This post has been reviewed by our registered dietitian Celine Maetti
Something came to my attention this week; something that I had never quite clued together before about the plant based diet and I kind of had a eureka moment. I have been living the plant based lifestyle for almost 3 years now, and thought I knew pretty much all I needed to know about it, but alas, I’d been ignorant on something kind of important.
I have recently been hearing the question “what is a whole food plant based?” diet batted about (probably only in the last few months, but it is a term that has also been abbreviated as WFPB). I assumed it was the same diet I had been eating myself, but, turns out I was wrong about that.
I mean, it makes perfect and obvious sense really – whole foods means ‘whole foods’; in other words anything that hasn’t been processed or refined, but I had personally not been taking into account oils, or other so called healthy fats into this equasion.
The problem with oil on a WFBD
Sure, I eat lots of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and all that other basic plant based jazz, but I also use oil in my cooking and on my food. Only the ‘healthier’ plant based oils of course, such as olive, coconut and flax; but these are not technically ‘whole foods’ as they have been extracted from their original source. I don’t know why I didn’t twig this before, but it was a revelation to me.
Fat soluble nutrients
The potential problem that I see with fat-free meals is the issue of nutrient absorption. Certain vitamins and minerals in your food need fats for your body to be able to utilise and absorb them. These include the vitamins A, D, E and K that can found abundantly on the plant based diet when attention is paid to correct food combining.
A lot of these nutrients do already come in a fatty package of either nuts, seeds, coconut or avocados, therefore it’s not always a problem; and these are whole foods, so all good right? But some of them (especially the D and K) don’t always come naturally with fats, therefore if you have a fat-free meal containing them then you may not absorb their nutrition fully.
Some whole foods plant based advocates say that fruits and vegetables already naturally come perfectly packaged with all the right elements for our bodies to absorb their nutrition, and this makes absolute sense too. But, this is probably only true if we eat them in their natural state and not heat treat or process them, or boil them to death, so this could be a moot point.
Therefore, I would always try to add come fats to certain foods to help obtain the most nutrition you can out of them, but just try to make it a ‘whole food’ source of fat like those mentioned above.
So, moral of the story – it’s probably a good idea to be eating some fat (even if it’s a tiny amount) just to help with nutrient absorption, and you can do this in the form of the whole food fat containing foods of nuts, seeds, coconuts and avocados.
Amazing whole food plant based benefits
Of course, due to the super high amounts of antioxidants that naturally occur in the whole food plant diet, it stands to reason that it can be one of the healthiest ways of eating. Contrary to popular belief by some, you can live a perfectly healthy and happy life eating just plant foods. I’ve personally done it for years and look and feel better than ever, and that’s a fact that cannot be denied by anybody, so there’s definitely something to it.
Benefits you may feel from this amazing lifestyle include:-
- Increased energy
- Higher immunity
- Beautiful, glowing skin
- More stable mood and hormones, including less PMS
- More clarity of mind
- Sounder sleep
- Weight loss (or sometimes weight gain depending on how you’re going about things. Please read how not to put on weight whilst eating plant based if you are having this particular problem).
- A feeling of just being ‘lighter’
- More enthusiasm and confidence to live out your dreams . Yes, a healthy body really does boost your confidence in this way.
- Higher fitness levels. This is probably only the case if you actually do regular exercise, but when you do, you may notice that you can get fitter quicker, can train for longer periods, and recover faster through the eating of lots of anti inflammatory plant foods. You only need to look at the recent influx of vegan athletes and body builders if you want to see testamonies to this. The old mode of thinking is definitely changing as we see more and more examples of people taking their health and fitness to another level completely.
Getting enough protein
If you’re a beginner to whole food plant based, then you must take the time to understand your plant macronutrient groups in order to put together nutritionally complete meals. This is the only way to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need to avoid losing that muscle mass that is such a crucial part of health.
Obtaining enough protein from your plant foods is a BIG factor in this as it will help keep your muscle mass high (whether you’re an exerciser or not), and is vital to the functioning of a healthy body. Increased muscle mass can also have the following benefits:-
- FASTER METABOLISM – Muscle is metabolic, and needs calories just to maintain itself (unlike fat). This means the more you have, the more calories you will naturally burn, even when at rest. Brilliant huh?
- PHYSICAL STRENGTH – For obvious reasons, physical strength is a plus for every aspect of daily living and helps you to move around and exercise to keep your fitness levels where they should be.
- BETTER SKIN – Muscle definition can keep your skin looking more youthful all over your body as it tightens up baggy skin and reduces the appearance of cellulite.
- ORGAN FUNCTION – Studies show that muscle mass helps with organ and endocrine function in a way that was previously unknown. The endocrine system regulates tissue function, development and growth, the reproductive system, sleep and metabolism. That’s how important it is!
- INCREASED IMMUNITY – Muscle contains immune cells and is intrinsically connected to the immune system.
Plant Based Diet Beginner’s Guide
This whole food plant based beginner’s guide below will show you all the macronutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fats which you need to combine together at meals to make then complete. You can also find an abundance of delicious recipes online or in social media groups, so you should never be short of exciting new meal ideas.
I actually LOVE my food more now that I eat this way, which may sound strange considering I have seemingly cut out some large food groups, but it’s just so unequivocally true! You will find that once you’re eating foods in their whole and natural state, your taste buds will come alive in a way they never have before. You will appreciate food for the life giving nutrition that it gives you, rather than loading up on junk or high sugar foods that actually deaden your taste buds (and your body for that matter).
Plant based macronutrients list
- Wholegrain rice
- Wholegrain pasta
- Potatoes – sweet, white, red and purple.
- Squashes of all kinds
- Certain wholewheat breads.
- Pearl barley
- Root veggies such as carrot, beetroot and parsnip.
- Dried fruits of all kinds – sultanas, currents, raisins, apricots, dates, goji berries, cranberries, mulberries, apple rings, prunes, blueberries. Just remember to always buy with no added sugar, oils, sulphates or preservatives as many will have these added. Always read labels (the only thing on there should be the name of the fruit itself).
- Fresh fruits – The highest carb fresh fruits are usually your tropical fruits of pineapple, mango, banana, papaya and grapes; these are naturally high in fruit sugars that will fill you up for longer. Medium sugar fruits consist of apples, peas, kiwis, passion fruit, cherries, oranges and other citrus fruits. Low sugar fruits usually come in the form of berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants.
- Soy and whole soy products such as tofu, tempeh, seitan and edamame beans.
- Pulses – such as lentils, beans of all kinds, chickpeas, peas.
- Nuts of all kinds – unsalted and unroasted are best.
- Seeds of all kinds- again, unsalted and unroasted are best.
- Plant based protein powders – These can come in very handy for those times when you’re unable to meet your protein targets; or if you are in training or exercising a lot then you will probably need one of these. There are many new plant proteins available, and as different sources may contain different amino acid profiles it’s good to do your research first. Check out these highly recommended and researched brands for yourself to see which will suit your needs best.
HIGHEST PLANT BASED PROTEIN PULSES COOKED PER 100 GRAMS
|SOY BEANS||18.2 GRAMS|
|CANNELLINI BEANS||9.7 GRAMS|
|PINTO BEANS||9 GRAMS|
|BLACK BEANS||8.9 GRAMS|
|KIDNEY BEANS||8.7 GRAMS|
|YELLOW SPLIT PEAS||8.3 GRAMS|
|NAVY BEANS||8.3 GRAMS|
- Nuts of all kinds – Pecans, Brazils, walnuts, macademia, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts.
- Seeds of all kinds – Pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax (linseed), poppy, flax, hemp seeds.
- Peanut butter and other nut butters – be sure to check labels for no added sugars or oils, of which they are notorious for. A little added salt is ok if you prefer saltiness.
(Why they are so important for the WFBP diet)
One thing you really need to eat a lot of on a healthy plant based diet plan is your green leafy veggies (and all other vegetables too of course for variation; but leafy should be eaten daily). They are SO healthy and contain LOTS of nutrients, including high amounts of vitamins such as A, C, K, folate and calcium; not to mention fiber – ALL of which are vital to the proper functioning of your immune system, strong teeth and bones, and the formation of red blood cells.
Try to eat at least 1-2 portions of the leafy greens per day (preferable lightly steamed to keep their nutrients as in tact as possible), and then unlimited amounts of the others. As your body gets more and more used to them you should start to tolerate them well, even if they make you gassy at first.
Don’t forget to eat some of the fats from the ‘fats list’ with your veggies for bio-availability of certain key nutrients as explained earlier.
- Swiss chard (green leafy)
- Kale (green leafy)
- Savoy cabbage (green leafy)
- Brussel sprouts (green leafy)
- Spinach (green leafy)
- Pak choy (green leafy)
- Rocket (green leafy)
- All green salad vegetables and leaves (green leafy)
- Green beans
- Sugar-snap peas
- Seaweeds, chlorella, spirulina – these are important to eat everyday for omega 3 DHA, otherwise you may need to supplement.
Green superfood powders
If you find it hard to get enough vegetables in daily (especially the green, leafy kind), then you should consider a nutrition-rich green superfood shot everyday for added reassurance. These are ‘whole foods’, just powdered up and usually freeze-dried at the peak of their nutrition upon harvest.
You may not technically need these, but OMG they give you the most amazing , glowing skin. Seriously, people will notice! They usually come in the form of spirulina, moringa, barleygrass, wheatgrass, blue-green algaes, or easiest of all, just buy a blend to be sure you are getting the best of everything.
Warning:- Be careful not to use any seaweed based superfoods if you have a fast heart rate, as it may give you palpitations due to the iodine. Or, if you find seaweed gives you palpitations in general then you should stop taking it.
HERBS AND SPICES
All herbs and spices are permitted on the whole foods plant based diet foods list, not only are they permitted, but they offer all sorts of nutrition and antioxidants making them absolutely amazing and very underestimated.
You will more than likely find that once you start this healthy way of eating you will be using all kinds of herbs and spices to liven up your foods to help bring your taste buds alive. Use fresh, dried or frozen, as it doesn’t really matter.
TOP TIP:- Fresh and frozen herbs should always go into your dish within the last few minuets of cooking to really keep that zing of fresh flavour in there, not to mention nutrients.
Dressing for salad and vegetables:-
To liven up your lunches and dinners, you can make all kinds of delicious dressings from plant foods. My favorite for a salad is a fat free lemon, balsamic, and cider vinegar dressing. But you can make your own versions of dressings from the following wholesome foods:-
- Apple cider vinegar with the ‘Mother’.
- Balsamic vinegar
- Fresh herbs – good ones for a dressing are corinader, mint and basil (maybe not all together).
- Fresh garlic
- Tamari sauce
- Smooth nut butters
- Seasonings such as salt and pepper.
You can go ahead and experiment with flavours, as they all go pretty well together. It’s a good idea to pick one creamy base such as avocado, nut butter or tahini, then add a citrus fruit with herbs and spices; OR go for a vinegar base with citrus fruits, herbs and spices.
If you would like to see even more amazing results with your plant based lifestyle then you won’t want to be filling your body with chemical ridden tap water. Either switch to a water filter; or use some other kind of clean water system (buying plastic bottled water just isn’t environmentally friendly, so glass is better). You can then just refill your own water bottle to take out and about with you.
Trust me, you will notice another level of clear skin when you keep the water you put in your body as pure as possible (at least 80% of the time anyway).
Your whole food plant based menu plan
- Make sure you always keep your foods as mixed up as possible for a good array of plant powered nutrition.
- Having carbohydrates, protein and a little fat at main meals will help keep you satiated and FULL until your next meal. It will also help to keep your blood sugar on an even keel, thus stopping you from snacking or craving carbs and sugary snacks.
- Eat a low GI breakfast to help keep your blood sugar on an even keel for the rest of the day ahead.
- Go for at least 7-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day (it may sound hard at first, but as a plant based eater you will probably find you often go way beyond that anyway).
- Plan your meals for the week and THEN go shopping; this way you won’t come unstuck for something to cook.
- Batch cook – this makes your life so much easier, especially if you’re the only one in the household eating plant based. Doing this means you can freeze portions of soups, stews, chilis, or whatever other tasty meal you have prepared ready for another time.
- Make your evening meal also the next day’s lunch. This works well with chilis because you can change things up and have a jacket spud instead of rice with it.
- Try to cook your veggies for as little a time as possible to keep nutrients intact.
- Eat LOTS of raw stuff like salads, vegetable crudites (make your own humus or guacamole), fresh fruits, yummy raw desserts etc. Raw foods are full of pure nutrition and life-giving enzymes. Even a couple of days on a raw food detox makes such a difference to how you feel, and can also be the perfect weight loss boost.
- Buy as much organic and local produce as possible (or, at least as much as you can afford) to keep pesticide and fertiliser exposure to a minimum. Don’t forget, you’re going to be eating a LOT of these foods on a plant based diet, so it makes sense to try and eat as clean as possible. If nothing else, be sure to wash you fruits and veggies thoroughly. You can even soak them in a big bowl of water with a little vinegar added for a few minutes to help neutralise any chemical residues. Just be sure to wash them again thoroughly! There is also a list of fruits and vegetables that contain the least and most pesticides called ‘The dirty dozen and clean 15’ which shows you which foods you should definitely buy organic if you can, and which you can get away with being non-organic. Read it here.
Some people begin a plant based diet for weight loss specifically, and this could well be the case if you pay attention to what your’e eating – especially when it comes to fat intake.
You may find that you will naturally eat more carbs and fats on this diet, which may actually lead to weight gain. This happened to me before I learned how to combine my foods correctly with a mix of protein, healthy whole fats, and complex carbohydrates in the form of wholegrains and starchy vegetables.
There are some great foods that contain ALL of the above that you should try and eat every day if possible. Not only do they contain all of the above, but they also offer a complete amino acid profile too. These include:-
- BUCKWHEAT – Buy the flour for you baking and making tasty pancakes, and the grouts for toasting and adding to homemade granolas to make them much higher in protein. Check out my fantastic metabolism boosting granola recipe if you want a tasty and healthy start to your day.
- QUINOA – An amazing seed that is used in a grain like fashion as a substitute for rice; or as a side dish to replace either carbs or protein in a meal. Also comes in flakes for porridge; or flours for cooking and baking. Contains healthful omaga 3 fatty acids for brain health.
- SOY – Tempeh, seitan and tofu are all soy based products that are often found in abundance on plant based eating plans, due to the fact that they are one of the closest substitutes to dairy products, both nutritionally and taste wise. You will find them in meat-free meats, sausages, burgers, chickenless nuggets, minced, yogurts, cheeses, milks and many more processed products. It’s probably one of the most versatile plant foods; but do remember that a lot of foods on that list are from processed soy which is not a ‘whole food’. To keep it as healthy and whole as possible you should just buy the plain, organic tofu block and work with that to create your own delicious dishes. There are literally thousands of plant based recipes out there on the internet these days so you should never get stuck for ideas.
- AMARANTH – An ancient seed that has been cultivated for thousands of years, and used as a flour, a rice substitute, or often seen popped in breakfast cereals. It is high protein and abundant in nutritional benefits.
- HEMP – Hemp is getting more and more attention these days, and for good reason as it is highly nutritious, contains ALL 9 essential amino acids, and also omega 3 fatty acids. So, this amazing plant really is a superfood in it’s own right. You can buy the tasty little seeds to eat as a snack or breakfast topping, or buy it in powder form and use in your protein shakes, baked products, or raw homemade protein bars or balls.
There’s no doubt about it, the plant based diet can change your life. It certainly did mine! Once you have an understanding of your basic plant food groups and a few favorite go-to recipes under your belt, you will find things will get easier and you’ll never look back.
And THEN when you start to look and feel great you will have yet another impetus to carry on; OR maybe even convince family and friends to give it a go too. In fact, you won’t even need to convince anyone as people will just notice the change in your appearance and personality and will ask you why you look so well and seem so happy, and of course you can tell them as unsmugly as you can 🙂
If you would like a more in-depth guide to starting your plant based journey, then please check out this amazing 7 day meal planner. It contains a dietitian approved complete diet plan + shopping list to start you off on your journey to the better and radiant health that just may change your life.
Have a happy Plant Life!
Thank you for visiting Zestforever for your source of information about the plant based diet. I always thoroughly research and practice what I preach to bring you the most up to date, science based information in the industry. I’m also more than happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments thread below this post.
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