Whole foods, plant-based diets, or WFPB for short, aren’t just another trendy new fad.
Variations of WFPB diets have been around for thousands of years. From the ancient Egyptians’ pescatarian way of life, and the Greek philosopher Pythagoras’s meatless diet (which was referred to as a “Pythagorean diet” until the modern vegetarian movement began in 1847), to the coining of the term vegan in 1944, and into the present day where we have many iterations of diets centered around eating plants.
Whole foods = unprocessed
Plant-based = comprised of plants
But, you don’t have to eat only plants
Here’s how I apply the WFPB philosophy:
A whole foods, plant-based diet prioritises eating whole (unprocessed) plant foods, minimises animal products, and eliminates ultra-processed foods.
Embracing a WFPB diet isn’t about deprivation or limitation; it’s about getting as much nutritional bang for your buck as possible. Nor is a WFBP diet vegetarian or vegan – there are plenty of animal product-free junk foods – the emphasis is as much on eating whole, unprocessed foods as it is on reducing intake of animal products.
It’s essentially a reversal of the Western diet, where getting 90% of your calories from whole plant sources and 10% from animal products and processed foods (instead of 90% from animal/processed products and 10% from plants) is the aim of the game.
While there may be a marginal difference between the health benefits of a 100% plant-based diet and a 90% WFBP diet, the reality is that most of us have deal-breakers; “I could never give up eggs/steak/dohnuts”
If you can still eat your dealbreakers, then you won’t feel deprived, but at the same time, you’ll be massively increasing your intake of plant-based nutrients, and for most people who are looking to improve their health, the benefits of doing this far outweigh the alternatives (one of which is to make no change at all).
And if 90% seems like too much, aim for 80% or 70% – don’t let an all-or-nothing mindset stop you from making the transition! Every step towards eating more plants and fewer processed foods and animal products can improve your health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
Whole foods vs processed foodsYou could argue that almost all food has been processed in some way, shape or form. Where do you draw the line? I think Dr Michael Greger of nutritionfacts.org summarises unprocessed perfectly, as “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away“.
Whole foods are:
- Close to their original state
- Things your great-grandparents would have recognized as food
- Don’t have a long list of ingredients
- Often sold without packaging
Highly processed foods:
- Bear little resemblance to their original state
- Are things your great-grandparents probably wouldn’t recognize
- Have (usually long) ingredient lists
- Come in packaging
Why are processed foods so bad?
- Processing removes or breaks down fibre: When fibre is broken down or removed, its important health benefits are lost.
- Processing concentrates calories: As fibre has been removed or broken down, then water has been removed, meaning processed foods can pack more calories into less volume. So, in order to feel satisfied, you’re likely to consume more calories than your body really needs.
- Processing adds unhealthy ingredients: Often, as foods is processed, oils, sugars, salt, and chemicals are added, increasing its calorie count and other health risks, without any nutritional benefit.
- Natural peanut butter with only one ingredient (peanuts!) instead of processed peanut butter with added salt, sugar and oil
- Whole wheat pasta made from whole grains instead of white pasta made from refined flour
- Steel-cut oats instead of quick oats or instant oat cereals
- A baked potato instead of deep-fried chips
- Brown rice instead of white rice
Health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet
There is compelling evidence that those who eat more plant foods live longer and healthier lives, and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases thanks to the health-promoting, disease-fighting, nutrients found exclusively in whole foods.
Digest this for a moment: 60% of all deaths are due to chronic disease – heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – and an estimated 80% of these chronic diseases are preventable.
What is the cause of these chronic diseases? Lifestyle choices, including smoking status, body weight, exercise, and DIET.
So how can we prevent them? By avoiding tobacco, exercising frequently, and adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet.  – eating healthily and exercising regularly, should for most people, automatically keep them at a healthy body weight.
What about genetics?
Inherited doesn’t mean inevitable. Our genes are a predisposition, but are not usually our fate; the way your DNA is expressed is a result of both nature (your hardware) and nurture (your software). And you can reprogram your software.
Genes can be up-regulated (activated) and down-regulated (deactivated) as a result of your interactions with your environment that are affected by your lifestyle behaviours. Diet, exercise, stress, exposure to toxins, and trauma can all alter your environment and influence the expression of your genes, and ultimately, your health outcomes.
In a nutshell; changing your lifestyle actually alter your genes, even in individuals with a high genetic risk for chronic diseases.
Making the whole food, plant-based diet transition
Food is a source of pleasure for many, and if you’re used to eating a lot of processed food then it will take some time and a little experimentation to adapt your palate to enjoy whole foods. We’re not born with likes and dislikes where food is concerned; we develop them. So, just as you developed a fondness for the food you currently eat, you’ll be able to acquire a taste for plant-based foods.
Let’s also throw the word diet out of the window – a word that conjures up negative associations about deprivation, restriction and boring food. The word diet is used throughout this site as a way to describe eating patterns, and shouldn’t be confused with ‘dieting’. You’re just changing what you eat, you’re not ‘on a diet’. It’s a whole lot easier when you keep in mind that you can eat whatever you like; the key is moderation!
Shaking up your diet can feel intimidating, so if you’re considering making the shift to a WFPB diet, and want to know more, check out how I can help make your transition smooth and enjoyable, with a customised plan that will fit around your lifestyle and personal preferences.
Alternatively, join the Go Nuts About Nurition mailing list for weekly tips and advice:
- Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment – The World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment, misunderstanding #4 – The World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases – The World Health Organisation (WHO)