Update on (Not) Eating WFPB

Health | . 4 min read (855 words).

I no longer believe that a strict WFPB diet is the best choice for good health. Here’s a short description of why.

This will be a much shorter blog post than my previous one (The Science of Healthy Eating) and I won’t link to much research. This summarises my current thinking.

There is no doubt that most people’s long-term health would benefit tremendously by eating more plants and less processed foods. I believe this is well established. Vegetables are healthy! Ultra-processed junk food not so much. The concept of a WFPB (Whole-Food Plant-Based) diet conveniently describes many of the foods that promote good health when incorporated in our diets. See my previous blog post for more details on this.

What I have changed opinion a bit about, however, is whether it’s useful or even a good idea to eat a strict 100% WFPB diet. I tried that for 6 months, which was interesting, but I’m not going to eat this way going forward for several reasons.

The strongest argument that I see for avoiding a strict vegan or WFPB diet is actually the lack of scientific evidence. Scientific evidence was what first attracted me to trying this, so let me explain. As far as I understand the scientific landscape right now, there is plenty of evidence that it is healthy to eat a diet that mostly consists of WFPB. That is well established since long. In other words, eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, greens, beans, and whole grains. Extrapolating from this and saying that only eating WFPB is even healthier than eating some WFPB, however, appears to lack any scientific evidence so far.

On the other hand, there appears to be plenty of studies showing that it is sufficient for good health to eat only some WFPB. At the same time, there is always some risk that eating a too unusual diet has some unforeseen consequences that are still not well known, due to lacking data. As such, I find it convincing myself to argue that it’s safest to eat a diet that stays within what has been well studied and is known to be entirely safe long-term. Especially when the health benefits of eating WFPB seem to be achievable by eating it partially.

As such, I now eat anything without any hard restrictions. Instead, I try to eat plenty of (but not exclusively) plant-based whole foods. However, I also try to eat a varied diet overall, regularly eat fermented foods including fermented dairy products (cheese and yoghurt), and generally include many different foods with fibers without overdoing it. Cheese and yoghurt are great calcium sources and eating fermented foods and a large variation of fiber-rich foods are great for the gut microbiome which is increasingly known to benefit health greatly. I also eat a little bit of everything to round out my diet, including various animal products.

Increasingly, I feel that the easiest way to eat healthily is to focus on eating plenty of foods that are beneficial for our gut microbiome and this mostly translates to a variety of fibers from whole foods. I can really recommend the book Fiber Fueled for a good overview of that (available as audiobook). It aligns heavily with WFPB. Personally, I still feel that some is enough here too. A good takeaway from that book is also the importance of starting small and slow with fibers!

I have some concerns nowadays over strict vegan/WFPB diets after reading up more. There appear to be real risks of deficiences or non-optimal intake of:

To start with, it’s hard work to eat sufficient calories on a strict WFPB diet. This is great for losing weight, but it’s also important to get enough energy. Getting the recommended amount of calcium on a WFPB diet without supplementation appears to be very difficult too. If I were to eat a strictly vegan diet, I would supplement with DHA/EPA and all the vitamins and minerals listed above.

This is all made a lot easier by eating some dairy (especially cheese for calcium) and reasonable amounts of vegetable oils, sugar, salt, meat, fish, eggs, and similar.

However, eating a larger percentage WFPB in one’s diet is an absolutely amazing way to healthily lose weight (with proper supplementation)! When that’s not a concern, I will try to stick to 50-90% WFPB and eat other varied foods for the rest.

I skimmed many research articles, but these in particular are interesting: