Labels help us to define everything. We use labels as landmarks to help us navigate through life. When it comes to food and diets, we have so many labels it’s not always clear what food the labels represent. If you are confused about what to eat, how much and when then this article will shed light about it all and explain the basics of a whole food plant-based diet for beginners. Phew, don’t worry we are going to make it nice and easy……
Nutritionist, governments, doctors and healthy eaters use a variety of ways to group types of food. You might be used to grouping food into carbs, proteins and fats or vegetables, grains, dairy and protein. Each system has its benefits, but we are going to use the one which has been developed to promote health and is based on a huge volume of scientific research.
According to the T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition Studies, there are 3 basic food groups: whole plants, animal based foods, and processed plant fragments. This system of grouping food, is the most helpful way of ensuring we are getting sufficient nutrients and minerals from sources that are sustainable to our health.
The 3 basic food groups are a refreshing break from a worn out tradition. They make us think about the origin of our food in very simple terms:
- Did it come from a plant or an animal?
- If it came from a plant is it the same as we would find it in nature or has it been processed?
- How much has it been proceesed?
If it came from a plant and has been unprocessed then it is a whole plant, for example an apple picked from a tree. If it has been processed then it is a plant fragment, for example an apple pie. Cutting an apple is processing, however, pulverising it, heating it, drying it, adding sugar and fat, is a more extensive, but normalised form of industrial food processing! Yuck.
Whole Food Plant-Based Diet for Beginners!
Quite simply, a whole food plant-based diet consists of things found in nature. These are fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains you would find growing outside naturally, or with minimal interference from humans. This is the food group that offers the most nutrients and minerals for a healthy thriving body.
This is the food group we here at Nature Sustained are focussed on, both in sharing information to empower our readers to have healthy relationships with plant based foods, and that we predominantly consume in our personal lives.
Animal Based Foods
Anything that has been derived from an animal: meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, etc.
Processed Plant Fragments
This food group covers anything that is processed or refined. This includes sugar, most flours, oil, potato chips, pastries, confectionary. This means that the original plant has been processed through various means, which often detrimentally affects the nutritional content of the food. A whole food plant based diet involves eliminating this food group as much as possible from one’s diet.
Levels of Food Processing
There are different levels of processing, some affecting the quality of food more than others. For example, putting apples into a blender to make apple juice is a form of processing. Chopping up apples and adding them into a pie with pastry and sugar is another form of processing with a more harmful impact on the body.
1. Minimally Processed Plant Foods
Plant foods that have barely been tampered with. This includes bags of vegetables and salads you find in the grocery store that have simply been chopped and bagged. Apart from the plastic packaging, it’s very close to what you’d find in nature.
2. Frozen Plant Foods
Such as berries and green vegetables that have been frozen to preserve their nutrition content. It’s likely that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have consumed fruits or veg they found frozen during cold periods, and this kind of processed food, with it’s nutrition and freshness conserved, is good for us too. These first two categories are the best and should be the focus of a plant-based diet for beginners.
3. Plant Food With Added Ingredients
Now the food begins to stray further from what nature provides us, as flavour enhancers, many of which have absolutely no basis in nature, get added into the mix. This includes foods with added oils, sweeteners and preservatives, like pasta and curry sauces, pre made soups, veggie burgers, condiments, baking mixtures and bread.
4. Heavily Processed Plant Fragment Foods
The further we progress down the scale of processed foods, the more the plant fragments have been broken down and distorted from their original form. Obviously this means the foods are less nutritious. Somewhere in there may be real food. Or there may not be. This food is the most heavily processed , and includes sugars and oils, where nearly all of the original goodness of the plant has been processed out. This includes ready made meals, oreo cookies, instant noodles (rich in e-numbers!), pop tarts, potato chips and soda. Technically they’re edible, but debatably not food.
Whole Food Plant Based Vs. Vegan (What’s The Beef?)
There is an important distinction to make between a vegan and a whole food plant based eater. A vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthy. For example, while a vegan refrains from consuming animal based products, they could solely consume foods like pop tarts, french fries, potato chips, candy and soda. However, these foods that are technically vegan friendly are outside of a whole food plant based diet because they’re heavily processed. Veganism is often very hardline in it’s approach to what is and isn’t allowed, and is usually very focussed on the ethical and animal rights issues surrounding food. There are some valid arguments against veganism, focussing on both personal and planetary health.
A whole food plant based diet is, by contrast, usually focussed on the health aspect of healthy eating, although people may be on this diet for the environmental, ethical and socioeconomic impact it has. Because a plant-based eater gets most or all of their sustenance from real or minimally processed foods found in nature, they have the health and wellbeing that Mother Nature intended for humans.
Don’t Box Me In
Understanding labels may help with plant-based diet for beginners. Ultimately though, labels are just labels, and as they say, “talk is cheap.” What matters more than how you define yourself based on your food preferences is “the walk”, your approach to food and creating a lifestyle that works for you.
The bottom line is that it’s more important you create a diet that supports healthy eating habits, brings you satisfaction and enjoyment, and delivers you tangible, health boosting results. Whatever that means for you, and whatever you call your food choices, achieving a flourishing food relationship is truly a beautiful thing that cannot be summed up in words.
Thank You for Your Support
By reading this article you have already contributed to the increasing manifestation of the healthiest diet known to man, thank you. By eating plants you are saving yourself and the planet. Could we ask for one more thing? Please share this article on your favourite social media channels to help others be part of the change too. Your actions count towards our conscious co-creation, please share now.