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Plant-focused diets seem to teach an all-or-nothing approach. What's your 95-5 approach?

This is an approach which primarily excludes animals and animals products... but might occasionally include "treats": white rice, sourdough toast, a piece of chocolate cake at a special birthday party, a processed faux-vegan sausage, iodized sea salt, or a potato-based spicy bloody Mary. This is not to be confused with the "everything in moderation" or "80-20" approach (see below), because an abundance of whole plant foods are at the center of a 95% WPF lifestyle. Cookhouse Hero isn't advocating this approach as best for everyone and trusts you'll find your way in the food and fitness universe. 

More food for thought: I can't imagine never-ever eating thin-crust pizza margherita, light on the mozzarella and heavy on the garlic and basil, ever again. Or, never-ever eating white sushi rice under a variety of perfectly cooked Japanese veggies at my favorite sushi joint. I'm in awe of and perplexed by those who can live a 100% absolutist life. I've woken up to my limitations, food addiction, and conscious choice to be as humane and balanced as I possibly can. It took me a couple years to become 95% with whole plant foods and ween myself off added oils, cooking spray, honey, and stevia. It wasn't a walk in the park, either. Perhaps someday I'll manage to attain 100% adherence in every way. Is that realistic? For me, probably not. 

What's the difference between being vegan and being whole plant-based? It's so confusing!

Yes, it is. Although there are a myriad of variations, opinions, and experiences on this topic, the main difference is a level of strict adherence to either totally cutting out all animals and animal products (vegan), or totally cutting out or avoiding all animals and animal products along with all processed foods (whole plant-based). Check out People Who Eat Plants for more information on this ever-changing and complex subject. Cookhouse Hero - Food Education for All offers vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, AND whole plant-based information and resources. 


More food for thought: I deeply respect vegans because of their positive impact on eco-systems, animal welfare, and overall health. Without veganism, the plant-focused movement would probably not be growing so rapidly. That said, I reluctantly admit I've been shocked by some vegan activists who publicly pressure people. This click-bait practice has unfortunately created bad press for other people who eat plants. Also, I'm stunned by watching some vegans eat a rather fiber-poor, nutrient-deficient vegan diet (some faux-vegan food manufacturers and marketing moguls have targeted this demographic with a vengeance). 

In addition, Cookhouse Hero believes that ALL positive plant-powered contributions are welcome, even ones that don't quite resonate or don't completely solve a problem. That's why one compromise solution called Regenerative Agriculture can be a positive step even though it includes animal husbandry. Regenerative solutions allow farmers and ranchers to transition towards growing plants or transition towards a more sustainable, humane, and equitable solution. Plus, their organic certification standards are high, which can create a win for all. We seem to have turned the simplicity of eating humble whole plants into a tangled, labyrinthine subject - one we'll likely be debating for decades.

What foods and beverages are included in a whole plant foods diet?

Fruits, vegetables, intact whole grains, legumes family (beans, lentils, peas, etc), raw nuts, raw seeds, and added flavors like vinegars, miso, mustards, salsas, herbs, and spices. For example: potato chips, french fries, and sweet potato fries aren't considered whole plant foods. In contrast, a baked or boiled potato and sweet potatoes without added butter or oils are considered whole plant foods. As for beverages, water and tea are the way to go. Here are more examples:

  • canned pineapple in juice (with added sugar) VS fresh pineapple

  • processed flour bread VS sprouted seed bread (Ezekiel 4:9) or rye-based German bread (Delba)

  • instant oats, white rice, and pearl barley VS steel-cut oats and oat groats, brown rice, and hulled barley 

  • water crackers VS Wasabröd Swedish crackers

  • pasta and ramen noodles VS whole wheat pasta, bean-based pasta, and soba noodles

  • olive oil, avocado oil, and vegetable oils VS veggie stock and water for cooking

  • faux vegan butter, mayo, and cheese VS cashew, tofu, and various bean-base ingredients for WPF versions 

  • cane sugar, agave, and sweeteners VS date puree, maple syrup, dried plums, and whole fruits like apples and pears

  • drink water and tea (earl grey, hibiscus, green, decaf, herbal) - some plant-focused advocates drink coffee

More food for thought: as a chef, it's been a relatively easy transition to scratch cook WPF in my kitchen. When cooking, I use nut puree in small amounts and homemade veggie stock as oil substitutes, miso and tamari as salt substitutes, and dates, dried plums, maple syrup, and whole fruits like apples as sugar substitutes. The key is VARIETY due to all the different nutrients (macro-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) in abundantly diverse whole plant foods. Bonus: beans, for example, create a rather low carbon-footprint. Yay plants. 

I've been vegan for three years, but I'm still overweight and often feel tired. What's up?

Some vegan eaters have unfortunately not educated themselves on nutritional values of food, as some became vegan for ethical or planetary reasons. The variety factor is key. Whole plants are more nutritious than processed or faux vegan foods on the market today. Read food labels carefully and try to limit foods in your kitchen to items with five (natural) ingredients or less. Also, if the label shows that fats and/or sugars are among the top two or three ingredients, it's probably not a good idea except as an occasional indulgence. Two sayings to ponder... 1) if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it (thx Chef AJ), and 2) if your grandparents didn't eat it, think twice. 

Chemicals and additives, a high salt-fat-sugar content, and the processing of foods all contribute to some vegans over-eating and nutritionally-starving at the same time. Fiber in whole plant foods in the form of complex carbs is vital, and fiber keeps us full and helps us poop. Intact whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables help us lose weight and keep it off for good. Eating a wide variety of WPF also gives us massive amounts of physical and mental energy. It's a natural high.

More food for thought: get food educated before starting a nutrition or diet regimen. Consider transitioning from a vegan diet to eating whole plant foods for a few months and let your body do the talking. It takes three to four months for our taste buds to wake up after eating primarily whole plant foods. Then, the body and brain begin to savor the actual flavors of food again, and then we begin to crave whole plants. It's quite an amazing process to experience. The positive results are long-term, more nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, sustainable, affordable, achievable, and adventurous. 

How can I convince my picky kids to eat food heroes like broccoli and green leafy veggies?

Until age six, a child's mind is taking in literally everything. Maria Montessori called this the Absorbent Mind.

  • Generally, when kids see their caregivers eating vegetables, fruits, intact whole grains, and legumes, they tend to accept this as normal for themselves, too. When they see their care-givers exercising regularly, reading and learning new things, and unplugging to reduce stress, well... you get the picture. 

  • Generally, when kids see their caregivers consuming fast food, junk food, candy, and soft drinks, they tend to accept this as normal for themselves, too. When they see their caregivers smoking tobacco, watching endless TV shows, and sitting in front of their electronics and social media portals for hours on end, well... you get the picture. 

In terms of modelling habits focused on nutrient-dense foods and fitness, this is not as complicated as some families might think. The fact is: kids eat what they have available to them at home. Of course, influence from outside the home is also a factor in what youngsters want to consume, and school food programs need to be seriously upgraded in some cultures. Keep in mind that children today are not as convinced by the "do as I say... not as I do" approach, as was more common in the good old days. Their BS detectors are more finely tuned, too. 

There are cooking hacks to entice kids towards eating more nutrient-dense foods like broccoli, spinach, cabbage, and kale. Resources include websites like mamasezz and plant-based juniors. Also check out Notes for Grown-Ups in the KidZone which includes books, cookbooks, and links for caregivers and kids. By the way, although I eat broccoli almost every day, I don't like it. I've learned how to eat it with WPF versions of hummus, baba ghanoush, spinach and artichoke dip, salsas, low-salt mustards, and mixed into stir fry's. This helps the food medicine go down.

More food for thought: my overall food habits and food addiction were certainly created during my childhood, and I believe that's true for many people. I'm particularly passionate about food education for kids and their families, so Cookhouse Hero includes a fun and interactive KIDZONE for ages 7 to 12, as well as useful resources in the Educator Zone. Also, please consider that grown-ups likely have way more sway than they might think. Use your position as a positive influencer to shop, cook, learn (and exercise) with your kids. Habits today = habits tomorrow. 

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