Are All Plant-Based Foods Equal?
So you’ve decided to take the leap and switch up your diet? Great! Whether you decide to go fully plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, or simply add more fresh fruits and veggies to your daily meal plan, making a switch like this comes with countless benefits for your health. Go you!
Before you head to the grocery store and start stocking up on plant-based essentials, we have a gentle reminder for you—it matters what types of plant-based foods you decide to spend your money on. There is a big difference between the food you can find in the produce section and the frozen veggie pizzas and coconut milk ice cream from the freezer section.
Different Types Of Plant-Based Foods
As the name suggests, plant-based foods are foods that come primarily from plants. This includes fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, oils, and beans. While items like fruit juices and frozen veggie burgers technically fall into this category, they are not as healthy for you as you may think. Yes, these foods are convenient and often made with better-for-you ingredients, but they are still highly processed, making them less healthy than you may think. These processed options are given the plant-based label, but they are created in a factory where they are taken through several processing steps. Some of these steps, like baking and drying, can strip the original foods of important nutrients. Meanwhile, other steps may be used to fortify the food with additional synthetic nutrients or add artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
The Problem with Factory-Created Foods
Processed plant-based foods are increasing in popularity, which has led to an increase in their production, but just because these foods are widely available and marketed as plant-based doesn’t mean they have the same nutritional value as items you’ll find in the produce section.
Highly processed foods that are marketed as vegan or plant-based often contain even more fat, sodium, sugar, and calories than similar processed items that are not vegan or plant-based. Take veggie straws for example. A one-ounce serving contains 130 calories, 7 grams of fat, 220 milligrams of sodium, 17 carbs, 0 grams of fiber, and less than 1 gram of protein. The same serving size of potato chips has 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, and 2 grams of protein. Needless to say, neither of these options seems substantially healthier than the other.
Whether they are plant-based or not, processed foods almost always contain fewer nutrients and more sugar, sodium, saturated fats, and synthetic ingredients. While you may choose to enjoy these types of foods on occasion, the low nutritional value and unnecessary ingredients can impact your overall health. While enjoying any kind of processed food on occasion may not make a difference, making them a part of your regular diet can lead to things like bloating, weight gain, and decreased energy as well as more serious health concerns.
Tips for Shopping For Plant-Based Foods
When you first begin your plant-based eating journey, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which food items to buy and which to avoid. We get it. That’s why we’re sharing some of our favorite tips for finding the best plant-based foods during your next trip to the grocery store.
Start at the Farmers Market
Whenever possible, start your shopping trip with a stop by the local farmers market to stock up on organic, local produce. The farmers market is a great way to stock up on your favorite organic, local produce at a lower price than you would find elsewhere. Plus, shopping at these local markets comes with the added bonuses of supporting local businesses and lowering your carbon footprint. Talk about a win-win-win!
Shop the Perimeter
A majority of the time, you are most likely to find healthy plant-based foods if you shop around the perimeter of the grocery store instead of wandering the aisles in the middle. This is where you’ll find the produce section as well as things like dairy alternatives, tofu, and dry bulk items like whole grains, nuts, and seeds. While you may still find yourself eyeing the tasty-looking desserts in the bakery section, shopping the perimeter will generally help you avoid being tempted by the processed foods that are kept in the center aisles.
Stick to Seasonal Produce
Whether you’re at the farmers market or in the produce section of your favorite grocery store, keep your eyes open for produce that is in season. Not only is in-season produce cheaper and more widely available, but it is also at its peak. This means that it is of higher quality, contains the maximum amount of nutrients possible, and is full of flavor.
Read the Label
If we’re being honest, few of us can get all the grocery items we need from the produce section or the store’s perimeter, and that’s okay. When you need to grab some pre-packaged items that are on your list, you can easily find the least processed options by simply reading the product label. A quick glance at the back of the label will show you how much sugar, fats, and sodium the product has as well as what ingredients are included. As often as possible, opt for the product that contains the fewest ingredients and little to no added sugar or sodium.
Explore the Ethnic Food Aisle
For condiments, spices, and other specialty ingredients, consider taking a stroll down the international food aisle. In many international countries, plant-based eating is deeply rooted in their culture and way of life, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding minimally processed plant-based foods in the ethnic food aisle of the grocery store. When shopping this aisle, just follow the last tip and read the labels to ensure you are getting the most natural and minimally processed options out there.
Buy from the Bulk Section
If you have certain foods that you buy regularly or in large quantities, consider seeing if they are available in the bulk section of your grocery store. Foods like nuts, seeds, dried beans, grains, spices, and herbs are all great plant-based options that can usually be purchased in bulk. Beware though, not everything that is available in the bulk section is healthy or plant-based—many bulk isles also include items like candy and chocolate-covered snacks, which you should only indulge in on occasion.
Live the #NewEarthLife
Whether you are planning to switch to a strict plant-based diet or simply looking to add more plant-based items to your meal rotation, it’s important to understand that not all plant-based options are created equal. Highly processed foods that market themselves as natural and plant-based are usually not the best way to go, no matter how convenient they may be. That’s why we hope you’ll join us in living the #NewEarthLife by filling your cart, and your plate, with plenty of natural, whole food goodness instead. Trust us, your body will thank you for it.
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Sending You Tons of Love and Humongous Hugs,
Tina “Plant Based Shopper” McDermott