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The Forks Over Knives Diet Explained

The Forks Over Knives Diet was born out of the transformative power that whole-food, plant-based eating can have on health and well-being. It is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plant foods and excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, eggs, and highly refined foods such as bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil. Read on for a list of whole foods to eat on a plant-based diet and those to minimize or avoid.

What it is: a world of plant foods

Here’s a list of the plant-based food categories from which you’ll eat, along with a few examples from each:

What it isn’t: a diet of vegetables only

While leafy vegetables are an important part of a whole-food, plant-based diet, they don’t contain enough calories to sustain you. Consider that you would need to eat almost 16 pounds of cooked kale to get 2,000 calories! Not eating enough calories leads to decreased energy levels, feelings of deprivation, cravings, and even binges. For tasty meal ideas, check out 41 Healthy Vegan Recipes That Are Totally Crave-Worthy.

Starch-based comfort foods and fruits take center stage

The center of your plate will be starch-based comfort foods that people around the world have thrived on for generations: Think potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, brown rice, quinoa, black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas.

They may be prepared a bit differently—leaving out oil and dairy, for example—but most of these foods will be familiar. You’ll enjoy them in delicious dishes such as Sweet Potato Lasagna, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, White Bean Burgers, Easy Thai Noodles, Shepherd’s Pot Pie, and Black Bean and Rice Burritos. In addition to starch-based foods, you can eat as much whole fruit as you like.

No more food math

One of the major advantages of the whole-food, plant-based diet is that you won’t need to count calories or practice portion control. Plant-based foods have a lot more bulk because they contain more fiber and water than foods that make up the standard American diet. This bulk takes up more space, so our stomachs end up stretching sufficiently to shut off hunger signals despite our having consumed fewer calories overall. As such, a whole-food, plant-based diet is the only way to eat to feel full while also consuming fewer calories.

No more eating for single nutrients: Focus on the “package”

No food is a single nutrient, and we should never think of foods in that way. What matters most is the overall nutrient profile. Whole plant foods contain all the essential nutrients (with the exception of vitamin B12) in proportions that are more consistent with human needs than animal-based or processed foods.

Why waste any of what we eat on inferior packages? As long as we choose a variety of whole, plant-based foods over time, we will easily meet our nutritional needs.

Even on this diet, people sometimes tend to worry about eating a certain type of green vegetable for calcium, beans for protein, nuts for fat, and so on. We ask you to let go of that kind of thinking. The most important thing in this lifestyle is to choose the whole plant foods you enjoy most!

To learn more about the benefits of whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, and how to make a successful transition, be sure to check out our helpful Beginner’s Guide.

Load up on these

  • Fruits (bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce)
  • Tubers & starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash)
  • Whole grains (barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice)
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans)

Enjoy in moderation

  • Whole nuts & seeds, nut/seed butters (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter)
  • Tofu & tempeh
  • Whole-grain flours & breads
  • Plant-based milks (rice, soy, oat, almond, cashew, hemp milks)

Avoid or minimize

  • Meat, poultry & seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sweeteners
  • Oils
  • Bleached flours, white bread & white pasta
  • White rice

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will I get enough protein?

    You are not alone if you are asking, “Where will I get my protein?” People believe this single nutrient is so important and difficult to get that we must actively pursue foods that contain high amounts of it, even when those foods, such as meat and dairy, in so many ways compromise our health.

  • Don’t I need to consume dairy to ensure I get enough calcium?

    Many believe that it’s important to get enough calcium from certain foods, especially milk and other dairy products, which they perceive to be excellent “sources” of it. It’s easy to interpret this message—that constant vigilance is necessary to make sure we’re getting our calcium—as an implicit warning that we might not otherwise get enough.

    Just as with protein it is not difficult to get enough calcium—you just need to eat whole, plant-based foods. Calcium, like iron, magnesium, and copper, is a mineral. It is found in the soil, where it is absorbed into the roots of plants. Animals get their calcium by consuming the mineral-abundant plants and metabolizing that calcium into their bodies. Surprised? That’s because we’ve been so conditioned to think that calcium comes primarily from milk and dairy products that few of us realize it actually comes from the earth and is abundant in all whole foods.

    For strong bones and calcium, how much of the nutrient you get isn’t as important as where you get it—and how you lose it. There are two major contributing factors to the leaching of calcium from bones, which leads to their weakening and may increase the risk for osteoporosis: First, consuming a highly acidic diet. Our bodies are alkaline. It is vital that the acidity level of your diet is not so high that your bones must leach calcium to keep your body’s alkaline levels balanced. The levels of acidic compounds are lower in plant foods so they won’t draw the calcium from your bones the way animal foods will. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet gives your body the acid/alkaline balance it needs for optimal bone health. Second, consuming a high-sodium diet. The diet we recommend is naturally low-sodium, as it relies very little on processed foods, which tend to be very high in salt.

    Once a certain threshold for calcium has been met—which you will do eating a whole-food, plant-based diet—the formula for strong bones relies on two other factors entirely: First, that you get sufficient vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is a key factor in calcium absorption, and the sun is the best way for us to meet our requirement. The key is getting sufficient sun exposure on our bare skin without getting burned. (The vitamin D in milk is added to it; we do not recommend getting vitamin D from milk or other fortified foods in which the vitamin does not naturally occur.) Second, that you practice strength training and impact exercise. When you lift weights or do resistance exercises you not only build muscle, you stress your bones—this makes them stronger. Walking, jogging, and running are examples of impact exercises that will also help with bone strength.

    As with protein, many organizations will suggest that you need to consume a specific amount of calcium per day for strong bones. We do not make any such recommendations because we know that good bone health has nothing to do with hitting an arbitrary number for calcium intake. Furthermore, we fervently believe that when people are instructed to achieve these subjective targets, it creates a skewed notion of what is good nutrition and leads people to make poor food choices—as is the case with dairy.

  • Isn’t fish healthy? Why is it not recommended?

    We are always surprised by how many people continue to think that fish is beneficial and important to include in the diet, even long after they become convinced that mammals are not health foods. Much of this perception stems from periodic reports that some study or another has found that fish is “heart-healthy” or “good for our brains.”

  • Will I get enough omega-3s?

    Some fats are necessary in our diet. Consuming oil, fish, and processed foods as a means to get these, however, is unnecessary, and even harmful. Every whole plant food has fat, and there’s no evidence that we need any more fat than what occurs naturally in a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. Just as is the case with protein and calcium, we should not target specific foods to get enough of a particular kind of fat.

  • Why should I avoid oil? Isn’t oil healthy?

    We are baffled that certain oils are presented as “health” foods. Olive oil is not a health food. Neither is coconut, grapeseed, flaxseed, or any other oil you’ve heard you must endeavor to add to your diet because it’s good for you. Sure, if you replace some or all of the butter in your diet with vegetable oil, your cholesterol numbers may look a little bit better, but that’s not at all the same as doing well. Oil is a bad idea because it is highly refined and its nutritional package is inadequate.

  • Do I need to take supplements?

    The relationship between whole food and the human body is very intricate and has come about as a result of millions of years of evolution. There are countless nutrients and substances in food that lead to thousands of metabolic reactions when they are consumed. As T. Colin Campbell, PhD, describes it, when it comes to nutrition, the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The nutrients in whole food work together much like a symphony; extract and consume those nutrients apart from the whole, and all bets are off as to their effects.

  • Do I need to take a vitamin B12 supplement?

    Vitamin B12 is important for the development and protection of nerve cells and red blood cells and helps in the production of DNA. Insufficient B12 can lead to many health issues, including weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, gastrointestinal distress, anemia, and nervous system dysfunction. B12 is the one nutrient that cannot be obtained sufficiently from today’s plant-based diet.

  • Do I need to eat organic for the diet to work?

    While some people prefer to eat only organic, fresh food, this is not absolutely necessary from a health perspective. Most modern diseases that afflict people are not the result of the difference between organic and conventional produce, fresh and frozen broccoli, or canned and dried beans.

  • What about organic, grass-fed animal products?

    The nutrient makeup of animal foods (for example, high in fat and cholesterol; low in fiber and antioxidants) is the main reason why consuming these foods will increase your chances of getting chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This nutrient profile exists whether animal foods are organic or not, or whether they are grass-fed or not.

Master the art of plant-based cooking.

The Forks Over Knives online cooking course helps you learn new techniques, flavors, and styles for cooking delicious plant-based, oil-free meals at home.

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