Plant based diet basics

Eating more fruit and veg is massively beneficial to your mental and physicial health as well as the planet!

Whether you are new to the plant-based game or have been flirting with a vegan diet for years, this space is for you!

By David and Stephen Flynn,

Our aim is to take you step by step and teach you the simple, easy and delicious tools and techniques so you can make your own plant-based meals, optimise your health through plant-based nutrition and get inspired with our mouthwatering recipes.

It might seem daunting for any newbies out there but trust us, we have been doing this for over 20 years! Once you get over the initial hump – It’s easy, it’s super affordable, it’s so so good for you aannd it’s damn tasty!

So let’s begin….


We all want to be healthy and happy, it is universal – to want to wake up in the morning with energy, feeling happy and confident in your body. 

What you eat have a massive impact on how you feel, your energy levels, your weight, your confidence and almost every aspect of your health and wellbeing.

If I were to tell you that the food choices you make will impact nearly every decision you make in your life, would you believe me?

A whole food plant based diet can have one of the most positive transformations on your own health and wellbeing, a monumental shift, the likes you only experience a few times in your life. 

When you choose to love your body by giving it food that will truly nurture it, energise it, revitelise and make it glow, it has a major knock on effect. You begin to reflect on all aspects of your life. All the choices you make. Are the decisions I am making good for me? If I care to nurture my body with vegetables then why am I smoking? If I care to eat whole grains and fresh fruit then why don’t I move my body more?

Eating well gives you the energy and appetite to make healthier choices, and the best thing about healthier choices is, they tend to also be the healthier choice for the planet – A win win!

In this article we will explain the basics of a wholefood plant-based diet, show you how it can help improve your heart health, your gut health, your skin, it will even help you reach your happy shape. It will do so much more than you are expecting it to do. The domino effect it has on all aspects of your life we have personally experienced and helped thousands and thousands of people from across the globe experience through our online courses and on going support.

Disclaimer! Progress over perfection

In case you are worried and think this is about perfection you are wrong! This is very much about ‘progress over perfection’ it’s about taking one step at a time and eating more whole plant foods today than you ate yesterday. Your changes need to be sustainable, there is no point in jumpring right in and going 100% whole food plant based and then within a week stop because it was not sustainable. It really is about eating more wholefoods and less about any ideology. One option could be to start with your breakfast and optimise this. This is 30% of your meals – you could eat porridge with fruit compote and granola or chia seed pudding..the options are endless. Once you have got the hang of eating a healthy wholefood plant based brekkie then move onto lunch and go from there. And should you decided to keep eating meat along with all your veg, don’t see this as a defeat, it’s not! You are doing brilliantly! Fair Play!

What is a wholefood plant-based diet? 

The words ‘wholefood plant-based diet’ may be confusing but basically ‘wholefood’ means eating foods that are ‘whole’ and unrefined, as close to their natural form as possible. 

‘Plant based’ refers to foods from plants so it excludes animal based foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs. 

A wholefood plant based diet consists of:

  • Fruits – all types of fruit are great for you (apples, pears, bananas, oranges etc..)
  • Vegetables – All veg are super healthy for you (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, swete etc.)
  • Beans – highest source of fibre in our diet and powerhouses in terms of nutrition (, butter beans, kidney beans, canellini beans etc.)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, split peas etc.)
  • Wholegrains (‘brown’ carbs rather than ‘white’ carbs or whole carbs as opposed to refined carbs)
  • Nuts (raw nuts – not the roasted and salted type or the flavoured candied type nuts)
  • Seeds (raw seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax etc.)

Vegan diet  vs plant-based 

The terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ or ‘whole food plant based’ can often be mistaken for meaning the same thing, but this is not necessarily true. 

A vegan diet is one that does not include any animal products or animal by-products, but that does not necessarily mean it is a healthy diet. You could eat a vegan diet and live off chips, vegan biscuits, dark chocolate and cola and still be considered a vegan, but this is not any healthier than the standard western diet. 

A wholefood plant-based diet also does not contain any animal products but it is one that centres on whole, unrefined and unprocessed whole plant foods, and is made up of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

Check out our new book "The Veg Box"

A whole food plant based diet excludes any animal-based foods – no meat or fish.

By animal based foods we mean beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, ham, salami, sausages, bacon and even fish too. That is red meat, white meat and fish – basically any food that had a face or a mother (sorry for being so crude!).

Animal-based foods are excluded because they are:

  • High in saturated and trans fat: both of which are considered the ‘bad’ fats that are linked to heart disease and diabetes. 
  • Containing no fibre: remember fibre is central to good gut health, healthy weight, brain health.  
  • Contain cholesterol: Excess cholesterol is associated with increased risk of heart disease. Our bodies produce all the cholesterol that we need, we do not need any extra from our diet.
  • Very low in antioxidants (the only antioxidants they contain are from the plants the animals consumed).
  • Low in vitamins and minerals compared to plant based foods: see table below
  • Often contain antibiotics and hormones: Approx 80% of antibiotics used globally are used in animal agriculture along with growth hormones. Parts of these end up in the meat and are believed to have an impact on your health particularly your gut health. 
  • Animal based foods contain only 2 of the 3 macronutrients: fat and protein. They are  missing the number one source of energy for your body: carbohydrates. Whereas whole plant foods consist of 20-80% of their calories coming from carbs giving you a slow sustained energy release. 

Benefits of a plant based diet

Happy Heart

A wholefood plant based diet is the only diet proven to reverse heart disease [1]. Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in both men and women globally, and it is largely preventable and reversible [2].

There are many reasons why a plant based diet is so effective at preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease. Animal foods are high in dietary cholesterol and saturated fat both of which are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease [3]. Refined and processed foods are also high in saturated fat, excess salt and sugar and have also been linked to increasing the risk of heart disease[4]. Replacing these foods with whole plant foods you can lower your cholesterol level, lower your blood pressure, lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease. 

We started running our Happy Heart course upstairs in our cafe back in 2008. We had been eating a wholefood plant-based diet for about 7 years and  felt the benefits so wanted to put it to the test. We had read about Dr. Dean Ornish’ lifestyle heart trial, where he showed in clinical trials that in 83% of his cases many of the indicators for heart disease were not just halted but were actually reversed by eating a wholefood plant-based diet over the year of his study. Today we have had more than 20,000 through our Happy Heart course in more than 73 countries with results in 4 weeks that often leave people amazed. 


“For the best part of 20 years (half my life!) I’ve been trying to reduce my cholesterol. I have a family history of heart disease, heart bypasses and all sorts of heart-related health adventures. I’ve tried lots of different ways to control my cholesterol. 

From exercise (I’ve competed in marathons and triathlons) to diet (from drinking plant sterol yoghurts to going pescetarian) but have failed to find anything that will have much of a lasting impact. 

With the arrival of my daughter into my life, the need to do something to avoid the threat of a heart attack became more urgent. Knowing how anxious I was about this, my siblings very generously bought me The Happy Heart course as a birthday gift. 

It was life changing. The plan was easy to stick to. The recipes are tasty, and practical, and the results speak for themselves. My cholesterol levels almost halved and I lost more than 4 kilos in weight. I felt physically and metaphorically lighter – like the bogeyman of heart disease had been banished. It was hugely emotional. 

Since then, I’ve continued to lose weight and have convinced other family members to follow in some of my footsteps, and their results have been equally exciting. I owe The Happy Pear lads a huge debt of gratitude for nothing less than adding what I hope will be another number of happy and healthy years to my life” – Patrick Cannon


“ I lost about 10lbs during the course and I have more energy now. The focus of the course wasn’t on eating less and being hungry, it was about cooking tasty food and being full. I definitely cook more and when snacking, I choose healthier alternatives. I don’t crave chocolate and biscuits like I did before. I won’t be going back to my old diet. I will only be expanding my Happy Heart-friendly recipes and eating more veggies than ever before!” – Vicki Schofield


Happy Shape

As a society, our weight has been on the rise over the last number of decades. Today at least 4 out of ten people in the UK and Ireland are overweight [8] with nearly half of those obese. We would like to think that this is not the case with kids, but unfortunately even childhood obesity is on the rise for the fourth decade in a row[7]. 

A whole food plant based diet is one of the most effective ways to help you to lose weight and keep it off [5]. Genuinely. We have seen this be the case for thousands of people. How is it so effective, we hear you ask? 

  • Energy density
  • Gym vs eating – losing weight starts in the kitchen and not in the gym
  • Not all calories are created equal
  • Fibre 
  • Why it works so effectively

A whole food plant based diet is naturally high in fibre, why is fibre important? Well, fibre actually fills you up and keeps you full while naturally being low in calories [6], foods that are high in fibre are generally wholefood plant based and tend to be high in water and low in calories also. Studies have shown that if someone increases fibre intake by 14g they will consume 10% less calories [9]  By complete contrast animal foods and processed foods are extremely low in fibre and high in calories. By eating a whole food plant based diet it means you can eat a large volume of food while not exceeding your calorie needs. That is why on a wholefood plant based diet you are encouraged to eat till you are satisfied, no calorie counting or portion control necessary.  

“Since entering my fifties I have found that not only had my shape changed, but it seems much harder to shift the pounds, so I was looking for something different but sustainable. 

Within a few days of starting a wholefood plant-based diet I felt lighter, less bloated, and I was delighted that everyone in the house was enjoying the food.  Before the programme, I would regularly feel tired around 2 or 3 o’clock and reach for the tea and biscuits to give me a boost. However, by day 4 I noticed that the afternoon slump was gone.”

Ruth O’Leary 

It’s great for your gut health (and therefore your immune system)

Thousands of years ago, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said, “All disease begins in the gut”. We prefer to say that ‘all health starts in the gut too’. 

A wholefood plant based diet is hugely effective at improving your digestion and gut health [10]. 70% of your immune system cells are based in your gut [11]. Your gut consists of about 2kg of microorganisms such as bacteria, funghi, archaea, yeasts etc these are known as your microbiome, the health of these microorganisms is considered your gut health and is what directly influences your immune system cells. Eating high fibre foods is vitally important to encourage the healthy strains of bacteria and microorganisms, fibre is, in fact, a prebiotic to our microbiome, it is the food that our bacteria and microorganisms feed on and helps to encourage them to be healthy and flourish. As you probably know by now – whole plant foods are the best sources of high fibre foods [12] and therefore really encourage a healthy gut.

“I’ve had bloating for 30 years. This is the first time I have had 90% reduction of symptoms while eating 3 meals a day. At other times I had no symptoms because I was eating next to nothing. I think the main point for me is a whole food plant based diet gives me a way of life where I’m feeling healthy and therefore in balance with life. Head fog has gone, joint pain reduced, bloating 90% gone, mood stable, fluid retention reduced hugely. I was so unwell last Winter there was a suggestion of fibromyalgia which led  me here, with a 9 year old I can’t be sick! My almost 18 year old has given up moo milk and is eating more plant based too” 

Janet McCracken

“I feel mentally and physically lighter and stronger after the gut course. From the gut reset all the way through the re-introductions, I felt my digestion went from strength to strength. I have more energy and the recovery time from jet lag has diminished by many factors. On the course I found the knowledge, tools, community and motivation to plan, source and prepare the best possible food. I’m absolutely delighted I joined, I know I will be reaping the benefits for the rest of my life”

Captain George Edgeworth

CASE STUDY: The Devon South West Plant Based Challenge

In January 2020 we embarked on a study in the South West of the UK in Devon which we called The South West Plant Based Challenge. Our friend, Dr. Alan Desmond lives there and wanted to show the power of a plant based diet to his fellow medical professionals. We enrolled 75 doctors, nurses, dieticians and other medical professions. We went over to kick it all off and get these medical professions on a whole food plant based diet for 4 weeks. They did our online course (The Gut Health Revolution) and Dr. Alan and ourselves did weekly live video Q&A’s to support them. Almost every participant was eating an omnivorous diet before starting the course for an average of 49 years!

The findings after 4 weeks were as follows

  • Average total cholesterol drop was 20%
  • Only 35% of the group had normal cholesterol levels starting the challenge and 4 weeks later 77% of the group had normal cholesterol levels. 
  • An average of 3.2kg weight loss (4.3% of body weight) across the participants with the biggest weight loss in the group being 9.5kg (11.9% body weight).
  • 37% of the group started the challenge overweight/obese and after the 4 weeks only 27% were in the overweight/obese group.
  • When we looked at both high cholesterol and high BMI, those with the highest starting numbers saw the most impressive results (average 24% drop in non-HDL cholesterol and average 5.0kg weight loss). Its likely that these participants reduced their 5-year risk of coronary-vascular disease by at least a third.
  • Blood pressure reduced from an average of 121/76 to 114/74, as effective as prescribing a first-line blood pressure medication
  • 74% of participants decided to make the switch to a plant-based diet permanently and even those who decided to continue eating meat significantly reduced the amount in their diets.
  • 97% of participants thought they should offer a similar programme to their patients!


Eating a wholefood plant-based diet is the single biggest thing you can do to help the planet

Eating a wholefood plant based diet is one of the single most effective things you can do to help slow climate change [13]. Raising animals for meat or dairy is so much more intense in terms of water usage and land usage than plant based foods, a recent study showed that 83% of the world’s farmlands are used to raise animals yet this only accounts for 18% of the world’s food [14] . The Eat Lancet report found that ‘food is the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability on Earth and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.’ [15]

You might think that getting an electric car or flying less is super important in terms of doing your bit to help the climate yet as an individual your food choices are the biggest lever you have. 

Beginners Guide To Plant-Based Cooking

Want to learn about plant-based cooking but unsure where to start? We've got you covered!