If you’re thinking about transitioning to a WFPB diet, it can be easy to focus on the foods you’re not going to be eating rather than the abundance left available to you. To help show you the huge amount of nutritious plant-based foods you can eat, we’ve created this whole food plant-based diet food list.
This is a simple guide to the food items that’ll soon become the basis for some delicious and healthy meals.
There’s no clear definition of what constitutes a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet. Therefore plant-based diets can vary greatly depending on the extent to which a person includes animal products in their diet. The Center for Nutrition Studies describe it as one which excludes meat, dairy, or eggs.
The WFPB lifestyle is often confused with that of a vegan diet, yet they are not the same. A vegan diet is defined by what it eliminates. The WFPB diet is defined by what it emphasizes—a large variety of whole foods.
Whole foods are natural foods and foods that are minimally processed.
Plant-based = Food from plants.
(Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts)
Avoid = animal products or limit consumption of these.
Whole foods = Natural, real, unrefined or minimally processed foods.
(Aim for locally sourced, organic food when possible. Shop in fresh produce section of supermarkets.)
Avoid = refined foods such as white flour, added sugars and processed oils.
What are the Reasons for adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle?
According to the Center for Nutrition Studies, populations with mostly plant-based diets (grains, nuts, and fruit) have longer lifespans. While the populations that eat mostly animal products have higher rates of chronic disease.
T. Colin Campbell further states that processed, artificial foods can be high in sugar, sodium, trans fats, and preservatives, and are stripped of original nutrients. While rich, fatty food and sweets offer no nutrients and create addiction-like cravings.
Dr Michael Klaper, who is also an advocate of the whole food plant based diet says:
“Obesity, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. These aren’t mysterious illnesses. They are the result of running high-fat, overly processed, meat and dairy based foods through our bodies.”
He suggests that adopting the whole food, plant-based diet can cause many of these diseases to go away. Obesity melts away, the arteries open up, the insulin receptors clear out and joints stop hurting.
Klaper adopted this lifestyle back in 1981 and now he is a slim 70-year-old who runs 8 km a day and takes no regular medication. He puts his health down to eating plant-based whole foods for 36 years.
If you’re looking for more of an overview, don’t forget to check out our article: What is a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet?
For now, we’re going to break just some of the many foods available to you down into categories, before looking at how you will get your essential vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind, the availability will be different to where you live. However, by looking at the categories, you’ll be able to identify the huge variety of foods available to you.
Whole Food Plant Based-Diet Food List
The key to eating fruit is to consume a variety of colours throughout the day. Aim to eat at least 1 serving of berries each day. When it comes to other fruits, try to consume at least 3 servings a day.
When it comes to vegetables, there really is no limit. Strive for at least 1 serving of cruciferous vegetables, at least 2 servings of green vegetables, and at least 2 servings of other vegetables.
|Baby kale||Kale||Broccoli||Broccoli sprouts|
|Cauliflower||Brussels sprouts||Green cabbage||Red cabbage|
|Collard greens||Mustard greens||Bok choy||Swiss chard|
|Bok choy||Kohlrabi||Mustard greens||Rutabaga|
|Turnip greens||Arugula||Swiss chard|
|Beet greens||Spinach||Young salad greens|
|Mustard greens||Lambs Leaf||Carrot Greens|
When it comes to beans strive to eat at least 3 servings a day. This can be 1/4 cup of hummus or bean dip, or a 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils, or tofu for example.
|Tempeh||Black Beans||Yellow Split Peas||Black-eye Peas|
|Kidney Beans||Green Split Peas||Butter Beans||Navy Beans|
|Miso||Cannellini Beans||Garbanzo Beans||Chickpeas|
|Lentils||Edamame||Pinto Beans||Adzuki Beans|
Nuts and Seeds
Aim to consume 1 cup of nuts and seeds per day. A typical serving of these would be 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter or 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds.
|Walnuts||Almonds||Sunflower Seeds||Brazil Nuts|
|Sesame Seeds||Cashews||Pumpkin Seeds||Chia Seeds|
Whole grains and pseudocereals
Try to consume 3 servings of whole grains per day. Typical serving sizes of grains are 3 cups of air popped popcorn, 1/2 cup cooked grains and pasta, 1 cup cold cereal and 1 tortilla or slice of bread.
|Whole Wheat Pasta||Amaranth||Teff||Buckwheat|
|Millet||Quinoa||Whole Grain Barley||Brown Rice|
|Freekeh||Whole-wheat Couscous||Whole Grain Rice|
Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices can make simple ingredients burst with flavour. There are no maximum servings of these taste-enhancers, but there can be a huge amount of benefits. Turmeric has well known anti-inflammatory benefits for example. Make sure when you’re buying dried spices or spice mixes that they just contain the ingredients below. Sometimes, additives and preservatives can also be present, which we want to remove from our diet.
|Allspice||Chinese 5 spice||Pepper||Peppermint|
Other useful foods to keep in mind
Try to consume 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds per day
Water (drink plenty)
Tea (black, green, peppermint, chamomile, chai etc)
Organic soy milk
Coconut and rice milk
Superfoods & Smoothie Boosters
Protein powder (I use NutriBiotic vegan rice protein)
Raw cacao (powder or nibs)
Dried goji berries
Sea vegetables (dulse, kelp) – good source of iodine in strict vegan/vegetarian diets
Hemp seeds (hemp hearts)
Maca root powder
Sauces & Condiments
Organic soy sauce
Vinegar (apple cider, balsamic)
When it comes to vitamin b12, plants are not a reliable source and internal production is insufficient. B12 is made by microorganisms. While we do have many of these in our body, most of them are in our large intestine and B12 is absorbed mostly in our small intestine. Plants are not a reliable source because we try to get rid of pathogenic bacteria before consuming them.
While seaweed does contain B12 (both active and inactive forms), some of the active B12 is converted to inactive when it’s dried. This inactive form of B12 can actually take up residence on the B12 receptor sites preventing real B12 from getting in there. The best plant-based food for plant-based B12 is Nori. 1
Registered dietician Brenda Davis recommends supplementation or fortified foods. She recommends taking at least 1000 mcg at least twice a week if it’s B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin. If it’s B12 in the form of Methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin, you will need it more often as it’s a little less stable.
But it’s not just vegans and those following a whole food plant based diet that need to be taking vitamin b12. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that everyone over 50 should not rely on animal products as there primary source of b12.
In animal products, B12 is bound to the protein and in order to get the B12 off that protein you need to be producing enough stomach acid and enough enzymes. When it’s removed from the protein it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Our ability to absorb B12 declines with age due to loss of intrinsic factor as well as a drop in acid production in the stomach. 2
According to Dr Neal Barnard, deficiencies in vitamin B12 can also arise due to medication which can decrease B12 absorption. Because B12 plays a crucial role in our body, from forming healthy blood cells to healthy brain and nerve functioning, he likewise recommends taking a B12 supplement. This should be at least 250 mcg per day or a weekly supplement of 2500 mcg.
B12 is water-soluble and excess amounts leave the body in urine. However, the NHS warns not to take too much as it could be harmful, but 2,000μg a day is unlikely to cause any problems.
The bottom line is that there’s many factors that influence vitamin B12 absorption, bioavailability and metabolism which still have to be determined. Therefore, it’s important to either use fortified foods and/or take a supplement. Vitamin B12 is often in many fortified foods such as breads, cereals, or other grains and plant-based milk alternatives that have been fortified.
Iron and zinc
Those following a whole food plant based diet, or a vegan diet, tend to actually consume more iron than those following the more western style of eating. However it’s not absorbed as easily, especially where there is a high level of phytates or other inhibitors in the diet. Therefore the recommended daily intake of iron is 1.8 times higher for those who do not eat meat 3.
To improve iron absorption Brenda Davis RD provides the following tips:
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods: Consuming 50mg of Vitamin C with iron rich foods can boost absorption 3 – 6 times.
- Avoid coffee and tea with meals: Tannins in tea can reduce iron absorption by 50-90% 4. She suggests avoid drinking tea with your meals and leave it at least an hour or 2 afterward until you have a cup.
- Soak, sprout and ferment: Phytates, which are naturally found in plant foods, can reduce mineral availability. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains and legumes can improve iron absorption by lowering the amount of phytates. 5.
- Use a cast iron pan: Foods prepared in a cast iron pan tend to provide two to three times more iron as those prepared in non-iron cookware 6.
- Eat Iron rich food:
- Legumes such as lentils, black beans, lima beans, chickpeas and soybeans.
- Whole-grains and pseudo-grains such as amaranth, quinoa, kamut, spelt, and fortified grains.
- Seeds and nuts such as cashews, pine nuts, almonds and brazil nuts.
- Vegetables such as mushrooms, peas, string beans and green leafy vegetables.
- Fruits such as avocado, prune juice and dried fruit.
- Blackstrap molasses
For more information about iron check out our article: What Plant-Based Foods are High in Iron?
Normally vitamin D comes from the sunlight on our skin. When we get some sun it causes vitamin D to form inside. Therefore, if your not out in the sun enough, or you wear sunscreen when you are, Dr Neal Barnard recommends taking a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 appear to be equally effective when taken in moderate amounts of 1000 – 2000 IU per day.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D is that adults get at least of 600 IU 7. However, 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D from a supplement is generally safe, and is recommended by Dr Michael Greger due to the fact it may have additional health benefits 8.
Vitamin D, according to the Mayo Clinic, plays an important role in our body. It helps your body sustain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus and helps keep your muscles, nerves and immune system healthy. Vitamin D also allows your body to absorb calcium along with playing a crucial role in forming and maintaining healthy bones.
Research also indicates consistently getting enough vitamin D significantly lowers the risk for osteoporosis. On top of this, low vitamin D levels are also associated with MS, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. 9
Keep in mind, an association does not mean Vitamin D is the case of these conditions, or that taking a supplement alone will adequately prevent or treat them.
Useful Tips for Preparing Food on a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
1) Frozen vegetables and fruit are really handy to have in your freezer. They often contain higher nutrient content than fresh food that’s more than a few days old. Additionally, frozen vegetables and fruit are typically picked and frozen straight away. 10
2) The skin on fruits and vegetables protect them from decay so keep them uncut or store in an airtight container.
3) Steam or microwave your vegetables rather than boiling them. When you boil your vegetable, the water-soluble vitamins readily leach into cooking water.
4) Meal plan for the week. Then make a list of all the ingredients you will need. This way you’ll know exactly what you need to buy when you go shopping.
5) Buying some extra fruit and vegetables can be handy. You can use them to bulk up your meals or create some healthy plant based snacks. There’s no limit to the amount of fruit and vegetables you can snack on. Remember this is not a calorie restricted diet. Give your body real, whole, natural foods and it will reward you.
6) Bring some fruit or a healthy granola/oat bar with you when you are out and about. This way if you’re feeling hungry you have something to eat rather than trying to find a suitable snack. This, depending where you are, can sometimes be difficult. Also, some vegan foods often contain oil, sugar etc. so if your striving for 100% WFPB, these would not be the best for you.
7) The goal is to get as many of your nutrients from whole foods rather than taking supplements where you can. The more processed the food, the less nutritional value it will have.
8) Preparing foods with minimal cooking and processing will lock in more nutrients and lead to greater long term health benefits. Your goal is to eat more whole foods and retain as much of their nutritional value as possible.
9) You don’t have to buy organic. It is always recommended to get organic and locally grown where you can, but don’t put pressure on yourself. The benefits of eating plant-based are still derived from using non-organic foods. However, some foods are more likely to contain pesticides than others. for more information on this here’s EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
10) Aim to eat fats as a whole rather than consuming them as an oil. Obtaining your healthy essential fats is important, but high fat intake, especially from highly processed or animal foods, increases your risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and high blood cholesterol. It can also contribute to excess weight, which increases your risk of diabetes and hypertension. Try stir frying with water or vegetable stock instead. If you want to use a dressing on your salad, it’s simple to make homemade, oil-free dressings.
11) Reducing your intake of refined sugars is important. These are absorbed faster and as a result they lead to higher blood glucose levels, which leads to an increased risk of diabetes and other diseases. Again, like fats, aim to eat sugar in its whole form such as fruit. When we take in sugar in this form it will be housed with all the other vitamins, fiber and water.
12) The body needs salt to function but it’s very easy to take in excess amounts of salt. Why is this bad? If someone is not efficient at removing excess salt it can lead to high blood pressure. Too much salt can also increase the risk for stomach and esophageal cancer. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that healthy adults consume 1,500 mg (1.5 grams) of sodium per day 11.
13) It’s a good idea to set aside one day where you do your meal prepping for the week ahead. Trust me this makes things so much easier.
14) Get creative! Don’t be afraid to try new foods, experiment with flavours, and mix foods together. This keeps the excitement in what you’re doing strong and it’s much easier to stick to if you don’t feel like you’re eating the same things over and over again.
- Watanabe, F., Yabuta, Y., Bito, T., & Teng, F. (2014). Vitamin B12-containing plant food sources for vegetarians. Nutrients, 6(5), 1861-1873.
- O’Leary, F., & Samman, S. (2010). Vitamin B12 in health and disease. nutrients, 2(3), 299-316.
- Copper, I. O. M. (2001). Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc(pp. 224-57). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- Hurrell, R. F., Reddy, M., & Cook, J. D. (1999). Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition, 81(4), 289-295.
- Hurrell, R., & Egli, I. (2010). Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(5), 1461S-1467S.
- Brittin, H. C., & Nossaman, C. E. (1986). Iron content of food cooked in iron utensils. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 86(7), 897-901.
- National Institutes of Health. (2011). Vitamin D fact sheet for health professionals. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.
- Heaney, R. P. (2008). Vitamin D: criteria for safety and efficacy. Nutrition Reviews, 66, S178-S181.
- Holick, M. F. (2004). Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 79(3), 362-371.
- Favell, D. J. (1998). A comparison of the vitamin C content of fresh and frozen vegetables. Food chemistry, 62(1), 59-64.
- Campbell, S. (2004). Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. Clinical Nutrition Insight, 30(6), 1-4.