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What Is A Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet? Check Out Our Guide

Diet trends have explored all ends of the meat-to-vegetable spectrum, and finally, embracing a whole food, plant-based diet has emerged as one of the healthiest decisions you can make for your overall wellness.A whole food, plant-based lifestyle may even save your life, as host JD Roth shows over and over in our new unscripted docu-series The Big Fat Truth — where all participants follow a whole food, plant-based diet. Roth and his family have followed a whole food, plant-based diet for several years now at the behest of his wife, Christine Roth, a contributing nutritionist on the show. 

So What Exactly Does Following A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Mean?

A whole-food, plant-based diet centers on whole, unrefined, or extremely minimally-refined plants. That means eating primarily fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes with minimal or no meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs, as well as very little to no highly-refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oils. If you're following a whole food, plant-based diet 100%, you may be even be completely avoiding meats, fish, dairy, refined foods and oils (yep, that includes even so-called "healthy" oils like olive or coconut oils). As Christine Roth, JD's wife and a contributing nutritionist on The Big Fat Truth says, "I really believe that the foundation of health involves no animal products or by-products at all, as well as nothing that's been processed or refined. We've cut it all out completely."

How Can You Tell If Something Is Considered A 'Whole' Food?

Ask yourself, will I find this food on a bush, in a tree, or in the dirt on a farm? If the answer is yes then it is likely a whole food or plant, rather than a plant fragment or processed plant.
But, Wait. What's So Bad About Meat?

To answer this question, we enlisted the wisdom of Chrissy Roth—a nutrition consultant on the show, who also happens to be married to its host.  She told us, "Studies, and there are lots of them, have shown that eating meat significantly increases your cancer risk. This includes chicken, not just red meat... This is especially true of breast, prostate, and colon cancers (the most common cancers)." Roth then went on to point out issues with meat contributing to the diabetes epidemic, expanding your waistline, deterioriating heart health, causing food borne illnesses, and more. 

Eating Meat Is Significantly Associated With Chronic Disease. 

This references a part of the study that surveyed diets and lifestyles of people in rural China and Taiwan. In finding that meat-based diets are more associated with disease, Campbell found over 8,000 significant associations between dietary factors and disease.

Does Going Plant-Based Mean You're Vegan?

Not necessarily. Vegans abstain from eating any animal products, as well as try to exclude using animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. But there's plenty of vegan food that isn't necessarily whole food or plant-based. Vegans may be eatting plenty of veggies, just like their counterparts on a plant-based diet, but may still eat plenty of still-vegan-friendly processed foods like pastries, candy, or even Oreos. Vegans may eat processed plant fragments (potato chips are an example), which someone on a whole food, plant-based diet avoids. 

How To Shop As A Plant-Based Eater

An expert plant-based eater herself, Chrissy Roth also gave us some tips on shopping for the plant-based diet. "Shopping as a plant eater is easy, but requires planning," says Roth, "Produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are all you  need, because fresh food reigns." If you can't get to the grocery everyday, not to worry. Roth told us that, "Frozen foods work well and should not be avoided, as they are picked at the peak of ripeness and hold most of their nutrition very well. Farmers markets are another great option."

The Plant-Based Diet Has Been Embraced By Celebrities.

Numerous luminaries like Beyonce, Olivia Wilde, Alicia Silverstone, Giselle Bundchen and even Bill Clinton all eat a plant-based diet, and more explore the lifestyle daily. “We all love it. It’s not only good for our health and makes us feel good, but it is good for the planet.” — model Giselle Bundchen to People on her whole family operating on a plant-based diets. “It changed my whole metabolism and I lost 24 pounds and I got back to basically what I weighed in high school.” — President Bill Clinton on adopting a plant-based diet“The benefits of a plant-based diet need to be known. We should spend more time loving ourselves, which means taking better care of ourselves with good nutrition and making healthier choices.” —singer Beyonce Knowles to The New York Times.Also on Z Living: Can 6 Former 'Biggest Losers' Lose The Weight They've Regained?

Here's Why A Plant-Based Diet May Change Your Life:

Before hosting and producing The Big Fat TruthJD penned a book of the same name. In the book, Roth looks to old reality show contestants and his favorite health trends for behind-the-scenes secrets to losing weight and gaining the inner strength to transform your life. One of the lifestyle changes he delves into is the whole food, plant-based diet. Roth references the China Diet Study, one of the world's most largest plant-based surveys of diets ever, published by Cornell researcher T. Colin Campbell. The 20-year joint investigation by Campbell, Cornell, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine takes deep look at the diets and corresponding health of people all over the world, and is considered the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever. Here's what they found in support of switching your lifestyle to a whole food, plant-based diet:

Plant-Based Eaters Live Longer, Healthier Lives. 

JD writes, “The study also found that people who ate primarily plant-based diets were far healthier—they had virtually no incidence of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes and very low rates of cancer. Campbell and his colleagues have even found that you can reverse disease by switching to a plant-based diet. So why aren’t we all doing it?”He told us, "If people heard there was a pill they could take that would solve most major diseases, I'd bet 100% of people would take it. But when people hear that pill is food, they think, ‘oh, that sounds like work.’ But isn't it worth it?"

Here's How JD & Christine Roth Recommend Getting Started On A Plant-Based Diet:

"I would recommend starting with one meal a day that’s plant-based," advises JD. "And I would go with the shrinkage method. What I mean by that is, if you’re used to eating a 12oz porterhouse steak with the guys, cut it in half and move it aside. Take it home. Then double the amount of vegetables surrounding that piece of meat. The volume of food is the same, but it’s better for you. This got my palette used to eating more vegetables and less meat. Next time, reduce that steak by two-thirds. I kept reducing my meat intake, then realized I didn't need it anymore, and eventually gave it up."Find what works for you, advises Christine. "Make your go-to foods different things. If it was a chicken sandwich, now it’s a tempeh sandwich," she says. "But it will take time, and it'll rock your world in the beginning." There’s no 90-day program to follow,  this diet is a way of life. And the longer you live with a diet that prioritizes plant-based foods and keeps meat and dairy to a minimum, the easier it will be to keep off weight and unwanted illnesses. 

5 Easy Steps To Getting Started On A Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet:

1. Embrace Whole Plants. Eat all you want of any whole, unrefined, minimally-processed plant-based food. 

2. Eliminate Animal-Based Foods. Diets high in animal-based proteins are associated with chronic diseases including coronary artery diseases and diabetes (and it's easy to get your proteins from foods like spinach, tofu, quinoa, or beans). Also, animal foods lack fiber, while plant foods are packed with fiber — which fill you up and regulate nutrients into the body.

3.  Eliminate Dairy Foods. Weight loss, clearer skin, disease prevention, and increased energy are all factors associated with reducing or removing dairy from your diet. And while dairy consumption has been long recommended for bone health, it's not absolutely necessary. On a plant-based diet, it's easy to get your fill of bone-building calcium from leafy greens like collard greens, kale, spinach, or broccoli. Too much dairy may also increase your risk for certain cancers — for instance, this study found men who consumed more than two daily dairy servings had a 34% increased risk of developing prostate cancer. 

4. Avoid Refined & Processed Foods. Sweets, pastries, and processed pastas lack original fiber, vitamins and minerals, and convert to sugar in your body.

5. Avoid Or Eliminate Oil. Oil, even the best olive oil, is 100% fat, calorically-dense, and nutrient-poor.