Making meaningful change in your life often starts in the kitchen.
In a Forbes Health survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, the top New Year’s Resolutions for 2023 included improving mental health, improved fitness, weight loss, and an improved diet.
Yet, roughly 80% of people fail to achieve their resolutions every year — but why?
From a nutrition perspective, many adults fail to improve their health and diet due to a lack of understanding of how to eat healthy without sacrificing their enjoyment of food. Moreover, many people see healthy diets as intimidating and hard to plan.
Eating whole food plant-based (WFPB) can be the key to achieving your health goals, including everything from weight management to mental health improvements. The keys to diving in and sticking with it are:
- To understand its incredible benefits
- To know how to plan balanced meals
- To find the right resources to help you along your journey.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about succeeding with the WFPB diet. You’ll also find great info on the science behind it as well as fascinating books, documentaries, and other resources to look up.
But before you go on, there’s one thing you should know. Most people think about changes in the way they eat in terms of what they’re giving up. Eating whole food plant-based is about how much you stand to gain: health, energy, and flavor! There are flavors in your food you never experience until you let go of the processed, artificial ingredients that cover them up. Behind the science and strategies here is the pathway to a happier, healthier life.
And ultimately, there are some pretty nifty hacks to help you succeed, especially in the form of meal delivery services like Whole Harvest who focus on whole food plant-based recipes. Keep reading to find out how!
What is the whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet?
To understand what the whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet entails, we need to first dissect what the term itself means. It helps to think of it in two haves – whole food and plant-based.
Whole foods are foods that have not been processed in any way. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favorite foods like bread and pastries. It simply means you use real, whole ingredients to make delicious, fresh food. It’s the best way to capture both the flavor and nutrition in your meals. Normally, this means making food at home, but there can be other options like a meal delivery service.
Plant-based refers to any foods that come from plants or plant by-products. Some people who eat plant-based will allow some animal products, but many will follow a vegan version of plant-based which excludes all foods that come from animals and animal by-products. Along with meat, these animal products also include common by-products like dairy, gelatin, and animal-based broths.
When combined, a plant-based diet of whole foods equates to a diet free of processed foods and animal-based products.
It’s the combination of both concepts that make this way of eating so powerful and helpful. There are many products being offered today claiming to be plant-based while still being highly-processed. A classic example would be a frozen veggie burger. It might be made from plant-based ingredients, but its days of resembling anything close to whole foods are far behind it. It’s a super-processed, manufactured food whose ultimate nutritional value is questionable. The same is true of many brands like “impossible” meat substitutes.
In contrast, many restaurants today serve veggie burgers which are truly whole food because the patties are made fresh each day by their chefs from a blend of grains like lentils and chick peas, and they’re seasoned with fresh seasonings. The difference in taste and the way you feel after eating it is astounding.
Is a whole food plant-based diet healthy?
Every time you encounter a new model of nutrition like keto or Atkins, there are legitimate questions to ask about whether it’s truly good for you long-term.
Eating whole food plant-based isn’t a fad or a risk at all. It’s a return to the way we were always meant to eat, to the ways our bodies were built to take in nutrition and process food. This is back to nature, back to the beginning.
Also, like any diet, WFPB’s healthiness comes down to nutritional balance.
As a whole, eating WFPB is generally healthier than other diets that include meats, animal by-products, and processed goods. In a 2021 study, it is revealed that plant-based diets can help significantly reduce the risk of health problems like obesity and chronic conditions.
Unlike diets packed with processed foods, WFPB diets tend to be lower in calories while still offering a similar volume of food as more calorically-dense diets.
However, while this lower caloric content can be helpful for those wanting to lose weight, it can make WFPB trickier for anyone trying to gain weight or maintain their current weight. Additionally, for anyone who is not familiar with preparing plant-based meals, it can sometimes take some adjusting to new sources of protein and ensuring you are getting all of your essential daily nutrients.
This makes it important for anyone switching to a WFPB to be mindful of both their caloric intake and their macronutrient levels to ensure they’re adequately fueling their bodies.
What’s the science behind the WFPB diet?
The study discussed in the section above is just one of many that show the benefits of eating WFPB.
Let’s quickly run through just a few of the many compelling studies that exist today:
- A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that WFPB diets are effective for weight loss, as well as helping to reverse heart disease. The study further uncovered that WFPB diets can be effective for the treatment of other serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
- In 2021, the American Journal of Kidney Diseases released a guide for clinicians on the use of plant-based diets to help treat kidney disease. In this guide, it’s stated that diets higher in plant-based foods could reduce the need for nephroprotective medications, improve kidney disease complications, and positively affect disease progression and patient survival.
- A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that diets with more plant-based foods than animal-based foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular complications, morbidity, and mortality. This study followed participants from the year 1987 up until 2016 to give researchers a good long-term timeframe for examining the effects of plant-based dietary choices.
The benefits of a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet
A WFPB diet improves your health in many ways, from providing better support to your immune system to increasing the amount of nutrients you eat on a daily basis.
Here are 7 of the top benefits of eating whole food plant-based!
Weight Management: As we have discussed, one of the top benefits of a WFPB diet is that it is significantly helpful for weight loss and management. Whole, plant-based foods are often much lower in calories than processed food, giving you the opportunity to eat a filling meal without going over your daily caloric goal.
Improved Heart Health: Plant-based diets provide you with more vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and other healthy compounds that can improve your overall heart health. Moreover, plant-based whole foods tend to be free of the bad cholesterol you can find in meats and processed foods, furthering the heart health benefits of this diet.
Prevent or Reverse Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes can be a debilitating condition that’s hard to manage without the right diet. A WFPB diet enables those with or at risk of type 2 diabetes to eat balanced, nutritious meals without having to worry as much about the consequences of the food they’re eating as they would with processed foods.
Better Sleep Quality: When you give your body balanced, highly-nutritious meals, you enable your body to function better during times of rest. Turns out, you need plenty of nutrients both day and night for your body to perform well!
Boosted Athletic Performance: This often surprises people, but WFPB is an excellent choice for amateur and professional athletes alike, as you have a tremendous amount of control over how many macronutrients you eat. With this diet, you can ensure you’re receiving energy from healthy sources.
Increased Energy: Energy has become a bit of a buzzword attached to highly-processed goods like sugary energy drinks, candy, and other items. However, your body receives more natural and long-lasting energy from the right whole foods, such as oats or fruits. By prioritizing whole foods, you increase your energy levels without the heavy crashes that come from overly processed energy products.
Improved Mind & Mood: Eating WFPB eliminates processed foods from your diet. In turn, you can experience notable mental health improvements. Your mind isn’t being fogged by questionable ingredients, nor are your moods being tossed about by fluctuating nutrient levels.
What Makes a Great Whole food plant-based Recipe?
If you are new to eating a WFPB diet, you may wonder how it affects your favorite recipes.
To create balanced, whole food plant-based recipes, the key often lies in paying closer attention to your macronutrients. In standard diets filled with processed foods and animal by-products, many people lack the basic understanding of macronutrients needed to create healthy meals. Meanwhile, the very nature of processed foods is to make you feel satiated, even when you may not be.
When you eat WFPB, this lack of awareness of macronutrients can suddenly become much more apparent, requiring you to pay closer attention to the nutritional makeup of your meals.
The three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In addition to these three, it’s also important to pay attention to your sugar intake, calories, and dietary fiber as well.
Let’s take a look at how much of each of these you should aim to eat per day, as well as sources for each:
Protein: Protein should make up roughly 10% to 35% of your daily diet. This generally equates to 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of your body weight. Higher protein consumption may be best for those trying to build muscles and/or lose weight. Good plant-based sources of protein include beans, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are our main source of energy and should make up 45% to 65% of your daily diet. This typically translates to roughly 200 to 300 grams of carbs per day. Lower carbs can help with weight loss as carbs tend to be high in calories — however, you should ensure you are staying within the 45% to 65% range to ensure your body is properly energized. Good plant-based sources of carbs include whole oats, fruits, and starchy vegetables.
Fats: Fats should make up around 20% to 35% of the average person’s daily diet, or roughly 45 to 75 grams per day. It is important to note that these fats should be mostly unsaturated fats, with no more than 20 to 25 grams of saturated and trans fats in your daily diet. For a WFPB diet, good sources of fat include avocado, nuts, coconut, seeds, and dark chocolate.
Sugar: Sugar is an interesting nutrient, as it’s technically the product of carbohydrates being broken down in your body. However, with so many sugar additives available today, many of us eat far more sugar than is recommended. For sugar, you should aim to eat just 6 to 25 teaspoons per day (or roughly 100 to 150 calories). Ideally, the majority of this sugar should come from natural and minimally processed sources, like whole fruits.
- Fiber: One perk of a WFPB diet is that you generally eat much more dietary fiber throughout the day, which can greatly help to improve your digestive health. You should try to eat at least 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber per day to maintain a healthy gut. Good sources of dietary fiber include all fruits and vegetables, as well as whole wheat, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Though not technically a macronutrient, calories can also be an important measurement to pay attention to when switching to a new diet, as you want to ensure you are not falling above or below your daily recommended amount of calories (unless you are purposefully putting yourself in a deficit or surplus for weight management reasons).
In general, adult women should eat between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, while adult men should eat between 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. However, the amount of daily calories that is right for you can greatly depend on your height, current weight, activity level, and many other factors.
As such, it’s always a good idea to consult with a nutritionist or another healthcare professional about the ideal caloric consumption for your body’s needs.
Oil-free cooking in whole food plant-based meals
The general rule of thumb when it comes to a WFPB diet is that you should throw out your cooking oils.
What makes oil a questionable ingredient in a WFPB is that there is no way to extract oil without some level of processing. However, many companies strive to make their oils as unprocessed as possible, such as eliminating refinement from the overall process.
Even more urgently, oil does all kinds of unnecessary damage.
- It adds extra, unnecessary calories that lead to weight gain and further problems down the line.
- It contains saturated and trans fats that raise cholesterol.
- It damages arteries!
People often wonder how much they'll miss by giving up oil, but just like the whole food plant-based diet, we like to think about what you gain.
And here’s a big one! Oil masks the natural tastes of your food. Just like whole foods introduce you to long-lost or unexplored flavors, oil-free cooking does the same!
There are new medical programs around the country proving the ability of an oil-free whole food plant-based diet to regress conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Currently, there are also studies being done on its healing potential for terrible diseases like Alzheimers.
You can read more about the science behind the health benefits of oil-free, whole food plant-based cooking by looking up the works of leading researchers like Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish.
The Best Plant-Based Diet Resources
For anyone wanting to take a deep dive into benefits of eating whole food plant-based meals, there are some great, and even entertaining, resources out there include plant-based documentaries.
Here are some of our favorites:
Best Plant-Based & Whole Food Documentaries
Forks Over Knives: Forks Over Knives is a 2011 documentary that examines how a plant based, whole-food diet helps not only improve the average person’s health but also reduces the prevalence of chronic illnesses and diseases. Best of all, the documentary can be watched for free.
The Game Changers: The Game Changers follows the stories of many different elite athletes, soldiers, and health professionals as they discover the true power of a plant-based diet. This documentary is great for anyone who wonders about how to get enough protein from this diet.
Best Plant-Based & Whole Food Books
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease is a classic primer in oil-free whole food plant-based eating and its benefts. He was a leading pioneer in the movement, and the book contains both great information and practical guidance on how to succeed in following the diet!
- Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition: Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell and Howard Jacobson takes a look at the chemical processes that occur when we eat whole foods and how those processes can become increasingly complex when we eat processed foods that have added chemicals to help preserve the foods.
Best Plant-Based & Whole Food Cooking Shows
It’s CompliPlated: It’s CompliPlated is a vegan cooking competition hosted by Tabitha Brown on Food Network. Along with each meal in the competition being plant-based, each week contestants must make meals that accommodate various additional dietary restrictions.
- YouTube: While YouTube is a social media platform and not one specific show, it is home to many, many vegan and plant-based content creators that showcase all types of recipes, advice, and more for living a plant-based lifestyle. To name just a few, some great plant-based YouTube channels to check out include Andrew Bernard, Rainbow Plant Life, and Goodful.
Make it easier to try eating whole food plant-based!
If you are ready to make the switch to WFPB, you may wonder what the best way to get started is.
In truth, like any major life change, switching to WFPB can take time and commitment before you start seeing the results you want. What matters most is that the foods you eat do more than make you feel satiated. They bring joy into your daily routine.
With this in mind, here are 3 key tips for trying a WFPB diet:
Transitioning to WFPB: When transitioning to a WFPB diet, give yourself some grace and don’t try to force a whole new diet on your body all at once. There is no harm in switching a few meals per week to a WFPB before making the full transition. Additionally, embracing meal preparation and meal delivery services can be great, as these services are a great resource for helping you plan your meals and learn how delicious this diet can truly be.
Mastering Social Situations: One of the biggest challenges you are sure to face when switching to a WFPB diet is the social aspect of it all. From dinners with friends to cocktail parties and events, most social situations are not inherently accommodating to eating WFPB. Our advice is to simply eat and drink in moderation, especially when first starting out. Your health and social life are inherently intertwined, so taking the time to master social situations while still having your needs met is key.
- Sticking to WFPB Long-Term: If you plan on sticking to a WFPB diet long-term, what’s most important is simply finding the foods and meals that you love and that can easily be worked into your existing routine. While it’s great to push yourself to try new things, forcing yourself to eat foods you know you don’t like is a sure-fire path to returning to old dietary habits. Find the foods and preparation methods you love and make those central to your meals.
Whole Harvest delivers whole food plant-based meals to your front door.
At Whole Harvest, our whole food plant-based meal delivery service gives you a wide range of recipes and meals to choose from. Our meals are 100% oil-free, whole food plant-based, and shipped fresh (never froze) so you never have to wonder about the quality or healthiness of the meals you are eating.
Beyond the healthiness of our meals, Whole Harvest is leading the industry in innovation and creativity in oil-free, whole food plant-based cooking. Our meals feature a joyful mix of reimagined comfort foods and international flavors. Our members enjoy incredible variety and vibrant flavor throughout the week.
And of course, everything is ready to eat. There’s no cooking, just enjoy right away or heat-and-eat hot entrees. The convenience is making it easier for people around the nation to enjoy the benefits of WFPB. Many people use our shorter 3 or 4-day subscriptions to simply give themselves a break throughout the week and ease the burden of needing to prepare every meal.
Whole Harvest is based out of North Kansas City, Missouri and Denver, Colorado, and we ship to almost everywhere in the U.S. for your convenience.