There are many arguments about which diet is best for you.
Nevertheless, health and wellness communities agree that diets emphasizing fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods are superior for overall wellness.
The whole-foods, plant-based diet does just that.
It focuses on minimally processed foods, specifically plants, and is effective at stimulating weight loss and improving health.
This article reviews everything you need to know about the whole-foods, plant-based diet, including its potential health benefits, foods to eat and a sample meal plan.

Plant-Based Diet Guide
There is no clear definition of a what constitutes a whole-foods, plant-based diet (WFPB diet). The WFPB diet is not necessarily a set diet — it’s more of a lifestyle.
This is because plant-based diets can vary greatly depending on the extent to which a person includes animal products in their diet.
Nonetheless, the basic principles of a whole-foods, plant-based diet are as follows:
  • Emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods.
  • Limits or avoids animal products.
  • Focuses on plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, which should make up the majority of what you eat.
  • Excludes refined foods, like added sugars, white flour and processed oils.
  • Pays special attention to food quality, with many proponents of the WFPB diet promoting locally sourced, organic food whenever possible.
For these reasons, this diet is often confused with vegan or vegetarian diets. Yet although similar in some ways, these diets are not the same.
People who follow vegan diets abstain from consuming any animal products, including dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and honey. Vegetarians exclude all meat and poultry from their diets, but some vegetarians eat eggs, seafood or dairy.
The WFPB diet, on the other hand, is more flexible. Followers eat mostly plants, but animal products aren’t off limits.
While one person following a WFPB diet may eat no animal products, another may eat small amounts of eggs, poultry, seafood, meat or dairy.
SUMMARYThe whole-foods, plant-based diet emphasizes plant-based foods while minimizing animal products and processed items.

Obesity is an issue of epidemic proportions. In fact, over 69% of US adults are overweight or obese (1).
Fortunately, making dietary and lifestyle changes can facilitate weight loss and have a lasting impact on health.
Many studies have shown that plant-based diets are beneficial for weight loss.
The high fiber content of the WFPB diet, along with the exclusion of processed foods, is a winning combination for shedding excess pounds.
A review of 12 studies that included more than 1,100 people found that those assigned to plant-based diets lost significantly more weight — about 4.5 pounds (2kg) over an average of 18 weeks — than those assigned to non-vegetarian diets (2).
Adopting a healthy plant-based eating pattern may also help keep weight off in the long run.
A study in 65 overweight and obese adults found that those assigned to a WFPB diet lost significantly more weight than the control group and were able to sustain that weight loss of 9.25 pounds (4.2kg) over a one-year follow-up period (3).
Plus, simply cutting out the processed foods that aren’t allowed on a WFPB diet like soda, candy, fast food and refined grains is a powerful weight loss tool itself (45).
SUMMARYMany studies have demonstrated that whole-food, plant-based diets are effective for weight loss. They may also help you maintain weight loss in the long run.

Adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet not only benefits your waistline, but it can also lower your risk and reduce symptoms of certain chronic diseases.

Heart Disease

Perhaps one of the most well-known benefits of WFPB diets is that they are heart-healthy.
However, the quality and types of foods included in the diet matter.
A large study in over 200,000 people found that those who followed a healthy plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes and nuts had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease than those following non-plant-based diets.
However, unhealthy plant-based diets that included sugary drinks, fruit juices and refined grains were associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease (6).
Consuming the right kinds of food is critical for heart disease prevention when following a plant-based diet, which is why adhering to a WFPB diet is the best choice.

Cancer

Research suggests that following a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.
A study in over 69,000 people found that vegetarian diets were associated with a significantly lower risk of gastrointestinal cancer, especially for those who followed a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy) (7).
Another large study in more than 77,000 people demonstrated that those who followed vegetarian diets had a 22% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than non-vegetarians.
Pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish) had the greatest protection from colorectal cancer with a 43% reduced risk compared to non-vegetarians (8).

Cognitive Decline

Some studies suggest that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow or prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease in older adults.
Plant-based diets have a higher number of plant compounds and antioxidants, which have been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and reverse cognitive deficits (9).
In many studies, higher intakes of fruits and vegetables have been strongly associated with a reduction in cognitive decline.
A review of nine studies including over 31,000 people found that eating more fruits and vegetables led to a 20% reduction in the risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia (10).

Diabetes

Adopting a WFPB diet may be an effective tool in managing and reducing your risk of developing diabetes.
A study in more than 200,000 people found that those who adhered to a healthy plant-based eating pattern had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who followed unhealthy, non-plant-based diets (11).
Another study demonstrated that plant-based diets (vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian) were associated with nearly a 50% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarian diets (12).
Plus, plant-based diets have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes (13).
SUMMARYFollowing a whole-foods, plant-based diet may reduce your risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline and diabetes.

Switching to a plant-based diet not only benefits your health — it can help protect the environment, as well.
People who follow plant-based diets tend to have smaller environmental footprints.
Adopting sustainable eating habits can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming, which are all factors in global warming and environmental degradation.
A review of 63 studies showed that the largest environmental benefits were seen from diets containing the least amount of animal-based foods such as vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian diets.
The study reported that a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and land use and 50% less water use could be achieved by shifting Western diet patterns to more sustainable, plant-based dietary patterns (14).
What’s more, reducing the number of animal products in your diet and purchasing local, sustainable produce helps drive the local economy and reduces reliance on factory farming, an unsustainable method of food production.
SUMMARYPlant-based diets emphasizing local ingredients are more environmentally friendly than diets that rely heavily on mass-produced animal products and produce.

From eggs and bacon for breakfast to steak for dinner, animal products are the focus of most meals for many people.
When switching to a plant-based diet, meals should center around plant-based foods.
If animal foods are eaten, they should be eaten in smaller quantities, with attention paid to the quality of the item.
Foods like dairy, eggs, poultry, meat and seafood should be used more as a complement to a plant-based meal, not as the main focal point.

A Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Shopping List

  • Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, etc.
  • Vegetables: Kale, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, peppers, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, rolled oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice pasta, barley, etc.
  • Healthy fats: Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut, etc.
  • Legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, black beans, etc.
  • Seeds, nuts and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, natural peanut butter, tahini, etc.
  • Unsweetened plant-based milks: Coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, etc.
  • Spices, herbs and seasonings: Basil, rosemary, turmeric, curry, black pepper, salt, etc.
  • Condiments: Salsa, mustard, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
  • Plant-based protein: Tofu, tempeh, plant-based protein sources or powders with no added sugar or artificial ingredients.
  • Beverages: Coffee, tea, sparkling water, etc.
If supplementing your plant-based diet with animal products, choose quality products from grocery stores or, better yet, purchase them from local farms.
  • Eggs: Pasture-raised when possible.
  • Poultry: Free-range, organic when possible.
  • Beef and pork: Pastured or grass-fed when possible.
  • Seafood: Wild-caught from sustainable fisheries when possible.
  • Dairy: Organic dairy products from pasture-raised animals whenever possible.
SUMMARYA healthy, WFPB diet should focus on plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. If animal products are eaten, they should be eaten in smaller quantities compared to plant foods.

The WFPB diet is a way of eating that focuses on consuming foods in their most natural form. This means that heavily processed foods are excluded.
When purchasing groceries, focus on fresh foods and, when purchasing foods with a label, aim for items with the fewest possible ingredients.

Foods to Avoid

  • Fast food: French fries, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc.
  • Added sugars and sweets: Table sugar, soda, juice, pastries, cookies, candy, sweet tea, sugary cereals, etc.
  • Refined grains: White rice, white pasta, white bread, bagels, etc.
  • Packaged and convenience foods: Chips, crackers, cereal bars, frozen dinners, etc.
  • Processed vegan-friendly foods: Plant-based meats like Tofurkey, faux cheeses, vegan butters, etc.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Equal, Splenda, Sweet’N Low, etc.
  • Processed animal products: Bacon, lunch meats, sausage, beef jerky, etc.

Foods to Minimize

While healthy animal foods can be included in a WFPB diet, the following products should be minimized in all plant-based diets.
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Sheep
  • Game meats
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Seafood
SUMMARYWhen following a WFPB diet, highly processed foods should be avoided and animal products minimized.

Transitioning to a whole-foods, plant-based diet doesn’t have to be challenging.
The following one-week menu can help set you up for success. It includes a small number of animal products, but the extent to which you include animal foods in your diet is up to you.
Monday
  • Breakfast: Oatmeal made with coconut milk topped with berries, coconut and walnuts.
  • Lunch: Large salad topped with fresh vegetables, chickpeas, avocado, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese.
  • Dinner: Butternut squash curry.
Tuesday
  • Breakfast: Full-fat plain yogurt topped with sliced strawberries, unsweetened coconut and pumpkin seeds.
  • Lunch: Meatless chili.
  • Dinner: Sweet potato and black bean tacos.
Wednesday
  • Breakfast: A smoothie made with unsweetened coconut milk, berries, peanut butter and unsweetened plant-based protein powder.
  • Lunch: Hummus and veggie wrap.
  • Dinner: Zucchini noodles tossed in pesto with chicken meatballs.
Thursday
  • Breakfast: Savory oatmeal with avocado, salsa and black beans.
  • Lunch: Quinoa, veggie and feta salad.
  • Dinner: Grilled fish with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.
Friday
  • Breakfast: Tofu and vegetable frittata.
  • Lunch: Large salad topped with grilled shrimp.
  • Dinner: Roasted portobello fajitas.
Saturday
  • Breakfast: Blackberry, kale, cashew butter and coconut protein smoothie.
  • Lunch: Vegetable, avocado and brown rice sushi with a seaweed salad.
  • Dinner: Eggplant lasagna made with cheese and a large green salad.
Sunday
  • Breakfast: Vegetable omelet made with eggs.
  • Lunch: Roasted vegetable and tahini quinoa bowl.
  • Dinner: Black bean burgers served on a large salad with sliced avocado.
As you can see, the idea of a whole-foods, plant-based diet is to use animal products sparingly.
However, many people following WFPB diets eat more or fewer animal products depending on their specific dietary needs and preferences.
SUMMARYYou can enjoy many different delicious meals when following a whole-foods, plant-based diet. The above menu can help you get started.

A whole-foods, plant-based diet is a way of eating that celebrates plant foods and cuts out unhealthy items like added sugars and refined grains.
Plant-based diets have been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline.
Plus, transitioning to a more plant-based diet is an excellent choice for the planet.
Regardless of the type of whole-foods, plant-based diet you choose, adopting this way of eating is sure to boost your health.
An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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From marinara sauce to peanut butter, added sugar can be found in even the most unexpected products.
Many people rely on quick, processed foods for meals and snacks. Since these products often contain added sugar, it makes up a large proportion of their daily calorie intake.
In the US, added sugars account for up to 17% of the total calorie intake of adults and up to 14% for children (1).
Dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10% per day (2).
Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
Here are 11 reasons why eating too much sugar is bad for your health.

Too Much Sugar
Rates of obesity are rising worldwide and added sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, is thought to be one of the main culprits.
Sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, juices and sweet teas are loaded with fructose, a type of simple sugar.
Consuming fructose increases your hunger and desire for food more than glucose, the main type of sugar found in starchy foods (3).
Additionally, excessive fructose consumption may cause resistance to leptin, an important hormone that regulates hunger and tells your body to stop eating (4).
In other words, sugary beverages don’t curb your hunger, making it easy to quickly consume a high number of liquid calories. This can lead to weight gain.
Research has consistently shown that people who drink sugary beverages, such as soda and juice, weigh more than people who don’t (5).
Also, drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to an increased amount of visceral fat, a kind of deep belly fat associated with conditions like diabetes and heart disease (6).
SUMMARYConsuming too much added sugar, especially from sugary beverages, increases your risk of weight gain and can lead to visceral fat accumulation.

High-sugar diets have been associated with an increased risk of many diseases, including heart disease, the number one cause of death worldwide (7).
Evidence suggests that high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, inflammation and high triglyceride, blood sugar and blood pressure levels — all risk factors for heart disease (8).
Additionally, consuming too much sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, has been linked to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by fatty, artery-clogging deposits (9).
A study in over 30,000 people found that those who consumed 17–21% of calories from added sugar had a 38% greater risk of dying from heart disease, compared to those consuming only 8% of calories from added sugar (10).
Just one 16-ounce (473-ml) can of soda contains 52 grams of sugar, which equates to more than 10% of your daily calorie consumption, based on a 2,000-calorie diet (11).
This means that one sugary drink a day can already put you over the recommended daily limitfor added sugar.
SUMMARYConsuming too much added sugar increases heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and inflammation. High-sugar diets have been linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease.

A diet high in refined carbs, including sugary foods and drinks, has been associated with a higher risk of developing acne.
Foods with a high glycemic index, such as processed sweets, raise your blood sugar more rapidly than foods with a lower glycemic index.
Sugary foods quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, causing increased androgen secretion, oil production and inflammation, all of which play a role in acne development (12).
Studies have shown that low-glycemic diets are associated with a reduced acne risk, while high-glycemic diets are linked to a greater risk (13).
For example, a study in 2,300 teens demonstrated that those who frequently consumed added sugar had a 30% greater risk of developing acne (14).
Also, many population studies have shown that rural communities that consume traditional, non-processed foods have almost non-existent rates of acne, compared to more urban, high-income areas (15).
These findings coincide with the theory that diets high in processed, sugar-laden foods contribute to the development of acne.
SUMMARYHigh-sugar diets can increase androgen secretion, oil production and inflammation, all of which can raise your risk of developing acne.

The worldwide prevalence of diabetes has more than doubled over the past 30 years (16).
Though there are many reasons for this, there is a clear link between excessive sugar consumption and diabetes risk.
Obesity, which is often caused by consuming too much sugar, is considered the strongest risk factor for diabetes (17).
What’s more, prolonged high-sugar consumption drives resistance to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels.
Insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to rise and strongly increases your risk of diabetes.
A population study comprising over 175 countries found that the risk of developing diabetes grew by 1.1% for every 150 calories of sugar, or about one can of soda, consumed per day (18).
Other studies have also shown that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juice, are more likely to develop diabetes (1920).
SUMMARYA high-sugar diet may lead to obesity and insulin resistance, both of which are risk factors for diabetes.

Eating excessive amounts of sugar may increase your risk of developing certain cancers.
First, a diet rich in sugary foods and beverages can lead to obesity, which significantly raises your risk of cancer (21).
Furthermore, diets high in sugar increase inflammation in your body and may cause insulin resistance, both of which increase cancer risk (22).
A study in over 430,000 people found that added sugar consumption was positively associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer, pleural cancer and cancer of the small intestine (23).
Another study showed that women who consumed sweet buns and cookies more than three times per week were 1.42 times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who consumed these foods less than 0.5 times per week (24).
Research on the link between added sugar intake and cancer is ongoing, and more studies are needed to fully understand this complex relationship.
SUMMARYToo much sugar can lead to obesity, insulin resistance and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for cancer.

While a healthy diet can help improve your mood, a diet high in added sugar and processed foods may increase your chances of developing depression.
Consuming a lot of processed foods, including high-sugar products such as cakes and sugary drinks, has been associated with a higher risk of depression (2526).
Researchers believe that blood sugar swings, neurotransmitter dysregulation and inflammation may all be reasons for sugar’s detrimental impact on mental health (27).
A study following 8,000 people for 22 years showed that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop depression than men who ate less than 40 grams per day (28).
Another study in over 69,000 women demonstrated that those with the highest intakes of added sugars had a significantly greater risk of depression, compared to those with the lowest intakes (29).
SUMMARYA diet rich in added sugar and processed foods may increase depression risk in both men and women.

Wrinkles are a natural sign of aging. They appear eventually, regardless of your health.
However, poor food choices can worsen wrinkles and speed the skin aging process.
Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) are compounds formed by reactions between sugar and protein in your body. They have been found to play a key role in skin aging (30).
Consuming a diet high in refined carbs and sugar leads to the production of AGEs, which may cause your skin to age prematurely (31).
AGEs damage collagen and elastin, which are proteins that help the skin stretch and keep its youthful appearance.
When collagen and elastin become damaged, the skin loses its firmness and begins to sag.
In one study, women who consumed more carbs, including added sugars, had a more wrinkled appearance than women on a high-protein, lower-carb diet (32).
The researchers concluded that a lower intake of carbs was associated with better skin-aging appearance (32).
SUMMARYSugary foods can increase the production of AGEs, which can accelerate skin aging and wrinkle formation.

Telomeres are structures found at the end of chromosomes, which are molecules that hold part or all of your genetic information.
Telomeres act as protective caps, preventing chromosomes from deteriorating or fusing together.
As you grow older, telomeres naturally shorten, which causes cells to age and malfunction (33).
Although the shortening of telomeres is a normal part of aging, unhealthy lifestyle choices can speed up the process.
Consuming high amounts of sugar has been shown to accelerate telomere shortening, which increases cellular aging (34).
A study in 5,309 adults showed that regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with shorter telomere length and premature cellular aging (35).
In fact, each daily 20-ounce (591-ml) serving of sugar-sweetened soda equated to 4.6 additional years of aging, independent of other variables (35).
SUMMARYEating too much sugar can accelerate the shortening of telomeres, which increases cellular aging.

Foods high in added sugar quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to increased energy.
However, this rise in energy levels is fleeting.
Products that are loaded with sugar but lacking in protein, fiber or fat lead to a brief energy boost that’s quickly followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar, often referred to as a crash (36).
Having constant blood sugar swings can lead to major fluctuations in energy levels (37).
To avoid this energy-draining cycle, choose carb sources that are low in added sugar and rich in fiber.
Pairing carbs with protein or fat is another great way to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable.
For example, eating an apple along with a small handful of almonds is an excellent snack for prolonged, consistent energy levels.
SUMMARYHigh-sugar foods can negatively impact your energy levels by causing a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash.

A high intake of fructose has been consistently linked to an increased risk of fatty liver.
Unlike glucose and other types of sugar, which are taken up by many cells throughout the body, fructose is almost exclusively broken down by the liver.
In the liver, fructose is converted into energy or stored as glycogen.
However, the liver can only store so much glycogen before excess amounts are turned into fat.
Large amounts of added sugar in the form of fructose overload your liver, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition characterized by excessive fat buildup in the liver (38).
A study in over 5,900 adults showed that people who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily had a 56% higher risk of developing NAFLD, compared to people who did not (39).
SUMMARYEating too much sugar may lead to NAFLD, a condition in which excessive fat builds up in the liver.

Aside from the risks listed above, sugar can harm your body in countless other ways.
Research shows that too much added sugar can:
  • Increase kidney disease disk: Having consistently high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels in your kidneys. This can lead to an increased risk of kidney disease (40).
  • Negatively impact dental health: Eating too much sugar can cause cavities. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid byproducts, which cause tooth demineralization (41).
  • Increase the risk of developing gout: Gout is an inflammatory condition characterized by pain in the joints. Added sugars raise uric acid levels in the blood, increasing the risk of developing or worsening gout (42).
  • Accelerate cognitive decline: High-sugar diets can lead to impaired memory and have been linked to an increased risk of dementia (43).
Research on the impact of added sugar on health is ongoing, and new discoveries are constantly being made.
SUMMARYConsuming too much sugar may worsen cognitive decline, increase gout risk, harm your kidneys and cause cavities.

Excessive added sugar has many negative health effects.
Although consuming small amounts now and then is perfectly healthy, you should try to cut back on sugar whenever possible.
Fortunately, simply focusing on eating whole, unprocessed foods automatically decreases the amount of sugar in your diet.
Here are some tips on how to reduce your intake of added sugars:
  • Swap sodas, energy drinks, juices and sweetened teas for water or unsweetened seltzer.
  • Drink your coffee black or use Stevia for a zero-calorie, natural sweetener.
  • Sweeten plain yogurt with fresh or frozen berries instead of buying flavored, sugar-loaded yogurt.
  • Consume whole fruits instead of sugar-sweetened fruit smoothies.
  • Replace candy with a homemade trail mix of fruit, nuts and a few dark chocolate chips.
  • Use olive oil and vinegar in place of sweet salad dressings like honey mustard.
  • Choose marinades, nut butters, ketchup and marinara sauce with zero added sugars.
  • Look for cereals, granolas and granola bars with under 4 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Swap your morning cereal for a bowl of rolled oats topped with nut butter and fresh berries, or an omelet made with fresh greens.
  • Instead of jelly, slice fresh bananas onto your peanut butter sandwich.
  • Use natural nut butters in place of sweet spreads like Nutella.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages that are sweetened with soda, juice, honey, sugar or agave.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, focusing on fresh, whole ingredients.
In addition, keeping a food diary is an excellent way of becoming more aware of the main sources of sugar in your diet.
The best way to limit your added sugar intake is to prepare your own healthy meals at home and avoid buying foods and drinks that are high in added sugar.
SUMMARYFocusing on preparing healthy meals and limiting your intake of foods that contain added sweeteners can help you cut back on the amount of sugar in your diet.

Eating too much added sugar can have many negative health effects.
An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.
For these reasons, added sugar should be kept to a minimum whenever possible, which is easy when you follow a healthy diet based on whole foods.
If you need to cut added sugar from your diet, try some of the small changes listed above.
Before you know it, your sugar habit will be a thing of the past.
An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.