Brent Lockridge, CNP
What is a Whole Food
The best way to describe a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet is to understand it in the context of other broad styles of eating. The first thing that needs to be made clear is that even though a WFPB diet is called a diet, it is in fact a lifestyle, or category of eating.
Before we get into the various “categories” of food styles I believe it should be noted that these are simply labels, some people are very rigid with their food choices, others not so much. I think what is important is that you strive to consume the very best foods for you as an individual. There will be times that you slip, and perhaps enjoy a food that does not align with your eating goals, and that is OK, it happens to everyone. Given that you will consume almost 90,000 meals in your lifetime it is safe to say that what you eat 90 – 95% of the time will reflect your long-term health. Small choices performed consistently yield big results.
So, with that, here are the terms that describe different styles of eating so you can understand what kind of food choices fall within a certain category. It is not exhaustive; however, it does cover the majority of eating categories. Please note that these categories do not define “diet types” such as the Atkins Diet, or a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet, but rather broader eating styles that may or may not align with different diet types.
Vegan: An individual that does not eat anything that comes from an animal, be it fish, fowl, mammal or insect. These individuals also abstain from products that come from other living beings such as dairy and honey. Vegans also refrain from purchasing, wearing or using animal products of any kind, such as leather. It should be noted that the term vegan tells us what a person will not eat, not what they do eat. You can survive on cola and french fries and still be considered a vegan, though in my experience the vast majority of vegans consume a very health promoting diet.
Fruitarian: This describes a vegan diet that consists mainly of fruit.
Raw Vegan: This is a vegan diet that is uncooked and often includes dehydrated food.
Vegetarian: This is a plant-based diet that sometimes includes dairy (lacto-vegetarian) and/or
eggs (ovo-vegetarian). Like vegans, vegetarians may consume processed foods, but most are quite health conscious.
Flexitarian: A whole food plant-based diet, as described below, that includes the “occasional” consumption of meat or fish. This is often a gateway diet to a WFPB diet as described below and depends on the amount of animal product in the diet.
Omnivore: A person who eats food of both plant and animal origin. Again, there can be a wide range here. A person eating an omnivorous diet can find themselves eating high quality animal products such as grass fed dairy and beef, along with whole grains and fruits and vegetables, or they could be consuming takeout burgers and french fries as their staple foods.
Whole Food Plant Based: This is a dietary lifestyle that maximizes the intake of whole, plant-based foods and minimizes the intake of processed and animal derived foods. It is a diet based on foods as grown, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, such as chickpeas, split peas and lentils, mushrooms, herbs, spices and small amounts of seeds and nuts. Consumption of meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar and oil are minimized or eliminated.
Based on these definitions you can see that a flexitarian and a WFPB diet could be identical. The difference is that a WFPB diet clearly defines which foods are predominantly consumed, while at the same time leaves a little wiggle room for other foods. I like to interpret this as the “WFPB 90% Rule.” This rule is derived from the Blue Zones population. I will talk more about the Blue Zones in another article, but in a nutshell the Blue Zones are 5 different populations around the world where a disproportionate number of individuals live unusually long, healthy lives. Now, among other things that promote their longevity, all these Blue Zoners eat a predominantly (90%) WFPB diet with small amounts of animal products and oils that supplement their diet, hence, the 90% rule. More than anything else the 90% rule allows you to ease in to a WFPB diet, to test the water so to speak. But in my opinion the closer you get to 95, or even 100% of your diet consisting of the emphasized WFPB foods, the more profound the effects.
Simply put, the adoption of eating a WFPB diet will pervade every part of your life, in a positive way. You will spend more time thinking about, shopping for, preparing, and ultimately enjoying your food. Having said that, and depending on where you fall on the spectrum of WFPB eating, you may often have to answer the question, “but where will you get your protein”, and some of you may also have to explain to your doctor why your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers have normalised. Research shows that individuals who change their diets to healthier foods such as those on a WFPB diet tend to change other lifestyle habits to support their new food choices, things such as regular exercise, better sleep habits, and taking up more activities with friends, all habits that support a longer, healthier life. As Dr. Alan Goldhamer says, “Health is most effectively promoted by healthful living”.
The benefits of a diet that promotes the consumption of a variety of foods in the form that nature provides, is by default, the diet we as a species evolved, and thrived on. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here, but more on that in another article. Making the transition to a WFPB diet could be the stimulus you need to start a number of lifestyle changes, but understand that even this diet change does not have to happen overnight, take your time, test the water, fall off the wagon, get back on, it’s all good, but the closer you get, the more you will experience the life changing benefits.