Calling a food “plant-based” doesn’t mean it’s made with healthy vegetables. In fact, in so many of the products we looked at, ingredients like “wheat gluten” or “soy protein isolate” were the only remotely plant-like ingredients. And both of those are heavily processed, and don’t contain the nutrients you get from soy (like unsalted edamame or tofu) or whole wheat.
You could call most junk food “plant-based.” Potato chips and French fries are just potatoes fried in vegetable oil. When it comes to “plant-based” food, it matters less about whether an ingredient came from plants, and more about what nutrients it provides your body.
Just look at what nutrition experts are saying about plant-based meats:
“They may be vegan, fortified with minerals or devoid of saturated fats or cholesterol, but they are also highly processed, full of salt and refined ingredients as opposed to whole foods” – Desiree Nielsen, registered dietitian
“Many of these meat analogs have a lot of added sodium, which is the health villain of all time.” – Janet Bond Brill, registered dietitian
“The issue is that highly processed foods are often left with highly absorbable carbohydrates, and little of the important nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.” – Sharon Palmer, registered dietician
“It’s not a universally better choice, no matter what the buzzword is that’s attached to the name…Plant-based protein that’s used to create something new — and therefore highly processed — is susceptible to being loaded with sodium and saturated fat.” – Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN
If you’re eating plant-based meat in order to reduce the amount of meat you eat, try these whole food options instead of heavily processed alternatives:
Opt for minimally processed whole cuts of meat, fish and poultry. Be sure to read the label and make sure what you’re buying is minimally processed – whole cuts are best and you can always shred it for sandwiches etc. Ultimately, meat is the easiest source of protein.
Beans, like black, pinto, kidney, great northern, fava. There are ENDLESS options! Make sure to check the sodium content if you buy canned beans (Pro tip: It’s also really easy to buy beans in bulk and make them yourself!)
Tofu is high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. Extra/super firm tofu packs the most protein per time it takes to cook.
Almonds have one of the best protein to fat ratios of nuts. Eat them by the handful at the office!
High-protein vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, or mushrooms can help increase the protein content of your meals (2 – 4 g).