What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?

The term “plant-based diet” first emerged in the health science community in 1980, specifically through the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell is a biochemist who was researching at the National Institutes of Health, studying the effect of nutrition on long-term health. He wanted to distinguish between the impact of low-fat, high-fiber whole-vegetable-based food on cancer and to separate this type of diet from the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan.”

Let’s break these terms down to show some key differences between them and a whole-food plant-based diet:

Vegetarianism typically emphasizes consuming a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, but does not include meat though it often still includes animal protein and cholesterol from eggs and dairy products. On the other hand, whole food plant-based diets, include vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds, but also strongly emphasize whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), including all parts of the food, hence making it “whole.” The WFPBD ideally excludes meat, eggs, and dairy products entirely. Studies show that the microbiome (our digestive system) is able to safely clear TMAO with the seldom intake of very small amounts of animal protein in an otherwise strict plant-based diet regimen.

Veganism typically opposes raising and killing animals for food, based on concern for animals and the environment, and consequently often results in improved health for those who follow this way of eating compared to those who follow the Standard American Diet. A WFPBD, on the other hand, focuses on the nutritional impact of certain types of food on the individual person.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the history of the term “veganism” to show how it further differs from a WFPBD. We’re doing this because many in the food industry tout these ways of eating as being the same thing, but they aren’t.

In the early 1900s, Americans primarily ate from their gardens and consumed minimal amounts of meat, traditionally on Sundays. Consuming farmer-raised chickens and cows was considered a luxury and was very expensive. After World War II, diets changed with the advent of fast food, TV dinners, boxed cake, cookie mixes, ice cream, and fried food. During this time, with the news of increased animal production and processing, the term “vegan” was coined to describe a diet free from all animal products.

In the past, vegans mainly focused on avoiding animal products entirely for ethical reasons. This choice included any process that allowed plant food to touch animal products, such as when white sugar is filtered and bleached through animal bone char.

Today, the marketing industry labels processed vegan food as “plant-based” to take advantage of the public’s heightened awareness of Whole Food Plant-based Diets. This has made people believe that “plant-based” and “vegan” are synonymous. Unlike whole plant-based food, however, vegan fare includes separated or isolated plant oil from olives, corn, avocado, safflower, coconuts, and sugar all of which can cause elevated cholesterol levels, weight gain, and cancer. It may also include isolated soy protein (ISP) and isolated gluten, aka vital wheat gluten, which is a suspect cause of imbalances resulting in gluten sensitivities, allergies, kidney damage, and cancer. A WFPBD, on the other hand, is void of these.