Overview of a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet

Many followers of the whole food plant based diet (WFPB) report that choosing to eat this way has dramatically improved not only the way they feel in their bodies, but has also impacted the way they think.

Healthy Eating

Cortney Good
Desiree Abecassis

27 July 2019

What is a Plant-Based Whole Foods Diet?

The WFPB diet mainly consists of consuming foods that have been minimally processed. It requires one to focus all efforts on obtaining nutrition from plant foods including fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, oils, legumes, whole grains, and beans.
The whole-food, plant-based way of eating continues to garner much attention and is moving thousands of people each day toward changing the way they think about food. It's responsible for influencing the foods they choose and considering what is necessary for sustaining good health and obtaining the nutrition that the body needs in order to thrive.
Adopting the WFPB lifestyle when coming off of a standard processed food diet can take some effort at first. It can demand more of a deliberate and purposeful commitment and intention as opposed to when jumping on the latest trend bandwagon. This approach almost always results in one reverting back to old ways due to the lack of foresight.
We hear of many who have transitioned smoothly into this notably healthy way of life. We have also seen many before and after success stories of those who adopted this type of diet, but rest assured that changes like this can take some time to produce results. It's unlikely that results were seen in a single week or even a month.
Instead, the road to WFPB living requires a genuine commitment. It may even present challenges at times considering one may have experiment with various new foods and ensure he / she obtains the proper nutritional requirements.

Are veganism and the whole-foods plant-based diet philosophy the same?

Some may confuse the labels of veganism or vegetarianism with that of following a WFPB diet.

Although they share many similarities, they are not at all the same.

The whole-foods plant-based diet focuses on the consumption of plant-based foods. However, it does not exclude meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or dairy whereas a vegan diet does. If however, you were to interview followers of the whole foods plant based diet, it is highly likely that you would encounter quite a few individuals who opt out of consuming animal products.

What are the Health Benefits of Eating a Whole-Foods Plant-Based Diet?

Followers of the WFPB and healthcare providers cite multiple reasons for adopting this way of living to benefit overall health. The rationale for this has everything to do with decreasing one's intake of processed, packaged and refined foods and instead, opting for foods that have been predominantly left in their natural state and have been minimally processed.

Here are some noted benefits of the WFPB diet.

Lowers systemic inflammation
Certain foods outside of the WFPB family can behave very much like foreigners that invade the body and trigger a defensive immune response. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries, fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat, processed meats, and even margarine can provoke an inflammatory response in the body (2). The WFPB way of living, due to the abundance of fresh antioxidant and mineral rich food components can counter inflammation. This can in turn help to reduce the occurrence of pain, infections, and susceptibility to viruses.
Decreases the impact of stress
Studies show that consuming a plant-based diet can assist you in better controlling the cortisol hormone in your body (3). It helps to keep your cortisol levels low, which is also beneficial for decreasing your risk for developing excess fat around your midsection. Too much fat around this area of your body can make you more susceptible to a variety of other health complications.
Helps to relieve Menopausal Symptoms and PMS
Research shows that women who incorporate more plant-based nutrition into their diets can significantly reduce their PMS and menopausal symptoms. The WFPB helps to contribute to a balanced female cycle due to the presence of healthy fats and an abundance of nutrient rich plant foods. Eating this way can help to alleviate difficult cramps and hot flashes for some women.
Improvement of Blood Cholesterol
By decreasing one's intake of red meat, the WFPB can aid in one's efforts to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Healthy HDL cholesterol levels help to reduce the risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease.
Glowing Skin
A WFPB diet can improve the skin's elasticity and tonality. In fact, those who are on a healthy version of this diet often look vibrant, radiant and have a special glow about them. The nutrient rich foods can be considered a natural cure for skin that may look dull, dry, and in desperate need of revitalization, as it nourishes from the inside out. This way of eating factors in the right blend of antioxidants that aids in helping to slow the aging process and keep one youthful and vibrant.
Cardiovascular Health
Consuming a WFPB diet can help to repair the lining of those vessels in your heart, making one less prone to the effects of heart disease.

Fact or Myth: is it too expensive to eat a plant-based diet?

There is an existing belief that trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle such as the WFPB diet is far too costly. However, opting to invest in eating this way will not break your budget or the bank. It will require a bit of meal planning and organization which helps to bring costs down and actually make this way of eating cost effective. You can expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $30 on fruits and vegetables each week and close to $10-$15 on your legumes, lentils, and nuts. I suggest buying these staples in bulk at the health food store as they are usually fresh, organic and less expensive due to a lack of packaging. As time passes, one can expect a grocery bill that may fluctuate in either direction depending on one's penchant for trying new recipes. It might be pleasantly surprising how affordable this lifestyle can be!

How to Get Started on the Whole-Foods Plant-Based Diet

There's no need to start tossing food from your cabinets and pantry just yet. Experts agree that you should aim for a slow but steady transition. Think of it as dipping your toe in the pool and not so much making a big splash.
Begin by replacing one to three meals per week with a plant-based option. Meatless Monday campaigns are a fantastic way to dial back your meat intake at least one day per week. Another option? Replace your lunch or dinner with a plant-based meal- there are so many healthy and delicious alternatives now on the market when it comes to alternative milks, cheeses and imitation meats (4).
Consider eating one new vegetable and fruit each week. This new exploration provides a great way to learn more about the plant foods you like best and those you can do without in your meal planning and preparation practices.
Next, while you may find yourself contemplating the purchase of organic fruits and vegetables, grant yourself permission to take things slowly and enjoy the "regular stuff" first. To start, your focus should rest on becoming familiar and comfortable with your new lifestyle. Eventually you may take a look at the Environmental Working Group's dirty dozen and clean 15 list here: You can download your handy guide here: https://act.ewg.org/onlineactions

Over the next several weeks, use this time to fill your pantry with the staples. This action will allow you to focus on your fruits and veggies each week. Stock your pantry well with the likes of lentils, legumes, gluten-free whole grains, herbs, and spices.

How Many Macros Should I Consume Each Day?

Your macronutrient requirements are calculated using a percentage of your total calories. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your goal (i.e., weight loss, weight gain, weight maintenance) may drive these numbers up or down. Additionally, gender may also play a role in defining your recommended daily intake numbers.
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, you should plan to consume (5):

  • 10-35 % of your calories from proteins
  • 20-35 % of your calories from fats
  • 45-65 % of your calories from carbohydrates

In Closing

Transitioning to a whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle can be life transforming. Your goal should be to start slowly but to keep the pace steady should you decided to adopt this way of eating. The health benefits as we have seen are numerous. As you examine the pros and cons of this way of eating, you must consider all the ways that the WFPB diet may affect your health or even change the medications you are currently taking. Always speak with your physician before beginning a new diet and enjoy the process.


NationalAcademies.org. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients


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