By Craig Hafer 

When I tell someone I eat plant-based whole food, they frequently respond, “So, you are a vegan” or “what is that?”  This response has prompted me to write this article and explain the differences between a plant-based whole food lifestyle and some common diets floating around the internet and “health” magazines.

What I have learned is that physical activity (e.g. running, biking, swimming, gym workout, etc.) contributes only 20% to good physical health and diet (what we put into our bodies) contributes 80% to physical health.  The converse is also true, a sedentary lifestyle contributes 20% to poor health and diet may contribute 80% to poor health and chronic disease.  Of course, health in body is also driven by the emotional state (i.e. stressed or relaxed) and spirituality (e.g. contributing, giving back, growing), a discussion postponed for a future article.

People follow a number of diets, including and with variations of vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, and the standard American diet (SAD), more aptly called the modern American diet (MAD).  Plant-based whole food (PBWF) is, for my wife and I, a lifestyle and the only food which has been proven to prevent most and reverse many chronic diseases (B1-B4).  And yes, you can find “experts” to support any type of diet you chose.  As John McDougall states, “People love to hear good things about their bad habits.”  If you get your nutritional health information from the news media, your doctor or predetermined health affirmation Google searches, you may want to rethink your nutritional health information strategy.

As you attempt to discern the validity of information you come across, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Who funded the study?  Is it really unbiased?  For example, see reference (1,2).
  2. Are there scientific references? If yes, do they actually support the point or statement being made?  See, for example, reference (3).
  3. Does the statement pass the “common sense” test?  We know that “high” cholesterol is a leading indicator or cause of heart disease.  Now suppose you read an article (e.g. newspaper, magazine, online) that states eating eggs (dietary cholesterol) does not raise cholesterol, implying it is therefore is OK to eat eggs for health considerations.  Does that really make sense??  Again see reference (1).
  4. Has the diet been proven to prevent and reverse chronic disease?

The purpose of this article is to describe various common diets and provide reliable scientific based resources to review.

Before I continue, I need to tell you about Michael Greger MD, who, along with a handful of other doctors (B1-B3, B5-B9) report on 100% unbiased evidence based nutrition and health.  Why believe Greger?  Greger reports only unbiased research data.  This is not about Greger, it’s about the unbiased research data.  It is not debatable.  This is the unbiased research science.  Greger merely puts the science together in an easy to understand format for the reader or viewer.  As of the time of this writing Dr. Greger’s “How Not to Die” (B4) book published in 2015 has a five star rating on with over 3000 reviews.  This is a huge number of reviews and an extremely high score for a book.  Dr. Greger’s goal in life is to review and report on unbiased peer reviewed published nutritional research papers to educate the general public in health and nutrition.  Dr. Greger follows the money funding trail for research papers and occasionally even reports how research funded by the meat, egg, and dairy industry spin the data to make animal products appear to be non-detrimental to human health (1,2).  Dr. Greger does NOT advertise or sell anything on his website,, other than his books and some swag, the proceeds of which go back into supporting his mission.  Research backs up every statement Greger makes; when you watch a five minute video from his website, he shows text from the actual research papers with highlights to the information about which he is talking.  

With so many food preferences, common diets can have many variations; for example, variations of the vegetarian diet (everything is OK to eat except meat) include lactovegetarian diet (no meat or eggs, dairy is OK), or dairy free vegetarian (no dairy or meat, eggs are OK).  For this article I discuss only the “base” diet. The following table highlights the differences between vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and plant-based whole food diets.  Reviewing the research in Greger videos, we know that meat, eggs, and dairy are primary chronic disease initiators and promoters (4-9). 

When I tell someone I eat plant-based whole food, they frequently respond, “So, you are a vegan.”  Vegans are generally rooted in the ideology of the humane treatment of animals.  A vegan diet is not inherently healthy as you can image a vegan eating processed foods full of sugar, oil, salt, additives, food fragments, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food colors, trans fat, unpronounceable ingredients, and alcohol.  The same story goes for a vegetarian eating dairy, eggs, sugar, oil, salt, processed foods, additives, food fragments, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food colors, trans fat, unpronounceable ingredients, and alcohol.  Note that a vegan and vegetarian can eat plant-based whole foods without compromising their dietary goals.  The paleo diet does not fit into a plant-based whole food diet because of the excluded superfoods – grains and legumes (10,11).  With the consumption of meat, eggs, and oils, a paleo diet promotes chronic disease (4-9,12-20).

Table Highlighting the Distinctions of Various Diets

Vegan (21)

Vegetarian (22)

Paleo (23)

PBWF (24,25)

What foods are OK to eat?

Everything except animal products

Everything except meat

Meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, oils

Plant-based whole foods

What foods are not OK to eat?

Animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, honey)

Meat and fish

Grains, dairy, beans, processed foods

Animal products, sugar, oil, salt, (26) processed foods, additives, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food colors, trans fat, unpronounceable ingredients, alcohol

OK to consume; proven to promote chronic disease

Sugar, oil, salt, (26) processed foods, additives, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food colors, trans fat, alcohol, GMOs


Dairy, eggs, sugar, oil, salt, (26) processed foods, additives, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food colors, trans fat, alcohol, GMOs (4-9,12-17,27-37)

Meat, eggs, oils, alcohol



Excluded super foods



Grains, legumes (10,11)


You undoubtedly have heard of the Mediterranean diet and the ketogenic diet.  I reluctantly and briefly mention them.  The Mediterranean diet may have some improved benefits as compared with the modern American diet because of the potential for higher vegetable, fruit, and nut consumption (38,39).  However, people on the Mediterranean diet still suffer from strokes and heart attacks due to the included processed oil, meat, fish, and eggs (4-9,12-17).  The ketogenic diet is “to die for.”  Dr. Kim Williams, former President of the American College of Cardiology, reviews data that demonstrates a 22% to 51% increase in mortality for those individuals on a ketogenic diet and states that this diet is for those who believe their “weight loss is more important than your life.” (40).

Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn states [Responding to the argument that a plant-based diet is extreme] “Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

Engi_Nerdon states in his review of Dr. Greger’s “How Not to Die” book, “The weirdest thing about fully plant-based (whole food) eating is how horrifically extreme it seems before you attempt it, and how OBVIOUS it is after you’ve made the change.”


References 6-40 come from Dr. Michael Greger’s website and are two to seven minute videos.  If you are not viewing an electronic copy of this paper, you can go to and search on the title of the video for quicker access to the citation.  This reference list is merely a snapshot of Dr. Greger’s videos and blogs.  He has over 2000!

  1. Eggs and Arterial Function
  2. Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail
  3. Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox is Wrong
  4. Trans Fat In Meat and Dairy
  5. Nutrient-Blocking Effects of Dairy
  6. How Our Gut Bacteria Can Use Eggs to Accelerate Cancer
  7. Oxidized Cholesterol as a Cause of Alzheimer’s Disease
  8. Which Type of Protein Is Better for Our Kidneys?
  9. Who Says Eggs Aren’t Healthy or Safe?
  10. Whole Grains May Work as Well as Drugs
  11. The Hispanic Paradox: Why Do Latinos Live Longer?
  12. How to Prevent Blood Sugar and Triglyceride Spikes after Meals
  13. What Causes Insulin Resistance?
  14. Olive Oil and Artery Function
  15. What About Coconuts, Coconut Milk, and Coconut Oil MCTs
  16. Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero
  17. How do We Know that Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease?
  18. Paleo Diets Show Benefits
  19. The Problem with the Paleo Diet Argument
  20. Paleo Diets May Negate Benefits of Exercise
  21. Vegan: A person who does not eat or use animal products, (
  22. Vegetarian: A person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons, (
  23. Paleo diet:   A diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit and excluding dairy or cereal products and processed food, (
  24. Plant: A living organism of the kind exemplified by trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, and mosses, typically growing in a permanent site, absorbing water and inorganic substances through its roots, and synthesizing nutrients in its leaves by photosynthesis using the green pigment chlorophyll, (
  25. Wholefood: Food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances, (
  26. Sugar, oil, and sodium occur naturally in whole plant foods, “sugar, oil, and salt” refer to added sugar, added oils, and added salt.
  27. Sodium and Arterial Function: A-Salting our Endothelium
  28. Sodium and Autoimmune Disease: Rubbing Salt in the Wound?
  29. Who determines if Food Additives Are Safe?
  30. Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Roundup Ready Soy
  31. Is Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?
  32. Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful?
  33. Is Potassium Sorbate Bad for You?
  34. Are Artificial Colors Harmful?
  35. Is it Better to Drink a Little Alcohol than None at All?
  36. Can Alcohol Cause Cancer?
  37. Do Any Benefits of Alcohol Outweigh the Risks?
  38. Mediterranean Diet & Atherosclerosis
  39. How Healthy is the Mediterranean Diet?
  40. Ending the Ketogenic Diet Debate

Additional Health and Nutrition Evidence Based References:

Books and Doctors:

B1.  Esselstyn, Dr. Caldwell B., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, 2008

B2.  Barnard, Dr. Neal, Reversing Diabetes, 2006

B3.  Ornish, Dr. Dean, Program for Reversing Heart Disease, 1995

B4.  Greger, Dr. Michael, How Not to Die, 2015

B5.  Campbell, Dr. T. Colin, The China Study, 2006

B6.  McDougall, Dr. John, The Starch Solution, 2013

B7.  Goldhamer, Dr. Alan, The Health-Promoting Cookbook, 1997

B8.  Lisle, Dr. Douglas J., The Pleasure Trap, 2006

B9.  Klapper, Dr. Michael,


D1.  PlantPure Nation, 2014 (available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube)

D2.  What the Health, 2017


About the author: As Health for Life Visionaries, Craig and his wife, Hae, give workshops to educate and inspire those who would like to be healthier in mind, body, and spirit. They provide supportive coaching.