“Nutrition is the master key to human health.”


Green and purple lettuce
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Are you curious about a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet? The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies is here to help you get started.

The term whole in WFPB describes foods that are minimally processed. This includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts, and seeds.

Many eventually give up the diet label in favor of lifestyle. Perhaps that’s because the popular notion of dieting has become so confusing. A WFPB lifestyle should be simpler. It’s not a short-term punishment charged by guilt. It’s not a set of complicated meal plans. It’s a return to whole foods, natural flavors, and optimal health.

What do I eat?

Keep it simple—eat whole, unprocessed foods derived from plants.


The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are enormous. When you adopt a WFPB lifestyle, you can increase the odds that you will:

  • Lower risk of prostate, breast, and other cancers
  • Prevent, even reverse, heart disease
  • Prevent and treat diabetes
  • Achieve a healthy body weight and increase your energy levels
  • Live longer
  • And much more!

The price? Simply changing your diet. You can achieve profound health benefits by including more whole plant-based foods on your plate.

Let’s break it down into what should and shouldn’t be on your plate...

Whole Food, Plant-Based Guide

Yes! Eat these in abundance**

Enjoy a wide range of whole, unrefined plants. You can eat when you’re hungry and eat until you’re full. Strive for diversity in your meals, and include fiber-rich foods that capture all the colors of the nutrition rainbow. The following list contains many suggestions, but it is not exhaustive. Some items on this list may be inaccessible where you live due to climate or cultural relevance. We encourage you to use these suggestions as a starting point, but explore other foods in the following food groups! Also, choose organic when possible. For produce, please visit the Environmental Working Group’s website to locate their list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen foods.

Whole Grains & Ancient Grains

amaranth, barley, brown rice, bulgur, farro, millet, quinoa, sorghum, steel cut and rolled oats, teff, wheat berries, whole wheat, wild rice

Legumes (dried or canned with minimal salt)

adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans, green beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, mung beans, peas, pinto beans, soybeans

Greens (fresh or frozen)

arugula, bok choy, chards, cilantro, collards, kale, lettuces, parsley, spinach


beets, carrots, daikon, garlic, ginger, leeks, onions, potatoes (all colors), radishes, turnips

Other Veggies

asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, peppers, sea vegetables, squash, tomatoes, zucchini

Fruit (fresh or frozen)

apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, kiwi, mangoes, melons, papayas, pineapple, plums

Omega-3-Rich Seeds

chia seeds, flaxseed

**Organic Whole Soy Products (Recommend limiting soy to 2–3 servings per day)

edamame, miso, tempeh, tofu. Learn more with our Soy and Health Handout.


all spices


decaffeinated coffee, green tea, herbal teas, unsweetened plant-based milk substitutes, water

Should I take vitamin B12? This essential nutrient is not made by animals or plants. B12 is made by microbes, bacteria that blanket the earth. These bacteria are common in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and so animal foods can be sources of B12. Few plants actually contain vitamin B12: two varieties of edible algae, some varieties of mushrooms, plants grown in experimental settings with B12-enriched soils or water, and some foods made with certain fermentation processes have small amounts of active B12. We recommend a B12 supplement. Learn more from Dr. Thomas Campbell’s article, “12 Questions Answered Regarding Vitamin B12.”

Occasionally. Eat these sparingly.

Many of the following foods are healthy. For example, nuts, seeds, and avocados have many valuable, health-promoting nutrients. But these foods are also very calorie dense because of their naturally high fat content. It is also easy to eat these foods excessively without realizing it. Enjoy them in moderation.


almonds, cashews, nut butters, pistachios, walnuts


low-fat coconut milk, raw coconut, unsweetened shreds or chips


Seeds (except omega-3 sources)

pumpkin, sesame, sunflower

Dried Fruit

organic and without added sugars or oils

Natural Added Sweeteners

date syrup, maple syrup, molasses


caffeinated coffee and high-caffeine tea (without added sugar)

If purchasing a pre-packaged food product, carefully read what is on the package, box, or can. Note that product ingredients are listed in descending order, with the greatest amount by weight listed first. Purchase plant-based products with only a few ingredients, which may be a good way to tell if it is less processed. Aim for foods high in fiber and low in sodium and added sugars.

No. Avoid these foods.

The standard American diet (SAD), or the Western diet, is heavy on meat, dairy, and refined and ultra-processed foods. It is very high in added sugar, sodium, and cholesterol and deficient in health-promoting nutrients, fiber, and phytonutrients. Consequently, we face epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related diseases; staggering health care costs; and lower quality of life.


fish, lamb, pork, poultry, processed meat, red meat, seafood


butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream, half and half, ice cream, milk, yogurt


chicken, duck, ostrich, quail

Processed Plant Fragments (these are often found in vegan replacement foods)

Added and Hydrogenated Fats

margarine, oils (including olive oil and coconut oil)

Even the finest olive oils are 100% fat, meaning calorically-dense and nutrient-poor. Oil injures the endothelium, the innermost lining of the artery, and that injury is the gateway to vascular disease. Especially for those with known heart disease, adding even a little oil can negatively impact heart health.

Refined Sugar

barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, cane juice crystals, confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar), corn syrup, fructose, white sugar

Refined Grains

white flour (including in pastas, bread, snack foods), white rice

Protein Isolates

isolated soy protein or soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate

Ultra-Processed Foods

Foods with additives, artificial colors, stabilizers

These are often packaged and drastically modified from their original state (think Twinkies, Oreos, potato chips, and other “junk foods”). If you’re not sure whether you are eating an ultra-processed food, read the label and ask yourself whether you recognize the ingredients. Are they whole foods or only fragments of the original foods? Learn more about processed foods.


energy drinks, fruit juice (even 100% fruit juice), soda, sports drinks

“The epidemic of chronic, degenerative disease that is sweeping the western world can not only be stopped, it can be reversed. The power lies in the hands of the consumer, in the choices we make about what to put on our plates.”

—Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Learn more about the science behind the lifestyle with the groundbreaking research in The China Study.

Some of the most important health decisions you make will be in the grocery store. In a perfect world, we'd all go right out to our garden and just pick our fruits and vegetables. While that is not the reality for most of us, it is not hard to find healthy and nutritious foods at your local market.

Watch a grocery store walkthrough with Dr. Tom Campbell or check out our Plant-Based Shopping Guide

Watch a grocery store walkthrough with Dr. Tom Campbell or check out our Plant-Based Shopping Guide

Watch video

Meg Donahue

“People often call my mother’s recovery a miracle...I believe the miraculous thing may be that so much illness could be avoided if people could only move from foods that hurt to foods that heal.”

Laura Valero

“Dr. Campbell’s book resonated with me to my core, and I switched to a plant-based diet before I was even halfway through it.”

Tim Kaufman

“—I completed a 50K, and a 50 mile ultra marathon on some crazy trails. Imagine, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair, and my doctor now refers patients to me for advice!”

Adopting a whole food, plant-based diet is like a marathon, not a sprint. If you are one of the majority of Americans with chronic health problems, you certainly didn’t get yourself into poor health overnight. It can take a good long while to untangle yourself from the habits and patterns you’ve had your whole life. Take into account the inevitable bumps and hurdles along the way. However, as you find foods you like, and you find new habits in shopping and cooking, this will just be a new lifestyle.

Deepen your plant-based knowledge with the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate.

Learn more