Simplify Health

A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Whole Food Plant-Based

In the last post, you learned what the healthiest diet is, according to science. If you missed it, spoiler alert, it’s a whole food plant-based diet. Learn more about why it’s the healthiest diet here. Now that you’ve decided that you want to be healthy, not just skinny, you’re probably wondering how to actually eat a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. Don’t feel overwhelmed, it’s really quite easy.

First, lets refresh what it means to eat WFPB and what Dr. Greger’s recommended daily dozen are. Dr. Greger is the author of How Not To Die and founder of the site nutritionfacts.org. Learn more here.

What does whole food plant based mean? Dr. Greger defines whole food as a food that hasn’t been over processed, “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away”. Plant-based is pretty self-explanatory, “real food that grows out of the ground”.

Dr. Greger developed a traffic light system to categorize what you should eat.

Green (foods you should eat more of): Unprocessed plant foods- fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, herbs and spices

Yellow (foods you should eat less of): Processed plant foods and unprocessed animal products- Vegan meats and cheese, jam, packaged & pre-seasoned vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, seafood, eggs, etc

Red (foods you should avoid on a daily basis): Processed animal products- dairy products, sausage, deli meat, packaged cookies, soda, sugar, salt, etc

In an effort to translate the “mountain of evidence into easy-to-make, day-to-day decisions” Dr. Greger created a Daily Dozen checklist of recommendations to fit into your daily diet.

  1. Beans: 3 servings
  2. Berries: 1 serving
  3. Other fruit: 3 servings
  4. Cruciferous vegetables: 1 serving
  5. Greens: 2 servings
  6. Other vegetables: 2 servings
  7. Flaxseeds: 1 serving
  8. Nuts and seeds: 1 serving
  9. Herbs and spices: 1 serving
  10. Whole grains: 3 servings
  11. Beverages: 5 servings
  12. Exercise: 1 serving

There’s a free app for Android and Apple to help you track your daily dozen. It also gives you ideas of what foods fall into each category and what constitutes a serving.

Now, my beginner’s guide to eating WFPB

Don’t focus on what you can’t eat- this isn’t deprivation

Do focus on the foods you already love that happen to be WFPB

Who doesn’t love berries? Dr. Greger recommends a daily serving of berries. You don’t have to tell me twice! Check!

What’s your favorite nut? Great! One more check down. Try adding more fruits and vegetables into meals you already like and reduce the animal products.

Ground flax is really easy to sneak into smoothies, shakes, and oatmeal. You can also put it into baked goods- try subbing out ¼ c of flour for ¼ c of ground flax.

Focus on eating foods you already like to get your daily dozen check marks and try new foods. Don’t focus on the foods you can’t eat.

Don’t look for vegan substitutes for your favorite foods, you’ll be disappointed

Do look for foods/recipes that are yummy and satisfy your cravings

I know you’ll be tempted and you’ll probably ignore my advice, but just remember, I warned you! Whether buying prepackaged vegan substitutes or testing out recipes, don’t expect substitutes to be as good as the original. You’ll be disappointed. Instead, find new treats and recipes that satisfy your cravings.

I started making chocolate berry smoothies to satisfy my chocolate sugar cravings. It’s tasty, satisfying and checked some of the daily dozen for me.

Don’t be a junk-food vegan

Do focus on making your food as “whole food” as possible

Did you know Oreos are vegan? So are potato chips and french fries. Doesn’t mean they’re healthy. The goal here is not to be vegan, it’s to eat real, whole foods. Vegan does not equal healthy. Whole food plant-based equals healthy.

A note on sweeteners. Sugar, is obviously not a whole food, so it’s something to be avoided, but fear not, there are still plenty of whole food sweeteners. According to Dr. Greger, the only sweeteners with any nutritional value are date sugar (which is just dried and ground dates, so, whole food), and blackstrap molasses.

Date sugar won’t act exactly like white sugar since it’s actually a dried, ground fruit, but it’s a good sugar substitute, along with date paste. Date paste is whole dates pureed with water. Now, I’m not a huge fan of plain dates, but I’m amazed at the mellow flavor dates add to things, so if you’re skeptical, at least give it a try. It’s like nature’s sugar!

These aren’t your only options either, most fruit is sweet and will add a nice sweetness to recipes. Bananas and applesauce are commonly used. I’ve also seen baked sweet potato used. Any whole food that is sweet will work!

Don’t feel like you need to go cold turkey

Do ease into it, I worked my way from 50% to 95% to 100%

Even after you’ve been convinced of the healthiness of a WFPB diet, you don’t need to make a 180 change overnight. I’ve spent the last year easing into it, and I’m still pretty lax. I don’t like inconveniencing people, so while I strive to feed myself WFPB, if someone has prepared food for me and there isn’t a WFPB option, I’ll eat whatever’s available. I’m not in that position very often, so I don’t sweat it when it happens.

Next year I might choose to be more exact in eating WFPB, but for now, I’m pretty happy with my 99% approach. (I was at 100%, but my friend made a divine dessert it would have been rude to refuse- plus it was chocolate!)

Don’t let yourself get so starving you say:

Do plan ahead, keep food with you and meal plan

This is something I still struggle with. I’m practiced enough to find a WFPB option, but it’s still tempting to just grab a bag of cookies or crackers out of the pantry (I should mention, my husband doesn’t fully eat WFPB, so that’s why these foods are still in the house).

If you get hangry, like me, make sure to have some grab-and-go options on hand. Nuts and (unsweetened) dried fruit are great snacks. I’m also a fan of veggies and hummus or guacamole. Wholly Guacamole makes mini cups that are great to keep in the fridge (they do have salt, I haven’t broken myself of salt fully yet). I use the guacamole as salad dressing, on Mexican food, as a condiment on black bean burgers, or just eat it with veggies. It’s so great to have on hand!

I prep my food for work at the beginning of the week, meals and snacks, so I don’t have an excuse to not eat healthily. It also helps that my work is remote, so there’s no other food or vending machine to be tempted by. What I bring is what I eat.

You can recreate this for yourself by not bringing money to work, or leaving it in your car and parking far away. It’s much easier to eat healthy if it’s the only option!

Don’t strive for perfection

Do follow the stop light system: Green, Yellow, and Red

What I love about Dr. Greger’s approach to health and nutrition, is that he doesn’t expect perfection. He gives you the facts and helps you make better choices. It’s all about improving and making continually better choices.

You can choose to be exact if you want, but personally, I find that to be too much pressure. Plus then there’s all the guilt if you slip up, which usually turns into a slippery slope of “falling off the wagon” for a while. Let’s just skip all that drama and strive to be intentional about our food choices. If there’s no “wagon” you can’t fall off.

As Dr. Greger said,

“It matters little what healthy folks eat on their birthday, holidays, and special occasions. It’s the day-to-day stuff that adds up.”

This is a lifestyle change, not a temporary diet, so make decisions with the long-term in mind. Do things that are sustainable, don’t burn yourself out and give up. Make it work for your life, experiment. And above all, be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.

What’s your favorite food or recipe that’s already WFPB?

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