Consumers are hungry for plant-based foods, which is great considering that a plant-based diet may benefit both the environment and your health.
And food brands are enthusiastically feeding this appetite: U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products grew 29 percent in 2018 and 2019, hitting a record $5 billion, according to a report from The Good Food Institute.
As is the case with most food trends, however, marketers have noted consumers’ interest in this kind of eating, and predictably transformed the meaning of plant-based into something beyond recognition. As I discuss in my book, A Pocket Guide to Sustainable Food Shopping, this tactic is known as a “health halo,” and it’s purposefully executed to trick shoppers into buying things for health reasons that don’t actually exist.
While there’s no official definition for the terminology, plant-based foods are generally considered ones made from whole ingredient sources that don’t come from animals (instead, they come from plants).
Traditional (and beloved!) plant-based foods include beans, tofu, rice, oats, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and nut butters. Foods on a typical plant-based diet tend to be nutrient-rich, void of added sugars and made up of very few ingredients.
While there’s no wrong way to follow a plant-based diet—some people may choose to go cold-turkey into veganism, while others commit to Meatless Mondays—there are foods that obfuscate the ideology behind plant-based.
No doubt, food marketers have cunningly stamped a “plant-based” label onto products to offer shoppers a sense of virtuousness, implying that plant-based products are the more nutritious pick.
If you want to include processed foods and snacks in your plant-based eating plan, that’s totally cool. Just be wary of buying specific products because they claim to be plant-based, without first investigating deeper.
Potato chips, for example, have been sourced from plants (that’s potatoes) since their very beginning. This doesn’t mean you should sustain a plant-based diet with potato chips.
Whatever your reasoning for wanting to eat more plant-based foods, the products listed below can surely be part of your eating regimen. If something on this list sounds delicious and you love the fact that it’s free from animal cruelty, go for it.
You’ll just want to make sure you’re not buying it because “plant-based” automatically means “better-for-you.”
Stonyfield Organic Raspberry Dairy Free Yogurt
This little tub of yogurt boasts its 6 grams of “plant-based protein” proudly on its label, while it’s a bit more coy about the fact that it contains a whopping 22 grams of added sugar.
The packaging is so lovely that it might almost distract you from the fact that what is supposedly a healthy breakfast pick has 61 percent of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of added sugars (for men, that’s 36 grams per day).
If you want a dairy-free yogurt, you can find lower sugar options or opt for plain and sweeten it with fruit and/or a drizzle of agave.
Chobani Oat Drink, Chocolate
Chobani’s plant-based chocolate oat “milk” has 16 grams of sugar per serving and just 2 grams of protein (six grams fewer than your standard low-fat dairy chocolate milk).
This isn’t a health drink, even if it is made from plants.
Good Karma Plant-Based French Onion Dip
It’s a good thing that companies are making products for all types of diets, and Good Karma’s French Onion Dip seems like a nice option for vegans and others who want to take their chips for a cows’ milk-free dunk.
But don’t let the fact that it’s plant-based—in this case, from coconut oil, tapioca flour, corn starch and a whole heck of a lot of other ingredients—convince you to eat it by the tubful.
Simple Truth Plant-Based Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
The simple truth here is that cookies are cookies and not vessels of nutrition.
Here, it seems, plant-based is being used as a synonym for vegan, which is good and dandy, if not a little sneaky. Each one of Simple Truth’s chocolate chip cookies has 130 calories and 5 grams of added sugar—not terrible for a cookie, but if it’s cookies you’re after, why not go for one that actually satisfies?
Might I recommend Tate’s?
Nature’s Bakery Double Chocolate Brownie Bars
Same issue, different dessert.
Whether you choose brownies, cookies, cakes, or donuts, the addition of a plant-based label doesn’t negate the fact that they are sweets.
This brownie’s packaging brags that it’s sweetened with “real dates,” but its nutrition label reveals that it still has 17 grams of added sugar, so dates aren’t the only ingredient making these sweet (surprise — it’s cane sugar!).
Eat these because you want a brownie that tastes distinctly different from the glorious ones of your childhood or because you’re off milk and eggs, not because they’re any better for you than the kind from Duncan Hines.
Wegmans Cookies ‘n Cream Plant-Based Almondmilk Frozen Dessert
Hello? Are we still talking about this?
Plant-based ice cream—especially the ones that are made with fat—can be a tasty alternative to standard pints, which is terrific news for someone like me, who has to choose between eating dairy ice cream or being in public (I’m talking about farts).
But this green hued label should not convince you that you’re making a “better” choice nutrition-wise when you pick this over a regular scoop of Cherry Garcia.
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