Whole food, plant-based diets have gained popularity over the past few years due to their numerous health benefits. This diet emphasizes consuming whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding or minimizing processed foods, meat, dairy, and eggs. Let's explore how to optimize whole food plant-based ingredients for your metabolism and overall health.
Consuming a balanced and nutritious diet can contribute to maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases, and the journey to healthier metabolism and eating starts in the vegetable and fruit produce aisles.
Simply start filling your plate with all the colors of the rainbow and be mindful of what goes into your body. If you are deliberating about what foods to eat to help your metabolism and maintain healthy body weight, you can assess your current metabolic rate with this quiz. It will help direct you to the exact amounts professionals suggest.
Diet plays a crucial role in metabolism. Metabolism is the body's process of converting food into energy to power various physiological processes. The digestive system breaks down the food that we eat into its constituent parts, which are then used by the body to produce energy. The nutrients in food are essential for metabolic health, and the type and quantity of food we consume can significantly impact our metabolism. Timing your eating is also a significant component of the trifecta to boost your metabolism. If your goal is metabolic flexibility, which we think for most of us it is, then you should aim to have more of your complex carbs earlier in the day so that your body has the ability to use them to power your day.
Healthy diets, like the Mediterranean diet, also feature more whole grains, nuts, and seafood such as salmon and tuna, rich in omega-3 fatty acids making them great diet options for optimizing metabolism.
A whole-food plant-based diet is a dietary approach that emphasizes consuming minimally processed plant foods. This means that foods are consumed naturally or minimally processed to retain their natural nutrient content. To eat for your metabolism, these ingredients center around whole, unrefined plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding or minimizing animal products, processed foods, and added sugars. Think of this diet as "shopping the outside corners of the grocery store." Most of the processed, addicting foods are in the aisles in the middle of the store. Avoid those aisles!
According to Lumen specialists, eating whole food plant-based ingredients has numerous benefits for your metabolism. This dietary approach can improve insulin sensitivity, enhance digestion, and reduce inflammation, all contributing to a healthier metabolic profile. Still not convinced that healthier eating habits can lead to improved health benefits? Let's dive deeper into each of these!
Insulin sensitivity measures how well your body responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Poor insulin sensitivity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders. A whole food plant-based diet can improve insulin sensitivity by providing the body with a steady supply of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients.
This diet can also enhance digestion, which is crucial for a healthy metabolism. Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements, reduces gut inflammation, and promotes healthy gut bacteria growth. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for proper nutrient absorption, immune function, and overall health.
A whole food plant-based diet has shown signs of reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers (1).
A whole food plant-based diet can promote weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight. Plant-based foods are generally lower in calories than animal products and processed foods, and they are also high in fiber, which can help you feel full and reduce calorie intake.
Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can contribute to various health problems, including metabolic disorders. A whole food plant-based diet is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
A whole food plant-based diet can also increase energy levels, essential for a healthy metabolism. Plant-based foods are rich in complex carbohydrates, providing the body with a steady energy source throughout the day. Unlike simple carbohydrates, which can cause energy crashes and spikes in blood sugar levels, complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, providing sustained energy. If you have trouble knowing exactly which carbs can best benefit your metabolism to prevent blood sugar crashes, try using a personalized nutrition app, which can customize a macro plan for you!
Fiber is the part of plants that your body can't digest. It's found in the cell walls of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and it helps keep you full longer after eating, so you won't feel hungry so quickly.
A whole food plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that have health benefits. They include antioxidants, carotenoids (like beta-carotene), flavonoids (like quercetin), and polyphenols.
A review of multiple studies (2) found that consuming more fruits and vegetables is associated with weight loss and improved metabolic health. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense and low in calories, making them an ideal choice for weight loss. They also contain antioxidants and other compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.
You'll likely notice a few things as you eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods. First, your energy will be higher and more consistent throughout the day. You might even have an easier time sleeping at night!
Second, if you've been struggling with weight loss or hit a weight loss plateau before now (and who hasn't?), the scale will start moving in your favor almost immediately. Weight loss is a side effect of eating a whole food plant-based diet – it's not the main reason people choose this lifestyle change – but if it interests you, then this could be just what the doctor ordered!
Any transition into a new diet can be a cause for challenge; however, it does not have to be painful! Every new journey demands growth and can be overwhelming at first. Follow the steps below to help ease into the transition.
Start with one meal and focus on simply eating whole foods. Set realistic goals for yourself. Don't try to change everything at once! You will have bad days, and you should not be hard on yourself if this happens — it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Don't feel guilty if you don't succeed at first or if your attempts at being healthy don't go as planned; keep trying until it sticks!
You can't just do it for a week or two and expect to see results. It's not about losing weight but about making changes that will improve your health and well-being over time. A whole food plant-based diet is not a diet; it's a way of eating that you can follow long term!
Focusing on cutting out specific foods or ingredients can be tempting when transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet. For example, if you've been eating dairy products (animal-based or not), you might think that swapping them for soy-filled fake cheese will make the transition easier.
The reality is that there's no substitute for the essentials – eating more whole and unprocessed foods rather than less processed ones.
Plant-based foods refer to foods that come from plants and do not include any ingredients derived from animals. Here are five examples:
Lentils: Lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes from soups to salads to main courses.
Quinoa: Quinoa is considered a whole grain and is one of the few plant foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It's also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and various beneficial antioxidants.
Tofu: Tofu is made from soybeans and is a popular protein source for vegetarians and vegans. It's also a good source of calcium and iron.
Broccoli: Broccoli is a nutrient-rich vegetable with a good amount of vitamins C and K, folate, potassium, and fiber. It also contains plant compounds that can have health benefits.
Avocado: Avocados are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and various important nutrients, including potassium. They can be used in salads, smoothies, or as a healthier spread on whole grain toast.
All of these foods are staples in a plant-based diet, which focuses on eating from a wide variety of plant sources. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
FB;, S. A. H. (n.d.). Plant-based diets and Cardiovascular Health. Trends in cardiovascular medicine. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29496410/
Lawler, M., & By. (n.d.). 9 scientific benefits of following a plant-based diet. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/scientific-benefits-following-plant-based-diet/
S;, M. M. M. S. (n.d.). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28630614/
Team, D. H. (2021, December 10). What you should know about plant-based diets. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-a-plant-based-diet-right-for-you/
Spence JD. Nutrition and Risk of Stroke. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 17;11(3):647. doi: 10.3390/nu11030647. PMID: 30884883; PMCID: PMC6470893.
Marine is a registered dietitian with a passion for well-being, health and metabolism. She started her career as a clinical dietitian, opened her private practice to accompany patients from various backgrounds in their health journey, and is now providing nutrition support for Lumen’s customers.