We’ve already written about what a whole-food, plant-based diet is, and briefly gone over its benefits of improved health and wellness, better workouts, more energy and weight loss. How about we dig deeper into the plant based diet and see what areas it can benefit, and what you should be eating?
It focuses on minimally processed foods, specifically plants, and is effective at stimulating weight loss and improving health by cutting out processed food and junk foods. It’s not really a diet, more of a lifestyle choice.
People often confuse the plant based diet with veganism, but that’s not quite the case. People following a vegan diet do not eat any animal products, including dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and honey.
Vegetarians similarly exclude all meat and poultry from their diets, but some vegetarians eat eggs, seafood or dairy.
But for the plant based diets we’re just staying away from processed foods and eating more plants - though the higher quality meats are usually found closer to wherever you are, which also reduces the carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of meat is why a lot of people following the plant based diet just don’t eat meat.
So to some people it’s veganism, to others it’s cutting out the processed foods and basing meals around plants instead. This makes meat still technically available on the menu, although most choose to drop a lot of the meat they consume for environmental as well as moral reasons.
Basically, the whole-food plant-based diet:
- Emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods.
- Limits or avoids animal products.
- Focuses on plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, which should make up the majority of what you eat.
- Excludes refined foods, like added sugars, white flour and processed oils.
- Pays special attention to food quality, with many proponents of the WFPB diet promoting locally sourced, organic food whenever possible.
Next let’s deep dive into the weight loss.
Obesity is a massive issue in the West, but the plant based diet can help. Studies show that because of the high fiber and lower calorie content in the diet, people who follow the plant based diet are more likely to be a healthy size.
Over 1,100 people were involved in 12 studies which found that those who were assigned to plant-based diets lost significantly more weight over an average of 18 weeks (around 4.5 pounds).
A study in 65 overweight and obese adults found that those assigned to a WFPB diet lost significantly more weight than the control group and were able to sustain that weight loss of 9.25 pounds over a one-year follow-up period .
Plus, simply cutting out the processed foods that aren’t allowed on a WFPB diet like soda, candy, fast food and refined grains is a powerful weight loss tool itself.
So what about the health benefits of the plant based diet?
Well adopting a whole foods, plant based diet not only helps your waistline but it can lower your risk for many chronic diseases, some of society’s biggest killers!
Being heart healthy is probably one of the most well-known benefits of the whole-foods, plant-based diet. However, the quality and the types of foods are both important parts of this. A large study of over 200,000 people found that those following a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains,legumes and nuts has a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those who followed a non-plant-based diet.
However, in the middle ground there was a slightly increased risk of heart disease. This section was for people following a plant based diet but still consuming sugary drinks, fruit juices and refined grains.
Consuming the right kinds of food is critical for heart disease prevention when following a plant-based diet, which is why sticking to a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the best choice.
Research suggests that following a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.
From a study in over 69,000 people it was concluded that vegetarian diets were associated with a significantly lower risk of gastrointestinal cancer, especially for those who followed a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy). Another large study in more than 77,000 people demonstrated that those who followed vegetarian diets had a 22% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than non-vegetarians.
Pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish) had the greatest protection from colorectal cancer with a 43% reduced risk compared to non-vegetarians.
Some studies suggest that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow or prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease in older adults. Plant-based diets have a higher number of plant compounds and antioxidants, which have been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and reverse cognitive deficits.
In many studies, higher intakes of fruits and vegetables have been strongly associated with a reduction in cognitive decline and a review of nine studies including over 31,000 people found that eating more fruits and vegetables led to a 20% reduction in the risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.
Adopting a WFPB diet may be an effective tool in managing and reducing your risk of developing diabetes. A study in more than 200,000 people found that those who adhered to a healthy plant-based eating pattern had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who followed unhealthy, non-plant-based diets.
Another study demonstrated that plant-based diets (vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian) were associated with nearly a 50% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarian diets.
Plus, plant-based diets have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
What should I eat on a plant based diet?
From eggs and bacon for breakfast to steak for dinner, animal products are the focus of most meals for many people.
When switching to a plant-based diet, meals should center around plant-based foods.
If animal foods are eaten, they should be eaten in smaller quantities, with attention paid to the quality of the item.
Foods like dairy, eggs, poultry, meat and seafood should be used more as a complement to a plant-based meal, not as the main focal point.
Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, etc.
Vegetables: Kale, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, peppers, etc.
Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
Whole grains: Brown rice, rolled oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice pasta, barley, etc.
Healthy fats: Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut, etc.
Legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, black beans, etc.
Seeds, nuts and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, natural peanut butter, tahini, etc.
Unsweetened plant-based milks: Coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, etc.
Spices, herbs and seasonings: Basil, rosemary, turmeric, curry, black pepper, salt, etc.
Condiments: Salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
Plant-based protein: Tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein sources or powders with no added sugar or artificial ingredients.
Beverages: Coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.
If supplementing your plant-based diet with animal products, choose quality products from grocery stores or, better yet, purchase them from local farms.
Eggs: Pasture-raised when possible.
Poultry: Free-range, organic when possible.
Beef and pork: Pastured or grass-fed when possible.
Seafood: Wild-caught from sustainable fisheries when possible.
Dairy: Organic dairy products from pasture-raised animals whenever possible.
Foods to avoid
Fast food: French fries, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc.
Added sugars and sweets: Table sugar, soda, juice, pastries, cookies, candy, sweet tea, sugary cereals, etc.
Refined grains: White rice, white pasta, white bread, bagels, etc.
Packaged and convenience foods: Chips, crackers, cereal bars, frozen dinners, etc.
Processed vegan-friendly foods: Plant-based meats like Tofurkey, faux cheeses, vegan butters, etc.
Artificial sweeteners: Equal, Splenda, Sweet’N Low, etc.
Processed animal products: Bacon, lunch meats, sausage, beef jerky, etc.
Foods to minimize
While healthy animal foods can be included in a WFPB diet, the following products should be minimized in all plant-based diets.
Stay tuned for full recipes coming out on the blog, and thanks to Matti from MWM Digital for this blog post.