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Eat Smart and Healthy: Label-Reading Secrets for Plant-Based Meals

Are you ready to embark on a health journey? Do you need help navigating the grocery store aisles in pursuit of plant-based foods? Our experts offer these label-reading tips.

Are you embarking on a health journey? With the focus these days on smart eating, it seems as if grocery store shelves, bakeries, pizza pubs and restaurants are full of plant-based food options (even including plant-based burgers at popular fast-food drive-thrus). According to the Plant Based Foods Association, plant-based food sales were up 27% to $7 billion in 2020.

The good news is that experts say a nutrient-dense plant-based diet centered around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds offers considerable advantages to keep us well-nourished and healthy. But as you strive to serve up more veggies on your plate, you may be confused by all the plant-based ingredients showing up on food packages — what do these labels really mean?

At NSF, we know accurate labels can help you choose your food. We checked in with our experts for tips on reading food labels and navigating the plant-based food aisles and menu selections at cafes, restaurants and fast-food eateries:

Plant-based food sales were up 27% to $7 billion in 2020, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.

  • Ace Your Plant-Based Know-How

    First, it is essential to understand what plant-based labeling means. Plant-based foods contain ingredients derived from plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and/or legumes (peas, beans, pulses, etc.). Additionally, although not plants, fungi and algae are counted as plant-based ingredients.
  • Living the Plant Life

    Generally, this is an eating style that emphasizes natural whole foods from plants, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, and plant-based proteins, like tofu and tempeh.
  • Make Your Mark

    Buy certified. Plant-based certification is an easy way to do your due diligence. The certification means you are buying certified plant-based or vegan products. NSF’s certification labeling program includes:
    • Tofu and tempeh
    • Meat alternatives to beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.
    • Milk alternatives, such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, novelty and frozen desserts, butter, dips, dressings, sour cream, and other beverages and creamers
    • Egg substitutes and mayo
    • Meals with meat or dairy alternatives (including pizza)
    • Baked goods
    • Protein powders
  • Read Labels

    For information about what’s in a product, most of us rely on the ingredient list and product labels when shopping. The best way to understand them is to read the labels and ask questions. Call or email the manufacturer; go to their website. You are the best advocate for your own health.
  • Try It

    There are more plant-based options than there were even five years ago — everything from nuggets to burgers and even desserts. As Grandma used to say, just try it. You may even like it and want some more.


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