Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Guide

First we will take a look at food groups. Second we will consider what to eat (& drink) and what to avoid. Third we will offer more information and inspiration for your continued exploration.

1) How We Define Food Groups

Let’s Take a Look at How We Think about Food


What Are the 3 Basic Food Groups?

Choose your answer.

Nice try.

Although we are all familiar with the foods in answers 1, 2 and 3, we encourage you to look at food with answer #4 in mind.

Nice try.

Although we are all familiar with the foods in answers 1, 2 and 3, we encourage you to look at food with answer #4 in mind.

Nice try.

Although we are all familiar with the foods in answers 1, 2 and 3, we encourage you to look at food with answer #4 in mind.


When deciding what to eat-try breaking it down like this: animal products, whole plants and processed plant fragments.

What Are Animal-Based Foods?


We will list just a few examples to illustrate each category, there are many more.

Animal-Based Foods


cheese, milk, yogurt


chicken eggs, duck eggs and egg products such as mayonnaise

Fish & Seafood

tuna, swordfish, shrimp


steak, hamburger, lard (pig fat)

What Are Plant-Based Foods?


Plants can fall into more than one category, for example celery is a stem and also has leaves.

Whole, Unrefined, Plant-Based Foods


beet, potato, carrot


onion, garlic, water chestnut


celery, rhubarb, asparagus


lettuce, bok choy, arugula


cauliflower, broccoli, artichoke


tomato, orange, watermelon


portobello, white button, shiitake


pecan, cashew, walnuts


cannellini beans, peas, lentils

Whole Grains

whole wheat, brown rice, rye


So, what is the difference between a whole plant and a processed plant fragment?

In his book The China Study Solution Tom Campbell, MD encourages us to ask the following question-will I find this food item on a bush, in a tree, or in the dirt on a farm? If the answer is yes then it is likely to be a whole plant.


What Are Processed Plant Fragments?

Plant Fragments

sugar, oil, refined flour

What does it mean to process plants into fragments? Processing indicates some components of the original plant were isolated using mechanical or chemical means. Plants can be broken down to varying degrees. Take an orange for example, peeling then segmenting are simple mechanical steps taken prior to consumption and the orange segment would be considered a whole plant food. Juicing breaks it down even more, which would now be considered plant fragments. In order to isolate components of the original plant, other mechanical and or chemical processes are used to extract and treat nutritional components, such as removing oil or specific nutrients from plants, extracting fiber from grains or bleaching.

What differentiates veganism from a whole food, plant-based diet?

A vegan might fill up on fried foods, pastries, protein shakes, sugary candy and eat foods loaded with vegetable oil. This diet may not include meat but may include collections of processed plant fragments, which someone on a WFPB diet avoids while focusing on an amazing variety of delicious, nutritious, whole and minimally processed plants.

What about a donut?

What would this popular food be considered?

Choose your answer, be careful this is a trick question.

Nice try.

#4 is the best answer.

Nice try.

#4 is the best answer.

Nice try.

#4 is the best answer.


This is the best answer.

2) What to Eat and What to Avoid

How to Start Your Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet

Embrace Whole Plants

Eat all you want while getting lots of variety of any whole, unrefined plant-based food. View our whole food, plant-based recipes for inspiration in the kitchen.

Eliminate Animal-Based Foods

Diets containing animal based protein are associated with a huge disease burden, far more than most people realize. Excess protein increases carcinogenic activity and is correlated with the health risks for all chronic diseases including coronary artery diseases and diabetes epidemics. The RDA for protein is 10% of calories, though most tend to eat twice that. The only way to over-consume protein is through excess animal food consumption or the use of isolated protein in processed foods. Animal foods have no fiber, while whole plant foods are packed with fiber, which fill you up, keep you regular, and regulate nutrients into the body.

Eliminate All Dairy

A very popular animal-based food product worthy of separate mention is dairy. Contrary to popular belief dairy consumption is not necessary for bone health and is associated with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and cancers of the prostate and breast. Dairy proteins promote growth hormones which increase tumor growth. Worried about getting enough calcium for strong bones? You can get plenty without consuming dairy.

Avoid Refined & Processed Foods

There is a correlation between refined foods and disease - sweets, pastries and processed pastas lack their original fiber, vitamins and minerals. These processed foods convert to sugars in the blood, increasing the risk for insulin resistance, colon cancer vascular disease and weight gain.

Avoid/Eliminate Oil

Oil, even the finest olive oil, is 100% fat, calorically-dense and nutrient-poor. As Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. MD explains, oil injures the endothelium, the innermost lining of the artery, and that injury is the gateway to vascular disease. For those with known heart disease, even adding a little oil can have a negative impact on heart health.

What if I am trying to put on or lose some weight?

Whether trying to gain or lose weight keep caloric density in mind. For example avocados, nuts and nut butters are packed full of energy and also calories. Oils are more concentrated.



Go for green, use caution with orange and stay away from red. Click food categories for examples.

Whole Plants

Vegetables (emphasize leafy greens), legumes, fruits, intact whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Plant-Based Minimally Processed

Whole plant foods that are 1 to 2 steps away from nature with minimal ingredients (i.e. whole grain: pasta, bread and cereal).

Plant-Based More Processed

Processed plant fragments often combined with other ingredients (i.e. white bread, protein bars, plant-based cheese products).

Salt, Oil and/or Sugar (SOS)

Salt, oil or sugar has been added during food preparation, cooking or afterwards (i.e. sweetened beverages and most packaged foods).

Animal Products

Any food item derived from any animal source (i.e. beef, fish, poultry, and all dairy: yogurt, cheese, milk, etc., lunch meats, fried foods).



Let Water Be Your Beverage of Choice

Water carries nutrients, oxygen and electrolytes throughout the body for all of its vital work, including nerve signaling, muscular movement and toxin removal. Signs of not drinking enough water include fatigue, fluid retention and constipation. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. By the way, if you are wondering about drinking alcohol take a look at Tom Campbell, MD’s thoughts on the matter.

Start Your Day With a Healthy Meal

A healthy meal, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates will allow for steady levels of blood sugar throughout the day, a prolonged feeling of fullness, optimal alertness and less desire for snacking. Many enjoy oatmeal with fruit or whole-grain cereals. If trying to lose weight or reset tastebuds, consider eating vegetables for breakfast or any meal. Many people enjoy smoothies as they transition away from less healthy foods, although some benefits are diminished.

Beware of Fad Diets

Don't fall for food fads without researching the health implications of popular trends such as low-carb or the Paleo diet, (Atkins diet recycled).

How to Set Yourself up for Success One Meal at a Time

Living a WFPB lifestyle does not have to be time consuming, or expensive. As a matter of fact you will save time and money once you get in the habit of eating this way. Check out our Plant-Based Food Guide: How to Eat Well on a Budget brimming with tips and delicious recipes. Have fun, be creative, do not take things too seriously, substitute when necessary, connect with others and enjoy. Use our sample menu for three days of WFPB meals.

Read Ingredient Labels Carefully

If purchasing a pre-packaged food product be sure to carefully read what is in the package, box or can. Note that product ingredients are listed in descending order, with the greatest amount by weight listed first. Purchase products with just a few, recognizable plant-based ingredients. The less processed the better. Avoid added sweeteners and additives including oils and fats.

What About Vitamins and Supplements?

Tom Campbell, MD suggests that Vitamin B12 is an exception and that a WFPB eater can monitor Vitamin D with his or her personal doctor. T. Colin Campbell explains that the word vitamin is deeply embedded in our brains. In the past, children were forced to take cod liver oil and more recently colorful, sugary cartoon shaped supplements. T. Colin Campbell maintains that individual vitamin supplements do not work for long term health, and that to insist they do diverts attention away from the truly important message of consuming whole, plant-based foods.


Don’t Expect Overnight “Perfection”

We realize that change is not necessarily easy. It can be emotionally and socially challenging to break free from what Dr's Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer have named, the dietary pleasure trap. More and more doctors are discovering the health benefits of a WFPB diet, Doctor James Loomis changed his life after watching Forks Over Knives. Like other plant-based doctors, he now helps his patients to overcome their fears and reminds us the most powerful medication is the food you put in your mouth!

3) Continue the Exploration

Launch a WFPB Lifestyle & Live a Whole Life

Free Resources

Enjoy articles and recipes on our website.

Learn More

Check out recommended books and videos.

Online Course

Good health is closer than you think. Check out our online Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate, it's just a click away.

“Since my family and I changed our eating habits, I’ve come to enjoy thinking of food as either plants or animals. It fits well into my philosophy of keeping the information on food and health as simple as possible.”

T. Colin Campbell, PhD
The China Study



Get Inspired

We get inspired by our graduate success stories and hope you will too!

My Aging Parents’ Shocking Health Improvements Through Food

My Aging Parents’ Shocking Health Improvements Through Food

My parents (both in their 80’s) moved in and began a whole food, plant-based diet. The outcome? It’s never too late to overcome serious health issues!

Patricia’s Plant-Based Health Story

Patricia’s Plant-Based Health Story

I completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Program in April 2014. I started my journey Nov. 22, 2013 after seeing Forks over Knives.

Nurse Loses Over 100 Pounds and Overcomes Food & Sugar Addiction

Nurse Loses Over 100 Pounds and Overcomes Food & Sugar Addiction

Amanda, a critical care nurse with swollen feet, PCOS and hypothyroidism turned her life around after reading The China Study & watching Forks Over Knives.

Tom Brady’s Former Chef Describes His Plant-Based Journey

Tom Brady’s Former Chef Describes His Plant-Based Journey

Chef Allen Campbell explains the ups and downs of a chef’s career, 50+ jobs in the foodservice industry & student loans, yet if given the choice he’d do it again.

From Colds, Flus and Acid Reflux to Healthy on a Plant-Based Diet

From Colds, Flus and Acid Reflux to Healthy on a Plant-Based Diet

My wife and I stumbled across a life altering movie which changed our minds about how we eat. I lost weight, spend less time in the gym and am more energetic.

How The China Study Gave Me Children (and Hope)

How The China Study Gave Me Children (and Hope)

Katherine was diagnosed with endometriosis which prevented pregnancy, then her plant-based diet reversed it.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about a whole food, plant-based diet. We looked at food groups, touched on what to consume and what to avoid then offered further information and resources to help you live a whole life.