A whole-food plant-based diet, explained

The whole-food plant-based diet, often abbreviated to WFPB, follows the principle that a vegan unprocessed, salt- and oil-free diet is good for your body.

What is a whole-food plant-based diet?

Eating a strictly whole-foods plant-based diet is quite different from your standard vegan diet. It encourages eating little to no processed foods and discourages the use of oil and salt. This means vegan meat and cheese, bread, ice cream, cookies, candy, snacks and frozen meals are not allowed.

But, even without vegan frozen pizza, you can still eat a lot on a whole-foods plant-based diet—and it doesn’t have to be bland. There are about 200,000 edible plant species in the world, but humans eat only about 200. This is enough to give you a substantial kitchen arsenal of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs, spices and vinegars.


Is a whole-food plant-based diet healthy?

Given the lack of dairy-free boxed macaroni and cheese, French fries, and candy, it’s safe to say that health is probably the main reason for interest in plant-based whole foods. And, for good reason.

Multiple studies have linked a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. A whole-food plant-based diet is naturally rich in anti-inflammatory foods because it’s free of salt, oil, refined sugar, and white bread, all known causes of inflammation.

Should you be supplementing? Studies show that eating plant-based can come with health benefits, but a vegetarian diet naturally lacks vitamin B12, which helps build DNA and keeps your blood and nerve cells healthy. For what it’s worth, Michael Greger, MD, WFPB advocate and founder of nutritionfacts.org, recommends supplementing with this important vitamin. But as always, you should talk to your doctor if you’re planning to drastically change your diet.


What whole-foods can I eat that are plant-based?

While this sounds like it comes with a bunch of limitations right off the bat, there are plenty of whole-food plant-based ingredients at your disposal. So, there’s no need to eat a bunch of salad unless you really want to.

  • Some spices: Soy sauce, vinegar, nutritional yeast, mustard, salsa
  • Drinks: Coffee, tea, kombucha, sugar-free sparkling drinks
  • Fresh or dried chillies: Poblano, guajillo, jalapeño, aleppo, bird’s eye, serrano, scotch bonnet
  • Fresh or dried herbs and spices: Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, coriander, gochugaru, basil, ginger.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh, frozen, fermented, or dried (check for added sugar and oil)
  • Legos: Beans and all types of lentils
  • Mushrooms: Baby Bella, Portobello, Shiitake, Maitake, Enoki, Wood Ear etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts etc.
  • Nut and Seed Butter: Homemade or single ingredient (watch for added sugar and oil)
  • Other plant-based proteins: Tofu, tempeh, whole-grain vegan meats (oil-free, free from protein isolate)
  • White vegetables: Potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes
  • Unprocessed Sweeteners: Date syrup, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses (in moderation)
  • Unsweetened plant-based milk: Look for milk made without gums or fillers, like Elmhurst 1925 or DIY it
  • Vegan Cheese: Look for oil-free cheese made from nuts or seeds
  • Whole Grains and Pseudograins: Brown rice, kamut, farro, oats, quinoa, amaranth, wild rice
  • Whole grain breads and tortillas: moderation
  • Whole grain pasta or noodles: Soba, brown rice noodles, sweet potato noodles and this pasta

What is not allowed in a whole-food plant-based diet?

In addition to the list below, remember the most important rules of a whole-food plant-based diet: no oil, no salt, no processed sugar, and no processed grains.

  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, kefir and more
  • Drinks: Soda and soft drinks, alcohol, processed juices
  • Eggs: Make oil-free tofu scramble and use flaxseed for baking
  • Meat and fish: But you probably already knew that
  • Oil: Stir-fry with vegetable broth instead
  • Packaged Foods: most of Prepared foods, chips, puffs, candies, and cereals with added oil, salt, and sugar are not whole-food plant-based.
  • Processed sugars and sweeteners: White sugar, brown sugar, pancake syrup
  • Processed vegan meats and cheeses: The oil and salt are gone
  • Salt: Salt of any kind is not really encouraged
  • Vegan Ice Cream: With few exceptions, dairy-free ice cream contains oil and processed sugar
  • White grains, pasta, tortillas and bread: This includes rice


What are some whole-food plant-based recipes?

Salt and oil make food taste better. The salt brings out the natural flavor produced while the oil facilitates the Maillard reaction, otherwise known as browning, which adds flavor, aroma and color.

Don’t worry, your chef game can still be strong without salt and oil. The culinary world’s myriad other flavor-makers—herbs, spices, citrus juices, chili peppers, and miso—are all fair game, as well as, all of the alliums: onions, garlic, shallots, chives, leeks, and green onions. Embrace them in your cooking and you’ll banish bland foods from your kitchen.

All of this being said, a whole-foods plant-based diet can be more time-consuming, so don’t feel guilty if it’s not something you can commit to 24/7. We get it. Some of the foods mentioned, such as white bread and pasta, are cheaper than whole, plant-based alternatives. Making food from scratch takes time which not everyone has. (This is especially true of ourselves and our cravings for vegan pizza.) Keeping whole foods plant-based recipes in your rotation may be the right kind of balance for you.

Below are some recipes that are WFPB, mostly with some modifications. If you’re feeling up to the task, there are many recipes where you can leave out the oil and salt to taste as long as you’re seasoning your food with whole-food plant-based ingredients.

VegNews.  Kale PestoDaniel Keith

1 Oil-Free Vegan Kale Pesto Pasta

This pesto is dairy- and oil-free. To make it WFPB, use whole wheat, legume-based, and other types of grain-based flours. Basically, anything other than plain white pasta, which is usually made from durum wheat semolina, is fine in moderation. It’s good because we can’t imagine a life without pasta.
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VegNews.WafflesDrina Burton

2 Vegan and Gluten-Free Waffles

Most waffle recipes, vegan or not, call for oil and sugar. But this waffle recipe uses fresh bananas and dairy-free yogurt. Instead of enriched flour, it is made from a mixture of oat flour and almond meal. It’s different from your typical waffle, but no less adept at holding maple syrup. For vegan yogurt, use homemade or look for store-bought options that don’t have added sugar or filler ingredients, such as gum, that aren’t whole-food plant-based.
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VegNews.ItalianWeddingSoupMary Callan

3 Vegan Italian Wedding Soup

This is a soup we want to eat anytime, not just at an Italian wedding, thanks to the generous use of fresh herbs, lemon zest and juice. Meatballs are made from cannellini beans, ground spices and breadcrumbs. Be sure to use salt and oil free whole wheat bread or make your own using day old whole wheat bread.
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VegNews.StirFryJuliana Hever

4 Oil-Free Sweet Chili Tofu Stir-Fry

This sweet and spicy tofu recipe is oil-free, but with a sweet chili sauce called “nam chim kai” in Thailand. Bottled is usually made with sugar, but if you omit the sesame oil from the sauce recipe here, you’ll be in the clear. It’s also packed with a rainbow of veggies: purple cabbage, red bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and more. Serve it with cauliflower rice or brown rice and top with scallions, fresh cilantro and sesame seeds.
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VegNews.KajuKatliPops.ShivangiRaoShivangi Rao

5 Vegan Cashew Katli Kulfi

This frozen treat from Shivangi Rao Mindful Indian food The cookbook is the love child of two desserts. cauldronA North Indian fudgy sweet made with cashews and sugar, and Kulfi, a frozen dessert made from full fat milk, sugar, cardamom and saffron that originated in North India. This decadent pop tastes like the best of both worlds A word of caution: The recipe is sweetened with maple syrup, so if you want to be strictly whole-foods plant-based, this is an every-once-in-a-while treat.
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