The Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Pyramid
Ever feel confused about choosing what and how much to eat every day for the best health outcomes? We all do since vegan or plant-based lifestyles are not devoid of unhealthy food. This is where the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid can be incredibly helpful.
A diet pyramid is a visual representation of different food groups at different levels suggesting their ideal quantity for a healthy diet. You can use it as a guide to select the right food in the right amounts to optimize nutrition in your diet.
The plant-based diet pyramid can also help you improve your eating patterns and consequently your overall health.
In this article, you’re going to find out all about the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid (WFPB diet pyramid) and how you can use it to eat better and get healthier.
What is a Whole Food Plant-Based diet?
Understanding the Whole Food Plant-Based diet is essential to interpreting the WFPB food pyramid.
The Whole Food Plant-Based diet or WFPB diet refers to a dietary pattern consisting of plant-based, whole food products. This diet encourages eating food in its natural form, that is, without undergoing processing. Moreover, like other plant-based diets, the WFPB diet completely excludes animal-based products such as meat, eggs, dairy and seafood.
While the Whole Food Plant-Based diet is like any other plant-based diet, the fundamental difference lies in its focus on eating the “whole” food. For example, eat whole wheat flour instead of refined wheat flour. Why? Because refined wheat flour is heavily processed which makes it lose vital nutrients.
Experts also encourage avoiding or minimizing salt, sugar, and oils on a WFPB diet, along with avoiding processed food. Again, because they are not conducive to health. In fact, if consumed in excess, they can cause health issues.
The main idea of the WFPB diet is to get well-balanced nutrition from food to stay healthy. Many studies suggest that the healthiest people – like the people of Okinawa – on our planet have predominantly had Whole Food Plant-Based dietary patterns.
Let’s now explore the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid.
What does the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid look like?
As you can imagine, a diet pyramid is a triangle-shaped food chart illustrating different food groups from the bottom to the top, with various different levels.
The food groups refer to the category of the foods with respect to their general physical and chemical nature along with our body’s nutritional requirements. For example, whole grain is a food group having grains or cereals. And, whole grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates.
The pyramid is broad at the base and gets narrower towards the top, indicating the amount of a particular food group to include in your diet.
There are many types of diet pyramids. The constituents of all diet types can be visualized in a pyramid. While a regular western diet pyramid would include animal products, oils, processed food, a plant-based pyramid won’t.
Additionally, you may find more layers within the pyramid depending on the diet type or health goal. You may also see more than one food group at one level. All the food groups at one level indicate a similar quantity to eat.
Let’s turn our focus to the WFPB diet. Based on our daily requirements of carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, the different WFPB food groups are designated at various levels.
In a typical Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid, you will find:
- Fruits and vegetables at the base
- Whole grains in the lower middle
- Beans and legumes in the middle
- Nuts and seeds in the upper-middle
- Herbs and spices on top
Note that this is our interpretation of a Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid. There are different ways to visualize such pyramids.
What are the food groups of a Whole Food Plant-Based diet?
We learned in the last section what a plant-based pyramid looks like. Let’s now get into the details of each of the food groups present at the different levels.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables and fruits occupy the base of the Whole Food Plant-Based pyramid. These are one of the most significant parts of the WFPB diet.
There are hundreds of types of fruits and vegetables available from season to season. All of them are loaded with various essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, carbs, fiber, and more.
Including various types of fruits and vegetables in your diet helps your body function properly and protects you from several illnesses.
The WFPB pyramid includes all kinds of fruits and vegetables:
- Leafy greens (cabbage, spinach, kale, beet greens)
- Starchy vegetables (sweet potato, potato, yam, corn)
- Gourds, squashes, and fruits (pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper)
- Flowers and bulbs (onion, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower)
- Root vegetables (carrot, beet, ginger, radish)
- Mushrooms (button mushroom, shiitake, portobello)
- Fruits (apple, banana, berries, papaya, melon, orange)
When you go plant-based grocery shopping, make sure to buy a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get all kinds of nutrients from your meals.
2. Whole grains
The next level of the plant-based pyramid consists of whole grains. These are the primary source of energy for our body as they are rich in carbohydrates and fiber. The fiber helps us feel full for longer and prevents overeating.
You should eat about 3+ cups of cooked whole grains every day. Some of the best whole grains and whole-grain products to have in your pantry are:
- Whole wheat (flour, pasta, broken wheat)
- Rice (white, brown, purple)
- Whole grain bread
3. Beans and legumes
Next up come the best protein sources for people on plant-based diets – beans and legumes. These not only provide the body with proteins but also provide fiber, vitamins, and other essential nutrients.
You should eat about 2 servings of cooked beans and legumes daily, including tofu, tempeh, etc. Some of the cheap and nutritious beans and legumes options include:
- Lentils (black, green, yellow, pink)
- Soybean products (soy chunks, tofu, tempeh, edamame)
- Kidney beans
- Mung beans
4. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds occupy the same level as beans and legumes. Different types of seeds and nuts are rich in healthy fats such as omega 3 along with many vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Including one serving of various seeds and nuts can make your diet nutrient-dense and provide excellent health benefits.
Some of the cheapest and most nutritious seeds and nuts ones you can go for are:
- Flax seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pine nuts
- Dried coconut
5. Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices make it to the topmost level of the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid. These not only make your meals flavorful but also provide some excellent health benefits.
Most of the herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants and other chemicals that can protect from deadly diseases such as cancer, heart problems, kidney problems, and more.
You can top off all your meals with some blends of herbs and spices. Some of the most versatile spices and herbs you can go for are:
- Black pepper
- Mixed dried herbs
What foods are not part of the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid?
You saw all the foods the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid includes and how much you should eat them in a day. It is equally important to learn the foods that are not a part of the pyramid so that you can avoid them.
1. All animal-based foods
The very first and the obvious one excluded from the WFPB food pyramid is animal-based foods.
The main reason for excluding all kinds of animal food from this diet is that animal food is linked to many ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and more.
It includes all types of animal-based food such as:
- All kinds of meat (beef, pork, veal)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter)
- Eggs and poultry
- Seafood (fish, squid, oyster, crab, lobster)
- Animal fat (lard)
You might find it surprising, but oil doesn’t make it to the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid even though most oils are plant-based (like vegetable oil or sunflower oil). The reason?
Many recent scientific findings have found that oils can be harmful to health due to their high-fat content and excess calorie consumption.
Also, the WFPB diet components already fulfill the body with natural healthy fats. Hence, you don’t need to eat added oil in your daily diet.
3. Processed foods
The processed or refined food products are also not a part of the Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid, even if they are from plants. It is again so for their detrimental health effects. Health experts suggest minimizing their intake or avoiding processed foods altogether.
Food processing methods, especially the modern ones, strip the food of nutrients, making them unhealthy. For example, when wheat is processed to make refined flour, its brown covering is removed, with most nutrients lost in the process.
Similarly, other processed and packaged food contain added salt, sugar, oils, preservatives, and other chemicals often harmful to health.
The most common processed items that will have to do away with include:
- Refined flour and refined flour products (pasta, white bread)
- Refined sugar
- Potato chips and other packaged snacks
Completing the Whole Food Plant-Based pyramid
Eating plant-based food alone doesn’t fulfill some of the essential nutrients our body needs every day. These include water, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12. A Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid is not complete until we add these too.
Here’s a look into why these nutrients are vital and how you can incorporate them into your daily diet.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, also called calciferol, is a nutrient our body requires for many critical functions requiring absorption of calcium in the body. A deficiency of Vitamin D can weaken your bones, teeth, and muscles.
For a vegan, there are limited food sources of Vitamin D (mushroom, soy, or Vitamin D-fortified food). But the good news is you don’t have to rely on food at all. Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D.
All you need to do is spend some time (ideally 20 minutes or more) under the sun to let your skin absorb the sunlight and trigger Vitamin D synthesis in your body.
2. Vitamin B12
Like Vitamin D, foods from plants aren’t a great source of Vitamin B12 either.
A prolonged deficiency of Vitamin B12 can cause psychosis, paralysis, and even blindness. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure you are taking Vitamin B12 adequately on a regular basis.
You can opt for Vitamin B12-fortified foods such as fortified cereals or nutritional yeast. Alternatively, you can go for B12 supplements like cyanocobalamin. It is best to consult a nutrition expert to choose the right supplement and optimal doses for yourself.
When we talk about a healthy and balanced diet, ignoring water would be a felony. Our body is about 70% water. So, it is no surprise that water is a vital nutrient for the body to function properly. Oxygen and other nutrients cannot travel through the cells unless there is water to transport them. Moreover, water helps flush out toxins from the body.
Dehydration can result in nausea, diarrhea, weakness, toxins accumulation, and many other problems. So keeping yourself well-hydrated is absolutely essential to maintain good health.
For an adult, drinking at least 8-10 glasses (or about 2 liters) of water is recommended. If you are physically active, you should drink more water.
You don’t have to drink plain water all through the day. You can fulfill your body’s water requirements in other forms, too, like tea or juices. Try including juicy fruits in your diet as well.
The Whole Food Plant-Based diet pyramid can be very helpful in making sure you get the right nutrition. The visual depiction of each food group at various levels helps you choose the right food in the right quantity.
We recommend printing out our WFPB food pyramid and hanging it in your kitchen. It will serve as a handy guide to eat a balanced diet every time.