Since you found your way to this website, we’re pretty sure you’ve already come across the term “whole food plant-based diet” before. It’s what we talk about passionately on this blog as we believe it to be one of the most powerful steps you can take to improve your life in countless ways.
Luckily, society’s interest in learning more about a healthy plant-based diet has grown considerably over the past few years, too. Thanks to inspiring documentaries and ground-breaking studies, many of us have become aware of the numerous benefits of this way of eating – but still, this lifestyle can seem a bit overwhelming.
Yes, we might as well call it a lifestyle. The word “diet” is just too tied to a short-term change — an unsustainable way of eating followed for a few weeks or months before it’s dropped entirely.
In contrast to “diets,” this behavior change is based on science — exemplified by lots of happy thriving individuals — and lets you discover more and more benefits along the way while shifting the food composition on your plate.
Over years of following this way of eating ourselves, we acquired the insights, expertise and real-life know-how to help you take your next steps, too!
That’s why we decided to create this in-depth guide on all things whole food plant-based diet, the biggest questions and concerns, delicious recipes, free resources and more.
We’ll talk about topics such as…
Let’s dive right in!
What Is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?
The term whole food plant-based usually describes a fully vegan diet that doesn’t contain any heavily processed foods. So, no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or honey, but also no refined grains, added sugars or added fats (like oils).
However, there are different degrees of processed foods, and the whole food plant-based diet may include minimally processed items like tofu, whole grain flour, nut butter or tomato sauce. Let’s simplify it this way:
- Whole food: unrefined, unprocessed or minimally processed food
- Plant-based: coming from mainly unrefined plants, not containing any animal products
- Vegan: simply not containing any animal products
You can find a full list of what to eat on a whole food plant-based diet below.
We personally use the terms plant-based, whole food plant-based and healthy vegan diet interchangeably throughout this website, always referring to the same concept as explained in this guide. You may find the abbreviation “wfpb” around here or other blogs, which simply stands for whole food plant-based.
As ethical vegans, we are aware that veganism is more of a political statement and encompasses more than just what we eat; it is…
…a way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
Reasons To Follow A Healthy Vegan Diet
Are you looking to feel better physically? Prevent chronic diseases as you age or even reverse some of the damage done to your body? Or are you concerned about the state of the planet, the mistreatment of animals and poverty in many countries?
The good news is that you can “feed all those birds with one scone” – meaning a whole food plant-based diet can take care of all of the pressing issues of today. Not completely, of course, but it’s a powerful foundational first step each one of us can take… and the best part is, you can take it today.
Best Benefits of a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet:
Check out the articles below to read more about the many great reasons to go vegan, the correlation between dairy products and cancer and the real-life transformation stories of some people rocking this lifestyle.
What to Eat on a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
We really love how uncomplicated eating like this can be. No need to strictly follow recipes (though you can to get a feel for it, just take a look at our collection of free recipes , we just freestyle with our favorite representatives from the different plant-based food groups. Guaranteed to be nutritious and delicious!
This isn’t what most people believe in the beginning, though. Moving away from animal products can seem scary, and for the uninitiated, it can look like there’s pretty much nothing left to eat except for some sad lettuce and expensive avocado toast.
Basically, your new healthy food groups are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds. But what actual foods at the store can you grab? Here are some examples.
Quick Whole Food Plant-Based Shopping List
Apart from that, you can leave a little room on top of your plant-based food pyramid for some less healthy treats – because nobody expects you to be 100% perfect or constantly obsess over what you eat. That’s what contributes to the success and longevity of such a lifestyle change and what distinguishes it from a short-term diet.
To be a little more detailed in which foods should be minimized or avoided, here are some examples:
Meeting Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet
“appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
This statement alone should be enough assurance that everyone can be healthy on a fully vegan diet. But if you’re still nervous, don’t worry – more and more major health organizations have come out with similar acknowledgments which include the findings of evidence-based reviews showing that plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk for many chronic diseases.
Critical Nutrients on a Vegan Diet
Every single way of eating comes with caveats. Just because someone eats animal products doesn’t mean they meet all of their nutritional requirements!
While it’s true that following a vegan diet means you need to supplement with vitamin B12, animal-based diets are almost always too high in saturated fat and cholesterol while lacking fiber, folate, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin E.
To ensure that we all meet our requirements, we’d like to show you the nutrients that need to be looked out for a little more carefully and as well as foods to emphasize to cover your needs.
- Calcium: green vegetables, oranges, tahini, calcium-fortified soy milk and tofu
- Iron: oats, spinach, dried figs, lentils, tahini, chickpeas
- Zinc: oats, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pumpkin seeds, almonds
- Iodine: nori or dulse seaweed, iodized salt
- Omega-3: flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts
- Vitamin D: sun exposure, some UV-light grown mushrooms, supplement
- Vitamin B12: fortified food, supplements
Please note that it’s crucial that every plant-based eater supplements with vitamin B12 (find our full article on that here). Everyone over the age of 65 should take this supplement, vegan or not, due to the worsening ability to absorb it. B12 is made by bacteria and due to our sanitized water and food supply, we need to make sure we’re all getting enough. Animal feed is often fortified with B12; vegans just cut out the middle-animal to cover their needs.
It can be easy to accidentally undereat on a whole food plant-based diet – especially if you’re coming from a history of restrictive dieting. The current trend of eating small portions, which is definitely necessary to maintain a healthy diet if you include a fair amount of animal products and processed food, isn’t applicable when following a wfpb diet.
Being used to restricting carbohydrates, for example, may cause you to just load up on vegetables with some plant-based protein on the side. Although this can look like a huge amount of food, it contains very few calories.
Intentionally or not, undereating on calories can easily lead to malnutrition as well as feeling constantly hungry and low in energy – a reason that’s often mentioned as to why people turn their backs on veganism What eating below your natural hunger drive definitely does is drastically increase the chances of being hangry and grabbing the nearest calorically dense food (often a bag of chips or chocolate bar).
So, please don’t listen to very low-calorie recommendations or drink a small smoothie to replace a whole meal. It’s a good idea to track your food intake over a few days if you start following a plant-based diet to make sure you meet all of your needs for the day – including calories.
Wondering about specific requirements, portion sizes and more? Find our extensive article on the Vegan Food Pyramid, including free downloadable cheat sheets, below.
In general, you do not need to count or measure your food to be well-nourished on such nutritious food (unless to ensure you eat enough). Just choose from all of the whole food plant-based food groups, emphasize the sources of critical nutrients above and listen to your hunger and satiety cues.
Looking to lose or gain weight? Specifics on that here.
Raw Foods, Cleanses and Juices
This might apply to you or not – but there’s a general trend of people looking for purity and perfection that are attracted to plant-based diets. Some might even have the false illusion of never becoming sick again and healing every disease out there with diet alone.
Just as there are many people who care way too less about what they eat and get sick as a result, there are also those who care way too much about every little detail. This isn’t necessary and can even do more harm than good.
Following very restrictive protocols, such as raw food diets or detox diets, doesn’t get you any closer to your health goals than eating a reasonable whole food plant-based diet. In fact, it’s often the cause of malnutrition and people turning their back on vegan diets because they suddenly think their bodies crave fish or eggs without even getting their bloodwork done when they in fact just undereat and cut out food groups unnecessarily.
Thinking that your body is dirty and needs to be cleansed is borderline eating disordered thinking and we would love for you to check in with a professional if you find yourself in this rabbit hole.
Eating a diet high in fiber is what will naturally “cleanse or detox” your body – and cutting out the junk food helps, too. That’s why juice cleanses are especially ineffective: they just starve the gut microbiome, making it harder to tolerate a wide range of foods again.
Bottom line: please don’t equate plant-based eating with these fads that are not based on science but wishful thinking. Eat a large variety and eat enough!
What About Protein On a Vegan Diet?
As you might expect, this is one of the biggest concerns we’ve heard over the years. So, let us explain.
Amino acids, the building blocks that make up protein, originally come from the plant kingdom. They are essential and help maintain muscle and bone mass as well as support the immune system.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no need for a single food or even meal to be a “complete protein” that covers all 8 essential amino acids in adequate amounts. It’s perfectly fine to get the different amino acids from a variety of foods over the course of the day.
Generally speaking, the average Western person eats way too much protein, as the DRI for adults is only 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight (which comes to around 50-60 grams per day for a person at a healthy weight). While vegans can get all of the protein they need from plants, lysine (one essential amino acid) is a little harder to come by, but is still found in many legumes.
It’s not hard to meet daily protein needs while eating a varied whole foods vegan diet since every unprocessed food contains at least some amount, but just to be sure, here’s a list of some high protein vegan foods:
- Grains: Seitan, amaranth, quinoa, whole wheat spaghetti
- Legumes: Tempeh, peanuts, tofu, soy milk, lentils, beans
- Nuts & Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, almonds
Further resources about plant-based protein, including some protein-rich recipes, on our blog below.
Is Soy Unhealthy For You?
You’re probably on board with the idea that legumes are healthy – all but this one, at least. Unfortunately, poor soy has gotten such a bad rep that we often get requests for soy-free versions of our recipes. If you’re allergic to soy, yes! Please stay away from it.
If you’re not allergic and still want to skip soy, you’re really missing out. It’s a great source of protein due to its amino acid profile, helps meet your calcium and zinc needs and is associated with longevity!
Soy contains phytoestrogens (similar to but not the same as mammalian estrogens found in humans or animals) which can block our own estrogen – something that is helpful for specific types of cancer or bone loss in women.
And speaking from an environmental perspective, the rainforest is not vanishing due to the soy that vegans eat but because of the large amount of soy that’s being fed to livestock animals.
Why Eat Oil-Free?
Now, this isn’t a deal-breaker. We would certainly argue that cutting out all animal products should be way higher on your list of priorities than cutting out oil! And eating oil-free makes more sense in some situations than in others. But first things first.
As per definition, a whole food plant-based diet is free from refined ingredients – and this includes vegetable oil or nut-based oil. Yes, even olive oil and coconut oil!
For some reason, these are seen as healthy foods whereas refined sugars are deemed as evil. But all of them are actually so stripped down that they consist of one single macronutrient and nothing else!
What’s more, oils quickly make a healthy vegetable dish into a high-fat meal that slows down blood flow, may contribute to atherosclerosis and some extra fat depots.
The whole food is always preferred over the refined version – the same goes for olives versus olive oil or walnuts versus walnut oil. You’re missing out on lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals when choosing the highly processed version of the whole food!
Oil-free doesn’t mean fat-free! As you can see above, a wfpb diet includes nuts, seeds, avocado and olives – all of which give you the essential fatty acids you need.
The decision to go oil-free isn’t for everyone, though. If you’re losing weight too quickly or are already underweight, have a hard time meeting caloric needs or simply don’t like the taste of healthy food unless it’s prepared with some oil, then please forego this step for now.
All of our original recipes on this website are oil-free, and we’re pretty sure you won’t notice that anything’s missing! Why not give it a try?
Gaining & Losing Weight on A Vegan Diet
Much of our content is created for people looking to lose some weight on a plant-based diet. That makes sense because most of us carry around some extra body fat which isn’t necessarily healthy.
While we don’t want the plant-based movement to become an elite club of “thin people only” and go into fat-shaming mode, we’d love for each of you to become their healthiest self!
Weight loss usually comes easily when focusing on whole plant-based food – they are naturally low in calories and high in fiber, meaning you can fill up while shedding some pounds without even trying.
So, what if you’re gaining weight on a vegan or plant-based diet? You probably restricted either carbs or calories prior to making the switch, rely on processed food too much or just aren’t listening to your hunger and satiety cues.
The EPIC-Oxford study which compared diet and BMI of 38,000 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans, revealed that the vegan population was the only one with an average BMI in the healthy range. High protein and low fiber intakes were the factors most strongly associated with increasing BMI.
You’re very likely no biological abnormality – check our resources to see what’s possible for you.
Want to gain weight on a vegan diet in a healthy way? Many have done so before.
What we know works for healthy weight loss can also work for healthy weight gain so long as you keep considering the calorie density principle.
This means that, if you want to healthfully gain weight, you’ll need to fill up on calorically dense foods such as nuts and seeds, bread, pasta, hummus, dried fruit or drink your food in the form of a smoothie Skip the large green salads and keep your vegetable intake on the lower side to leave room for richer foods.
How to Stock a Plant-Based Kitchen
This part is so much fun! Now that we’ve shown you which foods belong on a plant-based plate, we need to make sure you have some of them at home. But please don’t think you have to go buy all the vegan food that’s available at the store now!
There are a couple of vegan staple foods you might already have at home – or can focus on them next time you go shopping. They are very versatile, nutritious and easy to find at most places!
The Best Vegan Staple Foods
- Canned beans
- Frozen veggies
- Canned tomatoes
- Vegetable broth
- Plant-based milk
These staples can be used for numerous sweet, savory, cold and warm dishes. Add your favorite fresh or frozen produce and you’re likely to meet most of your nutritional needs for the day! Find all our staple food suggestions and a full downloadable grocery list below.
You can make things easier for your transition to a whole food plant-based diet by deciding to get rid of as many refined and animal-based foods as possible. This depends on your living situation and whether or not your family is on board, but maybe stop buying what you personally don’t want to eat.
Please remember that our tips are generalized here. When stocking your own plant-based kitchen, you need to take your individual taste preferences into account – as well as the amount of time you have for cooking and preparing food (we’ll talk about meal prepping in a second).
But wait, didn’t we forget about something? The price point. So, let’s see what all of this would cost you.
Is a Plant-Based Diet Expensive?
This depends on the actual foods that you choose to eat. Having fancy avocado toast or cashew cheese every day will lead to a high grocery bill for sure! Luckily, many vegan staples are very budget-friendly – depending on where you live and what season you’re in.
Especially when you think about the amount of essential micronutrients you get for the money spent, whole plant-based foods will be hard to beat.
Green vegetables, whole grains and legumes are all rich in minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. When bought seasonally and in bulk, they are very affordable! These foods are the ideal foundation of your healthy plant-based diet.
Have you compared a bag of oats or rice with processed or animal-based foods? When most of your calories come from whole starches instead of meat, cheese and eggs, your grocery bill will shrink drastically. Here are our best tips!
Plant-Based on a Budget
Plant-Based Kitchen Tools
Having your kitchen stocked with some vegan staple foods is the first important step to create delicious and easy wfpb meals. But depending on the recipes you plan on following, it might make sense to invest in one or two kitchen tools to make your life a lot easier.
We personally couldn’t live without our electric pressure cooker, the Instant Pot, which enables us to prepare meals in large batches or cook legumes from scratch easily. One of our favorite uses is the hands-off cooking function, meaning we can go out or work at our computers while the device prepares our veggie stew all by itself.
Our Favorites to Start:
- Non-stick pan and pot
- Large dinner bowls
- Airtight food containers
- High-speed blender
- Immersion blender
- Silicone baking ware
- Pressure cooker
You can find our full guide on plant-based kitchen tools with recommendations, an in-depth Instant Pot review with a downloadable guide and an easy one pot pasta recipe below.
Plant-Based Meal Planning and Prepping
This step is more for some people than others. We personally love to go with what we feel like eating each day and not plan too much ahead apart from regular batch cooking. But we also have more time on our hands and both eat a plant-based diet – plus we’re already very versed in freestyling with tasty ingredients to put together a well-rounded meal.
But you might be a person who loves structure and convenience in the kitchen, so here’s how you can manage that.
If you are already familiar with meal planning and prepping, then switching to a plant-based diet will just make things easier. There is less chance of your food being contaminated or going bad if it’s made from plants instead of animal products – and cooking some lentils is usually quicker than preparing meat.
Benefits of Meal Planning and Prepping
Many of our whole food plant-based recipes work well for meal planning and prepping, too!
Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Are you convinced by now that a whole food plant-based diet could be for you? That’s awesome! We’d love to make the transition stage for you a bit easier.
There are a few different ways to go about this and how you should do it depends on your personality and situation.
Living on your own and an all-or-nothing type? Jump right in if you like! Throw all the non-compliant food out or give it away, start making plant-based meals and never look back.
But for most people, a gradual approach works best. You may live with other people or feel like it would be way out of your comfort zone to give up all of your favorite foods at once. This is what you can do.
Whole Food Plant-Based Transition Tips
There is no need to overcomplicate things! Sure, it’s important to be informed and a bit mindful about what you’re eating but going down the rabbit hole of analyzing every single bite isn’t very productive.
Crowding out the unhealthy food by eating more of the healthy stuff you already like is a great first step! If you want to make things easier for you, check out the following resources and join our free vegan transition eCourse:
We have a whole section of our website dedicated to the transition process, feel free to go through everything!
Possible Side Effects of Going Vegan
We probably don’t have to tell you that there are some cases of people going vegan and then getting really sick – such headlines are very popular these days.
While it’s true that there are many benefits associated with a plant-based diet, there are some possible pitfalls to look out for. You can do any diet right or wrong!
Some of you might go through the transition phases in a breeze, with no discomforts or hiccups at all. That’s wonderful! But to those of you whose health is already compromised or are used to eating mainly processed and animal-based food, here’s what could happen.
None of these possible side effects mean that you cannot successfully transition to a plant-based diet; you just need to deal with them once they come up. And rest assured, there is always a way to make it work!
From checking with your doctor before making drastic changes to slowly increasing the fiber in your diet and chewing well, there are many little things can make a considerable difference. It’s all a matter of wanting to change your diet and then adjusting it to your situation.
Dealing with Cravings for Junk Food?
We’ve all been there. Out of the blue, you just need to go and grab a chocolate bar. But what if you want to follow a whole food plant-based diet and are haunted by thoughts of burgers, fries and cakes?
There are several ways to work your way through this.
- First of all, nobody is telling you to eat a 100% wfpb diet for the rest of your life, starting today, with no exceptions. As explained a couple of times above, it is fine to just increase the amount of whole plant-based foods, like vegetables or legumes, on your plate – and still have the fries on the side. Just eating less of the not-so-nutritious stuff will already take you in the right direction.
- Then, you could look for a few recipes showing you how to create healthy vegan versions of your favorite food! There are many smart food swaps that can replace animal products and refined ingredients in most dishes, making them wfpb-approved.
- And if you find yourself craving junk food out of boredom or habit, you can retrain your brain and learn new ways of relaxing after a stressful day that don’t have anything to do with food.
You can find our downloadable cravings checklist along with the scientific reasons why we’re craving unhealthy food and how to prevent them in our in-depth article along with other resources on this subject below.
Our top tip for you right now is this: eat as much of the healthy tasty food as you need to feel full and well-nourished – it’s one of the easiest ways to prevent the longing to reach for a bag of chips. More tips in our article below.
By the way: there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to some greasy vegan pizza once in a while, even if you’ve been on a whole food plant-based diet for years. That’s part of the lifestyle and long-term success strategy that makes it more than just a diet. We personally go for 90% wfpb meals and 10% fun foods.
Mastering Social Situations as a Vegan
Alright, so the food part is covered in-depth now. You know the basics of plant-based nutrition, why you should emphasize or de-emphasize certain foods and how you can sail smoothly through the transition period.
But what happens in the real world if you go out to eat? What if your new diet starts conversations with family and friends?
A huge and important piece of the puzzle is mastering social situations and being able to have healthy relationships within your social circle.
Depending on your situation, you can choose from our following articles to help you out:
Connecting with like-minded people is very helpful, maybe even crucial, for an easier transition and long-term success on this lifestyle. We often hear from our readers that they don’t have any support at home from their family – which is why we highly recommend reaching out online and joining a virtual vegan group somewhere. A good place to start would be Facebook (check out our private support group here) where you can just look for vegan groups, plant-based groups or even some groups that are local to your area!
If you like browsing through social media, fill your feed with informational and inspirational accounts that can constantly remind you of the benefits of a plant-based diet and give you new tips.
The Best Vegan Resources
Hopefully, you feel like you’ve gained a good overview of the topic by now. We wanted to keep the information rather bite-sized so as to not overwhelm you. At the same time, continuing education is really helpful and motivates you to deepen your commitment, find your own perfect way of eating plant-based and find more and more good reasons to keep with this lifestyle.
You’ll also find it a lot easier to get through future arguments with non-vegans and will be able to counter their hesitation and suspicion with some solid facts.
The great health benefits usually don’t take a lot of time until you notice them, and when you do, they’ll further motivate you on your path – and, as in our case, it may bring with it the hunger to learn more about what’s possible: to know how to support the health of our family members, get creative with nutritious food and how to eat out anywhere in the world.
Here are our favorite resources on all things plant-based eating, health and lifestyle!
- How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger
- The Forks Over Knives Plan by Drs Alona Pulde & Matthew Lederman
- The Pleasure Trap by Dr. Doug Lisle & Dr. Alan Goldhamer
- Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, RD
- Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis
- Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
- Whole by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- What The Health
- Land Of Hope And Glory
- Forks Over Knives
- The Game Changers
Best Plant-Based Experts
- Michael Greger, MD
- T. Colin Campbell, PhD
- Neal Barnard, MD
- John McDougall, MD
- Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
- Brenda Davis, RD
- Julieanna Hever, RD
- Joel Kahn, MD
- Garth Davis, MD
If you’re looking for a plant-based professional in your area or want to work with someone online, the website Plant-Based Docs is a wonderful resource.
Research & Lifestyle
Start Your Plant-Based Journey Now!
Excited to get started? We hope this guide was tremendously useful to you – it’s something we wish we had when we first came across the whole food plant-based diet.
From our years of experience of following this lifestyle and helping thousands of others to do so as well, we created some amazing resources to jumpstart your healthy vegan diet in an easy and delicious way!
Complete Vegan Starter Kit
Our 7-part eBook bundle “From A To Vegan” will answer all of your questions and help you achieve long-term success. Here’s what’s inside:
How did you come across a plant-based diet? Have you already taken your first steps, and what is motivating you? Share your experiences and questions with us in the comments below.