In 1866, the phrase “If you eat an apple while lying down, you will prevent the doctor from earning his bread” was first published in a magazine. Since then, it has become more familiar: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And while it may seem oversimplified, the gist of this old saying still stands today. Basically, it means: eat nutritious foods to help you stay healthy.
While apples are a good source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they are just one example of nutritious plant-based whole foods. Other examples include leafy greens like spinach and kale, root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, as well as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and tofu. All of these foods are nutritious, minimally processed, and are examples of what can be eaten on a plant-based diet, also commonly referred to as the WFPB diet.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at what the WFPB diet is, its benefits, and some nutritious recipes you can enjoy if you choose to try it.
What is a whole food plant-based diet?
While it may sound complicated, following a WFPB diet is actually very simple. Essentially, it involves keeping processed foods to a minimum and eliminating animal products while filling your plate with whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts. It is important to note that the ingredients do not always have to be fresh. Shelf-hardy foods such as canned beans can also be part of a WFPB diet, and they are often more affordable.
Is a complete plant-based diet different from a vegan diet?
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes the consumption of animal products as much as possible. For this reason, many vegans choose to follow a WFPB diet as it does not contain any animal ingredients. But that said, not all vegans adhere to this diet. Many foods, such as French fries or Beyond Burgers, are vegan, but are not examples of whole foods because they are processed.
Whole food, plant-based diet benefits
A large body of research confirms that a WFPB diet is one of the healthiest ways to eat. It is associated with a lower risk for a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and different types of cancer.
One of the main reasons a WFPB diet is healthy is because it’s rich in fiber, says registered dietitian Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RD, LDN, who also owns the plant-based Plant Centered Nutrition platform. “Fiber can help regulate blood sugar levels, normalize bowel movements, lower cholesterol levels, and keep your colon healthy,” she explains. “Whole-food plant-based eaters consume about three times more fiber than someone following the standard American diet.”
Dima Salhoobi, RD, CDN, MS, owner of Fresh Nutrition Counseling agrees. He adds that all food ingredients are a good source of natural vitamins and minerals that help keep our bodies nourished and healthy. For example, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E help neutralize free radicals in the body. (Research suggests that free radicals are dangerous compounds that can play a role in the development of diseases.) “Illness prevention and wellness starts with a simple replacement of ingredients at home,” explains Salhoobi. “It is the simple decisions we make in our lives that are harmful to or in favor of our health regarding what is going on in our bodies every day.”
But nutrition aside, the WFPB diet also has environmental benefits, as it avoids animal products. For example, animal agriculture (especially due to the cattle and animal feed industry) is one of the leading causes of deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction. The entire livestock sector also emits 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gases and pollutes waterways affecting communities and underwater ecosystems. It also harms billions of animals, many of whom spend most of their lives in cramped, dirty, industrial factory farm conditions.
Therefore, for many, the WFPB diet is not just a diet, but a conscious lifestyle choice that helps minimize damage to the planet and other animals.
What can you eat on a whole food, plant-based diet?
While a WFPB restricts certain foods, it is far from limited. In fact, it contains a wide variety of ingredients that are delicious, nutritious and versatile. Here are just a few key examples of the types of food you can eat on a WFPB diet.
one Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and black beans are good sources of protein, as well as fiber, calcium, zinc and B vitamins. They’re also filling, low in fat, and incredibly versatile. Take, for example, the simple chickpea. This ingredient can be consumed alone, roasted, hummused, or mixed with some seaweed to make delicious chickpea tuna. The options are endless.
2 leafy greens
Spinach, kale, bok choy, kale, and collard greens are just a few examples of the types of leafy greens you can enjoy on the WFPB diet. Besides calcium, they are good sources of vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate. Leafy greens can form the basis of a number of WFPB meals, including delicious salads and stir-fries. Take, for example, this vegan stir-fry recipe that uses bok choy as the star ingredient.
From strawberries to citrus fruits, berries are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and dietary fiber and are an important and nutritious addition to the WFPB diet. It’s important to note here that store-bought juices are not considered whole foods, and that’s because they’re processed. It’s also often high in sugar. However, you can also enjoy the fruit in liquid form. For example, homemade smoothie recipes often use whole food ingredients, like this jar of vegan blueberry smoothie.
4 root vegetables
Like many other examples on this list, root vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets, and sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants like carotenoids that help maintain immune system function and eye health. Sweet to savory root vegetables can form the basis of many WFPB recipes, including the fall classic sweet potato pie.
For those who like a meaty texture, mushrooms, especially the king oyster, shiitake, and portabello varieties, are a great WFPB alternative to animal products. They can be replaced with dishes like tacos, stir-fries, and whole grain risotto to get that meaty taste and mouthfeel. They’re also nutritious, as they’re rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, as well as B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
7 Tofu and tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are also nutritious alternatives to meat. Both are derived from soy and packed with protein. For example, 100 grams of tempeh contains roughly 19 grams of protein, and tofu contains about 8 grams. While tempeh and tofu are processed, this is only a minimal amount, so many people following the WFPB diet still choose to enjoy them.
8 Nuts, seeds and grains
Nuts, seeds, and grains are also sources of protein in the WFPB diet. Whole grains like oats, for example, are also rich in vitamin E and fiber, and research shows that they can also lower cholesterol levels. Likewise, seeds like chia and flax and nuts like walnuts also contain fiber. They’re also a great source of healthy fats like omega 3, which helps support heart health. In fact, just 10 whole walnuts contain about 2 grams of omega 3.
Whole food, plant-based recipes
Cooking on a WFPB diet can be as easy or as creative and complex as you want it to be. And whatever your preference, whether you’re a curry connoisseur or a super sweet lover, you’ll be able to find a wealth of recipes for you. To get you started, here are just a handful of examples of the types of food you can enjoy.
Plant Based Cooking
one Roasted Zucchini Salad with Pomegranate and Pepitas
Gone are the days when salads were seen as boring side dishes. This delicious, vibrant salad combines pomegranates with savory, roasted zucchini to boost a slightly sweet, savory flavor for a flavor profile you’ll crave long after your last bite. Check it out
2 Shiitake Mushroom and Butternut Squash Soup
Colder weather calls for a hearty and delicious soup, and this recipe won’t disappoint. The mix of shiitake mushrooms, garlic, and butternut squash will not only warm the inside, but give them a burst of vitamins and minerals. Also, it is simple to make and relatively fast. Check it out
3 Chickpea Flour Omelet
When it comes to breakfast or brunch, there is no rule that says eggs must be included. Combining chickpea flour, turmeric, spices and vegetables, among other plant ingredients, this recipe proves that animal-free omelets can be delicious, too. Check it out
4 Avocado Chocolate Mousse
Yes, you read that right – you can eat chocolate mousse on a WFPB diet. In fact, it’s just one of many sweet treats that can only be made with plant-based ingredients. Don’t give up on the avocado, you can barely taste it, but it helps create a deliciously creamy and indulgent texture. Check it out
5 Thai Vegetable Curry
If you ever thought you had to sacrifice your favorite recipes on a WFPB diet, you’ll be thrilled to find out that wasn’t the case. With just a few simple tweaks, a range of well-loved dishes like this creamy Thai vegetable curry can be made with just whole food ingredients. Check it out
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Charlotte is a writer and editor based in sunny Southsea on England’s south coast.