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Three Tips for Navigating Your Way Through the Plant-Based, Vegan Maze

Many of us are looking to add nutritious plant-based foods to our diets. Our experts can help you navigate the shopping aisles.

Lately people I know are talking about the foods they’re choosing to stay healthy. A popular topic is locally sourced fruits and vegetables — especially plant-based alternatives and organically grown crops.

Many of us are seeking fresh produce at farmers markets and looking for other places we can buy healthy food. While wanting to incorporate organic and plant-based foods in our diets may seem like a sacrifice — it's important to find those that taste good too. Over 50% of consumers choose plant-based foods in order to be healthier, underscoring the desire to remove meat-derived products such as dairy, meat and protein powder from their diets, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.

Many Americans (83%) are adding more plant-based foods to their diets to improve their health and nutrition, and more than half do so for weight management. Plant-based food sales grew by 20% from 2017 to 2018, outpacing every other food sector by 1,000%. This number is expected to keep growing as more plant-based foods are introduced into the marketplace.

In fact, 58% of shoppers say they look for foods and beverages with “clean ingredients” and 48% say they consider themselves “clean eaters,” according to a recent survey, Consumer Perspectives on Food Ingredients, conducted by the International Food Information Council. Almost half of respondents define “clean eating” as consuming fresh produce, buying organic and looking for simple ingredient lists. Health benefits are what’s motivating them, say 25% of respondents. As a result, food companies are upping their game with a larger selection of plant-based options popping up on grocery store shelves, restaurant menus and even fast-food chain menus.

With plant-based foods and vegan diets making headlines, you’re probably wondering: Are they the same thing? If not, what are the key differences? And what’s the best way to read labels to know what you’re buying and ultimately eating?

Many Americans (83%) are adding more plant-based foods to their diets to improve their health and nutrition, and more than half do so for weight management.

Here are three tips from our NSF experts for navigating your way at the supermarket through the plant-based, vegan maze:

  • Be Sure What It Means to Be Plant-Based and Vegan

    Plant-based food: The term “plant-based” typically refers specifically to your diet. Many people use it to indicate they eat a diet that either entirely or mostly comprises plant foods. However, some people may eat both plant-based foods and animal-derived products because of food sensitivities or allergies. Plant-based food is defined as a finished product consisting of ingredients derived from plants that include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and/or legumes (peas, beans, pulses, etc.). Additionally, fungi and algae, although not plants, are also counted as plant-based ingredients.

    Veganism: Being vegan generally means living in a way that avoids consuming, using or exploiting animals in any way. Vegans exclude animals from their diet and they don't use clothing and personal products that were made from or tested on animals.

  • Buy Certified

    If you’re seeking plant-based alternatives, look for the Plant Based Foods Association mark. NSF is the exclusive certifier for this Plant Based Foods Association program, available in the U.S. and Canada. The Certified Plant Based mark provides assurance the product is authentic and has been independently verified.
  • Read Labels

    For information about ingredients in a product, most consumers rely on the ingredient list and front-of-package information when shopping. Only 20% look at a company’s website or social media, and only 8% use the QR code on the package. However, to learn more about a specific ingredient, consumers turn most frequently to friends, family and online searches, while some people ask their healthcare provider. The best way to understand ingredients is to read the labels and ask questions.

Share your favorite images of plant-based foods on Instagram and tag or mention @NSF_International.

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