Some of you visiting this page will already know a lot about plant-based diets, but there are also many of you who may not know much about them at all. Let’s fix that today. I touched on the definition of a whole food, plant-based diet briefly in my first post, but it’s definitely a topic worth delving into a little further, so let’s get into it.
I should state here that I really don’t like to call it a diet. Diets tend to be restrictive in nature. Something people generally start and ultimately give up on because they are often unpalatable and unsustainable. This way of eating is a lifestyle and is definitely sustainable over the long-term. Every meal is treated as another opportunity to nourish your body with as many nutrients as you can cram into that delicious dish. So, while you may see me use the “D” word, please know that this is not your typical calorie-counting, portion controlling, exercise in willpower. I use the word diet simply to refer to a pattern of eating.
What Is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?
The term ‘plant-based’ may bring to mind images of frolicking in a meadow gathering grass, dandelions and other such rabbit foods. The reality, I promise you, is far more diverse and flavourful. A whole food, plant-based diet is one that focuses on all the plant foods, in as unrefined a form as possible. Think apples instead of apple juice, or roasted potatoes instead of frozen french fries. You are aiming to eat foods closest to the form they were picked in. Any processing or refining of our natural plant foods tends to either strip nutrients away or add unnecessary and often harmful additives.
What to Eat on a Plant-Based Diet
Greens are an important part of a plant-based diet, but that is not all that is on the menu. While they are amazingly nutrient-rich, they are calorically poor, so you’d have to be eating them all day long to get enough calories to sustain you. You’d probably be more than a little hangry if that’s all you could eat in a day.
What can you eat on a plant-based diet? Let’s have a look:
A whole food plant-based diet includes:
- Fruit – Apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, dates, melons, peaches, pears, pineapples etc. All of this sweet deliciousness IS on the menu.
- Vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy) – Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, corn, cucumber, eggplant, kale, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, zucchini and so much more. All the veggies in as much variety as you can manage.
- Whole grains (emphasis on whole) – Barley, brown rice, couscous, millet, oats, quinoa etc. As long as they haven’t been refined and processed into a form devoid of fibre and nutrients, they get the green light. (Calm down, carbs ARE your friend, but more on that in a future post.)
- Legumes – Beans, chickpeas, edamame, lentils, peas, tofu and more. Rich in protein, fibre and many micronutrients. Also available in a dizzying variety, try them all!
- Nuts and seeds – Almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts etc. A great source of healthy fats.
- Herbs and spices – Many of these have amazing health benefits. Flavour your meals with all of your favourites.
Foods that are excluded or avoided on a whole food, plant-based diet are:
- Meat – In all it’s forms, leave it behind, your arteries will thank you.
- Eggs – Nope, don’t need those little cholesterol bombs in your life.
- Dairy – Unless you’re an infant and it’s coming from a human, just give it a pass.
- Heavily processed foods – Full of ingredients you probably don’t recognize. Also packed full of salt, sugar and fat to keep you hooked and coming back for more. You and your body are better off without these.
- Oil – Highly refined and devoid of any valuable nutrition. It also hampers artery function.
- Refined sugars – In general sugar should be limited, especially refined forms like white table sugar. If you need sweetness in a dish, it’s best to get it from as natural a source as possible. Think fruits like dates and bananas where the fibre is still present, or a splash of maple syrup or date syrup.
Whole Food Plant-Based Diet vs Vegan Diet
Now some of you may be looking at these lists and thinking that this looks a lot like a vegan diet. I suppose you’d be partially correct. There are some commonalities between a vegan diet and whole food, plant-based diet, but there are some important differences. Mainly, the difference boils down to motivation. A vegan diet is one that excludes animal products for moral and ethical reasons. These products are excluded not only in food choices, but in clothing, and other products as well. There is an emphasis on avoiding all products that would exploit animals in any way. So this includes foods like honey and eggs, clothing made from any part of an animal (including wool) and products that have been tested on animals.
A whole food, plant-based diet is one that focuses on eating as healthfully as possible to reverse or reduce the risk of suffering from one of the many chronic diseases related to lifestyle. So, while Oreos, potato chips and some fake meat or cheese products may technically be considered vegan, they aren’t whole food, plant-based.
Is Eating Plant-Based Difficult?
It’s truly only as difficult as you make it. The beauty of a whole food, plant-based diet is that it’s pretty simplistic. There is no calorie counting or macro counting required. You’re eating delicious, health-promoting foods at every meal, so it’s as simple as eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.
Sounds too good to be true, right? I was skeptical at first, concerned that I’d be missing out on some important nutrients. So, I downloaded an app called Chronometer and logged all the food I ate for a week or two to track both my micro (iron, calcium, potassium etc.) and macro (protein, carbohydrates and fat) nutrient intake. I quickly realized that without even trying, I was getting everything I needed simply by eating a variety of plant foods. That was the end of my nutrient tracking and those calorie-counting days are behind me. It’s so nice not to have to overthink something as simple as eating.
The Bottom Line
You may be thinking that eating plant-based will mean missing out on all of your favourites. Well, I’m here to tell you that you definitely won’t miss out. Baked treats? Still, enjoy them, just made with a few simple swaps. Pizza? Still a favourite at my house, topped with all of our favourite veggies and a nut-based cheese. Burgers? Of course! There is a huge variety of plant-based burgers, made from beans, portobello mushrooms, chickpeas, lentils, and more. The point is, there is no shortage of delicious, plant-based recipes available out there for all of your favourite foods.
Speaking of not missing out, let me leave you with this recipe for double chocolate mint cookies. These are soft, chewy, chocolatey and absolutely delish! They are also oil-free and made with the always versatile chickpea, so they are packed with protein, fibre and other important nutrients. Yum!
- 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, OR 1 15 oz can (no salt added), drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup almond butter, see notes
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, finely diced, OR 1.5 tsp mint extract
- 3 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup oat flour, see notes
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder, or cacao powder
- 3 tbsp date or coconut sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Finely dice your fresh mint (if you are using mint extract, you can skip this step).
- Add all wet ingredients to a food processor and pulse until chickpeas are broken down and well blended.
- Add dry ingredients (except chocolate chips) to the food processor and pulse until wet and dry ingredients are well combined.
- Fold in chocolate chips.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Spoon mixture onto baking sheet in rounded tablespoon sized drops.
- Wet fingers and shape cookies, flattening the tops slightly.
- Transfer your baking sheets to the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes, until edges begin to look dry.
- Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5 mins before transferring to a wire rack for cooling.
*If you don't have oat flour, you can make some by pulsing rolled oats in a blender or food processor until they resemble flour.
*Use certified gluten-free oat flour to make these gluten-free.
*Use sunflower seed butter in place of the almond butter to make these nut-free.
*If you're using canned chickpeas that have salt added, omit the remaining salt from the recipe.
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