There is a lot of talk out there in the nutrition realm about a pattern of eating called a whole foods plant based diet (or WFPB). But what does that actually mean? Is it helpful for people with diabetes? And how would one go about following this kind of meal plan? Well, let’s dive in!
What is a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet?
I would like to start this discussion by defining some of the key terms that are involved in this area of nutrition. That way we are all on the same page as we move forward. First of all, plant based does not necessarily mean vegetarian or vegan.
- Plant Based: A plant based diet is comprised mostly of plant based foods and may or may not contain small amounts of animal products, like meat, eggs, or dairy. You may also hear terms like “plant forward” or plant centric” to describe this meal pattern.
- Vegetarian: Vegetarianism describes the practice of avoiding meat. There are many different types of vegetarianism:
- Lacto-vegetarian: avoids meat and eggs, but does include dairy
- Ovo-vegetarian: avoids meat and dairy, but does include eggs
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: only avoids meat, but will include eggs and dairy
- Pescatarian: avoids meat, eggs, and dairy, but includes fish
- Flexitarian: very similar to plant based, primarily plant foods but occasionally includes animal products in small quantities
- Vegan: See below.
- Vegan: Veganism excludes all animal products, foods made with animal products, and any products that are derived from animals (ie. leather)
So that covers the second half of the term “whole foods plant based diet,” but what about the “whole foods” part?
Whole foods: A whole food is a food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances. Usually these foods are very close to their natural state.
A whole foods plant based diet is one that is comprised of mainly plant foods that are minimally processed.
As you can see, there are many varieties of “plant based eating,” and the choice to follow any one of these diets is an individual decision. Often, people decide to follow a plant based diet for reasons other than health: ethical or environmental motives, for example. The purpose of this post is not to discuss the morals behind whole foods plant based diet. So, I will be solely focusing on the nutrition and health benefits.
Does a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet Have Health Benefits?
Chronic Disease Benefits
If weight loss (or weight management) is a goal of yours, swapping out some animal products for whole plant foods can have a huge impact. Plant foods are a great source of fiber, which can help you stay full longer and prevent overeating. Learn more in my article 5 Important Ways Fiber Can Improve Your Overall Health. Plants also provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that can help support the functioning of your body processes.
A whole foods plant based diet is also great for heart health! The main sources of unhealthy fats (saturated fats) are your animal products. Excess consumption of saturated fats can raise your “bad” cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. By focusing on plants, you are naturally going to decrease your intake of animal products while at the same time increasing your intake of fiber. Certain types of fiber can actually lower “bad” cholesterol.
And don’t forget the benefits to blood sugar management. A whole foods plant based diet that is packed with fiber can help slow down the digestion of the carbs in your meals. This means the sugar from your carbs is going to be absorbed into your blood stream slowly. This helps your body handle the sugar a little bit at a time, instead of all at once.
Focusing on plants rather than high fat animal products is almost always going to be better for your health. In America, we tend to put much of the focus on meat at our meals: a giant steak with a little side of veggies, for example. But what if we thought of meat as more of a condiment? I am not saying that you need to become a vegan and cut out all animal products. Please don’t hear that. But if you focus more on the veggies at your meal and add a little bit of meat as a “condiment,” you will gain many of the benefits that a whole foods plant based diet has to offer.
How do I Follow a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet?
Tip for Incorporating More Plants
- Try Meatless Monday! It doesn’t have to be on Mondays, but choose one day of the week to avoid meat. Naturally, this would encourage you to eat more plants.
- Pick a new vegetable. Next time you go to the store, pick a vegetable that you have never tried (or haven’t had in a long time) and learn how to prepare it.
- Replace 50% of meat with legumes. Many common recipes that call for meat can use legumes, such as lentils or beans, instead. For example, chili or tacos. Try swapping out half of the meat in these recipes.
- Look up a new recipe. Do a search for vegetarian or vegan recipes, and pick one to try. Check out Lettuce Veg Out for an awesome selection of vegan recipes from a Registered Dietitian. Remember, with diabetes it is still important to make sure that your meals have good balance between carbs and protein to avoid big spikes in your blood sugar.
Books on Plant Based Diet
If you are interested in doing your own research on a plant based diet, there are many books on the market. Some are based in sound research, and some are more based on opinion. It is always best to get your nutrition information from an expert in the field who is basing their recommendations on science. Alina Petre, a Registered Dietitian from Veggies & More, wrote a great summary of what to look for in a vegan nutrition book. Take a look at her top recommended vegan books.
If you are looking for a whole foods plant based diet cookbook, check out this round-up of cookbooks by another Registered Dietitian, Desiree Nielsen.
Plant Based Diet Grocery List
For more step-by-step guidance on following a whole foods plant based diet, check out Nutriciously. While this blog is not created by a Registered Dietitian, it does have useful tips for transitioning to a plant based diet. Grab their printable vegan grocery list here!
Need More Help?
If you have further questions about a whole foods plant based diet related to diabetes, feel free to reach out by sending me a message or leaving a comment below.