The Regen Diet offers guidelines for eating foods that support regenerative agriculture, like organic produce, while limiting intake of highly processed fare. Centered on whole foods to renew personal, public, and ecological health.
The way we produce and consume food has tremendous impacts on both human health and the environment. Industrial agriculture relies heavily on chemical inputs, monocultures, and factory farming—practices that degrade soils, pollute waterways, and disrupt natural ecosystems. At the same time, the Standard American Diet of highly processed foods is making us sick, fueling a rising epidemic of diet-related diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
The Regen Diet offers a solution, providing guidelines for a way of eating that supports regenerative agriculture while promoting human health and wellbeing. Centered around whole, minimally processed foods, the Regen Diet aims to create symbiosis between people and planet. Read on to learn what the Regen Diet is, how to follow its guidelines, and the extensive benefits it offers.
What is the Regen Diet?
The Regen Diet is a holistic approach to nutrition developed by The Rodale Institute based on half a century of research in organic and regenerative agriculture. It provides specific recommendations for what and how to eat in order to:
- Rebuild soil health through regenerative agriculture
- Drastically reduce negative environmental impacts of the food system
- Optimize human nutrition and reduce risk of chronic disease
- Support biodiversity above and below ground
- Create resilience in the face of climate change
The guidelines focus on increasing consumption of whole foods grown regeneratively while reducing intake of highly processed items, animal products from industrial systems, and sugary foods and beverages.
Though simple in concept, adopting Regen Diet principles entails a shift in mindset and behavior for many. It requires becoming knowledgeable about how your food choices impact complex natural systems. It also involves forming new habits around purchasing, preparing, and enjoying wholesome foods connected to regenerative producers.
Core Principles of the Regen Diet
The Regen Diet is guided by three overarching goals reflected in its core principles:
Promote soil health: Choosing organic and regeneratively grown plant foods (like grains, produce, nuts, seeds, legumes) supports farming systems that build soil, sequester carbon, retain water, and foster biodiversity. This nourishes the earth that in turn nourishes us.
Optimize human health: Focusing on whole and minimally processed foods supplies optimal nutrition for the body while avoiding health harms of highly refined products and factory farm animal foods.
Heal the planet: Building symbiosis between agriculture and natural ecosystems minimizes environmental damage from the food system while combatting climate change.
Using these goals as a compass, the Regen Diet establishes recommendations in three categories:
- Regenerative Foods to Enjoy
- Conventional Foods to Minimize
- Food Qualities to Optimize
Guiding what to eat more or less of, this framework makes the Regen Diet easy to understand and follow.
Regenerative Foods to Enjoy
The crux of the Regen Diet is to focus your eating on whole foods from regenerative systems. This supplies your body with prime nutrition while creating food-system symbiosis between people health and ecological health.
Regenerative foods to emphasize include:
- Organic fruits and vegetables, especially those produced regeneratively/agroecologically (consumed abundantly)
- Whole grains and legumes like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, wheat berries, lentils, beans (choose organic and regenerative when possible)
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, hemp
- Herbs, spices, teas, and coffee grown regeneratively
- Pasture-raised eggs and dairy (consumed in moderation/minimally)
- Grass-fed meat (very minimal consumption)
Choosing these foods supports farmers using practices like cover cropping, compost application, conservation tillage, rotational grazing, and integration of livestock and crops. Such methods regenerate topsoil, foster biodiversity and carbon sequestration, reduce pesticide usage, and allow animals more natural living conditions.
When purchasing animal products, seek out reputable eco-labels like Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, or American Grassfed that have strict standards for regenerative practices beyond just being “free range” or “grass-fed”.
As a general guideline:
- Make organic, regeneratively grown plants the foundation of your diet
- Complement minimally with pasture-raised animal foods from reputable sources
- Choose organic grains and legumes as staple foods over refined grains
Using these products to compose nutritious, home-cooked meals is the cornerstone of the Regen Diet. This nourishes the symbiotic relationship between people health and planet health.
Conventional Foods to Minimize
In contrast to the regenerative foods above, many common items in the Standard American Diet negatively impact personal and environmental health. A core Regen Diet principle is reducing intake of:
- Refined grains like white rice, white bread, crackers, cereals, baked goods
- Factory farmed meat and dairy
- Processed foods like frozen meals, snacks, lunchmeats
- Candy and sweets
- Fast foods and junk foods
- Sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks, fruit juice
Such foods supply large amounts of sodium, saturated fats, added sugars, chemical additives and preservatives that promote inflammatory pathways in the body, overstimulate fat-storing hormones like insulin, and alter the gut microbiome. Their production and processing also harms ecosystems through chemical inputs, concentrated waste streams, and support of confinements systems.
Many of these items additionally lack fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals needed for optimal health. Replacing intake of hyper-palatable processed fare with home-prepared whole foods thus benefits people and ecosystems.
As guideline targets:
- Get <30% of calories from fats; <10% from saturated fats
- Get <25 grams/day added sugar; limit sweets overall
- Limit red meat to 1-2 three oz. servings per week (choose grassfed)
- Limit refined grain foods (aim for 100% whole grains instead)
Making even incremental steps to reduce intake of conventional foods while increasing regenerative products supports core Regen Diet principles.
Food Qualities to Optimize
Regenerative agriculture produces nutritionally superior foods that, when prepared properly, translate into optimal nourishment. The final piece of the Regen Diet is choosing and preparing whole foods to maximize key nutritional qualities.
It’s important to emphasize:
Phytochemical diversity: Choosing an array of colors, plants, and spices provides a variety of protective and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Fiber: Focus on high fiber whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Ferment some foods/beverages to supply probiotic fiber.
Plant protein: Get protein from legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains rather than just animal products.
Healthy fats: Obtain primarily from whole food sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives rather than oils and saturated fats.
Micronutrient density: Seek out especially nutrient-dense regenerative foods when possible.
Freshness: Purchase local, seasonal produce for optimal nutrition and minimal storage time.
Minimally processed: Stick to whole, intact foods rather than refined products.
Preparing Regen Diet foods to enhance these nutritional attributes ensures your meal plan aligns with principles of both human and environmental health.
Benefits of Following a Regen Diet
Embracing the holistic framework of the Regen Diet offers extensive benefits encompassing personal health, community wellbeing, ecological regeneration, climate change resilience, and more.
For your body
- Improves gut microbiome diversity and function
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
- Optimizes intake of protective phytochemicals
- Enhances nutrient status
- Supports healthy weight and body composition
- Lowers risk factors for metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes
For public health
- Alleviates burden on health care system
- Provides chemical-free, nutritious school lunches
- Improves nutrition security through local, resilient food systems
- Allows fair prices and thriving livelihoods
- Builds soil, enhances yields over long term
- Reduces reliance on costly inputs
- Sequesters carbon, increasing climate resilience
- Rebuilds soil organic matter and biodiversity
- Filters water, draws down greenhouse gases
- Supports biomass growth via photosynthesis
- Enhances wildlife habitats
On all fronts, adopting Regen Diet principles of consuming foods from regenerative systems as the basis for wholesome, home-cooked meals generates benefits. It allows eaters to regain personal health, restore public health, revive food systems, and renew environments—all through the simple act of eating.
Tips for Following a Regen Diet
Transitioning towards the Regen Diet may seem daunting initially. But you can integrate its guidelines step-by-step over time as is realistic for your lifestyle. Here are some tips to shift your eating patterns:
- Set a goal to increase your weekly intake of produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Crowd out refined foods with these whole food alternatives. Stock up so they’re readily available for meals and snacks.
- Seek out one local regenerative producer, whether farm, bakery or dairy. Allow your purchases to create symbiosis supporting ecological and human wellness in your community.
- Look for CSAs (community supported agriculture) offering weekly boxes of organic produce from regional regenerative farms. This also builds relationship between eater and grower.
- Download apps like FoodPrint which offer recommendations for eco-friendly protein sources and produce in your region based on seasonality and lower carbon emissions.
- Try new recipes centered around whole, minimally processed regenerative ingredients like a vegetable curry over millet or a salad of roasted beets and carrots over chickpea-quinoa tabbouleh. Pinterest is great for Regen Diet recipe inspiration.
- When eating animal proteins, use them sparingly to complement plant foods rather than centering them. Think ‘Meatless Monday’ and other ways to enjoy plant-based cuisine.
- Stock your kitchen with herbs, spices, teas, vinegars, stocks and other flavor enhancers. Learning to boost taste through condiments allows you to cut back on oil, salt and sugar.
- Meal plan for the week ahead based on whole grains, legumes, produce and lean proteins available locally. Prep some elements ahead of time for quicker weekday cooking.
- If eating away from home, look for restaurants offering organic and sustainable fare. Be mindful of options when grabbing quick meals rather than defaulting to fast foods out of convenience.
Even modest steps to integrate more regenerative foods while limiting conventional items and boosting nutritional attributes can shift your eating towards symbiosis between health and sustainability.
- The Regen Diet offers guidelines for eating in ways that regenerate soils, ecosystems and human health rather than deplete them.
- Core principles are: promote soil health through regenerative agriculture; optimize human nutrition; heal the planetary ecosystem.
- Follow by emphasizing organic and regeneratively grown whole foods over refined products and factory-farmed fare.
- Boost nutritional qualities through phytochemical diversity, fiber, plant protein, healthy fats, micronutrients, freshness and whole foods over processed.
- Benefits encompass body, public health, farmers, climate resilience and more
- Transition step-by-step by crowding out refined foods with whole alternatives, seeking local regenerative producers, boosting flavors to reduce salt/sugar/oil, and meal planning around plants.
Adopting Regen Diet principles connects personal health to the health of food growers, communities and the living earth. Through knowledge and action around regenerative nutrition, each bite of food can heal people, societies and ecosystems.