Eating Plant-Based: What’s Healthy, What’s Not?

Contrary to popular belief, the biggest barrier to eating healthy isn’t finding the time or mustering the willpower—but sorting through decades of dated and misleading information to understand what it actually means to eat healthy. (Spoiler: it doesn’t mean eating protein bars or “plant-based” potato chips.)

Here are five so-called “health” foods that aren’t so healthy.

 

Myth:

All vegan or plant-based food is healthy

Why it’s false:

A plant-based diet can be just as full of processed, unpronounceable ingredients as a typical American diet. Many cookies, soft drinks, processed breads, and even French fries are technically vegan or plant-based, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy.

Aim instead for whole ingredients like vegetables and unprocessed grains—choosing real food over added sugars, preservatives, and refined oils.  

 

Myth:

Honey, maple syrup, and agave are healthier sugar substitutes

Why it’s false:

These sugars affect you the same as white table sugar. They include empty calories, few nutrients, and give you the same unwanted blood sugar spikes that we work so hard to avoid! (Insulin spikes cause blood sugar crashes and can promote hunger, while sugar is not only inflammatory, but also promotes weight gain!)

Get in the habit of reading labels to scout out sugar in all of its many forms. This includes names like dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, molasses, and fruit juice concentrate in addition to alternative sweeteners like agave and maple syrup. 

 

Myth:

Yogurt and frozen yogurt are healthy

Why it’s false:

While some yogurt is healthy, packing good-for-you probiotics, protein, and calcium, most yogurts today are effectively desserts, loaded with unhealthy fats and sugars. (If your yogurt is pie flavored, odds are it’s about as healthy as pie—which is to say, not very healthy.) In fact, single-serving yogurts often have as many as five teaspoons of sugar in a six-ounce serving!

Opt instead for unsweetened plant-based yogurt without added sugar or artificial sweeteners, and add your own flavors by adding a minimal-ingredient nut butter (made from nuts only) or fresh berries.

 

Myth:

Whole grain breads are entirely whole grain

Why it’s false:

Just because a food is “made with whole grains” doesn’t mean it doesn’t also contain highly processed refined grains (e.g., white flour). 

Look for flourless whole-grain bread (we like Food for Life’s “Ezekiel Flourless Sprouted Bread” in the orange packaging) or bread that is made from 100% whole grains such as wheat, lentils, or barley 

 

Myth:

Protein shakes and bars are healthy snacks

Why it’s false:

Many high protein snacks are essentially milkshakes and candy bars with added protein and vitamins. Even if they’re “sugar free,” they often contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which convert to fructose in the body.

If you’d like to up your protein intake on the go, opt instead for a handful of heart healthy nuts or make your own protein shakes using pea protein (made from peas only) and whole ingredients. 

In summary: when it comes to eating healthy, knowledge beats willpower every time, so read labels closely or talk to your coach about healthy shopping habits as part of your Plantable Reboot. You’d be surprised by some of the places sugar is hiding, such as pickles, soy sauce, tomato sauce, and plant milks!