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How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet: Choosing Nutritious Plant-Based Foods Without Being Deceived

Plant-based eating is trending now. As a dietitian, whenever something becomes trendy, I get suspicious. I get suspicious of food and nutrition product manufacturers and marketers. And rightfully so. A walk down a grocery store isle will present you with all sorts of foods promoted as plant-based that might--or might not--not meet your nutrition needs.

Here are a few questions to ask that can help you differentiate between plant-based food of high nutrition quality and plant-based foods of poor nutrition quality. If you want to know how to eat a plant-based diet, read on.

food on a grocery store shelf

Questions to Ask Yourself About Plant-Based Foods for Eating a Plant-Based Diet

  • Is the product trying to replace a snack food by telling you it is healthier because it is plant-based? This often comes up with bagged snacks, like potato chips and veggie straws, and candy, including chocolate and fruit snacks. More times than not, the snack labeled "plant-based" is no more nutritious than other snack foods.

  • Does the food taste very sweet? Some foods we want to taste sweet, such as ice cream, candy, and pastries. But if it is a food that you'd prefer to be nutritious, a really sweet flavor should be a hint that this plant-based food is also a sugar-based food. This often comes up with breakfast cereals and granola bars.

  • Are there "healthy-sounding" sugars on the ingredient list? Plant-based does not mean low in sugar. Many pancake mixes, snack foods, granola products, cookies, and nut butters will try to sell themselves as healthy by including maple syrup, organic cane sugar, honey, molasses, and raw sugar rather than simply using regular sugar. While there is nothing inherently wrong with foods sweetened with these sugars, they are not "health foods." They are regular snack foods.

  • Is the food always plant-based? If so, the plant-based label should not come with an extra price tag. These foods can be equally nutritious with or without the plant-based advertisement. Some foods that are always plant-based are pasta, mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, and canned vegetables.

  • For this particular food, is the plant-based version actually more nutritious? Sometimes plant-based foods will have more added saturated fats and sodium than the typical animal-based product. This can be the case with plant-based cheese, plant-based meat and chicken, and plant-based eggs. That does not mean that the plant-based versions are "bad," but as an educated consumer, you can now make a more educated choice.

In summary, a claim of "plant-based" does not equate with nutrition quality. Use information-based and objective measured to decide if a food is nutritious for you. This will help you learn how to eat a nutritious plant-based diet.


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