One decides to eat vegan for ethical, health, or environmental reasons and jolts off to the store to load up on animal-free food. How exciting! We’ve all been there, motivated to kick start a more healthy, cruelty-free and sustainable diet and so giddy to be eating plant-based that we sometimes forget that from a health standpoint, the big benefit of eating plant-based is derived from choosing whole foods, not just anything slapped with the “vegan” label. After all, Ragu pasta sauce and Oreo’s are all vegan – that doesn’t give them a health halo.

And while you can eat a vegan or even mostly plant-based diet for other reasons besides health (which many people do every single day), the difference between the two matter a great deal. Here’s why:

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1. Whole Foods Nourish and Balance

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Whole foods have a unique way of grounding and balancing us. They keep us healthy, satisfied, and they provide a calming sense you don’t get from a processed vegan protein bar or a piece of vegan cheese. They make us feel well-taken care of, and not dying to dig back into the package for one after the other just to be full. Whole foods are also nourishing to the body as they provide protection, rejuvenation, and sustenance.

2. Whole Foods Don’t Cause Disease

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Foods high in sugar, vegan or not, have been linked to diabetes, food addictions, and hormonal imbalances. These foods are often masked with tricky names in the ingredient list, such as evaporated cane juice or evaporated cane sugar, dextrose, brown sugar, etc. These are all merely names for sugar, no matter how they’re spelled or how much healthier they may sound than plain sugar. Sugar does your body no good and while it may be vegan (some brands are, some aren’t), it’s as detrimental to your body as food can get. Get off the sugar and give your blood sugar, taste buds and adrenals a break! Here are some ways to curb your sweet tooth with whole foods if you need some help.

3. Whole Foods Are Better for The Environment

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It’s easy to sit down and eat and not give one second thought to the environment around you, but ultimately, our daily choices affect the world we live in each day, not to mention those after us in the next decade. Whole foods create less waste, they provide economic benefits to those that grow them (which is why it’s important to buy local, organic, and fair-trade when possible), and they don’t cost as much overall either when you consider production, they fill you up longer during and after meals, and they may in fact lower your medical bills too. Don’t be tricked into thinking a bag of $6.00 organic apples is a rip-off compared to a $2.00 box of vegan cookies. Those cookies might have more in the package but they certainly won’t fill you up as long as an apple will as a snack instead each day, and certainly cost more in the long-run (both in health and in wastes) than you could imagine.

Tips for Choosing Whole, Plant-Based Foods

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If you’re struggling either finding motivation or ideas for choosing whole foods at the store, here are some tips to help you out:

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1. Choose The Rainbow

The produce department is your BFF at the grocery store. Visit it frequently, don’t be in a hurry to leave, and ultimately, invest your time and energy in it whenever possible. If your cart isn’t filled with at least half produce when you leave the store, it’s time to meander on back over to it and fill up on more. Choose leafy greens, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and as many green vegetables as possible. Each of these have different health benefits, will keep you full, and can be used in a variety of vegan meals. Eating the rainbow also prevents against major disease in all forms.

2. Learn New Tricks

If you’re not sure how to prepare a food, find out! The best way to stay motivated about a plant-based diet is to keep your interest peaked. For example, if you’re unsure of the best way to cook winter squash or eggplant (and not really sure you even want to despite how good for you they are), explore a few vegan blogs or websites, and check out some new recipes while you’re at it. Don’t stick to the same old fruits and vegetables out of fear, comfort, and a food rut – try something new!

3. Crowd Out, Don’t Cut Out

The best way to keep your diet whole-food based without feeling deprived from sugary cookies and salty chips is to crowd them out, not focus on cutting them out. Instead of choosing a cookie, go for an apple or even a whole-food based oatmeal cookie that you make at home (not one that was made in a lab with machines). Instead of salty chips, have some carrots or celery sticks dipped in hummus or salsa. You’d be surprised how these better choices actually taste great and won’t leave you feeling hungry just half an hour later. The more you crowd out the bad stuff, the less room in your belly and the pantry you’ll have for those cookies, chips, and vegan candy bars.

All in all, we’re not trying to be the food police, but a whole foods vegan diet really is a winning choice for improving your health in all forms you can think of. Here are some more tips for eating clean if you need ideas, and tips for shopping for whole foods at the store.

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Lead Image Source: Raw Fig Pie