Confused about a plant-based diet and not sure which foods to include? With so much information on plant-based diets, it is easy to be overwhelmed with what to eat. Is it okay to have a potato or a banana? What is a legume? Am I going to be eating too many carbohydrates? What about protein?


Eating plant-based is easy once you know what to include. Here is a simple guide on the five food groups to include which will provide a balanced foundation with nourishing nutrients, healthy carbohydrates, and plant-based protein.


  1. whole grains
  2. legumes
  3. vegetables
  4. fruits
  5. nuts and seeds

On a truly whole food plant-based diet, these foods are eaten in their natural form without being processed or processed minimally, such as making peanut butter out of peanuts without the added oils.


An all-in whole-food plant-based eater will avoid any processed foods even if it as just a few ingredients, such as Original Triscuits. Whereas a moderate plant-based eater will eat some foods that are minimally processed.

Side note: A plant-based diet is not the same as a vegan diet. Interested in learning the difference? Read my blog on vegan versus plant-based diets.

Here is a quick and simple review of each group along with the recommended minimums per day.

WHOLE GRAINS (minimum of 3 exchanges per day)

1 whole-grain exchange = 1/2 cup cooked whole grain

A whole grain is a grain that contains all of the original parts of the grain and its nutrients and includes these three parts: germ, endosperm, and bran. In comparison to a “refined grain” such as white flour, white rice, which the germ (natural nutrient part) and bran (fiber) have been removed.

Examples of Whole Grains

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Bulgar
  • 100 % whole grain bread
  • Whole-grain crackers (like Triscuits)

This is what three whole grains looks like in one day:

  • 1 cup homemade oatmeal (2 whole-grain exchanges)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice on a salad or as a side dish (1 whole-grain exchange)
Types of whole grains
types of whole grains

LEGUMES (minimal 3 exchanges per day)

1 legume = 1/2 cup cooked beans, 4 ounces of tofu, 1 cup edamame in the pod

A legume is a seed that is grown in the pod of a plant. Legumes are an excellent source of protein, fiber, calcium, and low in fat. So many benefits from beans from living longer to healthier body weight. In my experience, most people do not consume legumes in their diet on a regular basis and are the most challenging to add.

Examples of Legumes

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Fava beans
  • Mung beans

This is what three legumes looks like in one day:

  • 1 cup lentil soup (2 legumes)
  • 1/4 cup hummus (1 legume)
assortment of legumes (beans)
various legumes

VEGETABLES (minimal 5 exchanges per day)

1 vegetable exchange = 1/2 cup raw or cooked vegetables or 1 cup leafy greens

Vegetables are the parts of the plants that are edible and may include the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruits, and seed. They come in an array of colors and provide powerful antioxidants that provide protection against damage to the body. Vegetables are high in healing nutrients, have protein and fiber.

Ideally, include a variety of vegetables each day, such as leafy greens, cruciferous, root vegetables, and regular vegetables and include a variety of colors like a rainbow.

Example of Vegetables

  • Leafy greens: arugula spinach, kale, spring mix, swiss chard
  • Cruciferous: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage
  • Root: potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips,
  • Other Vegetables: eggplant, green beans, corn

This is what five vegetables looks like in one day:

  • 2 cups of spinach in a salad (2 vegetables)
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots, radishes, cabbage on salad (1 vegetable)
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli (2 vegetables)
assortment of cruciferous vegetables
cruciferous vegetables

FRUIT (minimal 4 exchanges per day)

1 fruit exchange = 1 small fruit, 1/2 cup berries or grapes, 1 cup cut fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit

A fruit is the seed part of a flowering plant and similar to vegetables, provide tons of vitamins and minerals, along with antioxidants and phytochemicals that are beneficial to our health.

Ideally, when eating fruit, include berries each day, along with an assortment of fruits with different colors.

Examples of Fruits

  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Kiwi

This is what four fruit exchanges looks like in one day:

  • 1 apple diced in oatmeal (1 fruit)
  • 1 cup strawberries (2 fruits)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (1 fruit)
assortment of berries, which is a fruit

NUTS AND SEEDS (1 exchange per day)

1 nut/seed exchange = 1/4 cup raw nuts or seeds (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.), 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or flaxseed meal, 2 tablespoons of natural nut butter

Examples of Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Pecans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia Seeds

This is what one nut/seed exchange looks like in one day:

  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal on hot cereal (1/2 nut/seed)
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds on a salad (1/2 nut/seed)
Sunflower seeds,  part of the nut/seed group
sunflower seeds


This is how all five whole-food plant-based groups with the minimum exchanges would look like in one day:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal, with 1 apple diced, 1/4 cup raisins, cinnamon
  • Lunch: Salad with 2 cups leafy greens, 1/2 cup chopped vegetables, 1 cup lentil soup
  • Snack: 1/4 cup of raw almonds
  • Dinner: Tofu stir-fry: 1 cup broccoli, 4 ounces of tofu, 1/2 cup brown rice
  • Snack: 1 cup berries

IMPORTANT: This sample plan shows how to meet the minimums, however, the minimums would NOT be enough food during the day. More foods and/or larger portions would need to be consumed, to meet daily calorie needs.


I recommend measuring out food initially to get an idea of how many exchanges actually consuming or using this portion size guide Most people underestimate portions and think they are eating less plant-based food than they actually are!


So as you can see, eating a plant-based diet is not as confusing as it sounds. The key is to eat a variety of foods from the five plant-based groups to meet daily nutrient and energy needs.

Interested in learning about some free plant-based fabulous tools on the web? Download the FREE PLANT-BASED EATING TOOLBOX by subscribing to my newsletter. Simply add your first name and email in the green box on the right side of this page, or if you are on mobile, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Let’s connect! Thoughts or questions about this article? Let me know! Would love to hear from you!

Kim Raring

I am passionate about promoting a conscious lifestyle incorporating whole plant-based foods, sustainable food-related choices, and mindful eating practices. Want to learn about simple strategies to create a feel-good lifestyle? Check out all of the conscious nibbling tips.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *