Common Questions About The Whole Foods Diet

How will I get enough protein on a whole foods, plant-based diet?

All plant foods have protein and nearly every whole plant food has all 8 of the essential amino acids. The USDA dietary guidelines say you need about 46 grams of protein/day for a female and 56 grams for a male, and these needs can easily be met by plants.

Let’s assume the average moderately active adult female needs about 2000 calories a day. If she just ate 2000 calories of broccoli she would get 166 grams of protein, and if she ate 2000 calories of oats she would get 72 grams! Same goes for an average moderately active adult male who, let’s say, needs about 3000 calories a day. Just eating 3000 calories of sweet potatoes gives him 67 grams of protein, while 3000 calories of broccoli gives him 249 grams! As you can see all options here surpass the daily protein requirement.

The idea here is not to get hung up on any given food but rather to trust that if a single whole plant food can provide enough protein, a combination of them can certainly do the same. So, next time you think you need to worry about protein, don’t. Instead, pick your favorite Whole Foodie dish and enjoy!

Without dairy, how will I get enough calcium?

Plants are full of calcium! This is not surprising when you remember calcium is a mineral that comes from the ground and is absorbed into plants.

For example, 1 cup of cooked collard greens has about the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of whole dairy milk despite the collards being 1/3 of the calories of the milk.

Also, calcium is often better absorbed from plants than from dairy. For example, we absorb up to 60% (or more) of the calcium found in plants, especially vegetables, but only 32% of the calcium from dairy milk.

It is often helpful to remember that some of our larger animals (elephants, horses and cows) eat only plants. If they can have bones strong enough to support their skeletons, then so can we!

What is the benefit of eating whole grains versus refined grains?

Eating whole grains increases our fiber intake (providing bulk and stretch for our stomachs) which helps us feel full and satisfied. Increased fiber intake also helps to maintain digestive regularity and improve hormone and cholesterol levels. Whole grains are also rich sources of nutrients, so including them increases our intake of vitamins and minerals, while keeping caloric density and overall food consumption low.

Will carbs make me fat?

Remember that not all carbs are created equally.

Unprocessed, unrefined complex carbs such as intact whole grains and starchy vegetables (roots, tubers, winter squashes and beans) are filling and rich in fiber and water that increases stretch in our stomach, and LOW in calorie density. This combonation helps our bodies properly shut off our hunger signals.

Processed, refined carbs and those that have added fats and sugars are HIGH in calorie density, but not filling. They have little fiber and water, so they can lead us to overeat them in an effort to get enough stomach stretch (the feeling of satiation).

The Standard American Diet is LOW in whole grains (less than 1 serving/day) and HIGH in the processed, refined carbs that make us overeat.

What about low-carb, high-protein diets?

The Standard American Diet is high in unhealthy carbs, unhealthy fats, sugars and calories. It is not suprising that cutting out these foods in a low-carb, high-protein diet helps people lose weight because they end up reducing processed, refined food intake and overall calorie intake. It is noteworthy, however, that low-carb, high-protein diets do not improve health and may have serious risks associated with them including calcium loss, kidney stones and bone damage. Compare this to The Whole Foods Diet where you can lose weight, feel great, eat an abundant array of delicious foods, and not only prevent but also reverse disease!

What are some of the concerns with oil?

Oil is the most calorie-dense of all foods and is 100% fat. In addition, many oils are low in omega 3 and 6 (essential fats you need to get from your diet) and high in unhealthy saturated fats that can lead to plaque formation in our arteries and ultimately heart disease.

Do I need oil to be healthy?

Our bodies require some dietary fat, specifically the essential fats omega 3 and omega 6. It does not, however, require these fats to be in the form of processed oils – many of which contain very little of these essential fats. A whole food, plant-based diet is low in processed foods including oils, but oil-free doesn’t mean fat-free. The diet promoted in The Whole Foods Diet is a low fat, oil-free diet. All whole plant foods have fat in them but the percentage of calories from fat is lower and the type of fat is healthier. Most plant foods contain very little saturated fat and are good sources of the healthier fats, including the essential fats omega 3 and omega 6. So, by consuming a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes you will automatically be consuming the essential fats required for good health and avoiding the unhealthy fats found in most processed oils.

What about olive oil and the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet (defined as the dietary pattern prominent on the island of Crete in the late 1950s) was a healthy diet because it was abundant in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. It was low in animal products and refined foods. And it happened to have a little bit of olive oil. This diet was healthy despite the olive oil, not because of it. Unfortunately, the diet in Crete has since become Americanized with more olive oil, more refined foods and more animal products. As such, their health has become more Americanized as well with an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Do organic foods have higher nutrient contents than conventional foods?

There is no clear evidence that nutrient levels are higher in organic foods. However there are clear concerns with conventional farming practices as far as environmental contaminant loads, antibiotics, GMO, etc.

Are organic foods healthier?

It depends on how you define healthier and what you compare them to. We would recommend consuming organic foods over conventional foods if the option is available to you. Just don’t use lack of access to organic foods as an excuse to avoid eating all plant foods, as it would be better to consume conventional plant foods than to eat none at all.

If I can’t get or afford organic foods should I not eat fruits and vegetables?

The biggest take home message is eat lots of fruits and vegetables. If organic is not an option for you, choose conventional. It is also worth noting that conventional fruits and vegetables are what are used in most studies that show the beneficial effects of fruits and vegetables on health (CVD, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.)

Does washing the skin of fruits and vegetables make a difference in contaminant consumption?

Yes, washing food thoroughly removes a significant amount of pesticide residue and peeling skin reduces it even more.

What are some of the concerns with imitation meat products (veggie versions of animal foods, such as soy chicken or soy hotdogs)?

These foods usually contain oil, and occasionally dairy products (casein) and/or eggs. They are also high in fat and sodium, highly processed, calorie dense, and stripped of important nutrients present in the whole food derivatives. Extracted isolated proteins such as textured vegetable protein and soy protein isolate have been shown to stimulate IGF-1, a growth factor associated with increased risk of cancer, accelerated aging and acne. Eating highly processed foods of any kind, plant or animal, is something people should try hard to avoid.

Is it okay to eat processed, plant-based junk foods?

The goal is to decrease the intake of all junk food including plant-based junk foods like vegan chips, cookies, soy dogs, white flour pastas, etc. Usually the dependence on plant-based junk foods is due to people not knowing how to make their favorite dishes healthier, which is something our meal planner can help you with. Most all of your favorite dishes can be made in a healthy way, so be sure to explore that thoroughly before resorting to plant-based junk foods.

What are some of the benefits of decreasing the consumption of plant-based junk foods?

Plant based junk foods are often high in calorie density, salt, added sugars and unhealthy oils/fats. Therefore, avoiding these foods enhances weight loss and decreases risks (such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer) associated with the consumption of unhealthy fats and oils. Eliminating excess amounts of sodium can also decrease blood pressure for patients with high blood pressure. In addition, by avoiding isolated protein concentrates, which are often found in these foods, it also decreases IGF-1 exposure, which is a growth factor associated with cancer risk, accelerated aging and acne.

Is soy unhealthy?

It is true that isoflavones in soy mimic estrogen and increased estrogen in the body can promote the growth of estrogen-sensitive cancers. However, studies have also shown that isoflavones from soy can inhibit prostate and breast cancer and that these cancers have a decreased incidence in countries like China and Japan (where soy products are consumed regularly). Studies that show harm tend to be those that use processed versions of soy (TVP, isolated soy protein, etc.), which is very different from traditional, minimally processed forms of soy (soymilk, tofu, tempeh, etc.). These studies use very high doses of soy isoflavones, often tested in animals (known to process these substances differently than humans).

The take home message is to consider how much soy we are eating overall and in what form. Our best advice to you when eating soy products is to choose traditional forms of soy (such as tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame, etc.) over synthetic/processed forms (burgers, cheese, bars, etc) and to use these foods as condiments or flavorings for your meal and not the meal itself. Using soy in place of animal products has been shown to improve cholesterol and blood sugar as well as help with weight loss and cancer prevention.

Why do you recommend up to 10% animal products?

Our recommendation is to eat 100% whole foods of which 90-100% percent are plants. For those who wish to include animal products in their diet we suggest limiting their consumption to 10% or less of calories. There are plenty of studies that show vegans and vegetarians are healthier and live longer than those on a Standard American Diet, a diet rich in animal products and processed foods. And 100% whole food, plant-based diets have been shown to reverse diabetes and heart disease. The evidence however, from a health perspective, does not clearly show that a 100% plant-based diet is a better choice for the average person. In fact, many of the healthiest populations in the world include a small amount of animal products (about 10% on average) in their diets.

More Articles