What IS Healthy Plant-Based Eating?

What IS Healthy Plant-Based Eating?

As long as there have been people who have chosen not to eat animal products, there have been misconceptions about plant-based eating. Some of the common questions a vegan or plant-based eater might get include:

There are great ways to answer all these questions (click the links above for more info) because a well-planned plant-based diet provides all the nutrients a human needs, and truly promotes good long-term health. But it’s important to recognize that there is a difference between simply “vegan” and a vegan diet that is based around whole plant foods. The truth is that a “vegan” diet is not necessarily a healthy diet, and the reason is simple. “Vegan” defines what you EXCLUDE instead of what you INCLUDE, and there are lots of foods that are technically vegan, and yet still unhealthy (case in point: Oreo cookies). This is more true today than it has ever been because the vegan movement has grown, and with it the number of food producers and developers who are happily creating new processed products to fill the “gaps”.

You can look at this one of two ways. Many ethical vegans (i.e. people who primarily avoid animal products because of the harm they cause other living creatures) are thrilled! Today you can get virtually ANY food in a vegan version – potato chips, mayonnaise, “cheese”, “burgers”, “sausages”, chocolate, cookies – the list goes on. Indeed, the vegan convenience/junk food market has exploded in the past 5-10 years.

However, there is a problem with this. I am vegan first for ethical reasons, and 15 years ago I might have been in the “thrilled” camp. But in the past decade I have become increasingly aware of the incredible health benefits of a healthy whole foods plant-based eating style, and of the fact that people who simply switch from eating “regular” junk and processed foods to vegan junk and processed foods really are no better off health wise. (From an ethical standpoint the tragedy of this is that people who DON’T make an effort to eat healthy vegan often end up eating animal products once again because they get sick and end up believing they can’t be healthy without eating animals.) A healthy whole foods plant-based vegan diet promotes not only compassion, but good health for the person consuming it as well.

A vegan diet excludes anything that is derived from or made by animals, including:

  • any kind of meat, poultry or fish
  • dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc
  • processed items that include any of the above
  • processed items that are made using animal products – e.g. jello, which contains gelatin
  • honey

A healthy whole foods plant based vegan diet also excludes these things, but the emphasis is on what is INCLUDED:

  • LOTS of fruits and vegetables, preferably minimally processed
  • legumes (beans, lentils)
  • nuts, seeds
  • whole grains, preferably minimally processed

If you’re starting out on a plant-based journey, do yourself a favour and stick to the whole foods as much as possible – and eat lots of them! Want more info? Check out this video from nutritionfacts.org on The Healthiest Foods.



  • Ken Shannon

    February 6, 2017 at 8:17 pm Reply

    Thanks, Emma. This is a very clear article on what we need to eat to create great health following a whole foods plant-based diet. Of course, this article clearly explains what not to eat. I know that if you’d have had space, you would have also mentioned that a healthy diet also means little or no sugar, salt, or fat/oil. Thanks again for a great article. Ken Shannon

    • VeganRHN

      February 6, 2017 at 9:08 pm Reply

      Hi Ken – thanks for the feedback, and your comments. Yes, I tend to associate those ingredients with processed foods, but it’s good to point out that they are minimized period in a healthy diet. I would like to say, however, that there is an important place for whole, healthy fats in a whole foods diet. We want to watch the amount, and needs vary, as with many nutrients, between individuals, but it’s primarily the oil – which is stripped of nutrients – that we want to avoid/eliminate. Thanks for the clarification 🙂

  • Holly

    April 19, 2017 at 3:48 am Reply

    Just in time for me. I am starting to eat healthy now, I am now staying away with what I love, sweets.
    I know this is worth it.

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