There’s no denying that sticking to fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods is a great approach to wellness. And now that veganism is becoming more popular, the foods that make up this particular lifestyle choice are much easier to buy. However, they aren’t always the healthier choice. In fact, researchers at the George Institute for Global Health surveyed 190 products in 2019 and found that meat-free bacon and sausages contain more than a third of the recommended salt intake per day.
Nowadays there are loads of brands that are vegan-friendly but their products are still highly processed and lack the required nutrients they profess to contain. That’s why paying attention to the quality and ingredients when you’re embracing a whole food diet and lifestyle is important — especially for newcomers to veganism.
The Whole Foods Vegan Diet (WFVD)
While there is no singular definition of what constitutes a whole food vegan (or plant-based) diet, it does focus on some basic points. Avoiding animal products is a given, as Doctors for Nutrition emphasizes that the “whole foods” part means sticking to food groups that include whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, tubers, and small quantities of nuts and seeds. Someone on a whole food plant-based or vegan diet should consider not just whether it’s whole plant food, but also if an ingredient promotes good health.
What to Look for and What to Avoid
Leafy greens, mushrooms, potatoes, and fresh herbs should all be integral to a healthy diet. Nuts and seeds like raw almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also great to have as snacks or to add to salads, smoothies, or energy bars. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough carbs in the form of non-processed food such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, and fruits, among others. Additionally, beans and legumes will make a fantastic addition to your pantry, especially non-GMO edamame, chickpeas, green beans, and the like. They’re high in fiber and protein, ensuring you don’t miss out on any essential nutrients. And when shopping outside of the produce section, look into healthier sources of packaged foods — ones ideally with less than five ingredients. For example, nut butters shouldn’t have too many preservatives. It might even be better to make your own.
This is easier said than done of course, as we live in a fast-paced world that prioritizes convenience over quality. This often leaves our diets lacking in nutritional whole foods. But as much as you can, avoid pre-packaged meals such as frozen meals, boxed dinners, or processed foods with a long list of ingredients. Health and wellness website SymptomFind also warns us about the dangers of alternative meats. Alternative meats have a tendency to be ultra-processed and are designed to be highly profitable and convenient to appeal to vegans, meaning they use low-cost ingredients, have a long shelf life, and are ready to consume. This also means that they don’t have much space in them for the nutrients you need as a vegan because as we’ve previously mentioned, most of these meat substitutes contain a high amount of sodium. So always check the ingredients before purchasing them, and consume them in moderation.
Why Adopt a WFVD
There are tons of health benefits to committing to a WFVD. You can consume more fiber and improve gut health due to integrating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains into your diet. A WFVD will help you manage your weight too, so those adopting this diet tend to be leaner than those who aren’t.
It’s also great for disease prevention, as science has proven how whole foods can help prevent, halt, or even reverse chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, a study published in the journal Nature Food evaluated more than 5,800 foods, ranking them by their nutritional disease burden to humans, as well as their environmental footprint. Results showed that just by substituting 10% of your daily caloric intake from beef and processed meats with a mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, you can gain up to 48 minutes of healthy life per day. Adversely, eating something like a processed hot dog can cost you 36 minutes of your life.
Choosing plant-based foods also helps reduce your impact on the environment, and allows you to give back to your local farmers and community. As we pointed out in our feature on Vegan Statistics, 83% of farmland is used for raising animals to provide meat and dairy. However, dairy and meat only account for 37% of protein consumption and 18% of calories. That’s why maintaining this kind of diet will positively impact our planet.
Finding Your Balanced Diet
Overall, the key to eating a whole foods vegan diet is to plan everything out beforehand, from looking up recipes to shopping for ingredients. Considering the options available to you will prevent you from making rash, unhealthy choices later on. There are lots of resources available to prepare easy vegan recipes that you can find online. It’s also worth keeping in mind that it’s normal to struggle a bit and that it’s absolutely okay to take your time to gradually shift to a whole foods diet. At the end of the day, the noticeable and measurable improvements in your health will make it absolutely worth it.