If you are vegan or vegan-curious, you may have heard people talking about the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet. But what exactly is this diet? Is it just a fad, and does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.
What is a whole food plant-based diet?
A whole food plant-based diet is one made up entirely (or almost entirely) of relatively unprocessed plant foods. The aim is to eat foods with the naturally occurring nutrients preserved. All of the longest-lived populations ever studied, such as the Okinawans, have eaten some variation of this diet.
What are the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably unenthusiastic about the idea of completely changing your diet and unconvinced that it’s worth it. So why bother? Since I’m not a nutrition expert, in this section I’ll be linking to resources from people who know their stuff.
Firstly, a whole food plant-based diet can prevent, arrest or sometimes even reverse almost all the leading cause of death in developed countries (accidents excepted!). The best way to learn about this is to watch Dr Michael Greger’s speech on the topic – he has devoted his entire life to plant-based nutrition research. It is long, but well worth the watch.
Whole plant foods also have benefits for the prevention and treatment of many more minor ailments which still have a huge impact on quality of life. Examples are…
- Macular degeneration
- Erectile dysfunction
- Period pain
- Digestive issues
…and many more. See Dr Greger’s site and his book How Not to Die for more information.
Essentially, eating this way can prolong your life – and perhaps more importantly, ensure that those extra years of life are free of disease so that your quality of life is maximised.
What can and can’t you eat on a whole food plant-based diet?
Firstly, I don’t like to use the words ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ with regards to diet! You can eat whatever you want. But the types of food considered to be whole plant foods are:
- Fruits and vegetables (of course!)
- Whole grains like brown rice and wholegrain pasta
- Legumes like beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices.
The following are not whole plant foods:
- Anything containing animal-derived ingredients (meat, dairy and eggs)
- Refined grains like white rice, white pasta or white bread
- Refined/processed sugar
- Processed “junk” food
Most people are not able to eat solely whole plant foods 100% of the time. But the point is that the closer you get to an entirely whole food plant-based diet, the healthier you are likely to be.
There are some grey areas, of course – for example, if you bake your own whole grain bread and use a little oil in the dough, is it considered WFPB? I would have no issue with including it in a whole food plant-based diet, but some people would disagree. If you decide to adopt a whole food plant-based diet, you’ll have to decide for yourself how far you want to take it.
Also, remember that minimally processed foods are generally still okay. So tofu, dried fruit and nut butters, for instance, are generally considered WFPB.
Is whole food plant-based eating a fad diet?
It’s important to remember that eating whole food plant-based isn’t something you do for a while to lose weight – it’s a lifestyle change which you need to keep up long-term in order to reap the benefits. And many people have undergone incredible transformations after adopting this diet, as documented here.
Of course, diet alone is not enough to keep you healthy – you also need to exercise, get plenty of sleep, avoid smoking and so on. But whole food plant-based diet is a great place to start your health journey.
Isn’t it very difficult to eat plant-based meals?
Looking at the list of foods considered to be WFPB, you may find it difficult to imagine how you can make meals out of them. Here are some examples of the delicious plant-based meals I eat on a regular basis.
- Spaghetti bolognese, with wholegrain spaghetti and red lentils instead of mince
- Delicious soups like minestrone, sweet potato and chilli bean
- Dals and bean/vegetable curries
- Stir-fried veggies with tofu and wholegrain noodles
- Tasty stews like ratatouille
- Casseroles like vegan shepherd’s pie (made with sweet potato and lentils)
- Pasta in a creamy sauce – made with soya milk and seasoned with garlic, mustard and nutritional yeast
- Vegetable paella
You can find recipes for these meals and more in my free vegan meal plan – I’ll put a signup form for that at the bottom of the page.
My own diet is about 90% whole food plant-based – I do use some oil and salt here and there, and sometimes eat treat foods like the home-made chocolate chip cupcakes I made on Monday! (Vegan, of course.) But I’ve still seen some amazing benefits after adopting this diet, like the virtual elimination of my IBS symptoms, a huge reduction in period pain, far fewer allergy symptoms and better skin. I can’t recommend it enough!
If adopting this diet still seems intimidating, there are many useful blogs and other resources which can help you out. In terms of recipe sites, some of my favourites are:
- PlantPure Recipes
- Minimalist Baker
- Deliciously Ella
- Oh She Glows
- Chocolate-Covered Katie (especially for desserts!)
I just wanted to finish with a reminder that it’s important to take B12 on a plant-based diet. This vitamin is made by bacteria in the soil, but these days everything is so clean that it can be difficult to come by. Usually, B12 is only present in animal products because the animals are given supplements. So go straight to the source by taking your own! And I wish you the very best of luck if you do decide to try eating this way.