You may have heard of a whole food, plant-based diet before, but what is it exactly? Is it vegan? Vegetarian? Is it complicated or simple? What can you eat, and are there recipes that you’ll actually like? Stick around, because I’m going to tell you exactly what a whole food, plant-based lifestyle is and isn’t.
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Is it vegan? Is it vegetarian? What on earth is a whole food, plant-based diet anyway?!
At first glance, a whole food, plant-based diet probably looks like another fad diet with a bunch of complicated rules. That’s what I thought when I first heard about it. But after consuming a mostly plant-based diet for the last two years, I now realize that this way of eating is actually ultra-simple!
What A Whole Food, Plant-based Diet Is Not
It’s not vegan. It’s not vegetarian. It’s not keto or Whole30. There’s no counting calories or points, weighing your food, pairing certain foods together, or limiting your portion size in an attempt to lose weight. Nope, no silly and overly complicated rules here. Believe it or not, it also isn’t strictly vegetables!
But what exactly is it, if it isn’t vegan or just vegetables?
Basic Definition of a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet
A whole food, plant-based diet is exactly what it sounds like: whole, plant foods. Specifically, it includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their whole or minimally processed forms.
Examples of Whole, Plant Foods
- Fruit: apples, bananas, oranges, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, lemons, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, pears, etc.
- Vegetables: broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, squash, corn, cauliflower, cucumber, asparagus, celery, garlic, collard greens, etc.
- Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, oats, rye, barley, etc.
- Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lima beans, lentils, pinto beans, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, cashews, pine nuts, hemp seeds, etc.
What Isn’t Acceptable on a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet
A whole food, plant-based diet excludes all animal products and dairy products. It also excludes highly processed products such as bleached flour, white sugar, white rice, and oils (there’s some debate on oils, so more on that later).
Even though some of these products technically come from plants, they aren’t in their whole forms. They’ve been processed and stripped to the point that they lack any nutritional value.
Examples of animal products
- Meat: fish, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, bison, eggs, etc.
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, heavy cream, butter, etc.
Examples of highly processed products
- Oils: canola, vegetable, peanut, corn, etc. (Some branches of the whole food, plant-based diet eliminate all oils including coconut and olive. Other branches say these two oils are okay in small quantities.)
- Snacks: cakes, pastries, candy, chips, etc.
- Carbohydrates: white pasta, white rice, white bread, crackers, etc.
Basically, if it’s prepackaged and has a long ingredient list filled with words you can’t pronounce, it’s probably highly processed.
Where A Whole Food, Plant-based Diet Came From
If you really want to take a step back in time with me, we can say that a whole food, plant-based diet dates all the way back to the very beginning when God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” That was from Genesis 1:29.
It seems like a whole food, plant-based diet was God’s original nutrition plan for humans.
However, if you don’t believe in the Bible or would rather have a more recent, scientific explanation, then I’ve got you covered.
(And before we start a big biblical debate here, the Bible DOES say we can eat animals. But remember, the original instructions said to eat plants. 🙂 )
The China Study
In his book The China Study, Dr. Colin Campbell explains the relationship between animal protein and disease. He first noticed this relationship with lab rats back in the 1970s. He found that he could actually turn on and turn off the growth of cancer in those rats just by adjusting the amount of animal protein they were fed.
Later, a large-scale study conducted in China in the 1980s showed that the same relationship applies to humans too. Dr. Campbell found that as animal protein consumption increases, the rate of disease increases with it. By the same token, when animal protein consumption decreases, the rate of disease also decreases.
There’s so much information packed in The China Study that I can’t even begin to recount it here. If you’d like to know more about the science behind a whole food, plant-based diet, then I highly recommend you read it for yourself.
It was a fascinating book that left me both amazed and furious! Amazed by the power of plants and the human body, and furious at the companies, organizations, and industries that intentionally mislead the public.
It’s a page-turner for sure!
Why Some People Choose to Consume a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet
Some people choose a whole food, plant-based diet for ethical reasons. They care deeply for animals and don’t like the idea of killing animals for food. Often, they also oppose industries that exploit animals, such as the dairy and egg industries.
Other people choose a whole food, plant-based diet for health reasons. They seek to prevent, halt, and/or reverse disease. Josh and I fall into this category. Don’t get me wrong; we do love animals. But we chose this lifestyle for medical reasons. You can read all about that here:
What Whole Food, Plant-based Dieters Actually Eat
We eat plants, of course! 🙂 Here are some of the foods Josh and I typically eat.
- Breakfast: Whole grain waffles with fruit, walnuts, and maple syrup; smoothies; overnight oats; whole grain toast with Earth Balance spread and cinnamon; whole grain pancakes with maple syrup; fruit; hash browns with veggies.
- Lunch: Tomato and avocado sandwich on whole grain toast, not-tuna salad on whole grain crackers, soup, salad, taco salad, burrito bowl, veggie wrap.
- Supper: Vegetable fried rice with steamed broccoli, black bean burger, veggie pizza, salad, soup, black bean tacos, veggie fajitas, whole grain spaghetti with marinara sauce, steamed veggies, roasted veggies, quinoa mixed with roasted veggies, black bean “hamburger steaks” with onions, vegetable lo mein, baked potato fries.
- Dessert: chocolate peanut butter oatmeal balls, maple candied nuts, dairy-free “nice cream,” dairy-free chocolate popsicles, banana bread, cinnamon baked apples.
- Snacks: fruit, veggies, nuts, almond-stuffed dates, smoothies, applesauce, air-popped popcorn.
The key is that I make most of these meals from scratch. For example, I don’t buy whole grain waffles in the frozen section because those are highly processed and have all kinds of questionable ingredients listed on the package.
Likewise, I don’t buy pre-made banana bread because it would be loaded with things such as white sugar, white flour, eggs, etc.
I like to make most things from scratch because I get to control the ingredients. But when I do buy pre-made things (applesauce, bread, pasta, etc.), I choose items that have a very short list of minimally processed plant ingredients.
Wrapping It Up
So there you have it! Now you know that a whole food, plant-based diet consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their whole or minimally processed forms.
It isn’t so complicated after all, huh?
You also know that Dr. Colin Campbell fully explains the science behind a whole food, plant-based diet in his book The China Study. The connection he made between animal protein and disease is the reason many people (like me!) choose to adopt a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. Other people choose it for ethical reasons.
Lastly, you know what someone who follows a whole food, plant-based diet typically eats. Of course, the foods I listed are only a tiny fraction of the tasty plant-based meals out there. But the point is that you’ve seen the delicious options available, and you know that we aren’t just eating vegetables.
Now that you know more about a whole food, plant-based diet, I highly recommend you read The China Study for yourself. It will blow your mind when you learn what all a whole food, plant-based diet can do for your health! We’re living proof that it works, and we have no intention of going back to the way we were.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
- Which Supplements Do You Need on a Plant-based Diet?
- How to Afford a Healthy Lifestyle on a Budget
- Let’s Talk About The China Study and What It Can Do for Your Health
- 15 Must-Have Kitchen Items Every Plant-Based Kitchen Needs
What about you? Are you considering adopting a whole food, plant-based diet?
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