With the popularity of documentaries like The Game Changers (2018), Forks Over Knives (2011), and What the Health (2017) you may have heard the term “Whole-Food Plant-Based” recently. Sometimes it’s been shortened to the acronym WFPB as well. But what does it mean exactly, and how is it different from Veganism? Let’s explore what it means to follow a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet and more importantly, the significant health benefits that come with this way of eating and why you may want to consider it for yourself.

What is a whole food?

A whole food is one that is not processed or refined, or as minimally processed or refined as possible. With few added or artificial ingredients. Basically as close to how the food appears in nature as possible.

What does Plant-Based mean?

Plant-Centered, Plant-Focused. Essentially with plant foods being the main component of the diet. And what constitutes a plant food? Vegetables, Fruits, Beans, Legumes, Grains, Nuts, and Seeds.

What’s the difference between Whole-Food, Plant-Based and a Vegan or Vegetarian diet?

To get a better understanding, first let’s look at what it means to be vegan or vegetarian.

What does Vegan mean? Vegan means abstaining from the use of all animal products, particularly in the diet. And often times, but not always, veganism is practiced from an ethical standpoint, and not always with a focus on health.

And what does Vegetarian mean? Vegetarians abstain from the consumption of meat only. But cheese, eggs, and other dairy are usually still eaten.

So, what’s the difference between these ways of eating? Have you ever heard the term “junk-food vegan”? It’s possible to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and still eat very unhealthily. There are plenty of vegan foods that use no-animal products but are still highly processed and refined which can wreak havoc on your health. The words vegan and vegetarian are not synonymous with health. In comparison, a whole-food plant-based diet is about choosing to eat mainly unprocessed whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, while avoiding unhealthy processed, refined foods and oils as well as eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood.

Vegetarian DietVegan DietWhole Food Plant Based Diet
Meat, Poultry, SeafoodNoNoAvoid
Eggs & Dairy ProductsYesNoAvoid
OilsYesYesAvoid
Highly Processed & Refined FoodsYesYesAvoid
Whole GrainsYesYesYes
FruitsYesYesYes
VegetablesYesYesYes
LegumesYesYesYes
This chart shows the differences and similarities between a Vegetarian, Vegan, and Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet

Which foods can’t you eat on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet?

This way of eating is really about choosing the most healthful options. So rather than saying it’s not allowed, it’s more about choosing to avoid certain foods. WFPB diets minimize or avoid animal foods and products, and highly processed or refined items. This includes:

  • Animal flesh such as red meat, pork, poultry, and fish
  • Animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Refined grains like white flour, white rice, white pasta and white bread
  • Highly processed and packaged food-like substances such as donuts, chips, cookies
  • Oils such as vegetable oil, olive oil, or coconut oil

Could someone who eats according to a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet still consume meat, eggs, or dairy products occasionally? Yes, with an emphasis on occasionally. While meat, dairy, and eggs aren’t totally off limits per se, if you are going to have them take a balanced approach: Limit them to truly special occasions only. For example, once or twice a year for a birthday or holiday treat.

That might be too slippery a slope for some, so if you find it’s too much of a temptation, you can always refrain from the indulgence completely. And you may be surprised how soon after eating this way, your body no longer craves these foods.

A colorful assortment of fruit and vegetable options available on a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet.
Just a small sampling of the rainbow of plant-food choices available to you on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet.

Which foods can you eat?

There are so many options! One of the things that makes this way of eating so satisfying is the abundance of starches, beans, and whole grains that keep you full for a long time. Oatmeal for breakfast, a hearty stew for lunch, and potatoes, beans and vegetables for dinner are some of my favorite meals. The combinations are endless and the list below is just a small example:

  • Fruits like bananas, oranges, apples, strawberries
  • Starchy vegetables and tubers such as winter squashes, potatoes, and corn
  • Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, carrots, zucchini, asparagus
  • Legumes and beans like chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats

Why should you try a WFPB diet?

There’s a reason so many of us are shouting the praises of a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet! Reversing problematic health issues, healthy and sustained weight loss, loads more energy! The benefits are innumerable and priceless. In short, many of us who have chosen to eat this way because of declining health (myself included) have felt like they’ve finally gotten their life back. In addition to a decreased risk of cancer and minimized risk of stroke, some of the results people have noticed from adopting this way of eating include:

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Weight Loss
  • Better digestion
  • Less inflammation
  • Better mood, a decrease in depression
  • Lowered cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better cognitive function

How do I start a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet?

If the idea of avoiding meat, dairy, eggs and oil seems daunting at first, take it slow. First, start out by thinking which meals you are eating now that may already be somewhat plant-based.

Start with simple swaps to make it easier on yourself and family. If you’re a fan of spaghetti and meatballs try switching to a less processed whole wheat spaghetti, find an oil-free spaghetti sauce (this one from Trader Joe’s is my favorite!) and try swapping the meatballs for a healthy homemade veggie-, lentil-, or bean-ball version instead.

What about pizza? You can make an easy oil-free pizza dough like this one from Forks over Knives, or buy a healthier prepared version such as Engine 2 brand, and top with loads of tomato sauce, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, pepperoncini, onions, garlic and herbs.

Are you a steak-and-potatoes kind of person? Try taking the steak out of the equation and focus on the delicious potato. And instead of the usual sour-cream, butter, and/or cheese toppings try using your favorite soup, salsa, or baked beans. Pair with some broccoli, or asparagus and you’ve got a satisfying meal.

In Conclusion

I hope this has given you a good idea of what it means to follow a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet, and that you now understand that the term “vegan” or “vegetarian” doesn’t automatically mean something is healthful. Those of us who are choosing to eat according to a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet are usually focused on reaping the health benefits that come from being conscious and aware of what we’re putting into our bodies.

If you’re struggling with your health and suffering due to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other symptoms you may seriously want to consider following a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet. Food is information for our cells, and if we’re consistently making unhealthful choices it’s going to catch up with us sooner or later. Changing our diet is a lot easier than having a triple-bypass surgery, and there are no scary side effects. Try it, you might like it! And your body will thank you, quite literally, by showing you what you were capable of all along.

Now I’d love to hear from you: Why are you considering a Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet? Leave a comment below and let me know! And if you think someone you know might benefit from trying a Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet, please share this article with them on social media!

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