Cholesterol is present in every cell in the body. However, the body makes between 800-1000 mg per day, so there’s no need for us to consume dietary cholesterol. You’ll find trace amounts in plant foods, but the majority of dietary cholesterol comes from animal products—concentrated in eggs and organ meats. High intakes may increase the risk of chronic diseases especially those of the heart and blood vessels. 17

What does the research say?

Studies have found high levels of egg consumption (daily) are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women. 18 and it’s also positively related to mortality, more strongly so in diabetic subjects. 19
 
Finally, a recent cohort study into the impact of protein consumption on longevity found plant-derived proteins are associated with lower mortality than animal-derived proteins. The same study also found that a high animal protein diet increased IGF-1 levels and is linked to increased cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality. 20
 
With that being said, it can be easy to think of all the foods you’ll be giving up. But in fact, there is still a huge range of delicious and healthy foods available to you.
 
Check out this full guide on what you can eat: whole food plant-based diet food list.

Is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Dangerous?

There are a lot of unfounded reasons that turn people off adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle. They worry they might become nutrient deficient, they can’t be big and strong, or they fear a person can’t survive without the consumption of animal products.

Thankfully, this is all far from the truth and we’re going to show you exactly why in this section.

When it comes to getting all the nutrients your body needs, this will always come down to eating a balanced diet. The good news with the WFPB diet is eating foods in whole forms maximizes the vitamins and nutrients available to you. But don’t just take it from us:

The American Dietetic Association’s position on plant-based diets:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association, that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment in certain diseases.”   21

 

In fact, plant-based diets are recommended in a 2013 nutritional update for physicians. 22 This paper found the major benefits for patients who decide to start a plant-based diet are the possibility of reducing the number of medications they take to treat a variety of chronic conditions, lower body weight, decreased risk of cancer, and a reduction in their risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

Plant-Based Athletes

There is also a common misconception of people on a plant-based diet being weaker or frailer than people who consume meat. Yet, every day we see examples where this isn’t the case at all. Think of your favourite sport and I can guarantee you’ll find an athlete on a plant-based diet.

Don’t believe us? Here are just a few examples of plant-based athletes who perform at the top of their game.

  • Kendrick Farris, the only American male weightlifter who competed in the Rio Olympics, is 100% plant-based.
  • Nate Diaz, who famously beat Conor McGregor is also 100% Plant-based. Other MMA fighters such as Jake Shields and Mac Danzig are also plant-based advocates.
  • Lewis Hamilton, the 5-time Formula 1 champion, switched to a plant-based diet, saying he performs better, feels better and could never go back to his meat-eating days.
  • Tennis superstars Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams are all on plant-based diets.
  • Tom Brady, the NFL giant is on an 80/20 plant-based diet which he attributes to his success. On top of that, 15 (and growing) of the Tennessee Titans are also plant-based.

Where every inch of performance matters, athletes are adopting a plant-based diet and improving. However, be prepared for the infamous question “Where do you get your protein from?”. To help you with your answer, make sure you look at our article on Plant-Based sources of protein.

Is Making the Transition to a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Difficult?

Any major lifestyle changes will take time to get used to. The key is to do your research, know what changes you need to make, and plan accordingly.

One of the biggest reasons people fail at adopting a plant-based diet is they jump in before they really know what they’re doing. It’s no wonder people find it hard to stick to when all they eat is bananas, nuts and spinach because they didn’t research and prepare some delicious meals to have at hand.

The truth is, this lifestyle does take work. It takes planning and preparation which seems overwhelming at first but becomes second nature before long.

Gradual Transition

In some cases, it’s best to make a gradual transition rather than jumping in headfirst. Start with cutting eggs and dairy from your diet, for example. Then red meat, followed by white meats and then fish. This can help you get used to the changes.
 
This will allow you to get used to adding whole foods to your meals without the feeling of restriction. As you get more confident making these dishes you should experiment with some more. Build a collection of great-tasting plant-based meals. That way you’ll never get bored or feel like you’re missing out.
 
But, it’s not just omitting animal products that might be difficult. In standard diets, high levels of fats, sugars, and salt are added to keep us coming back for more. Sugar withdrawals, for instance, can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches.
 

Let’s look at some studies

 
A recent study found that intermittent access to sugar can lead to behaviour and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of substance abuse. 23
 
The fact is, it’s hard to break a bad habit. However, keep in mind why you wanted to make this change in the first place. You want to be healthier right? Every day you stick to the transition it gets a little bit easier. And the great news is there’s plenty of plant-based alternatives available today. So you should be able to find almost all your favourite meals.

Get Support

Any change is easier to make with the support of loved ones. This can be difficult when you’re adopting what some people might see as a ‘drastic’ lifestyle change. The key here is to do your research, educate the people around you and reassure them.

As time goes on they will begin to see the benefits with their own eyes. Your skin will glow, you’ll be on top of weight management, you’ll have loads more energy, and you’ll sleep so much better. These are just some of many of the benefits that will be apparent to everyone.

Always remember you can make this change yourself. You don’t need to do this with the whole family or convince a friend to be able to do it yourself. In fact, we’ve found once people see the changes in you they’ll be more inclined to try it themselves. Don’t be afraid to be the person who goes first!

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

What you eat occasionally is not the same as what you eat day-in and day-out. All this is for your own benefit at the end of the day and getting mad at yourself if you have a little lapse is only going to make it harder on you.

One of my favourite treats is ice-cream. So, I pick up a dairy-free alternative every now and then to indulge. This is not classified as a ‘whole-food’ but by no means makes up the majority of my diet.

Complete restriction is hard to stick to, especially when you’re out with friends grabbing a bite. Even if you’re in a vegan restaurant it’s going to be nigh on impossible to find a meal that’s oil-free. So indulge and know this is a minority part of your diet.

Moderation is still key here and as long as you prepare well, you’ll be able to stick to a whole-food plant-based diet the majority of the time.

The key takeaway…

A whole-foods, plant-based diet emphasises eating healthy nutritious whole, plant foods. While at the same time avoiding added sugars, trans fats and highly refined grains.
 
The main aim is to include more nutrient-dense foods at each meal. These have many health benefits with this. Such as reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline.
 
Transitioning to a more plant-based diet is an excellent choice for your health. As well as the planet and animals. Whether you decide to follow a 100% whole foods, plant-based diet, there is no doubt that including more whole, plant foods in your meals is a step in a healthier direction.

Let me know in the comments what steps are you going to take to transition towards a whole food, plant-based diet?


Other Articles That You May Enjoy:

Whole Food Plant-based Diet Food List and Tips To Help You Succeed

Plant-based Diet Grocery List

How To Begin Eating Clean – 13 Essential Clean Eating Tips For Beginners

Whole Food Plant Based Diet Recipes – The Pizza Collection

How To Lose Weight Naturally At Home Remedy – 15 Actionable Tips

How To Lose Weight At Home

Whole Food Plant Based Diet Recipes – The Salad Collection


 

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