OCTOBER 5, 2022
What to know about a whole foods plant-based diet and how it can impact your health
You may have heard about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. So what exactly is a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet (WFPBD) and how can it be beneficial to your health? A WFPBD is a dietary pattern or lifestyle that focuses on eating whole unprocessed foods, limits or avoids animal products, and focuses on fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds, and complex whole grains, while avoiding highly processed and packaged foods.
Adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPBD) has many health benefits. Not only can also lower your risk or reduce symptoms of certain chronic diseases, it may also improve your cholesterol! Let’s explore the benefits in a bit more detail.
Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
A well-known benefit of a WFPBD is that they are full of heart healthy foods. Whole Food Plant–Based Diets consistently show health benefits when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease. However, keep in mind that the quality and types of foods included in the diet matter. Unhealthy plant-based diets that include sugary drinks, fruit juices, refined grains and excessive simple carbohydrates are associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease.
A study in over 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes and nuts had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those following non-plant-based diets.
Another bonus with plant-based diets is they are high in fiber. The daily recommended fiber intake is 25 to 30 grams. You should aim for a quarter of that from soluble fibers (apples, blueberries, beans, nuts, and seeds). Getting about 5 to 10 grams of soluble a day can help lower your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, by 5 to 11 points or more. In addition, plant-based foods like whole grains or fruits and veggies also have healthy substances called plant sterols. Eating 2 grams of sterols each day can help lower your LDL by 5% to 10%.
Potential Cancer Risk Reduction
Research suggests that following a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.
There is moderate evidence that dietary patterns rich in plant foods and lower in animal products and refined carbohydrates are associated with a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, and plant-based patterns low in red and processed meat and added sugars are associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Slow or Prevent Cognitive Decline
Some studies suggest that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow or prevent cognitive decline in older adults. Plant-based diets have a higher number of plant compounds and antioxidants, which have been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
In many studies, higher intakes of fruits and vegetables have been strongly associated with a reduction in cognitive decline. A review of nine studies including over 31,000 people found that eating more fruits and vegetables led to a 20% reduction in the risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.
Help Manage Diabetes
Adopting a WFPB diet may be an effective tool in managing and reducing your risk of developing diabetes.
A study in more than 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based eating pattern had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who followed unhealthy, non-plant-based diets.
Another study demonstrated that plant-based diets were associated with nearly a 50% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarian diets.
Plus, plant-based diets have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes!
Getting Started on a Plant-Based Diet
So if you agree the benefits of a WFPBD are impressive, let’s talk about getting started! It may seem overwhelming at first but remember taking small steps and making minor changes to your diet can add up to big health improvements over time. If you decide to eat more plant-based foods, you don’t need to completely switch to a strict vegan or vegetarian diet to reap some benefits. For many, eating less processed foods and more whole plant-based foods daily can make a positive impact.
Here are some tips from Johns Hopkins to get you started with a whole-foods plant-based diet:
- Start by eating more whole plant foods. Try adding more vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy foods, and beans, peas, and lentils to your meals. Fill at least 50% of your plate with non-starchy vegetables to keep carbs in check. Non-starchy vegetables, tofu, nuts, and seeds are all low-carb plant foods. Remember that a variety of plant foods is the key to meeting protein needs.
- If you do eat animal protein, eat smaller portions of meat, poultry, and eggs. Think about limiting portions to 25% of your plate. Fill the additional 75% of your plate with plant foods. Consider meat, poultry, and eggs as a side, not the main part of your meal.
- Switch one meal each week or even each day for a meatless option. Substitute beans, tofu, or mushrooms for the meat when you can. Find some new recipes for inspiration. Search for vegetarian versions of some meat recipes.
- Add your favorite flavors to plants. Plants don’t need to taste bland. Try seasonings you would add to animal products on plants. Don’t forget about flavors from other cuisines like Mexican, Mediterranean, Greek, Asian, and Indian foods which can be loaded with flavor and plants. Remember, spices and herbs have added nutrition benefits too.
Ready to get started?
Check out some plant-based recipes from EatingWell and Forks Over Knives.
Happy (and healthy) eating!
Nicole Papanicolas, NP