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The Ultimate Foods List to Master a Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based diet means focusing most of your meals on plants,like fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

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Table of Contents

Interested in adopting a plant-based diet? We've got you covered. This article provides a list of plant-based diet foods, plus tips and a meal sample to get you started.

What is a Whole-Food Plant-based Diet? 

A plant-based diet can mean a few things. At a minimum, a plant-based diet means the focus of your meals is on plants, and even if you eat animal products, they take a backseat to the plants. Plant-based diets can also include vegan diets, which don't use any animal products, or vegetarian diets, which may use animal products like dairy and eggs.

A whole-food plant-based diet (WFPB) takes it one step further and not only focuses on plants, but also eliminates processed foods. In theory, plant-based diets sound healthy, but if they are filled with processed meat substitutions or sugary plant-based desserts, they may not be as healthy as you hope. 

A WFPB diet is based on whole, minimally processed foods—think no sugar, refined grains, or packaged foods. It may or may not include animal products, but if it does, they are sustainably farmed or raised and make up a very small part of the diet. 

WFPB diets are naturally high in fiber and phytonutrients and include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. By limiting processed foods that tend to be higher in simple carbs, a WFPB diet also promotes healthy blood sugar levels.

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What Are the Benefits of a Plant-based Diet?

A whole-food plant-based diets have several benefits.

  • Plant-based foods are high in fiber, which can help with gut health, digestion, and regularity. Fiber also supports healthy blood sugar and is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.¹
  • Plant-based foods are high in antioxidants, which can help protect the body from free radical damage and inflammation.²
  • Many plant-based foods are low in calories but fill you up because of the fiber, making them a good choice for people trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.³
  • Some research suggests that plant-based diets may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, and other chronic illnesses.⁴
  • Plant-based diets consider environmental factors and may be more sustainable than diets that include certain types of animal products.⁵

Ultimate Plant-based Foods List Suitable for Glycemic Balance

Try to include a variety of the following whole-food, plant-based foods every day (bonus—many of these also support healthy blood sugar balance):

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Vegetables and Fruits

It goes without saying that vegetables and fruits are essential for a plant-based diet. Not only are they packed with nutrients, but they're also low in calories. 

Pro shopping tip: When shopping for fruits and vegetables, look for those that are in season. Not only will they be more affordable, but they'll also taste better. But if you're craving something out of season, don't forget about the frozen aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh (and sometimes more so).

Some of our favorite fruits and vegetables include:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Romaine
  • Bok choy
  • Carrots
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Limes

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are high in fiber and linked to a lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses—they also contain protein, vitamins, and minerals.⁶

Pro shopping tip: You can cook dried beans and legumes from scratch or look for canned or pre-cooked varieties to save time. Just be sure to check the labels and choose products with no added salt, sugar, or fat. If salt is added, rinse the beans or legumes before using.

  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Split peas
  • Cannellini beans
  • Black-eyed peas

Nuts & Seeds

Like beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are linked to a lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses.⁷ They also provide anti-inflammatory unsaturated fats and phytonutrients that may help protect the body against inflammation.⁸

Pro shopping tip: Check labels and look for raw, unsalted options. You can also store nuts and seeds in the fridge to make them last longer.

  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Pecans
  • Hazelnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds 

Whole Grains 

Yes, they are carbs, but complex carbs that are packed with fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains differ from refined grains because they contain the bran and germ, which are removed during the refining process. This results in a loss of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But whole grains keep these essential nutrients intact. 

Pro shopping tip: When shopping for whole grains, look for the word "whole" on the label, such as "whole wheat" or "whole oats." It can be confusing because words like "multigrain" don't necessarily mean whole grain. Check the label to ensure you're getting the real deal, and look out for any added sugars.

  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Brown rice 
  • Millet
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth

Dairy and Meat Alternatives

Depending on the type of plant-based diet you follow, you may or may not include dairy and meat alternatives. Legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds can give you some of the protein you need, but some of these alternatives can also help.

Pro shopping tip: Remember that many meat and dairy alternatives can be highly processed. Reading labels and looking for whole, unrefined ingredients can help with food choices.

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk (not a good source of protein)
  • Dairy-free yogurt

How to Adopt a Plant-based Diet  

If you're new to plant-based eating, taking things slow can be helpful. Making a sudden switch to a plant-based diet can be overwhelming if it's really different from how you eat now, and it may not be sustainable in the long term. 

Instead, focus on making small changes you can stick with over time. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Start by incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet. If you're not ready to give up meat entirely (or if you don't plan to), start by having one or two meatless meals per week.
  • Focus on variety. As mentioned earlier, aim for a variety of colors when choosing fruits and vegetables. And don't be afraid to experiment with different types of grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Try different plant-based foods and recipes to find something you like.
  • Meal prep or cook in bulk so you always have healthy food on hand. Even washing produce or chopping veggies and fruit can make it easier when you're staring into your fridge, unsure what to make for dinner.
  • Check your labels. When buying packaged foods, look for items made with whole, unrefined ingredients and check for added sugars.

Here's Our Sample Week Plant-Based Menu

Here are seven days of plant-based meal examples to give you an idea of what you might eat in a week. Remember that this is just a guide; the portion sizes will vary depending on your individual calorie needs. 

This plan also assumes no animal products aside from occasional eggs or dairy. You can add small amounts of animal products like chicken, cheese, or fish if you want to prioritize plants but still eat some animal-based foods.

Monday:

  • Breakfast: Overnight oats with chia seeds, almond milk, and berries 
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with black beans, avocado, and grilled vegetables 
  • Dinner: Roasted sweet potato, kale, and grilled tofu 

Tuesday:

  • Breakfast: Green smoothie with spinach, banana, avocado, vegan-protein powder, and almond milk 
  • Lunch: Spicy black bean soup 
  • Dinner: Baked sweet potato fries, lentil burgers, and a side salad with avocado

Wednesday 

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with flaxseeds, berries, nut butter, and almond milk 
  • Lunch: Leftover lentil burgers 
  • Dinner: Roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower, and garbanzo bean pasta 

Thursday 

  • Breakfast: Banana peanut butter toast and flax seeds
  • Lunch: Kale salad with chickpeas, avocado, and grilled tofu
  • Dinner: Vegetable stir-fry over brown rice with edamame

Friday

  • Breakfast: Whole grain pancakes with berries and yogurt 
  • Lunch: Tomato soup and grilled cheese 
  • Dinner: Taco bowls with black beans, veggies of choice, romaine, salsa, and guacamole 

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Scrambled tofu with vegetables 
  • Lunch: Veggie wrap with avocado, hummus, and greens 
  • Dinner: Grilled vegetable skewers, quinoa, and a side salad 

Sunday 

  • Breakfast: Avocado toast with egg 
  • Lunch: Curried lentils and rice 
  • Dinner: Roasted beet, farro, and grilled tofu salad 

Monitor Your Health to Adjust your Eating Habits

Saying there's one best way to eat is like saying there's one type of exercise that's best for everyone. The truth is what works for one person may not work for another. And what works at one stage in life may not work at another. The key is to find what works for you and to monitor your health so you can make adjustments as needed.

Energy levels, sleep patterns, digestion, and how you feel mentally and emotionally are all good indicators of whether or not you're eating in a way that's supportive of your health. Metabolic health markers like blood sugar can also give insight into how well your body can process and use the nutrients you're consuming. 

For some people, eating a lot of plant-based proteins and grains can lead to higher post-meal blood sugar levels because of the extra carbohydrates. Others find that plant-based foods' high-fiber, low-sugar keep blood sugar stable.

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) paired with the Signos app can help you track your blood sugar in real-time to see how different foods and meals affect you. This data can be a valuable tool in helping you adjust your diet to find what works best for you. 

For example, you may find that whole grains significantly increase your blood sugar, but when paired with beans and avocado, the spike is minimized. It's a fun way to self-experiment while optimizing health at the same time.

Eating a plant-based diet has many benefits, but it's not a one-size-fits-all eating pattern. The key is to find what works for you and to monitor your health so you can make adjustments as needed.

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References

  1.  Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Jr, Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V., & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), 188–205. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x
  2.  Szabo, Z., Koczka, V., Marosvolgyi, T., Szabo, E., Frank, E., Polyak, E., Fekete, K., Erdelyi, A., Verzar, Z., & Figler, M. (2021). Possible Biochemical Processes Underlying the Positive Health Effects of Plant-Based Diets-A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 13(8), 2593. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082593
  3.  Greger M. (2020). A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Is Effective for Weight Loss: The Evidence. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 14(5), 500–510. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827620912400
  4.  Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., Garcia-Larsen, V., Steffen, L. M., Coresh, J., & Rebholz, C. M. (2019). Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle-Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(16), e012865. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
  5. Springmann, M., Wiebe, K., Mason-D'Croz, D., Sulser, T. B., Rayner, M., & Scarborough, P. (2018). Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. The Lancet. Planetary health, 2(10), e451–e461. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30206-7
  6.  Polak, R., Phillips, E. M., & Campbell, A. (2015). Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake. Clinical diabetes : a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 33(4), 198–205. https://doi.org/10.2337/diaclin.33.4.198
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About the Author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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