Advice & Guides

The Whole-Person Whole-Foods Approach to Eating: What, Why, When, and How

What is a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet? Let’s break it down. A WFPB diet is not just a dietary plan but rather a lifestyle. Whole-food refers to foods that are natural or close to their natural form. Foods that are unrefined or minimally processed hold their nutritional value. Plant-based ref
by
Miranda Weintraub
updated
March 4, 2022
12
references

What to Eat?

What is a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet? Let’s break it down. A WFPB diet is not just a dietary plan but rather a lifestyle.

  • Whole-food refers to foods that are natural or close to their natural form. Foods that are unrefined or minimally processed hold their nutritional value.
  • Plant-based refers to foods that come from plants as opposed to foods that come from animal-based products, such as meat or dairy.

Following a WFPB diet does not mean that you cannot also eat animal-based products. One can be a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore and eat a WFPB diet. A vegan or vegetarian, for example, would want to make sure that they are not consuming highly processed imitation meats and cheeses, whereas a pescatarian or omnivore would want to make sure that the bulk of their diet is not animal-based, but rather plant-based.

How does a WFPB Diet differ from other Common Diets?

 A WFPB diet is largely based on the consumption of whole grains, fruits, non-starchy vegetables, starchy vegetables, tubers and legumes. Additionally, the consumption of nuts and seeds, plant-based milks, tofu and tempeh, whole-grain flours and breads, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and eggs can be included in a WFPB diet. 

While a WFPB diet allows for the consumption of a wide variety of foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, tubers, and legumes are what should make up the bulk of your diet. A good rule of thumb is to:

Enjoy Frequently

  • Whole grains: e.g., barley, brown rice, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, whole wheat
  • Fruits: e.g., apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapes, mangos, oranges, strawberries
  • Non-starchy vegetables: e.g., broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, lettuce, spinach
  • Starchy vegetables & tubers: e.g., carrots, corn, parsnips, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash
  • Legumes: e.g., black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, pinto beans

Enjoy Occasionally

  • Nuts & seeds (whole or butter): e.g., almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
  • Plant-based milks: e.g., almond, hemp, rice, soy
  • Tofu & tempeh
  • Whole-grain flours: e.g., breads, pasta
  • Seafood: e.g., fish, shellfish
  • Healthy fats: e.g., avocados, olive oil, unsweetened coconut

Enjoy Less Frequently

  • Refined grains: e.g., bleached white flours, bread, and pasta, white rice
  • Animal products: e.g., meat, poultry
  • Dairy: e.g., cream, milk, eggs, cheese
  • Sugar: e.g., table sugar, syrup, molasses, honey, agave

Why Eat a WFPB Diet?

A WFPB diet is primarily made up of whole and minimally processed foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. It omits or greatly reduces meat and dairy products, which are the central focus for most Americans at most meals.

There is a large body of evidence that supports the health-related benefits of eating a WFPB diet. This diet has been shown to help prevent, arrest, and even reverse many of the chronic cardiometabolic diseases that are common in Western societies and to prevent the major risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases, including

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance

In addition to improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels, and body weight, eating a WFPB diet is also associated with having more energy, higher levels of concentration, and fewer mood swings. Plant-based diets have a higher number of plant compounds and antioxidants, which have also been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and reverse cognitive deficits.1

When are the healthiest times to eat?

It is not just what you eat that matters, but when you eat. For most of us, the time of the day we eat our meals is determined by multiple factors, like our work schedules, our hunger levels, the medications we take, and even the times our family, friends, and co-workers are free to share a meal. The daily nature of life is fluid and sometimes sticking to an exact mealtime is challenging.

Research shows that the time of the day that we eat and the amount of time that elapses between meals has a significant effect on our health. It is also important to remember that our bodies digest food differently at different times. Many of the differences in our digestion system are related to our circadian rhythm, also known as the body's internal clock, the cycle that moderates our daily sleep-wake patterns. This internal clock not only affects how sleepy or awake we feel, but also our body’s physical, mental and behavioral processes, including eating and digestion.2

Research has found associations between circadian rhythm, mealtimes, weight status, and insulin resistance which is linked to metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Also, regular interruptions to our circadian rhythm, such as traveling between different time zones, can increase our risk of metabolic conditions.345678910

We all have unique individual and social circumstances that determine our daily eating schedule. Eating at the same time every day may not always be doable, so it’s best not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to mealtimes.

Eating habits to Adopt

  • Eat most daily calories earlier in the day.
  • Eat 1 to 2 hours before a workout and then again within 1 to 2 hours following exercise. This helps ensure that you’re both properly fueled beforehand and adequately refueled afterward.
  • Incorporate fasting, such as intermittent fasting, or restricting the times that you eat. Fasting helps to regulate our metabolism. 

Eating habits to Avoid

  • Snacking between meals. By pausing between meals and avoiding snacking, we give our body’s time to flush out toxins from our digestive system and improve our inflammatory response.
  • Eating 3 hours before going to bed at night. This not only helps to maintain circadian rhythm, but also contributes to the regulation of our metabolic system.

The best times of day to eat will vary from person to person — and maybe even from day to day. Consider eating the bulk of your calories earlier in the day, avoid snacking and try to avoid eating within a few hours of bedtime.

How to Eat: mindful eating and its benefits

Learning how to practice mindfulness with food and eating habits is a skill and is a useful way to connect your mind and body to determine the best time to eat any meal. Mindful eating means that you know how to identify when you are hungry, what an appropriate portion size is, and when to stop eating. Mindfulness appears to work by an increased awareness of internal, rather than external, cues to eat.11

Mindful Eating has numerous benefits. It can:

  • Prevent or reduce binge eating, emotional eating and eating in response to external cues
  • Prevent weight gain and reduce food intake 
  • Address problematic eating behaviors and the challenge of controlling the quantity of food intake

Remember, it is always important to practice mindfulness for planning your nutritious WFPB meals! 

References

  1. Sheeja Malar D, Pandima Devi K. Dietary polyphenols for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease–future research and development. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2014;15(4):330-342.
  2. Potter GD, Skene DJ, Arendt J, Cade JE, Grant PJ, Hardie LJ. Circadian rhythm and sleep disruption: causes, metabolic consequences, and countermeasures. Endocr Rev. 2016;37(6):584-608.
  3. Stenvers DJ, Scheer FA, Schrauwen P, la Fleur SE, Kalsbeek A. Circadian clocks and insulin resistance. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2019;15(2):75-89.
  4. Poggiogalle E, Jamshed H, Peterson CM. Circadian regulation of glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in humans. Metabolism. 2018;84:11-27.
  5. Morris CJ, Purvis TE, Mistretta J, Scheer FA. Effects of the internal circadian system and circadian misalignment on glucose tolerance in chronic shift workers. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(3):1066-1074.
  6. Leproult R, Holmbäck U, Van Cauter E. Circadian misalignment augments markers of insulin resistance and inflammation, independently of sleep loss. Diabetes. 2014;63(6):1860-1869.
  7. Resuehr D, Wu G, Johnson Jr RL, Young ME, Hogenesch JB, Gamble KL. Shift work disrupts circadian regulation of the transcriptome in hospital nurses. J Biol Rhythms. 2019;34(2):167-177.
  8. Maury E. Off the clock: from circadian disruption to metabolic disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(7):1597.
  9. Engin A. Circadian rhythms in diet-induced obesity. Obes Lipotoxicity. Published online 2017:19-52.
  10. McHill A, Wright Jr K. Role of sleep and circadian disruption on energy expenditure and in metabolic predisposition to human obesity and metabolic disease. Obes Rev. 2017;18:15-24.
  11. Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017;30(2):272-283.
About the author
Miranda Weintraub
Miranda is an epidemiological researcher at Kaiser Permanente, as well as a clinical researcher at Mora Medical. Miranda is our go to resource for everything and anything related to epidemiological research.

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