While the term “plant-based” can be a useful way to describe a dietary pattern that emphasizes whole, minimally-processed foods that come from plants, it’s important to note that not all plant-based foods are created equal. In fact, many plant-based foods are highly processed and may not be as healthy as whole, unprocessed foods. Because the term is such a buzzword these days, people are throwing that label on everything and it may be hard to even figure out what “plant” it actually came from!
Processed foods like vegan junk food, for example, can still be high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. And may not have a lot of recognizable ingredients. A lot of us are using the term “plant-based” to describe food when what we really mean is “whole-food based” or “real-food based.” Here are some of the ways in which “plant-based” might not actually be healthy:
- Processed plant-based foods: Many plant-based foods that are marketed as healthy alternatives, such as veggie burgers, vegan cheese, and plant-based desserts, are highly processed and may contain added sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats. These foods may be technically plant-based, but they are often far from real, whole foods that come from nature.
- Lack of nutrient density: Some plant-based foods, such as refined grains and fruit juices, may be lacking in essential nutrients like fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Consuming these foods in excess can lead to nutrient deficiencies and may not support overall health in the same way that whole, unprocessed plant foods do.
- Soil depletion and farming practices: The quality of plant-based foods can vary depending on the farming practices used to grow them. Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables may contain harmful pesticides and chemicals, while monoculture farming practices can deplete the soil of essential nutrients, leading to lower-quality produce.
- Food additives and preservatives: Many plant-based foods that are highly processed may contain additives and preservatives that are not found in real, whole foods. These additives can have negative health effects and may not support overall health in the same way that real, whole foods do.
If you’re looking to follow a plant-based diet that is also healthy and nutritious, here are a few tips to stay healthy while looking beyond the term “plant-based”:
- Focus on whole, minimally processed foods: Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Avoid highly processed plant-based foods, such as vegan junk food, and opt for whole food alternatives instead.
- Opt for a variety of colors and nutrients: Aim to eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables to ensure that you’re getting a range of nutrients in your diet. For example, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin A, while leafy greens are high in calcium and iron.
- Try to balance your macronutrients: Make sure that your diet includes a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Focus on plant-based sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh, and include healthy fats from sources such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.
- Find organic and sustainable farming practices: Look for foods that are grown using organic and sustainable farming practices, which can help to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals and support the health of the environment.
While the term “plant-based” can be a useful way to describe a dietary pattern that emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods that come from plants, it’s important to remember that not all plant-based foods are created equal. Real food that comes from nature is generally the healthiest option, and choosing whole, unprocessed plant-based foods can support overall health and well-being.