Diets can feel oppressive and daunting. Just saying the word causes many to cringe and shut down. No one wants to diet. It conjures up convoluted, difficult programs that are a struggle to follow, let alone maintain. That’s why I don’t encourage diets. Instead, I recommend learning ways to eat healthy overall, without calorie counting, so you’ll naturally lose the weight and keep it off. A whole-food, plant-based diet (WFPB) is the easy way to succeed in this. Plus you’ll also prevent risks for cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer, cognition issues and help the planet at the same time.
Whole foods are generally those that remain close to their natural state. They are not manufactured or processed and they don’t have added sugars, starches, or flavorings. Because they are not manufactured, they cannot be manipulated to increase your desire to eat them as those with added sugars often are. Whole foods are nutritious and naturally higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
This is not a specific eating plan. It’s more of a goal. In general, the idea is to favor whole foods as much as possible; potatoes instead of potato chips, grilled chicken breast instead of chicken nuggets, and so on. It encourages reading labels to look for artificial ingredients, preservatives, and additives that should be avoided.
What are Whole Foods?
Whole foods are sometimes referred to as real food, because they are in their natural form. Some examples are:
- whole grains
- lean proteins
- healthy fats
The basic principles of a whole-food, plant-based diet are as follows:
- Emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods.
- Limits or avoids animal products.
- Focuses on plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, which should make up the majority of what you eat.
- Excludes refined foods, like added sugars, white flour and processed oils.
- Pays special attention to food quality, with many proponents of the WFPB diet promoting locally sourced, organic food whenever possible.
A Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Shopping List
- Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, etc.
- Vegetables: Kale, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, peppers, etc.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, rolled oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice pasta, barley, etc.
- Healthy fats: Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut, etc.
- Legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, black beans, etc.
- Seeds, nuts and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, natural peanut butter, tahini, etc.
- Unsweetened plant-based milks: Coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, etc.
- Spices, herbs and seasonings: Basil, rosemary, turmeric, curry, black pepper, salt, etc.
- Condiments: Salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
- Plant-based protein: Tofu, tempeh, plant- based protein sources with no added sugar or artificial ingredients.
- Beverages: Coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.
For these reasons, this diet is often confused with vegan or vegetarian. Although similar in some ways, they are not the same.
People who follow vegan diets abstain from consuming any animal products, including dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and honey. Vegetarians exclude all meat and poultry from their diets, but some vegetarians eat eggs, seafood or dairy.
The WFPB diet, on the other hand, is more flexible. Followers eat mostly plants, but animal products aren’t off limits.
While one person following a WFPB diet may eat no animal products, another may eat small amounts of eggs, poultry, seafood, meat or dairy.
Calories on a Whole Foods Diet
Eating whole foods meets USDA recommendations, which suggest a balanced daily diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, grains, and dairy products. It’s easier to follow because there is no need to count calories. Whole Foods are naturally lower in calories and in unhealthy fats (such as trans fats).
Whole Foods help us to recognize when we’re full
Studies show that added ingredients in processed foods make it hard to know when to stop eating or realize you’re full. For example, it would be easy to drink a cup or two of orange juice, which is equivalent to eating four to eight oranges (along with all the additives found in orange juice). But it would be pretty tough to eat, much less want to eat, four to eight actual oranges in one sitting. When your meals and snacks are made with natural, Whole Foods, it’s difficult to eat too much. That’s why whole foods help you lose weight.
Processed foods like orange juice are refined. So the sugar from these foods are easily and quickly digested. When your body absorbs energy fast you get a sugar high. When you have so much sugar in your system your body has to quickly store it. Then you have a sugar crash which makes you feel hungry again.
When you eat whole foods, like an orange, your body has to work to break down all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which takes time. So the energy is released slowly and steadily. That’s why natural foods keep you full longer than meals and snacks made up of processed foods.
It doesn’t have o be all or nothing
Don’t try to eat the perfect whole foods meal. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s o.k. to include mayonnaise in a tuna fish sandwich, or cream in a cup of coffee. Meals should include some fat.
Many people aim for the 90:10 rule. Once they’re in the habit of eating real food, they eat them 90% of the time and 10% of the time they’ll choose foods that aren’t whole foods. Eating cake at a birthday, a cookie for a snack or a hot dog at the school fundraiser, keeps us flexible and feeling less regimented, leading to long-term success. The goal is to eat a more balanced, healthy diet, not one filled with so many guidelines or restrictions you finally give up.
Some think these options are more expensive than quick, ready made processed foods. But that’s not true. I found wonderful posts that explained how to shop and cook great meals on a limited budget. Next week, we’ll share for ways to shop and serve wonderful meals on a budget. Start small and build as you can. Habits don’t change with the flip of a switch. They evolve. Small changes allow your preferences to adapt. Baby steps make change easy and lasting. It’ll be worth the effort.