What are plant-based foods?
Nutritionists have been singing the praises of plant-based food for a while now. As 2021 inches closer, they’re clearly being heard. Plant-based eating is more than a trend but a burgeoning lifestyle.
“The shift to eating a more plant-based diet is exciting since consumers are finally getting on board with the messaging nutrition professionals have been saying for years,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a registered dietitian and author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “Reducing consumption of high-fat animal products and increasing our intake of whole plant-based food may benefit not only health. It may also benefit the environment.”
Plant-based eating primarily focuses on foods that come from plants—fruits and vegetables, as well as seeds, nuts, whole grains, and legumes—while minimizing processed foods and reducing or eliminating animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey.
In the new year, there are plenty of food trends to look forward to. Many of them will help you eat a more balanced—and tasty—plant-based diet. Here’s the scoop on these foods trends, plus, registered dietitians weigh in on the nutritional value of each plant-based food.
Already a fan of cauliflower pizza crust and cauliflower rice? Then say hello to the veggie’s newest offspring: cauliflower sandwich thins from Outer Aisle, cauliflower Alfredo sauce from Do Anything Foods, and cauliflower breadcrumbs from Cauli Crunch.
“I can always get excited about veggie-forward convenience foods, whether that’s packaged cauliflower rice or another shortcut veggie-based item,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City and co-author of Sugar Shock.
“About 90 percent of Americans fail to meet daily vegetable targets,” she says. “So anything that makes it easier, tastier—and frankly, more fun—to eat veggies is a win in my book.”(Here are the signs you’re not eating enough vegetables.)
New plant-based meats
Beyond Meat recently went through a revamp, announcing a new burger available in early 2021 that features 55 percent less saturated fat than 80/20 beef. And of course, Impossible “meats” remain a staple for the plant-based food lover and home cook.
But now you have even more plant-based proteins to add to your shopping list: JUST Eggs folded plant eggs (which are egg-free and made from mung bean isolate); Daring’s vegan chicken; Hooray Foods’ plant-based bacon; and No Evil Foods’ vegan pulled pork.
“Because of the popularity of programs like keto, paleo, and Whole30, processed meats like jerky, bacon, and packaged deli meat have a health halo, but this is misplaced,” says Cassetty. The World Health Organization “classifies processed meats as a carcinogen, which means there’s good evidence that these foods raise your risk for certain cancers.”
(Here are the best plant-based meat substitutes for people with food allergies.)
Low-alcohol or no-alcohol drinks
Just in time for Dry January, 2021 may be the year of lots and lots of sober-drink picks. This includes alcohol-free beer (which, by definition, may contain a very small amount of alcohol, up to 0.5% ABV), as well as novel stand-ins for Prosecco, gin, tequila, and more.
Gruvi sells nonalcoholic stout, as well as nonalcoholic Prosecco that tastes surprisingly close to the real thing. Also, choose from alcohol-free Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey and no-alcohol gin from Damrak and Ceder’s. You can, of course, also whip up a vegan virgin sangria from scratch. (Take a look at more of the best alcohol-free spirits and best alcohol-free wines.)
Savory snack bars
If you like the simplicity of a snack bar to tide you over between meals, you’ll have to add the newest savory bars to your plant-based food shopping list.
These include picks such as Poblano Black Bean and Red Pepper Pesto bars from Slow Up; Savory Miso bars from Skratch Labs; and Honey Mustard bars from Undressed. These bars are made with ingredients such as almonds, kale, tahini, and oats. (Here are some vegan diet health benefits.)
Packaged foods sweetened with fruit
Fruit as a natural sweetener? Yup, it’s a thing. You’ll find dates in Seven Sundays Sunflower Cereal, and fruit and spices as the only sweeteners in Siggi’s no-added-sugar yogurt. In recipes, prunes act surprisingly close to dates and can be used in everything from smoothies and brownies to DIY snack bars.
Reducing added sugar is more important than ever, as we now know that eating a diet high in added sugar may increase your risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. (Try this brownie batter oatmeal recipe made with dates.)
Plant-based convenience meals
With the Covid-19 pandemic still strong—and so many Americans working from home—at-home convenience meals are more popular than ever. Many of these are vegan, including plant-based food options such as veggie-and-quinoa bowls from Del Monte; Loma Linda Pad Thai made with soy protein; and Annie Chun’s Korean-Style Sweet Chili Noodle Bowl with wheat gluten (aka seitan).
Convenience stores like CVS even have many of these vegan options on hand nowadays.
You’ve probably gotten your fair share of gut-healing probiotics from dairy-based yogurt. Now you can eat vegan, probiotic-offering versions from Califia Farms, AYO Almond Yogurt, Forager, and more. You’ll also find probiotics in Cleveland Kraut sauerkraut; Farmhouse Culture Kraut Crisps (made from sauerkraut); and, of course, kombucha options, including Health-Ade Kombucha, GT’s Living Foods Probiotic Shots, and KOE Organic Kombucha.
“From smoothies to kefir, kombucha, and even probiotic water, it seems probiotics are popping up in drinks everywhere,” says Palinski-Wade. “I expect these probiotic drinks to gain even more popularity in 2021. I love this trend since gut health is essential to everything from the immune system to mood and even sleep regulation.” (Also, beware of foods you think are dairy-free but aren’t.)
These days, people focused on eating plant-based food can find vegan and vegetarian versions of almost any condiment. Take, for instance, vegan mayo—made with avocado oil—from Chosen Foods; an entire line of plant-based dressings and sauces from Bold Palate; a medley of plant-based sauces from Haven’s Kitchen, and a line of vegan salad dressings from 88 Acres.
And if coffee creamers count as condiments, you’ll find a plethora of plant-based options available as well, including oat-based creamers from Elmhurst and coconut-milk-based options from Plant Theory.
(Want to make your own? Try this healthy, dairy-free creamer recipe.)
As alcohol-free beverages are soaring high, so are drinks featuring adaptogenic ingredients. Adaptogens are substances derived from plants that supposedly help the body counteract and adapt to stress. Navitas Organics Superfood+ Adaptogen Blend smoothie booster, for example, claims to fight stress and fatigue; Elements‘ low-calorie drinks contain ingredients said to support sleep, calm, and more; and Droplet is a sparkling functional drink that contains ingredients such as ashwaganda and reishi mushroom.
“Many of these beverages claim to be all-natural, low in sugar, and low in calories,” says Keri Gans, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. “And many of them might suggest certain health benefits, such as a ‘better night sleep,’ ‘boost energy,’ and ‘good for digestion.’ ” Find out more about adaptogens.