The Whole Food Plant Based Diet

There is a lot of mention nowadays of following a whole food plant based diet (WFPB). Whilst I am not a nutritionist, working in the fitness industry and also having studied with Burrell Education, our diet is something I have learnt a lot more about and I find really fascinating. I’ve become more interested as I’ve grown older, recognising that what I eat really influences how stressed I feel and how much energy I have, especially around my period. However I really love to eat, and completely removing food groups from my diet doesn’t work for me – it can become a stress and start to feel like I’m following a set of rules. Therefore recently I’ve been exploring it more and this is my summary:

  1. A lot of recommended diets have a very similar basis.  Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, wholegrains and nuts and seeds and reducing/removing processed foods from our diet
  2. More and more evidence is pointing to how our gut can influence our mental health, as well as our physical health – so important for a woman in her 40s whose anxiety may be increasing, whose bone health is decreasing, where belly fat is an issue and where we can suffer more from oxidative stress and possibly inflammation
  3. Everyone is individual, so what works for someone who e.g. sleeps well, has their stress management under control may be different from someone who is highly stressed and therefore needs their gut to be as unstressed as possible.  This also applies of course to any illnesses/contraindications (e.g. diabetes, thyroid, blood pressure etc)
  4. A healthy gut is also thought to be linked to a diverse gut microbiome – i.e. all the good bacteria in the gut (mainly our large intestine), of which there are 1000s. It seems the more you have the better 
  5. A diverse gut microbiome is linked to how we’re born, and how we were fed, but is also linked to things we can control: the variety of plant based foods we eat, exercise, being outdoors in the green (so combining outdoor exercise with nature is perfect) and stress management
  6. We can change our gut diversity in a matter of weeks – in one study swapping a western diet with a plant based diet changed the studys’ gut microbiome in two weeks
  7. The Blue Zones – these are the places in the world where the people living there are active into their 80s and 90s and live longer and better.  They  include Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy and Icaria in Greece – and whilst the menu is different, they all follow a 95% plant food diet.  Other similarity influencing their longevity includes –  they include movement through the day, follow a faith, share strong family links and have in built stress relieving habits
  8. Fibre is by default a large part of a plant based diet.  Many plants contain both soluble (feeding the bacteria in our gut) and insoluble (moving everything through the gut) fibre.  Our aim is 30g a day (in fact Dr Gemma Newman recommends more).  But you have to increase slowly and increase your water intake
  9. Fibre is our friend – it helps with hormone balance (as excretion is a key way of balancing our hormones), constipation (linked to heart health, of key importance for women when we get older and heart protecting oestrogen decreases) and the immune system 
  10. If you eat white bread and white pasta, you have less space for the beneficial wholegrain bread and pasta (I find this thought really helpful in making choices).  And you cannot eat the same amount of brown rice as white rice – your stomach just doesn’t allow it!
  11. The Mediterranean diet does have plant based at its heart – but often also includes poultry, a small amount of red meat, a little dairy & eggs (def. Dr Felice Jacka).  The famous Smiles Trial (where depressed people went into remission following a 12 week diet) run by Dr Jacka followed the Mediterranean diet.  The WFPB diet does not include dairy, eggs, meat or poultry
  12. The Med diet and Plant Based diet both include good fats, i.e. your omega 3s such as avocados, nuts and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  These are also really important for hormone production, hormone balance and our guts.  In the Predimed Study one group followed a Mediterranean diet including good fats, whilst a separate group followed a low fat diet.   The study was stopped after 5 years when it was clear that the people in group 1 (the Mediterranean diet with good fats) were 30% less likely to have suffered a cardiac event in that time frame.  They were also less likely to have metabolic syndrome, and their blood pressure, cholesterol, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) inflammation and oxidative stress were also improved.  Cognitive function was also better 
  13. Red meat is a contentious issue but, if you eat meat, I like the approach of Dr Mark Hyman, who says “Meat is not Meat is not Meat” – i.e. chose your meat carefully and go for quality.  An Australian study showed how whilst kangaroo meat reduced inflammation, processed feedlot meat increased it.  Also, grass fed cattle meat can include the extremely beneficial phyto nutrients found in vegetables and fruit.  So whilst I may not be able to track down kangaroo meat, I can use grass fed meat
  14. Processed food is not our friend!  There are no health benefits, in fact quite the opposite.  Dr Hyman again suggests you think “If nature/God produced it go for it, If humans produced it don’t”

I have always believed that my relationship with food has been pretty laid back and that I generally eat well.  However, I now don’t think this has been the case and what I have genuinely noticed recently is that if I eat fibre, colours, good meat, wholemeal grains I have more energy and feel better.  But when I don’t, I feel a bit rubbish.  Is it partly because I know more? Possibly.  But all the studies cannot be a lie – no one company benefits from people eating wholegrains. So I am choosing to eat more of a Mediterranean diet incorporating whole foods and I’m finding that I don’t feel deprived at all.  I just make sure I have tasty good stuff in the fridge – for me nut butter, apples, oats, veggies and hummus, good bread made with wholegrains (or multigrain sourdough), dark chocolate and really nice herbal tea (genuinely works).  And I avoid processed meat, too much saturated fat (I love hot buttered toast!), processed/convenience foods, refined sugar.  I’d be so interested to hear your experiences- even if you just tried it for a couple of weeks, if you notice a difference, so do let me know.  

NB As always it’s your own choice what you eat, and if you have any food issues/physical issues do see your GP.