Nutrition

What Is The Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet? Benefits, Foods & Meal Plan

While there are so many diets to choose from, one that is generally accepted as one of the healthiest by experts of all kinds is a whole-food plant-based diet. This diet is exactly what is sounds like – choosing whole, minimally processed foods, and focused mostly on plants to boost our health and wellness. This article will explain what the whole-food plant-based diet is, what its benefits are, and provide an example meal plan to follow the whole-food plant-based diet.

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What is the whole-food plant-based diet?

Unlike many other diets, the whole-food plant-based diet is not overly complicated and doesn’t require tons of planning or calculating macros or calories – it just focuses on the quality of the foods you’re choosing, making it more of a lifestyle. While not incredibly restrictive, there are still some basic rules to follow when adhering to this style of eating plan: 

  • Mostly whole and minimally processed foods 
  • Primarily made up of plant-based choices – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds 
  • Usually avoids all animal-based products – no dairy, fish, eggs, meat, etc. 
  • Avoids white sugars, processed/refined flour and other grains 
  • Focuses on high quality, locally sourced, or organic choices when possible 

Because the whole-food plant-based diet is more of a lifestyle, it’s not necessarily vegan or vegetarian in nature; however, a plant-based diet usually comes primarily from plant sources with limited animal products (or none at all). 

Summary: The whole-food plant-based diet is an eating pattern focused on minimally processed, plant foods.

 

Whole-food plant-based diet benefits

Can be effective for weight loss

A research study from 2020 in the American Journal for Lifestyle Medicine found that following a whole-food plant-based diet made participants lose an average of 19lbs (8.6kgs) over three months without measuring portion size.1

Can be effective for maintaining weight loss

Participants in the same study either lost more weight or kept their weight down at the 6- and 12-month marks, which isn’t very common in weight loss studies that follow a specific diet for a short period of time.1

Can support heart health

Researchers have repeatedly shown that whole-food plant-based diets can help to improve cholesterol numbers and heart health overall.2

May slow the aging process

Newer research is investigating the way that the high antioxidant content of whole-food plant-based diets can help to support skin and brain health as we age.4

More environmentally friendly

Choosing to follow a whole-food plant based-diet, especially if you can focus on local and organic foods, can help to reduce waste and the impact of food processing on the environment.5

Summary: Whole-food plant-based diets are high in fibre and nutrients, which have health benefits and protective effects.

 

Foods for the whole-food plant-based diet

Following a whole-food plant-based diet does not need to feel restrictive. Check out the example options from each food group below (this list is NOT inclusive of all of the foods included in the whole-food plant-based diet) 

Whole grains

Whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, farro, oats, barley 

Fruits

Berries, citrus, apples, pears, bananas, peaches, pineapple, kiwi, melon, etc. 

Vegetables

Leafy greens (kale, spinach), cruciferous veggies (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower), peppers, onions, carrots, etc. 

Starches

Potatoes (white, red, yellow, sweet), squash 

Fats

Avocado, olive oil, coconut, sunflower seed oil, etc. 

Legumes

Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, navy beans, soy beans 

Nuts, seeds, nut butters

Almonds and almond butter, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter, peanut butter, tahini (sesame seed butter), etc. 

Beverages

  • Coffee, tea, water, juice, plant-based milks 
  • Animal products (if choosing) 
  • Organic / local eggs, free range meats, poultry, dairy; wild caught or sustainably farmed fish

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Foods to avoid for the whole-food plant-based diet

  • White (refined) grains: bread, pasta, rice, baked goods 
  • Packaged and convenience foods: frozen meals, fast food, processed snack foods 
  • Processed meats and chicken products 
  • Sweetened drinks (and artificial sweeteners) 

 

Whole-food plant-based diet meal plan

Here are three days of ideas for meals following the whole-food plant-based diet:

Breakfast  Avocado toast (sprouted whole grain) with sliced tomato, salt & pepper, fresh juice  Brown rice bowl with beans, roasted vegetables, kale, tahini dressing, apple slices  Lentil chili 
Lunch   Oatmeal with berries and almond butter  Salad greens with edamame, dried berries, avocado, chickpeas, olive oil & vinegar   Spaghetti squash with marinara sauce and roasted vegetables 
Dinner  Smoothie with frozen banana, spinach, peanut butter, plant-based milk  Vegetable soup with brown rice and oranges  Roasted chickpea stuffed sweet potato, kale sauteed in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil 

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Take home message

A whole-food plant-based diet focuses on nutritious foods with no limit on portion sizes. It can be effective for weight loss as well as preventing health issues, and is more environmentally friendly that a diet high in processed and animal foods.

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


  1. Greger, M. (2020). Awhole food plant-based diet is effective for weight loss: The evidence. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 14(5), 500-510. 
  2. Allen, K. E., Gumber, D., &Ostfeld, R. J. (2019). Heart failure and a plant-based diet. A case-report and literature review. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 82.
  3. McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 342.
  4. Kahleova, H., Levin, S., & Barnard, N. D. (2020). Plant-Based Diets for Healthy Aging. J. Am. Coll.Nutr, 9, 1-2. 
  5. Sadhukhan, J., Dugmore, T. I., Matharu, A., Martinez-Hernandez, E., Aburto, J., Rahman, P. K., & Lynch, J. (2020). Perspectives on “game changer” global challenges for sustainable 21st century: plant-based diet, unavoidable food waste biorefining, and circular economy. Sustainability, 12(5), 1976.


Claire Muszalski

Claire Muszalski

Registered Dietitian

Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.

Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.

Find out more about Claire’s experience here.


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