Picture yourself in a sprawling garden. As far as you can see are ripening fruits, vegetables and legumes. Fields of whole grains blow in the breeze. You kneel down and pull fresh tubers from the ground, brushing off the rich topsoil. No livestock or refined ingredients in sight. This, you think to yourself, is real food.
This dreamy scene is the basis of the whole-food plant based diet. And even if you don’t live in a farmland fantasy, you can enjoy all the benefits of a whole-food plant-based diet for yourself.
What’s a Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet?
A whole-food plant-based diet is best explained by breaking it down.
Whole-foods are ingredients that are as closest to their natural state as possible. In many cases that is raw, but not necessarily - aim for as little cooking or preparation as possible. Refined, processed and artificial foods are generally off limits.
Plant based is even more self explanatory: foods should come from plants, not animals.
WFPB (shorthand for whole food plant based) is less strict than vegetarian and vegan diets however in that animal products are to be avoided, not explicitly banned. Alternatively though, WFPB is more strict when it comes to processed foods that vegetarians and vegans often eat, eliminating them completely.
The whole-food plant-based diet gained familiarity toward the end of the 20th century when dietitians began using the phrase to differentiate the diet from vegetarian diets that often relied on those processed foods and non-meat animal products.
WFPB diets have been around for centuries though. Janism for instance is one of the world’s oldest religions and its devotees follow a strict vegetarian diet (1). Before modern industrial food production, a Jane's or almost any other plant-based diet would be considered WFPB.
Benefits of a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet
While carbon dioxide is the primary source of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, methane ranks number two with a plurality coming from agriculture (2). Part of the middleman job for livestock is to digest the plants they eat. That digestion creates methane. By eliminating the livestock and getting our nutrients directly from the source, we can eliminate as much as 15% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (3). Coupled with biomass burning to clear grazing pasture, meat production is a major contributor to climate change.
Humanely Raised resources are major motivators for people to take on a plant-based diet. Some oppose the taking of another life outright while others boycott the treatment of animals on industrial farms, feedlots and slaughterhouses. Most other restaurants and retailers cannot say the same and therefore WFPB diets are a simple way to know no animal is mistreated on account of one’s diet.
Post WW2 agriculture didn’t just change the way our food was produced, it changed what we ate entirely. Foods that were cheap and easy to produce and profitable to sell became widespread, including bleached flour and refined sugar. Chemicals and artificial ingredients were introduced to modify flavors and preservatives were added to aid in shelf life and new models of distribution (4).
All of this efficiency came at the cost of nutrition and Americans found themselves eating more and more empty calories to satiate their appetites. Some objected. The whole food diet wasn't something new to be invented, but rather something old to be defined and preserved.
Simultaneously, rising quality of life encouraged our already meat crazed culture to embrace larger portions of meat as signifiers of class. The result is an America in 2020 that is over 40% obese, 9% with type 2 diabetes, and 40% with at least one chronic disease (5,6,7).
A whole-food, plant-based diet is a base rejection of postwar industrial cuisine, premised on real food, grown and prepared naturally, preserving the micro and macronutrients innate in plant-based ingredients. Eat a whole food plant based diet in coordination with a healthy lifestyle to assist in weight loss, blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, heart health, and diet related disease prevention.
Real food is delicious! So many Americans enter their grocery stores and head straight for the interior aisles of processed food, never to know the incredible flavor of fresh produce living on the edges of the supermarket.
Fast food doesn’t bring much more to the table either. Eating fresh food that celebrates the flavors of a summer tomato or aromatic herb is an experience that makes one appreciate how and where an ingredient was grown and the delicacy of modern dining.
Best Foods for a WFPB Diet
Whole-food plant-based meals offer a ton of variety. If it’s natural and comes from plants you’re, by and large, free to chow down. But there are important staples that will ensure plant-based dieters are getting the macronutrients they need for a healthy lifestyle. Those include:
- Green vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Olive oil
- Whole grains like brown rice or quinoa
Look for organic varieties where possible!
What Not to eat
Since the WFPB diet is flexible, there’s technically nothing you can’t eat. However, for WFPB diet to be effective, to consider yourself a practitioner, there are things to avoid. Including:
- Refined sugar
- White flour
- Processed frozen foods
- Saturated and trans fats
- Artificially flavored foods
- High fructose corn syrup
- Dairy products
What You’re Missing
Nearly every aspect of an omnivore diet can be replicated with a WFPB diet except for one critical element, vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for brain function and the production of red blood cells. Deficiencies in B12 can negatively affect mood and energy.
Whole food plant based meal ideas:
Fluffy Vegan Protein Pancakes
Chickpea flour - almond flour - almond milk - maple syrup
Tofu - carrot pesto - roasted vegetables
Vegan Breakfast Tacos
Tofu - avocado - nutritional yeast - jicama tortillas
Coconut Yogurt Parfait
Coconut yogurt - fresh fruit - hemp seeds
Steel Cut Oats
Oats - oat milk - fresh fruit - maple syrup
Gluten Free Mushroom Avocado Toast
Millet-chia GF bread - smashed avocado - tempeh - portobello - balsamic
Vanilla Chai Protein Smoothie
Banana - spinach - almond butter - soy milk
Kelp Noodle Pad Thai
Kelp noodles - tofu - mixed vegetables - almond butter
Curried Carrot Salad
Julienne carrot - golden raisins - pumpkin seeds - maple syrup - lime - cilantro - curry powder
Apple Walnut Kale Salad
Kale - granny smith apple - chopped walnut - dijon vinaigrette
Tomato - chickpea - tempeh - kalamata olive - capers
Vegan BBQ Tofu Stir Fry Bowl
BBQ tofu - quinoa - mixed vegetable - edamame
Coconut yellow curry - root vegetables - cauliflower - quinoa
Quinoa - eggplant - bell pepper - red wine vinaigrette
Black Bean Croquettes
Black beans - jalapeño - brown rice - pico de gallo
As much of a lifestyle as a diet, the whole-food plant-based diet is about getting back to basics, before future foods and meat dominated menus were the status quo. Relying on fresh organic produce, preserving their essential nutrients and enjoying them as closely to their natural state as possible empowers plant-based eaters to end their dependence on meat and enjoy wholesome meals that fuel good health, high energy and a sustainable future for all.
For more tips and information on how to start a WFPB diet of your own, try Trifecta's plant based meal prep tool kit for free.