- August 15, 2022
- by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
- 0 Comments
What is a Whole Food Plant Based No Oil (WFPBNO) Diet?
Curious about a wfpbno diet? Short for whole food plant based no oil, learn what this diet is and whether it’s the right fit for you.
Many people choose to follow a plant-based diet because of its flexibility.
However, some people find more success when following a prescriptive plan. One of those prescriptive plans that’s gaining popularity is the whole food plant-based no oil diet, or WFPBNO.
This diet starts with the basics of eating plant based but adds restrictions on total fat intake. This effectively creates a very low-fat, plant-based diet. Is the WFPBNO diet healthy? And how do you follow it? Let’s find out.
What is WFPBNO?
The whole food plant-based no oil diet is a low-fat diet that allows for minimally processed, plant-based foods without restricting total calorie intake. As the name implies, this diet restricts all oils and limits plant-based foods that are high in fat.
The diet emphasizes nutritious foods that are naturally low in total calories.
This avoidance of high-calorie foods allows WFPBNO diet followers to skip calorie counting while also potentially eating fewer calories overall. This may explain why some people who follow the diet experience weight loss.
The term “whole food plant-based” (WFPB) was coined by T. Colin Campbell, scientist and founder of the Center for Nutrition Studies.
In 2017, a group of researchers in New Zealand published a study in Nutrition & Diabetes known as the BROAD study. It looked at the effect of eating a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet on overall health.
In this study, 65 participants were randomly assigned to either an intervention group eating a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet—or a control group.
The low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet restricted oil, hence the term WFPBNO.
The study results found that the participants in the intervention group experienced a significant decrease in body mass index (BMI) and also had a reduction in cholesterol.
However, both groups had a decline in cholesterol, and the difference between the two groups was not significant.
The BROAD study is often used as a reference point for the WFPBNO diet. But other studies have investigated the health effects of eating a low-fat, plant-based diet. They have found similar results, including weight loss and improved blood sugar control.
In the BROAD study, people following the low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet were given a traffic light list of foods to eat.
The participants were encouraged to eat foods on the green list daily and those from the orange list sparingly. They were to avoid the foods on the red list.
Various iterations of the WFPBNO diet exist, and the most common lists of foods to eat and those to avoid are highlighted below.
Note: The recommended food list is broken into components based on the BROAD study, as well as other commonly accepted foods to include on the WFPBNO diet.
Here’s a list of recommended foods on the WFPBNO diet:
Green list foods to eat on the WFPBNO diet:
- Whole grains
- Sauces and seasonings without oil
Orange list foods to eat in moderation on the WFPBNO diet:
- Sugar and other sweeteners
- Processed flour
- Tempeh and tofu
- Soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk (without added oils)
- Caffeine and alcohol
More liberal interpretations of the WFPBNO diet include all the above, plus an unlimited intake of the following foods:
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
Foods to avoid
When following the WFPBNO diet, you’ll need to avoid several foods. They are listed below.
Note: The foods to avoid list is broken into components based on the BROAD study, as well as other commonly accepted foods to avoid on the WFPBNO diet.
Red list of foods to avoid on the WFPBNO diet:
- Nuts, seeds, and tahini
- Avocado, coconut, and coconut milk
- Poultry, fish, meat, and eggs
- Dairy products
Benefits of WFPBNO
The WFPBNO diet may have some health benefits to people who follow it.
Increased produce intake
Switching to a plant-based diet has the potential to up your daily produce intake. This is especially the case when you focus on whole, minimally processed sources of plants.
Switching to this way of eating may result in you eating more servings of produce daily. This could be a positive effect of the WFPBNO diet.
Focuses on nutritious foods
The WFPBNO diet focuses on adding nutritious foods to your diet while limiting high-calorie foods.
This has the potential to benefit for your health if you’re meeting your nutrient needs.
A systematic review published in 2022 investigated the dietary intake of plant-based eaters and found that vegans and vegetarians ate more polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, and other key nutrients as compared to meat eaters.
However, people following a vegan or vegetarian diet were at risk of taking in a too-low amount of other key nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, and iron—among others.
So while these changes can be positive in some aspects, it’s important to focus on nutrients of concern when eliminating food groups while following the WFPBNO diet.
May aid in weight management
Following a WFPBNO diet may result in weight loss. The BROAD study results found that people who followed the low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet lost more weight than people who weren’t following the diet.
However, keep in mind that weight loss is influenced by a variety of factors that may or may not be a direct result of a diet change. Any changes to weight that can be linked to diet changes are likely a result of reducing total calorie intake.
Weight loss without adequate nutrient intake can have detrimental health effects. This means it’s best to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist when following a diet plan for the purposes of losing weight.
May lower cholesterol
Following a WFPBNO diet may help you lower your cholesterol. In addition to reductions in weight, the BROAD study found that people following a WFPBNO diet had reduced cholesterol levels.
However, both the intervention group and the control group had reductions in cholesterol, making the difference between the two groups insignificant.
Still, other studies have found that following a low-fat, plant-based diet may reduce total cholesterol levels.
And research shows that eating enough fiber, especially soluble fiber, in addition to reducing saturated fat intake has a beneficial effect on total cholesterol.
The WFPBNO diet has the potential to boost total fiber intake while also reducing saturated fat intake due to its emphasis on whole, minimally processed plant foods and avoidance of fat sources.
Concerns with WFPBNO
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I have to point out several concerns with the WFPBNO diet.
Potential for inadequate intake of key nutrients
Following the WFPBNO diet may result in an inadequate intake of key nutrients, such as unsaturated fats, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats offer health-promoting benefits, including helping to reduce inflammation and promoting heart health.
Additionally, fat in the diet is necessary for the absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D.
When fat is severely restricted in the diet, you run the risk of unintended health consequences that may occur because of inadequate dietary fat intake.
Potential for gastrointestinal discomfort
The WFPBNO diet emphasizes eating minimally processed plants. As a result, total fiber intake will increase. This could result in gastrointestinal discomfort, especially if the transition to a high-fiber diet is abrupt.
People who are sensitive to high-FODMAP foods may also find that the WFPBNO diet is more likely to result in gastrointestinal discomfort unless special consideration is given to avoiding high-FODMAP foods.
This is because the foods on the WFPBNO diet tend to be higher-FODMAP foods. This may further restrict the diet, making it difficult to follow while meeting energy needs.
May increase risk for disordered eating patterns
Any diet that severely limits or completely restricts entire food groups may result in an increased risk for disordered eating.
If you have a history of disordered eating patterns or are at risk for developing an eating disorder, I would not recommend the WFPBNO diet for you.
In this case, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders to find a diet that works for you.
Are oils really unhealthy?
Fat in the diet is often met with controversy. This is likely because fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient per gram.
Additionally, there are multiple types of dietary fat—some that are associated with negative health outcomes when eaten in excess.
However, fat is necessary for absorption of some nutrients and is an important energy source. Dietary fat also has many important functions in the body. This includes playing a role in cellular structure and in the maintenance of a healthy immune system.
It’s not required that healthy diets eliminate oil and in fact, many healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet include fat a significant portion of total calorie intake.
What’s important is focusing on the type of fat eaten to ensure the majority is from unsaturated fat sources.
Tips for meeting your nutrient needs if you choose WFPBNO
Nutrient needs vary, and some people may find it more difficult to meet their recommended nutrient needs when following the WFPNO diet.
Because of this, if you’d like to follow the WFPBNO diet, I encourage you to customize it to your needs by adding foods that are on the avoid list but are high in nutrients.
This is especially the case if you find that you’re unable to meet a specific nutrient target while following the WFPBNO diet.
If you choose to follow the WFPBNO diet, these tips can help you meet your nutrient needs.
Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids when following the WFPBNO diet is extremely difficult due to the restrictions placed on eating high-fat, plant-based foods like nuts and seeds as well as the complete elimination of animal-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids like fish.
Add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet by incorporating foods such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts.
Keep in mind that these sources of omega-3 fats are not as efficiently absorbed by the body as seafood-based omega-3s. One workaround is to take an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
Getting enough protein when following a plant-based diet can be challenging, but it’s not impossible to accomplish when all plant-based sources of protein are allowed.
However, the WFPBNO diet makes it extremely difficult to get enough protein because the diet discourages protein-containing foods like tempeh, tofu, nuts, and seeds due to their high-fat content.
Consider adding beans and legumes to your diet if you choose to follow the WFPBNO diet. These foods are naturally low in fat and provide plant-based protein that can help you meet your daily protein needs.
Nuts and seeds are higher in fat but offer plenty of health benefits in addition to being a source of protein. Consider including these to you diet on a regular basis as well.
Vitamin B12 naturally occurs in animal products, so people who follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet may have a difficult time meeting their daily needs for this vitamin.
The WFPBNO diet eliminates all animal products making it a vegan diet.
In this case, if you’re opposed to eating animal products as a part of your diet, it’s best to incorporate fortified foods such as fortified breakfast cereals or other grains in addition to other sources of vitamin B12 such as nutritional yeast.
A supplement can also help you meet your vitamin B12 needs.
According to a 2022 systematic review of studies investigating the nutrient intake of plant-based eaters, vegans and vegetarians—specifically women—were at risk for eating an inadequate amount of iron.
Iron is found in high amounts in animal products and is better absorbed by the body than the type of iron found in plants. This fact makes it more difficult to meet daily iron needs when eating a plant-based diet.
Thus, special attention must be paid to plant-based iron sources, most of which are restricted on the WFPBNO diet. These sources include tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Iron is also found in lower quantities in foods allowed on the WFPBNO diet, such as potatoes and rice. But you’d need to eat a significant amount of those foods to meet your daily iron needs.
If choosing to follow the WFPBNO diet, I recommend adding iron-rich plant-based foods back to your diet and/or adding a supplement to help you meet your needs.
Finally, vitamin D is another nutrient that you’re likely to consume in inadequate amounts when following the WFPBNO diet.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning dietary fat intake plays an important role in your body absorbing this nutrient.
Considering that the WFPBNO diet is very low in fat, it may be even more difficult to optimize the absorption of vitamin D from the foods eaten.
Even people who follow a liberalized diet that includes fish and meat may be at risk for eating less than the recommended amount of vitamin D daily.
For this reason, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about the possibility for adding a vitamin D supplement to your routine.
The bottom line
While the WFPBNO diet may be appealing to people looking to lose weight or reduce their cholesterol, it doesn’t come without risks related to inadequate intake of key nutrients.
For this reason, the WFPBNO diet is not one that should be followed without proper planning. I strongly encourage anyone choosing to follow this diet to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure that nutrient and energy needs are met.
- A 2017 study published in Nutrition & Diabetes
- A 2020 study published in JAMA Open Network
- A 2022 study published in Nutrients
- A 2021 study published in Nutrition, Metabolism, & Cardiovascular Diseases
- A research review article published on NIH.gov
- A 2019 study published in Nutrients
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