Not All Plant-Based Foods Are Created Equal

Updated: May 5, 2020

Plant-based eating is one of the hottest trends in nutrition right now. Every aisle in the grocery store boasts foods that are plant-based. Fast food restaurants have transitioned some of their best-selling meat burgers into meat-free products. Even Starbucks is touting their new “plant-based” menu using plant milks such as oat and coconut! But are all plant-based foods created equal? Absolutely not.

Let’s back it up a bit. The plant-based style of eating is not new. People in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy have been eating this way for centuries. In fact, they are among some of the healthiest people in the world! Their diets consist of large amounts of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, seafood, and minimal intakes of red meat, processed foods and added sugars. This is a vast difference from our American style of eating that’s high in refined grains, processed foods, fat and sugar.

Plant-based eating is shown to reduce the risk of a laundry list of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer. We also know that eating plant-based is a great way to maintain a healthy weight.

As a dietitian, I’m thrilled that people are embracing the idea of including more fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, and plant proteins in their diet! That said, I think the plant-based label that’s being slapped on everything from burgers to coffee drinks is a bit misleading.

When you think of the old school veggie burgers that vegetarians and plant-based eaters have been gobbling up for years, the main ingredient is usually some combination of beans, quinoa, lentils, or nuts. True plant-based proteins! New school “plant-based burgers” (aka Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat products) are created to mimic meat. These products usually contain refined grains as well as high amounts of fat, sodium and other mystery ingredients.

Don’t get fooled by the glitz and glamour of the plant-based claim on a product. Knowledge is power and the best thing you can do is take a peek at the ingredient list. Ask yourself: “If I were to make this product from scratch, would I be using these same ingredients?” I’m going to take a wild guess and say you don’t have soy protein isolate hanging out in your spice cabinet waiting to be blended into a meatless burger.

For those interested in starting to eat more plant-based, I would recommend to choose foods in their most whole, close to nature version. Mother Nature definitely knows what she’s doing! Cooking for yourself and preparing your own food is a fun way to experiment with plant-based alternatives to animal products. Try choosing one day per week that you eat completely meat-free. Find a new recipe to try that uses ingredients such as beans or mushrooms to give you that meaty flavor and texture with all the benefits of eating plants!

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