Episode 120 – Thoughts on a Wholefood, Plant Based Diet

Key Topics Covered

Fresh fruit and vegetables

What Is a ‘Wholefood, Plant Based Diet’?

  • It is a diet based on whole foods that limits/excludes animal products and processed foods. 
  • There are many variations, one popular one is ‘Whole food plant-based, no oil’ (WFPBNO), which takes this a couple of steps further.  
  • It follows that initial food philosophy with the addition of excluding oils and eating other minimally processed and higher-fat foods in moderation such as nuts, seeds, and avocado.
  • All variations prioritize minimizing refined sugars, flours, and processed oils. 

Research

  • It’s actually hard to reference research on this topic for a few reasons.
  • The main reason is that you can find a LOT of research supporting how prioritizing plant-based foods that are minimally processed can be beneficial for health.
  • It would be overkill/redundant to spend a lot of time covering this.
  • However, there is one study that is interesting and relevant. 

BROAD Study  

  • Whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) RCT with 65 people.
  • Participants were included if they had a BMI above 25 AND a comorbidity like diabetes, HTN, high cholesterol, or heart disease. 
  • Of the 32 in the intervention group, 23 completed the study.  
  • Participants in the intervention attended meetings twice-weekly for 12 weeks, and followed a non-energy-restricted WFPB diet with vitamin B12 supplementation.  
  • There were cooking classes and there was nutrition education included, amongst other support. 
  • They had maintained a weight loss of 11.5kg by the time of a follow-up at the one-year mark. The control group had minimal change. 
  • Researchers stated: “To the best of our knowledge, this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise.” 

Dietary Parameters

Healthy fats with red cross.

  • Quote from those researchers: “We encouraged starches such as potatoes, sweet potato, bread, cereals, and pasta to satisfy the appetite.”
  • “Participants were asked to avoid refined oils (e.g. olive or coconut oil) and animal products (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products)”.
  • “We discouraged high-fat plant foods such as nuts and avocados, and highly processed foods.”
  • “We encouraged participants to minimize sugar, salt and caffeinated beverages.” 

Pros

Fruit in love bowl with dumbbells.

  • Weight loss – this style of eating naturally promotes a large degree of volume eating as it prioritizes an intake of very low energy density foods. This will likely result in a calorie deficit.
  • Improvements in cholesterol, heart disease, and other markers of health.
  • Removes foods that if overconsumed could be detrimental to health.
  • The vast majority of people would benefit from an increased vegetable intake.
  • Environmental factors – a low intake of animal products and processed foods may be more sustainable, especially when eating seasonally and locally.

Cons

Restrictive food plate.

  • The removal of oils excludes any potential benefits of olive oil.
  • Excessive food volume to achieve higher calorie targets e.g. athletes OR those who are just not looking to lose weight. THis may result in under-fueling.
  • Can be excessively high fibre which could lead to GI symptoms.
  • It’s restrictive.
    • General eating out/social gatherings may be difficult.
    • There is a greater disordered eating risk, particularly since there is already a link between plant-based diets and eating disorders.
    • Following a vegan diet is already restrictive, and by adding these other parameters you are making it even more restrictive.
  • If you have food Intolerances, this may make it even more difficult.
  • It could lead to a very low fat intake.
    • The ‘BROAD Study’ used 7-15% of calories coming from fat. The bottom end of that low-fat intake is often linked with hormonal issues.
    • This may also lead to other issues such as low omega-3 intake.
  • Nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, and zinc can be tougher to consume adequate amounts of on this diet. 

Summary 

  • The basic philosophy of focusing on high-volume, low-calorie foods for weight loss is actually really helpful.  
    • High-volume, low-energy density foods that are high in fibre keep us full despite being lower in calories than other foods.  
    • This makes it easier to reduce our overall calorie intake, maintain a calorie deficit and lose weight over time.  
  • However, this concept can be taken too far.  
  • Removing and demonizing foods solely based on their calorie density is not helpful. There are a lot of healthy foods that have higher energy densities such as nuts and seeds. 
  • There are also many minimally processed foods that are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals such as tofu, textured vegetable protein, fortified cereals, and fortified plant milks.  
  • By limiting these foods, you are making it harder to meet your daily requirements for certain nutrients and likely being unnecessarily restrictive.  
  • There are also so many ways to achieve those health outcomes. For example, if we were focusing on the Mediterranean diet, we would also highlight how much positive research there is.  

Overall, this is not an approach we would recommend, but there are also positive aspects

Relevant Links / Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned