A whole food plant based diet is based on whole, minimally processed, unrefined plant foods. It excludes or minimises animal products (meat, fish, dairy and eggs) and vegetable oils. It minimises salt and highly refined products like sugar, white flour, white bread and processed imitation ‘meats’.
The majority of calories on a whole food plant based diet come from unrefined, complex carbohydrates (starches). Complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, etc), whole grains (brown rice, pasta, corn, oats, barley etc) and legumes (chickpeas, black beans, lentils, red kidney beans etc). It also includes an abundant amount of vegetables and fruits (both raw and cooked).
You don’t need to restrict the amount of food you eat on a whole food plant based diet. It is a low-fat diet that focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are low in calorie density. So you don’t need to count calories or restrict portion sizes. Just eat until you are comfortably full.
Is it the same as a vegan diet?
A whole food plant based diet is different to being vegan. A vegan diet eliminates all animal products, as well as animal-derived products such as honey. They also avoid animal-derived clothing such as leather and fur. Veganism is based on an ethical decision to avoid animal exploitation. It is possible to eat unhealthy, high-fat food and still be vegan.
Will I get enough fat and protein?
Whole plant foods contain all the essential nutrients (with the exception of vitamin B12) in proportions that are ideal for your body. You don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein. We only need 10-15% of our calories to come from protein. Research shows that most vegans get at least this amount of protein (and usually more) in their diet (Rizzo et al 2013).
You can get all the fat you need from whole plant foods. For example, a bowl of oatmeal made with water has 19 percent of its calories from fat. Cooked brown rice is 7 percent fat and cooked chickpeas contain 14 percent fat. You don’t need to add oil to your food to get enough fat in your diet.
What do you eat on a plant based diet?
Here is a guide as to what foods to include and exclude in a whole food plant based diet.
The basics of a whole food plant based diet
- Centre your meals on minimally processed plant foods (fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, intact whole grains, and legumes
- Exclude or minimises all animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs
- Exclude all oil (including olive oil and coconut oil) and any products made with oil
- Choose minimally processed/refined foods (e.g. Choose brown instead of white rice, whole grain pasta instead of white)
- Eat a low-fat diet (eat small, occasional amounts of nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut)
- Use sugar and salt in very small quantities
- Eat a variety of whole plant foods
Are all whole food plant-based diets the same?
Some whole food plant based diet diets are higher in fat (with more generous portions of nuts and seeds and fewer starches). Some are not completely WFPB, including small amounts of vegetable oils or animal products. But the general agreement and evidence support a diet based on whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
What does a whole food plant based meal look like?
- Lentil shepherd’s pie
- Chickpea curry and brown rice
- Vegetable lasagna with salad
- Lentil and vegetable soup
- Burrito bowl
- Loaded baked potatoes
This is a visual guide as to how you can put together a healthy, balanced plant-based meal. You can see that half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit. The other half should be complex carbohydrates – whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes.
Carbohydrates provide satiety
A whole food plant based meal needs to be balanced to include enough of the food and calories to sustain and satisfy you until the next meal.
Just eating salad, vegetables and fruit isn’t going to fill you up. Complex carbohydrates are essential in order to get enough calories and feel satisfied.
Half the plate is non-starchy vegetables or fruit, and the other half is unrefined complex carbohydrates. This amount of carbohydrate will allow you to feel satisfied at the end of your meal.
Carbohydrates are the best source of fuel
Complex carbohydrates aren’t fattening or unhealthy. They’re essential for good health. Refined carbohydrates should be avoided as they have had most of the fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemical removed.
Our body functions best on energy from carbohydrates. In fact, our brains run exclusively on glucose. Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for our body as they provide heaps of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They are also low in fat and have no cholesterol.
Some of the longest living people on earth eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates. Blue Zones are regions of the world with high rates of centenarians. The people of Okinawa, Japan, one of the Blue Zones of the world, traditionally ate a diet where 80% of their calories came from carbohydrates, predominantly from sweet potatoes.
Eat low fat
When you are preparing your meal, omit the oil and animal products. Oil has 9 times as many calories per gram than whole intact carbohydrates such as cooked brown rice and cooked oats. One tablespoon (20ml) of olive oil (or any oil) has the same amount of calories as a 375ml can of coke or a 50g cherry ripe bar.
Why start with soup/salad/fruit?
Research shows that starting a meal with a low-fat soup or salad or a piece of fruit will drop the overall number of calories that you are eating during the meal and over the day. That is because the high volume (the fibre and the water content) of these foods is helping you to feel full, without taking in a large number of calories. These foods are high in nutrient density, yet low in calorie density.
Finish with fruit
Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit. I love delicious fruit like watermelon, mango, pineapple, grapes and berries. Fruit is the best choice for a sweet as it’s high in nutrients and fibre, yet low in fat and calories and has no cholesterol.
For more information on a whole food plant based diet see this page from Forks Over Knives – What is a whole food, plant-based diet?