With plant-based diets and especially plant-based athletes getting so much media attention lately, you’ve probably seen and heard the news and maybe even some hype. Perhaps you’re wondering what all the fuss is about? Or maybe you have some friends or family members who’ve gone plant-based and are raving about it?
If you’ve grown curious enough to check this lifestyle out for yourself, you’re probably wondering how you do it. Yes, a whole food plant-based vegan diet is supposed to be good for you and good for the planet, but, really, what all do you actually eat every day?
You may be having some of these concerns:
- Is a whole food plant-based vegan diet boring?
- Am I just going to be eating so-called “rabbit food”?
- Can I eat anything other than plants?
- Will I be hungry all the time?
- Will I get enough protein?
In this article, we’ll explain what a whole food plant-based vegan diet is, how it’s different from the classic omnivore, vegan and plant-based diets, and we’ll explore the rich array of healthy and delicious foods that are available to you to choose from.
What Does Plant-Based Vegan Mean?
Unlike a vegetarian diet which may include dairy and/or eggs, a “vegan” diet excludes all animal and animal-derived products. There’s no fish, dairy, meat, eggs, fish, honey or poultry included – ever. That’s right, no butter, no ice cream, hamburgers, steak, chicken nuggets, tuna salad, omelets or hash browns fried in lard. Sounds simple enough, right?
But the problem is that a vegan diet can still include all kinds of foods that are not animal-derived but are still unhealthy. These foods might be low in nutrients and fiber (so-called empty calories), high in fat, salt, and added sugars, and may be highly processed. These foods may contain artificial preservatives, additives, fillers, colors or flavors.
Many commercially-produced snack foods and candies, as well as bread, crackers, and pasta made from refined white flour (as opposed to natural whole grain products which contain the original fiber, vitamins, and minerals), are unhealthy carbs consisting of simple sugars or which are quickly converted into simple sugars by the body.
Examples of some less-than-healthy vegan foods:
- Potato chips
- White flour pasta
- White bread
- Cotton candy
- Frozen meals
- French fries
- Fast food
- Highly-processed pre-packaged and frozen foods
- Nondairy ice cream
- Nondairy creamer
What Are Whole Plant Foods?
Whole plant foods are plant foods in their natural state or only minimally processed, such as whole fresh fruit, diced or sliced fresh fruit, dried or frozen fresh fruit without added sugar or preservatives, and to a lesser extent, canned fruit. Products derived from whole fresh fruit, such as apple sauce and smoothies could also be considered whole foods.
If the canned, frozen or dried fruits or vegetables have artificial preservatives, sweeteners such sugar or corn syrup, or artificial colorings, you wouldn’t want to include those in a whole food plant-based diet.
Whole plant foods are plant foods in their
natural state or only minimally processed
But if the fruits or veggies are frozen, canned or dried in their natural state, that’s perfectly fine! One thing you’ll need to do on a whole food plant-based vegan diet is learn to read the fine print on food package labels carefully.
Whole plant foods can also include foods naturally derived from whole plants in such a manner that they retain their integrity. These include soy products such as tofu, miso, tamari and tempeh, whole grain pasta, bread and crackers, and seitan, a chewy, dense, high-protein food made from wheat gluten.
Some of these items are borrowed from other cultures, such as tempeh from Indonesia and miso soy paste from Japan. These items might be unfamiliar to you, but they can be very healthful and useful additions to a whole food plant-based vegan diet. You can learn more about these natural food products in my article, “Uncommon Ingredients.”
If you’re an athlete, have a high activity level or are otherwise concerned about getting enough protein, check out my article, “Three High-Protein Plant Foods You Need to Know About.”
What’s a Non-Vegan Plant-Based Diet?
When it comes to animal products, things can get a bit complicated. Some people define “plant-based” as exactly that – a diet that is based primarily in plant foods, say perhaps 80 percent, but which can still contain small amounts of animal products.
Keep in mind, however, that you may want to gradually phase out animal products to ease your transition to a whole food plant-based vegan diet.
HEALTHY FOODS TO ENJOY ON A WHOLE FOOD PLANT-BASED VEGAN DIET
- FRUITS: apples, peaches, pears, grapes, bananas, cherries, berries, pineapple, papaya, melon, etc.
- VEGETABLES AND TUBERS: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, parsnips, rutabaga, bok choy, etc.
- LEGUMES: black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, soy beans, adzuki beans, lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, etc.
- WHOLE GRAINS: rye, barley, wheat, oats, brown rice, corn.
- “PSEUDO-GRAINS:” (used as grains but aren’t true seed grasses) amaranth, quinoa, teff, buckwheat, millet.
- NUTS: almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, etc.
- SEEDS: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc.
Food quality and freshness are also important, with many proponents of a whole food plant-based vegan diet suggesting locally-sourced, organic food or at least pesticide and herbicide-free food to the greatest possible degree. You may want to read my article, “Does Organic Really Matter?,” for more information
FOODS TO AVOID ON A WHOLE FOOD PLANT-BASED VEGAN DIET
- All animal products and animal-derived products.
- FAST FOOD: French fries, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc.
- SWEETS: Table sugar, corn syrup, soda, juice*, pastries, cookies, candy, sugary cereals, etc. (*The only fruit juices that are OK to drink in moderation are those made from whole fruits in a high-powered blender. These juices contain all of the fiber and nutrients of the whole fruit. Whole fruits are still a better option.)
- REFINED GRAINS: White rice, white pasta, white bread, bagels, etc.
- PACKAGED AND CONVENIENCE FOODS: Chips, crackers, cereal bars, frozen dinners, etc.
- PROCESSED VEGAN FOODS: Plant-based “meats” like Tofurkey, Gardein, Quorn and Field Roast brands, vegan cheeses, vegan butter, and spreads, etc.
- ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS: Equal, Splenda, saccharin, etc.
- PROCESSED OILS AND TRANS FATS
What About Oils, Nuts, and Seeds?
If oils come from plants, what’s the problem with them?
Leading whole food plant-based diet experts such as Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Fuhrman and T. Colin Campbell, all agree that oils, for instance, coconut, olive, corn, canola, soybean, sunflower, avocado, and peanut oils – to name just a few – are best avoided. And, yes – that means no foods fried or cooked in oil.
Oils are high in calories and low in nutritional value. And according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, extracted oils are rapidly digested by the body and turn immediately into body fat. Olive oil, for instance, has a very different effect on the body than eating whole olives, which contain fiber and other nutrients. The same holds true for other extracted oils, such as sunflower, sesame, coconut, and peanut oils.
Whole sunflower and sesame seeds, whole peanuts and whole coconut products, such as coconut flakes, are much better choices.
Ready, Set, Go!
I hope that this article showed you that eating a whole food plant-based diet is easier and more delicious than you may have ever thought possible! Now that you have a solid understanding of what it’s all about – and why – you’re ready to get started with your new healthy lifestyle! You can do it!
If you have any questions or need some support along the way, as we all do from time to time, please don’t hesitate to email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you good luck and the best of health!