The Whole Food and Plant Based Diet – The Basics

With all the buzz lately about plant based meat, the “Impossible Whopper” and athletes transitioning to a whole food and plant based diet, you could be forgiven if you were a bit confused about all the hype. After all, plant based and meat don’t really go together in a sentence.

Well, don’t give up yet. I’ll do my very best to clear up the confusion and deliver you some basics. As in any new trend, there are some core concepts. But be aware, not everyone agrees on everything. It seems there are many ways to do a good thing.

The Foundation

With any trend in dieting or lifestyle, there tends to be a lingo or language that develops around the idea. “Plant based,” in and of itself, could mean a lot of things. In this case however, we’re talking about a way of eating that is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, lentils, whole grains and tubers.
whole food and plant based diet

Isn’t this just vegetarianism you ask? in a word, no. This is where the confusion starts to creep up on you. To make things a little easier, lets start with some basic definitions* of the different “Vegetarian” diets:

  • Lacto-vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, poultry and
    eggs, as well as foods that contain them. Dairy products, such as milk,
    cheese, yogurt and butter, are included.
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allow eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry, but allow dairy products and eggs.
  • Pescatarian diets exclude meat and poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allow fish.
  • Vegan diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products.

*Definitions via Mayo Clinic.

The whole food plant based (WFPB) diet goes a few steps further. While similar to Veganism in the exclusions of meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, WFPB also excludes all seafood, added oils in cooking, artificial sweeteners, honey and heavily processed foods.

While most adherents make allowances for lightly processed foods, these items still need to be plant based and meet certain guidelines. For example, low sodium, no or very little added oils (Fat content under 15% of calories,) whole grain, no or little added sugars. Preferably sugars should be from natural sources such as: Evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, pure maple syrup etc.

Focus on the Positives

Most people with idle curiosity only look at the exclusions or the “What I Can’t Eat” when it comes to this way of eating and living. However, most practitioners of the WFPB lifestyle tend to focus on all the wonderful things they can eat. Not to mention the awesome health benefits that this lifestyle provides.

whole food and plant based diet

There are numerous stories of people loosing weight and getting off their blood pressure medication. Diabetics achieving a normal blood sugar and cutting back or eliminating their medication. Patients with cancer who have beat the odds of their diagnosis and made it well past the 5-year survival mark. (See the “Forks Over Knives” documentary on Netflix or rent on most of the popular video streaming services.)

Endless Food Possibilities – Where to Begin…

The first question anyone asks me when I tell them I eat a WFPB diet is “What do You Eat?” Usually with a look of horror on their face. I swear, they honestly expect me to say Salads LOL… Really? There’s not enough nutritional value in the average salad to support an infant much less a full-grown human.

So then, What do I eat?

I actually follow a fairly simple eating plan. It works for all three meals of the day and is the basis of the WFPB diet:

  • Start with a starch and or fruit: This could be a potato (sweet or white), a grain (brown or wild rice, oats, farro, corn, polenta, quinoa, bulgar…) There are a lot of grains, as a society, we typically don’t eat anymore but, they’re still out there. You can also start with a legume: These would include peas, beans and lentils. Whole grain pasta: Such as whole wheat which is commonly available at most grocery stores. There are also pastas made from brown rice, chickpeas and other whole grains. Whole grain tortillas: Corn, whole wheat or multigrain.
  • Balance your meals with other vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, squash of every variety and leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, spinach, collards, etc.
  • Focus on the foods you enjoy: The great thing about this way of eating are there’s no one telling you have to eat this or that. Eat the foods you enjoy such as veggie chili, tacos, whole grain pasta, mashed potatoes. Or go more exotic and try Indian dhal, or vegetarian fajitas at your local Mexican restaurant. And, of course, guacamole!
  • Many of the foods you already eat are WFPB, or can be customized to fit the eating plan. Do you like Cheerios, shredded wheat or Grape Nuts? Swap milk for almond milk or any plant based milk. Add a drizzle of maple syrup and enjoy. Italian food? use whole grain pastas and a no meat pasta sauce. There are even clever substitutes for cheese and sour cream.
  • You can actually eat more: Whole or minimally processed plant foods are nutrient dense not calorie dense. As you adjust to eating this way you will probably notice getting hungry shortly after a meal. Over time, you will learn how much you can eat and will probably eat more 🙂 Love baked potatoes? try 2 instead of one.
  • We enjoy in moderation: Plant based milk, whole grain flours and breads, nuts, seeds and nut butters, tofu and tempeh.
  • We avoid or minimize: Bleached flours, white bread and white pasta. Oils, refined sweeteners and white rice.

To Err is Human

Having said all of this… We are, after all, human. The other great thing about this way of eating is that we don’t judge. I have in my pantry… Tomato Basil Wheat Thins… oh my! And, no sugar added hot coco. I do on occasion eat pizza…with cheese.

What I try to tell my friends and family is that I could eat anything for “ONE” meal. The key is to get right back on the plan at the next one. I’m also excruciatingly aware of when I last made allowances. As the tagline of my site says “It’s a Lifestyle, Not a Diet.” We don’t use terms like “cheat” or “fall off.” That would imply that if I ate a piece of cake at my nieces wedding, that I should just chuck this whole lifestyle out the window in failure. Ridiculous!
This a no guilt zone.

The idea here is this: If you follow the plan the wide majority of the time, you will reap the rewards. But… you knew there was a but… YOU MUST BE RESONABLE! You can’t go out with friends and eat a whole pizza, drink a bottle of wine and not expect to gain a pound and half the next day. My goal is to stick to the plan 95% or better.
whole food and plant based diet

There are always times when it’s difficult due to travel or going out with friends. Plan ahead. Check out the local restaurants and see what options are available. Chinese and Mexican restaurants usually have options on the menu that will work. I’ve also found that if you ask nicely, they will change things up for you even if it’s not on the menu. Indian restaurants are especially good due their primarily vegetarian diet. Again, it’s not the end of the world if you eat something with a little cheese on it, or have a slice of italian garlic bread at the restaurant. Just refocus and get back on track the next meal.


I think patience ls key. Both with yourself and others. If you’re considering a transition to a WFPB diet, You need to be patient with yourself. Take the time to educate yourself, gather recipes and cookbooks. Locate resources that can help to guide you on your journey. Don’t try to be an expert overnight and don’t feel like you have to defend your choices to others.

There will always be people who will try to tear you down or tell you that you’re making a mistake. Seek out those who will lift you up and support you. We are definitely out here! My primary goal is to provide useful information and become a resource on healthy living and a healthy whole food diet. If I can be of assistance, don’t hesitate to ask questions and leave comments below. Click here to join our mailing list and get notified of our most recent posts and reviews.

whole food and plant based diet

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