What is a Whole Food Plant Based Diet and its Benefits?

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 this 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

olive oil and fresh olives

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, and 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 too, and not heat treat them process them, or boil them to death. So. I’m wondering if 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 is, 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 on the planet. Contrary to popular belief by some, you can live a perfectly healthy and happy life eating just plant foods; I’ve done it for years, and look and feel better than ever. 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 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 anti inflammatory plant foods. You only need to look at the recent influx of vegan athletes and body builders if you want to see testaments 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

man preparing food

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 I only eat this way, which may sound strange considering I have seemingly cut out some large food groups, but this it’s so totally and 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

CARBOHYDRATES

seeded granary bread

  • Wholegrain rice
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Potatoes – sweet, white, red and purple.
  • Squashes of all kinds
  • Certain wholewheat breads.
  • Spelt
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Pearl barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Sweetcorn
  • Root veggies such as carrot, beetroot and parsnip.
  • Dried fruits of all kinds – saltanas, 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.

PROTEINS

soya milk and beans

  • 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.
  • Quinoa
  • 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 BEANS18.2 GRAMS
TOFU12.7 GRAMS
CANNELLINI BEANS9.7 GRAMS
LENTILS9 GRAMS
CHICKPEAS9 GRAMS
PINTO BEANS9 GRAMS
BLACK BEANS8.9 GRAMS
KIDNEY BEANS8.7 GRAMS
YELLOW SPLIT PEAS8.3 GRAMS
NAVY BEANS8.3 GRAMS

FATS

halved avocado

  • Avocados
  • Coconuts
  • 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.

GREEN VEGETABLES

(Why they are so important  for the WFBP diet)

fresh spinach leaves

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 darn healthy, and contain such huge amounts 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, for 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 of the others. As your body gets 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 these for bio-availability of certain key nutrients!

  • 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)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Sugar-snap peas
  • Mangetout
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Beansprouts
  • Garlic

Green superfood powders

If you find it hard to get enough vegetables in you (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, 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. Or, if you find seaweed gives you palpitations then you stop taking it.

HERBS AND SPICES

mixed 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 wholly 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.

Dressing ingredients 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:-

  • Avocado
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • 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
  • Ginger
  • Tamari sauce
  • Tahini
  • 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 and add a citrus fruit with herbs and spices; OR go for a vinegar base with citrus fruits, herbs and spices.

WATER

glass of water

If you would to see even more amazing results with this super healthful 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 – 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 

      1. Make sure you always keep your foods as mixed up as possible for a good array of plant powered nutrition.
      2. 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 blood sugar on an even keel, thus stopping you from snacking or craving carbs and sugary snacks.
      3. Eat a low GI breakfast to help keep your blood sugar on an even keel for the rest of the day ahead.
      4. 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).
      5. Plan your meals for the week and THEN go shopping, this way you won’t come unstuck for something to cook.
      6. 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, chillis, or whatever other tasty meal you have prepared ready for another time.
      7. Make your evening meal also the next day’s lunch. This works well with chillis, as you can change things up and have a jacket spud instead of rice with it.
      8. Try to cook your veggies for as little a time as possible to keep nutrients intact.
      9. 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.
      10. 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, then be sure to wash 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.

WEIGHT LOSS

Some people begin a plant based diet for weight loss specifically, and this can 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 flour for baking and tasty pancakes, and the grouts for toasting and adding to homemade granola’s to make them much higher protein. Check out my fantastic metabolism boosting granola recipe if you want something that simply has it all.
  • 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. 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 you can buy it in powder form and use in your protein shakes, baked products, or raw homemade protein bars or balls.

CONCLUSION

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.

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 and shopping list to start you off on your journey to the better and radiant health that I know will 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.

Please don’t forget to join up below ↓↓↓ to receive emails on upcoming exciting posts, and to keep yourself in the loop and learn more about how to start a plant based diet.

Stefanie Taylor
Plant based eating is set to EXPLODE in 2020, not just for health reasons, but also to help keep our beautiful planet thriving. I have lived this healthful lifestyle for over 3 years, and created Zestforever to share my experiences, trials, errors, how I overcame them, and to show you how easy it is for you to do it for yourself and thrive too!

I have studied, tried and tested all manner of healthy lifestyles over the past 20 years, but nothing has come close to giving me the buzz that plant based eating has. I have also studied and worked as a Sports Nutritional Advisor, Nutritional Therapist, and Clinical Weight Loss Advisor, and have a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer reviewing and contributing to posts.

This website is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical diseases or illnesses. It's merely meant to show you ways of potentially boosting your health through the eating of more nutritious plant foods in place of junk foods.

10 thoughts on “What is a Whole Food Plant Based Diet and its Benefits?”

  1. I enjoyed reading your in-depth article. It’s very engaging and filled with your personal experiences. This is important for the people you are trying to help. Your experiences through trial and error over the years have given you a great insight into what works for you that could also work well for others. Your pictures are relevant to your text and your content is superb. After reading your post, I may very well look deeper into following a plan that would benefit my health!

    Reply
    • Hi Carson, that’s awesome that I have inspired you to look more deeply into healthy eating. Honestly, hearing these kind of comments is the very reason I started this blog in the first place!

      I try to make my article both in-depth but not too long and boring at the same time. I don’t want people to switch off and never come back. And the fact that I live it myself really helps me to give good quality information and advice.

      I would be very happy to assist you further if you decide to make the change to a more plant based way of life. Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Hello, what a filling article! The information is detailed; pardon the pun, but there is a lot to digest in it. I’m wondering how much more expensive this diet would be than the whatever diet that I’m on. Grocery store fruit is flavorless, anymore, and I’m still trying to figure out the best place to buy it around here.
    Also, why smoothe nut butters? My oldest son and I prefer the extra crunchy variety.
    I agree wholeheartedly about the water.
    Thanks for posting this!

    Reply
    • Hi Cathy,
      I understand the expense side of eating a plant based diet, but I honestly believe that it can come down to factors like where you live. I have found that in general it’s either cheaper of the same as my other diet; I know this because I have been logging it closely. In my local supermarket they always do great deals on fruit and veg, and I agree, it can be tasteless but it’s still way healthier than not eating it I guess.

      I also have an inexpensive organic veg box delivered one a a week from a local farm, and that’s never tasteless so I guess i’m lucky there. I guess when you want to do it you you find a way to make it work 🙂

      As for the peanut butter thing, I have never tried a smoothie with crunchy nut butter, but thinking about it it probably is actually delicious so I will give it a go next time and maybe amend the post. Thanks for pointing it out!

      Reply
  3. It’s good to see quality information on plant based foods. My wife was vegan for a little while so she didn’t use any oils. She felt a lot better and lost a few pounds. I plan to show her this and I’m sure she will love it. Good job!

    Reply
    • Thanks Tommy, it’s great your wife knows how healthy this way ovceating can be and the difference it makes to health. Sometimes we fall of the who ha ha, I have. Anyway, I hope she gets back on track, if she want to of course.

      Reply
  4. hi Stephanie
    great In-depth article with very Interesting Information. I am slightly overweight and I was looking for ways to reduce my weight. Your Information about foods and diet plus the Information about vegetables Is Impressive… Keep up the good work From Ronald

    ps: I will share on facebook.

    Reply
    • Hi Ronald, thanks so much for sharing! Really appreciate it.

      You may find the plant based diet really helpful if you’re trying to lose weight as it involves cutting out all refined junk foods and free sugars. Doing this alone should result in weight loss.

      Good luck, and feel free to let me know if you need further assistance.

      Reply
  5. Hey Stefanie!
    Back again, commenting. I just wanted to say that I shopped a bit healthier at the grocery store with your list in mind. Instead of white rice, I brought brown. And I got some peppers, which usually I skip. One thing at a time, right?
    I also bought some protein powder. Should you work out while you drink them?

    Reply
    • Hi Brooke, I’m really stoked that you have taken on board some of my advice and gone for a healthy shop this week! You’re right, it’s definitely worth making small changes one step at a time if you want them to stick for life.

      Try making 1-2 changes a week like you have done so far, for instance, swapping white rice for brown and buying veggies you don’t usually buy. In fact, it’s a great habit to get into trying a different fruit or vegetable every week. It keeps your taste buds learning and evolving, and also gives you a better array of nutrients.

      As for protein powder, this can be a great addition, especially on a plant based diet when you often need to supplement. Or, even if you aren’t plant based you can still have a protein shake as a meal replacement or something. You don’t necessarily need to work out with them, but it is good to do some kind of physical exercise if you want the best results!

      Reply

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