When it comes to following a healthful and balanced plant-based diet, it is not always obvious what you should be eating each day.
This is why we have created a brand new tool called Your Daily Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Guide.
Shaped like a wheel, this resource shows you ‘at a glance’ which whole food categories and amounts to eat every day.
The wheel focuses on plants that are known to have the most health benefits.
In fact, the only health-promoting food missing is mushrooms, and that is because mushrooms are not plants at all—they are fungi!
Why a Wheel?
We chose a wheel because it is the best way to visually demonstrate WHAT to eat and HOW to balance the various types of food together.
The wheel is split in half to depict the idea that half of your daily food intake should come from the left (i.e., the ‘green’ food categories) and half from the right (i.e., the ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ categories).
Also, each food category displays a recommended number of daily servings as well as the corresponding energy density of a 100-gram (or 3.5-ounce) portion.
The Left (Green) Side of the Wheel
The left (green) side of the wheel is divided into four categories of fruits and vegetables.
They represent whole plant foods with the lowest energy density and that provide low satiety. However, they add the colors of the rainbow to our plate and are one of the best sources of micronutrients and phytochemicals in our diet.
- Leafy Vegetables (2+ Servings/Day): Spinach, kale, watercress, beet greens, mustard greens, collard greens, and arugula.
- Cruciferous Vegetables (1+ Serving/Day): Broccoli, kale, green cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, collard greens, and Brussels sprout. [Leafy and cruciferous vegetables can sometimes blur—e.g. kale and collard greens fall into both groups.]
- Other Non-Starchy Vegetables (1+ Serving/Day): Onions, garlic, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots, beets.
- Fruits (4+ Servings/Day): Three servings of fruit—e.g. apples, oranges, kiwi, bananas, and one serving of berries, specifically.
The Right (Yellow) Side of the Wheel
The right (yellow) side of the wheel is also divided into four categories. They include mostly starch-based foods with higher energy density that provide satiety.
- Starchy Vegetables (1+ Serving/Day): Tapioca, water chestnuts, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and butternut squash.
- Whole Grains (3+ Servings/Day): Barley, bulgur, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, and wheat.
- Legumes (3+ Servings/Day): Chickpeas, black beans, lentils, green beans, green peas, soybeans, and peanuts.
- Nuts and Seeds (1+ Serving/Day): Almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and especially walnut, flaxseed, and chia seeds for their high omega-3 content. This category has the highest energy density amongst whole plant foods, so a little goes a long way—one serving is all it takes.
The Fab Four
At the center of the wheel is the Fab Four—the four main whole plant foods that you should try and eat every single day.
Start with the Fab Four and, as you get comfortable with the plant-based lifestyle, continue to add more whole plant foods to your meals until you are eating from each of the categories represented on the wheel on a daily basis.
- Greens: Known for their micronutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber, greens can be either Leafy or Cruciferous Vegetables and are found on the wheel’s left side.
- Beans: Beans fall under the Legumes category located on the right side. They are an excellent source of protein and fiber and a good source of folate and other micronutrients.
- Berries: Berries are a subset of the Fruits category found on the wheel’s left side. They are packed with cancer-fighting phytochemicals and seem to protect your brain from shrinkage as you age.
- Seeds: Part of the Nuts and Seeds category listed on the right side of the wheel, flaxseed (and chia seeds) supply omega-3 essential fatty acids and phytochemicals.
How Much of Each Food Category Should I Eat?
A serving is roughly:
- 1 cup of raw foods such as leafy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, cut-up fruit, fresh peas, sprouted beans, and cold cereal.
- 1/2 cup of cooked foods like leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, and tofu.
- 1/4 cup of high energy density foods such as dried fruit and nuts.
Using your hands as a guide, 1 cup is the size of your clenched fist, while 1/2 cup corresponds to one cupped hand.
In practical terms, the recommendation is to eat equal amounts of foods from both sides of the wheel to balance their levels of satiety and energy density (the amount of energy in a food compared to its weight).
The small arrows in the outer layer indicate that as you move from the left to the right of the wheel, the energy density increases.
In ascending order (i.e., going from the least to most energy dense), you have (1) leafy, cruciferous and non-starchy vegetables, (2) fruits, (3) starchy vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and (4) nuts and seeds.
Put the wheel on display in your kitchen and use it every day.
It is okay if you sometimes do not get a perfect combination. Be gentle with yourself and keep doing the best you can!
Click to get your very own copy of Your Daily Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Guide, and use it well!