By Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, Director, Health & Well-being, FMI
The term “plant-based” is not clearly defined, even in the health and nutrition world. In general, the concept is all about eating more foods from plants and less foods from animals, but not necessarily eliminating things like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy all together. Granted, for some people “plant-based” can lead to a vegetarian or vegan way of eating, but for most, this concept opens the door for a more flexible approach that can be personalized, sustained and potentially prove very beneficial to overall health and well-being.
Diets and Variations of Plant-based Eating
When the word “diet” pops into conversation, thoughts of unrealistic and strict restrictions often settle in along with general unhappiness. When we frame a “diet” as an approach to eating, perhaps it carries a more uplifting outlook. A plant-based approach to eating can be a refreshing solution that simply includes more of the nutrient-rich foods recommended by the Dietary Guidelines in a more practical, personal, enjoyable way.
Plant-Based Consumer Trends
Our recent U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2021 report indicates that 48% of people claim to follow at least one dietary approach to eating for better health with plant-based among the most popular (10%). The pandemic seems to have inspired healthier eating, but consumer trends show that it may also have prompted a more practical and realistic approach to eating. As more restrictive approaches like Keto and low-carb became less popular, more balanced approaches like the Mediterranean diet and the whole foods diet gained popularity (both at 8%). The flexitarian diet remains a popular choice (7%) followed by adherence to the Dietary Guidelines (6%). It is worth noting that these are all approaches to eating that align with a plant-based mindset for better health.
Importance of Including More Plants – The Food as Medicine Connection
As noted in the recent Power of Health and Well-being at Food Retail 2021, there is increased consumer interest in preventing illness and strengthening immunity through food. With a direct scientific connection, decades of research link the inclusion of foods from plants (fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and plant-based oils) to many health benefits (improved blood pressure, heart health, gut function, mood, sleep, and the list goes on and on…). In the context of Food as Medicine as defined by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a plant-based approach to eating is a wonderful example of the role that food can play in the promotion of overall health and the prevention of disease.
Plant-Based Products in the Market
Along with growth in popularity of the plant-based mentality, we have also seen an explosion of innovative plant-based products on grocery store shelves. Of note are the many plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, along with poultry and even seafood plant-based alternatives. These products can be helpful for both vegetarian and meat-eating consumers looking for ways to eliminate or cut back on animal products. It is important to check labels and ingredients when substituting items as they can be higher in sodium, fat and sugar and sometimes lower in other beneficial nutrients found naturally in foods like meat and dairy or seafood. The marketplace provides an abundance of choice to help consumers looking to jump on board the plant-based trend. The key is to explore and enjoy more foods from plants to build a practical, personal healthy pattern of eating.