When it comes to dieting, many of us become bound by rigid rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, how much, and at what time. But this restrictive way of eating can often be unenjoyable, unhealthy, and unsustainable long-term.

A whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet, on the other hand, is a lifestyle change, rather than a traditional diet. It’s an approach to eating that can guide you towards making healthier choices more permanently.

With a focus on eating whole, mainly plant-based foods, the diet is linked with several health benefits – plus it’s good for the environment.

Here, we’ll dive deeper into the potential health benefits of the whole foods, plant-based diet, and what’s involved.

What is the whole foods, plant-based diet and what does it involve?

What is the whole foods, plant-based diet and what does it involve

Unlike typical commercial diets that enforce strict rules, the whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet is more of a lifestyle change. The diet is based on eating whole, mainly plant-based foods, with minimally processed ingredients – meaning that highly processed foods are avoided.

Whole foods are typically free from added salt , sugar, and saturated fat. Plus, they’re full of key nutrients like fibre, which are often removed from highly processed foods.

However, it’s worth recognising that most foods we eat are processed to some degree – so becoming preoccupied with ‘clean eating’ isn’t recommended. Anything cooked, frozen, canned, packaged, or nutritionally altered (preserved or fortified) is considered ‘processed’. But, it’s usually the degree to which a product has been processed that’s most important.

For example, minimally-processed foods – such as cheese, plain yoghurt, and frozen fruit and vegetables – have a much healthier nutritional profile than heavily processed foods, like ready meals and frozen pizza. This means they can still be enjoyed as part of a healthy WFPB diet.

It’s fairly easy to spot highly processed foods because they come pre-packaged and have a long list of ingredients that may sound unfamiliar.

Below are the basic principles of the WFPB diet…

  • Eating choices are centred around whole, minimally processed foods

  • Plant foods make up most of what you eat. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains like quinoa and oats, nuts and seeds like chia and flaxseed, and legumes like beans and lentils

  • Animal products are limited or avoided (depending on personal preference). Any animal products eaten should be unprocessed (for example, bacon and sausages should be avoided)

  • Processed foods, like added sugar and refined carbohydrates, are excluded

  • The diet emphasises food quality – many proponents of the WFPB diet encourage eating organic, locally sourced foods wherever possible

The WFPB diet is sometimes confused with vegetarian or vegan diets. And, while similar in many ways, the diets differ. The WFPB diet is more flexible. While people are encouraged to eat mostly plant-based foods, animal products aren’t off-limits.

What are the potential health benefits of the whole foods diet?

What are the potential health benefits of the whole foods diet

Many diets bring health benefits — though, the right one for you will depend on your individual needs. For example, the DASH diet is particularly well-suited to people looking to lower their blood pressure, while low-carb diets can be useful for managing type 2 diabetes.

However, health experts generally agree that diets centred around whole, largely plant-based foods are best for overall health and wellbeing.

Here are four potential benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet…

The whole-foods, plant-based diet may reduce the risk of several diseases

Research has found that diets based around whole foods – specifically fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, fermented dairy, and olive oil – may lower the risk of several health conditions. This includes cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

In contrast, consumption of processed meats and sugary drinks has been linked with an increased risk of developing these conditions.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at some evidence for this…

Heart disease

Whole, plant-based diets can boost heart health. But, for maximum benefits, the type and quality of the whole foods you eat is also important.

In this study, people following healthy plant-based diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes were significantly less likely to develop heart disease than those on non-plant-based diets.

However, another study found that less nutritious plant-based diets (which included things like refined grains and sugary drinks) slightly increased the risk of heart disease.

In many ways, this is what makes the WFPB an ideal choice because not only is it largely plant-based, but it also has a focus on unprocessed or minimally processed foods.


Research suggests that eating fewer processed foods and following a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

In this study, those who ate more nutritious plant-based foods had a lower risk of developing aggressive forms of prostate cancer – particularly men under 65. Another study found that healthy plant-based diets may lower the risk of breast cancer.

There’s also evidence that the WFPB diet may reduce the risk of cancers affecting the digestive system, including colon, rectal, pancreatic, and colorectal.

Alzheimer’s disease

Diets rich in whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, may help to slow or prevent cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

In this study, eating more fruit and vegetables lowered the risk of cognitive decline or dementia by 20%.

One reason for this is that fruit and vegetables are full of healthy plant compounds and antioxidants, which research has linked with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.

On the other hand, research has recognised the consumption of ultra-processed foods as a significant risk factor for dementia. In this study, people who ate higher amounts of processed meat had a six times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than other groups.


Eating a WFPB diet may be effective for reducing the risk of diabetes – and managing the condition. But again, the type and quality of the whole foods is important.

In this study, people who followed healthy plant-based diets had a lower risk of developing diabetes than those who ate unhealthy, non-plant-based diets. Another study concluded the same – particularly for plant-based diets centred mainly around fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.

Plant-based diets containing fewer processed foods have also been found to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

The whole-foods, plant-based diet may be beneficial for weight loss

Several studies have shown that the WFPB diet can benefit weight loss.

One reason for this is that processed foods (which are excluded from the diet) are known to increase the risk of food cravings, mindless eating, and weight gain.

The WFPB diet is also high in essential nutrients like fibre. Fibre helps us feel full and satisfied after eating, makes us less likely to overeat, and is important for digestive health (which, research shows, is essential for various aspects of health, including weight management).

In this study of people who were either overweight or obese, those who followed the WFPB diet lost significantly more weight than those in the control group. During a one-year follow-up period, participants also maintained an average of 11.5kg in weight loss.

The whole-foods, plant-based diet may strengthen immunity

The WFPB diet may strengthen the immune system by providing a range of essential nutrients – including vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium. For example, vitamin C, which is found in foods like red peppers and kiwifruit, helps the body produce white blood cells that fight against infections.

In contrast, diets containing many processed foods and fewer whole, nutrient-dense foods have been shown to negatively impact gut health and increase inflammation – both of which can harm immunity.

The whole-foods, plant-based diet is good for the environment

Eating more plant-based foods doesn’t only benefit your health – it’s good for the environment too.

We know from research that diets which contain fewer animal products are most beneficial for the environment. This study found that Western diets shifting towards more sustainable, plant-based eating patterns, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and land use by 70-80% – and water use by 50%.

Similarly, the WFPD diet’s emphasis on purchasing organic, locally-sourced products wherever possible helps to reduce reliance on unsustainable food production methods like factory farming.

Are there any downsides to the whole-foods, plant-based diet?

As research shows, there are several benefits to following a WFPB diet. But, there are some potential downsides to consider too.

The main drawback of the WFPB diet is its emphasis on eating organic, locally-sourced foods wherever possible. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive – and processed foods are often more convenient too.

That said, buying organic, locally-sourced foods isn’t an absolute must. It’s still possible to follow the WFPB diet while shopping at regular supermarkets to keep costs down. Just remember to read labels and avoid foods with artificial ingredients, additives, and preservatives.

Tools like batch-cooking and preparing meals in advance can also help to make the WFPB diet more time-efficient.

Lastly, the WFPB diet’s emphasis on ‘clean eating’ can sometimes cause people to develop unhealthy preoccupations with avoiding ‘impure foods’.

For this reason, it’s important to keep in mind that eating doesn’t have to be perfect – and neither does the WFPD. Adopting just some of the diet’s guidelines – for example, eating more plants and less processed foods – can do wonders for your health.

Final thoughts…

The whole foods, plant-based diet prioritises plant foods while limiting animal products and highly processed foods. Not only is this eating pattern environmentally-friendly, but it’s been linked with several impressive health benefits too.

For further reading, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here, you’ll find information on other diets, including the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet.

What do you think about the whole foods diet? Is it something you’d like to try? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.