Quite simply put, a whole-food, plant-based diet is one that focuses on eating foods from nature that are as minimally refined and processed as possible, while making plant-based foods the centerpiece of any meal or snack.
I find the definition given in a Forks Over Knives post written by Naomi Imatame-Yun is very helpful. The definition she gives is this: “A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.” See the infographic above from the same site for a good visual representation of what this means.
One reason behind reducing refined and processed high sugar/high fat foods from one’s diet is the tendency for these foods to take the place of more healthful nutrient dense foods that you would otherwise be consuming, so reducing your body’s intake of important nutrients, phytochemicals and minerals necessary for optimal health. A key reason for reducing excess oils in one’s diet, including vegetable oils, is so that a more desirable ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids intake can be achieved for optimal health.
Hence, a person who is on a whole-food, plant-based diet would tend to completely omit or minimize animal–based foods from the diet, while focusing on eating foods that are unprocessed and unrefined (in its natural form) that can be eaten raw or consumed after cooking. Such a dietary pattern would therefore yield a very nutritionally rich overall diet, with many of the vitamin, mineral and nutrient benefits from eating whole foods from plant-based sources.
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(Source: Imatome-Yun, N. forksoverknives.com. Plant-Based Primer: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Plant-Based Diet. https://www.forksoverknives.com/plant-based-primer-beginners-guide-starting-plant-based-diet/. January 3, 2017. Accessed February 5, 2018.)