With the coronavirus pandemic has come a lot of discussion of the human immune system — how it works to fight disease and the best ways to keep it strong. Along with drinking plenty of water, getting enough healthy sleep, keeping active and managing your stress, good, balanced nutrition is key to having a robust immune system.
A whole-food, plant-based diet is one way many people are achieving their nutrition goals. While it may seem like eating only plants would deprive the body of critical nutrients, eating the right mix of plant-based foods can give your body everything it needs. Studies have also shown plant-based diets’ efficacy in combating chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
This excerpt from the book “The Plant-Based Diet for Beginners” explains the basics of following a whole-food, plant-based regimen (WFPB).
Beyond the treatment of the aforementioned chronic diseases, healthy individuals can also benefit greatly from a WFPB diet. Dan Buettner’s research on “blue zones,” where the world’s longest-lived populations are located, has shown that one major common denominator among long-lived populations is eating a more plant-based diet. The Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, are a blue-zone population that has been studied for decades through what are known as the Adventist Health Studies. Some groundbreaking findings from a study in Archives of Internal Medicine: Meat-eating Adventists were twice as likely to develop dementia as vegetarians, and vegetarian men and women lived nine and six years longer, respectively, than their non-vegetarian counterparts.
Always, Sometimes, Never
Here are a few examples of the “always” foods that make up the base of the WFPB diet, the “sometimes” foods that are best enjoyed in moderation, and the “never” foods that aren’t part of the diet at all.
Nutrition on a Plant-Based Diet
Consuming a variety of foods on a WFPB diet is a healthy and delicious way to get your body all the nutrients it needs. You may have grown up being told the key to a healthy diet is to decrease carbohydrate intake and increase protein — but we’ll soon look into why many plant-based physicians recommend the exact opposite. And while we will dive deeper into just how you can meet your macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) needs, the key thing to remember is to keep it simple and focus on eating whole plant foods, as close to their natural state as possible.
People who have adopted a WFPB diet are often asked where they get their protein. This is based on the common misconception that protein is either only found in animal products or that protein from animal sources is of a higher quality than plant proteins. In reality, whole plant foods supply protein in various amounts, and a 2016 investigation in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that eating plant proteins is associated with lower rates of mortality, while those getting their protein from animal sources have higher risks of cardiovascular-related deaths. Another protein myth is that you need to eat specific “protein-rich” plant foods or supplements to meet your requirements on a WFPB diet. The truth is that by eating a well-rounded WFPB diet, you can rest assured knowing your protein needs are being met.
Many popular diets require dieters to reduce or exclude carbohydrates. In contrast, a WFPB diet is built around carbohydrate-rich starchy staples, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, rice, and beans. These health-promoting foods should not be confused with highly processed carbohydrate sources such as white flour or table sugar. When you eat whole foods, you’re consuming the phytonutrients and fiber that accompany the carbohydrates, so they don’t have the same deleterious effects as processed carbs.
In fact, type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with a low-carb diet, has been shown to respond extremely well to a WFPB diet. A study in Diabetes Care found that “a diet rich in carbohydrate and fiber, essentially based on legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole cereals, may be particularly useful for treating diabetic patients,” because it increases their sensitivity to the insulin they’re already producing.
Some diets recommend maximizing fats, while others look to minimize it. As in the case of protein and carbohydrates, fat is best consumed in its whole plant form. While generally lower in fat than the standard American diet (SAD), WFPB diets based around whole grain, legumes, fruits, and vegetables provide around 10 to 20 percent fat from calories. This percentage is consistent with recommendations found in many studies researching a WFPB diet’s beneficial effects on lowering cholesterol, reversing heart disease, and treating type 2 diabetes. Higher-fat plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, while not necessarily required, are regularly included in smaller amounts on a WFPB diet. You will find many of these higher-fat plant foods listed as ingredients for plant-based milks, sauces, desserts, and entrées.
Whole-Wheat Blueberry Muffins
Makes 8 muffins
30 Minutes, Nut Free – Prep Time: 5 Minutes – Cook Time: 25 Minutes
When it comes to great breakfasts that travel well, muffins are always a great choice. These blueberry muffins not only make a delicious breakfast but also a fun addition to school lunches or a convenient snack to bring along on a hike.
- 1/2 cup plant-based milk
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup blueberries
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the milk, applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla.
3. Stir in the flour and baking soda until no dry flour is left and the batter is smooth.
4. Gently fold in the blueberries until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
5. In a muffin tin, fill 8 muffin cups three-quarters full of batter.
6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until you can stick a knife into the center of a muffin and it comes out clean.
Preparation Tip: Both frozen and fresh blueberries will work great in this recipe. The only difference will be that muffins using fresh blueberries will cook slightly quicker than those using frozen.
Per Serving (1 Muffin): Calories: 200; Total fat: 1 g; Carbohydrates: 45 g; Fiber: 2 g; Protein: 4 g
Southwest Stuffed Peppers
Gluten free, nut free – Prep Time: 10 Minutes – Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Stuffed peppers are great if you’re looking for a delicious, easy dinner that also stores well for leftovers. Red or yellow bell peppers will impart a bit more flavor to the dish. To kick the heat up, add a few slices of jalapeno into the rice mixture before filling the bell peppers.
- 4 bell peppers
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- 1 cup cooked black beans
- 1 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cut the tops off the bell peppers, and remove any seeds or fibers that remain inside the core or inside the tops of the peppers.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the rice, beans, corn, broth, tomato paste, chili powder, and cumin until the tomato paste and spices have been thoroughly incorporated.
4. Spoon one-quarter of the rice mixture into each pepper. Set the peppers upright on a baking dish, and place the tops back onto the peppers.
5. Bake for 1 hour, or until the peppers are easily pierced with a fork, and serve.
Technique Tip: To reduce the baking time, complete the instructions through step 2, then place the peppers in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes or microwave them for 1 minute. Proceed with steps 3 and 4, then bake for 30 minutes.
Per serving: Calories: 270; Total fat: 3 g; Carbohydrates: 55 g; Fiber: 9 g; Protein: 11 g
Roasted Jalapeno and Lime Guacamole
5 ingredients, 30 minutes, gluten free, nut free
Prep time: 5 Minutes – Cook Time: 10 Minutes
This guacamole brings heat and a touch of sweetness from the roasted jalapeno, a pop of sourness from the lime, and the wonderful creamy texture and unique flavor of a ripe avocado.
- 1 to 3 jalapenos (depending on your preferred level of spiciness)
- 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the jalapenos on the baking sheet and roast for 8 minutes. (The jalapeno can also be roasted on a grill for 5 minutes, if you already have it fired up.)
3. Slice the jalapenos down the center, and remove the seeds. Then cut the top stem off, and dice into 1/8-inch pieces. Wash your hands immediately after handling the jalapenos.
4. In a medium bowl, use a fork to mash together the avocado, jalapeno pieces, and lime juice. Continue mashing and mixing until the guacamole reaches your preferred consistency, and serve.
Variation tip: A fun way to change up the guacamole or lessen the amount of fat per serving is to blend 1 cup steamed sweet peas into a smooth puree, then mix the peas in with the avocado.
Per serving: Calories: 77; Total fat: 7 g; Carbohydrates: 5 g; Fiber: 3 g; Protein: 1 g
Reprinted with permission from “The Plant-Based Diet for Beginners” (Rockridge Press, 2019).
About the Author
Gabriel Miller is an author, speaker, chef and avid gardener. He runs a blog, Plant Based Gabriel, which is focused on helping individuals and families transition to a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle. In addition to producing helpful recipes and videos, he also loves working on his vegan and organic vegetable farm.