Plant-based eating is on the rise and for good reason — not only is it environmentally-friendly, but it also has science-backed health benefits such as a decreased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. “According to data from SPINS, plant-based foods that are replacements for animal products have grown 29% in the past two years,” says Marie Spano, MS, RD, a sports dietitian in Atlanta. “Plant-based” is also a phrase that’s more inclusive of flexitarians or people who don’t identify as vegetarians or vegan, notes Whitney Ross, a wellness coach in Westport, Connecticut. “You don’t have to exclude meat from your diet entirely to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and other plant-based foods.”
“At a time when consumers continue to hear about ‘plant-based,’ they also have more options to choose from,” adds Spano. This includes shelf-stable items, which can be both budget-friendly and practical for when you want to minimize trips to the grocery store.
BENEFITS OF EATING MORE PLANT-BASED FOODS
Plant-based alternatives (Think: chickpea-flour pasta instead of traditional white flour), are a great way to replace foods in your diet that don’t have much nutritional value. “Plants are packed with fiber and phytonutrients our bodies need,” says Kristen Carli, RD. The fiber supports weight-loss (leaving you feeling full and satisfied after meals) and also aids gut health. Moreover, “people who consume less animal-based foods have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels,” adds Ross.
HOW TO SELECT HEALTHY PLANT-BASED PANTRY STAPLES
Picking a food simply because it has the words “plant-based” on the label doesn’t guarantee it’s a nutritious choice. The same healthy-eating guidelines that apply to all food choices apply when you’re selecting plant-based items.
“Always read the label carefully and, when possible, choose foods that are minimally processed and include whole ingredients,” says Ross. For example, a can of soup with whole lentils is less processed than a plant-based burger patty. Try to find options that are low in added sugar and other additives.”
Keep an eye on the salt content of plant-based foods that interest you, too. “Sodium can be quite high in shelf-stable and frozen foods,” says Carli. You can track your sodium intake in the MyFitnessPal app and log any foods you’re interested in to see how they might affect your daily consumption.
Also, look for key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. “Nutrients that many Americans do not get enough of each day include calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber,” says Spano.
FIVE PLANT-BASED PANTRY STAPLES TO TRY
1. CANNED SOUPS
Tasty plant-based soups, like Amy’s, have been available for years, but Gardein recently upped the game, adding its plant-based meat products to canned soup. The Plant-Based Chick’n Noodl’ Soup from Gardein contains 13g of protein per serving. However, it’s higher in sodium, which can be helpful for athletes but not for folks with heart disease, so be mindful of your overall diet.
2. EGG SUBSTITUTES
Neat Egg is a shelf-stable, protein-rich alternative to traditional eggs, which is great for baking or used in other recipes like plant-based beef Wellington (it’s not intended to be eaten plain as scrambled eggs). Combining 1 tablespoon of the powder with 2 tablespoons of water nets you the equivalent of one egg, and it’s made from fiber-rich chia seeds and chickpeas.
3. TUNA SUBSTITUTES
When you feel like a tuna salad sandwich but want a more environmentally-friendly pick (that’s mercury-free), try products like Good Catch’s Fish-Free Tuna or Loma Linda Tuno. Both are protein-rich (14g and 7g per serving, respectively). Good Catch’s product contains a blend of six proteins, including pea protein isolate, soy and lentil. Loma Linda’s product is soy-based.
4. NACHO CHEESE SUBSTITUTE
It’s easy to lighten up your favorite comfort foods, including nachos. Daiya’s Cheddar Style Deluxe Cheeze Sauce is just as zesty and creamy as the real thing, while being rich in calcium. It comes in liquid form, not powder, so all you have to do is heat it up.
5. WHOLE-GRAIN PRODUCTS
When you’re seeking sophisticated, high-protein alternatives to processed wheat-flour products, trade-in your traditional croutons for Carrington Farms’ Organic Crounons. The quinoa-based cubes are light and crispy and pair well with salads. For crackers, try Mary’s Gone Crackers Super Seed varieties. The base is made of brown rice and quinoa, but the variety of seeds (from pumpkin to sesame) covering the surface lends an amazing flavor, texture, crunch, plus plenty of micronutrients.
Discover hundreds of healthy plant-based recipes via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.