The first thing I should make clear is that our diet is that it is not a “diet,” in the pop-culture sense of the word. We don’t “diet,” as a verb. We eat (a lot) and the foods we choose to eat are a part of our family’s diet, as a noun. Neither Ry or myself are registered, trained, or licensed dietitians, but we do research everything we do. Our starting point for research and information is most often Dr. Greger’s organization, Nutrition Facts. From there, we access all sorts of white papers published by the scientific community. Link following serendipity plays a key role in any research we do, as well: one click leads to another leads to another, across the vastness of the internet. I’m not one for trusting the first source I see. I prefer to cross check everything I look at, whether the topic is nutrition, gardening, or politics. Because science!
Nutrition Nerdery Vegan vs Whole Food Plant Based vs Something Else
The first assumption people make is that we’re “vegan.” We’re not. To explain what we “are,” I should start by explaining the terms “vegan” and “Whole Food Plant Based.” There is some overlap in the basic tenets of these, as well as a few key distinctions. The difference between someone who identifies as a vegan and someone who follows a WFPB lifestyle is rooted in the motive, which ultimately affects the methods by which someone practices each lifestyle.
A vegan does not eat animal-based products: no meat, dairy, eggs, or any ingredient derived from animals, like gelatin. This lifestyle goes beyond food, though, as their motive for being vegan is in not harming, eating, or using animals. This means a vegan won’t use products that are made with animal-derived materials, like leather, beeswax, wool, etc.
There are a multitude of processed foods (vegetable oil, white flour, refined sugar, etc.) that are not made with animals or animal-derived products. This means that there exist plenty of junk-food vegans. For instance, Oreos contain zero animal-derived ingredients, so someone could demolish a bag of Oreos on the regular and still maintain their vegan status.
That said, I am not a vegan, so I lack the social experience of being a part of that club. I have no idea what the manual says. Maybe there are exceptions or half-vegans or vegan-ettes? Hell if I know. My intention is not to be judgy on anyone’s lifestyle choice. You do you, man. I’m just telling you what I’ve come to understand about it.
Whole Food Plant-Based
Like vegans, someone who eats a Whole Food Plant Based diet does not eat animal products. No meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, etc. However, there are no “rules” about not using animal-y products, so it doesn’t necessarily extend into the goods they purchase. A WFPB diet is focused on eating unprocessed (“whole”) and minimally-processed foods. Think: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes. The more “whole,” the better.
On its face, though, this diet is still focused on the “can’t have’s” – can’t have processed food, can’t have animal products, can’t have refined sugar, and so on. And it’s often marketed as a “diet.” I don’t diet.
Nutrition for Planet Loving Nerds (aka: Sustainable Nutrition)
I was first introduced to the idea of Whole Food Plant-Based eating when I saw a video of a lecture given by Dr. Michael Greger, titled “How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.” It tickled my (fairly dry) sense of humor. I mean, c’mon. “How Not To Die”? Who comes up with a title like that? It’s not a “how-to” book, it’s a “how-not-to” book! Followed by the serious, academic tone of the subtitle, it piqued my interest, and I watched it.
Everything he said really resonated with me, so I read the his book, How Not To Die (which I cannot recommend highly enough). This book is full of research and statistics, as well as reasons not to put garbage into our bodies, but more than anything, the focus is on what to eat, not what not to eat. The recurring theme is balance.
I’ve named our way of eating “Sustainable Nutrition.” Why? Because it’s easier to explain to someone if I have a title for it. I did not invent how we eat. We’re largely following the guidelines set out by Dr. Greger, and follow his “Daily Dozen” guidelines. (More on that below.) There is more to it than just the food. It’s a wholistic, balanced approach to how we shop and how we consume. For now, though, I’ll provide the meat of it. (Ha, get it? Because we don’t really eat meat!)
It can seem overwhelming, but the basic food guidelines of “Sustainable Nutrition” are as follows:
- Can’t Haves:
- Animal things. This means meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and anything else that was made from an animal.
- Refined sugar. When you start reading nutrition labels, you’ll start noticing how much sugar is in regular-ass things that shouldn’t have sugar in them. Note to self: write a post about sugar addiction epidemic created by the nefarious sales schemes of big corporations.
- Salt. Sodium. Jfc, there is just so much freaking salt in everything that comes in a package! Note to self: write another sugar post, but about salt.
- Highly Processed Foods. If it has a shelf life that’s longer than my car, we shouldn’t eat it. Severely limit the intake of processed foods whenever humanly possible.
- Must Haves:
- Beans: 3 servings per day
- Berries: 1 serving per day
- Fruits: 3 servings per day
- Crucifer: 1 serving per day
- Greens: 2 servings per day
- Vegetables: 2 servings per day
- Flaxseed (ground): 1 serving per day
- Nuts: 1 serving per day
- Grains: 3 servings per day
- Spices (turmeric, if at all possible): 1 serving per day
- Can’t Haves:
So, now that you’re wondering, “Why the hell does she list out a bunch of different kinds of foods multiple times? Berries is Fruit! Crucifers and greens? How is that different from vegetables? This lady is crazytown!”
Okay, maybe you don’t say “crazytown,” but you are probably puzzled by the multiplicity, right? It’s much simpler than it seems: Not all foods are created equally. Remember, we’re shooting for balance. Beans provide protein and allow for better nutrient absorption. Cruciferous vegetables are the only veggies that contain an appreciable amount of sulforophane, a liver enzyme and detox boosting compound. Each food on the “Must Have” list plays a part in the full and balanced nutrition the human body needs.
The best part of eating this way is that I can eat a LOT. Seriously, my biggest hurdle has been trying to figure out how to get all of my servings in each day. That’s amazeballs. I get to the end of the day and see that I need to eat a whole big snack! It’s the opposite of “dieting,” the verb. So, instead of being focused on what I can’t eat, I’m always focused on making sure that I’m eating enough (of the right foods).
Dr. Greger is crazy generous with his knowledge, and I think everyone should check out Nutrition Facts. Especially if you’re looking for more information on the “Must Have’s” I’ve listed above. Additionally, you can consult this Daily Dozen chart, which is also available at NF.