Getting the right nutrition from a plant-based diet takes effort and planning, and food shopping is a big part of this. There are more vegan-friendly products than ever, but the challenge comes in avoiding foods which contain hidden animal-based ingredients that you never would have guessed were there and making sure you get all that your body needs! Read on for some practical advice to help you sail through your vegan shopping trip.
The Rise of Vegan Food
Once upon a time, vegan foods were a rarity and only really available in specialist health food shops. These days it’s rarer to visit a food shop that doesn’t stock vegan products.
Trends in the UK food industry show that manufacturers are increasingly removing all animal ingredients from vegetarian products in order to make them vegan-friendly. In fact, more than half of all new meat-free products carried a vegan claim in 2017.
The popularity of meat-free foods extends way beyond veganism, with more and more vegetarians and omnivores preferring their meat-free alternatives to be entirely plant-based. The good news is that this creates demand for an ever-growing supply of vegan foods!
Get Vegan-Shopping Savvy!
Despite the exponential increase in vegan-friendly foods in recent years, one of the biggest challenges when going vegan is getting your head around plant-based shopping.
With hidden animal ingredients, dubious marketing claims and unclear packaging, navigating your way around the aisles can be both frustrating and difficult. We’ve collated our top five tips to help you overcome these obstacles to have a successful shop!
1. Meat and Dairy Alternatives are a Must!
Going vegan isn’t just about stocking up on fresh fruit and veg. For your health, happiness and sanity you need to have a good variety of food in your diet. Meat and dairy alternatives are not only crucial for flavour and texture but are also very nutrient dense.
Meat and dairy alternatives should be a staple food in any plant-based diet. Including one with every meal is a great way to make sure you’re getting enough protein (link to vegan nutrition in a nutshell blog).
You’ll usually find meat alternatives in the free-from aisle and dairy alternatives alongside the regular dairy products. Here’s some honourable mentions of nutritious and delicious vegan alternatives…
- Meat Alternatives – Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan, Jackfruit, Mycoprotein (Quorn)
- Dairy Alternatives – Plant-based milks (rice, almond, soy, coconut and oat milk), Cashew Nut Cheese, Dairy-Free Yoghurts, Olive & Avocado Oil Spreads, Vegan Cheeses
2. Beware Hidden Animal Ingredients
OK, so we can cross meat and dairy off our shopping lists for sure! But animal-derived products are often found where you’d least expect them, hidden in the small print of the ingredients lists just to make life even harder!
Just because something is meat-free does not make it vegan-friendly. Lots of meat-free products contain eggs or dairy. They may also contain natural flavourings derived from animal by-products or enzymes.
If you’re unsure if a product is vegan-friendly and can’t find the certified vegan symbol, you should check out the ingredients list. Helpfully, legislation requires that some non-vegan ingredients are displayed in bold as they are allergens. This includes milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans and molluscs. You should take some time to familiarise yourself with other non-vegan ingredients to look out for, such as honey and gelatine.
3. Buy in Bulk
Let’s face it, you’re going to be eating a lot of fruit and veg as part of your plant-based diet! Whilst fresh produce is often of the best quality, the cheapest and most convenient way to shop will include a variety of fresh, frozen and dry-store foods.
- Fresh produce – Stocking up on fresh fruit and veg is a must. It will encourage you to cook from scratch and provide your body with a whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Buy only what you need to avoid waste and stock up on things you use most of. Remember, fresh fruit and veg is perishable, so be sure to store it correctly (https://www.goodfood.com.au/recipes/news/how-to-store-fruit-and-vegetables-20160803-gqjxbq) to maximise that shelf-life.
- Frozen Foods – Not only is frozen usually cheaper and more convenient than fresh, but frozen foods have also been shown to contain just as many nutrients as their fresh counterparts (http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-779.pdf). Picked at the field and flash frozen at maximum ripeness, frozen fruit and veg retains colour, flavour and certain nutrients that are sometimes lost after harvest.
- Store Cupboard Essentials – Stocking up on things such as lentils, pulses, chickpeas, beans, oats, rice and wholegrain pasta will ensure you never go hungry, even when the fridge is empty. These foods can be bought in bulk to reduce costs and have a seriously long shelf-life to prevent waste.
4. Choose Organic
Choosing certified organic products ensures that your diet is free from herbicides, pesticides, GMO ingredients, as well as artificial colours and flavourings.
Pesticides are increasingly used to improve crop yield and provide for an exponentially expanding population. But pesticides used to grow crops enter the food chain and are harmful when consumed. Studies have linked real world exposure to pesticides with increased prevalence of conditions such as Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Asthma, Autism, ADHD and some cancers – as well as being harmful to reproductive health. Following a non-organic plant-based diet could be harmful to health for this reason, choosing organic produce removes this risk.
Going organic is also better for the planet and its wildlife – protecting natural environments and habitats by farming sustainably. What’s more, research has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants compared with conventionally grown crops.
By adopting a plant-based diet you’re committing to eating a lot of food grown from the land, choosing organic is a reliable way to ensure you look after yourself and the environment in doing so.
5. Download a Vegan Shopping App
For peace of mind and confidence when you’re shopping, having an app to hand for any questionable items can be really useful. There are heaps of vegan lifestyle apps to choose from and some of these allow you to scan the barcode of products to double check they’re vegan-friendly.
Not only will this save you the time and effort of scanning ingredients lists, but it will also help you to become more adventurous with your food choices. As you get into the swing of vegan shopping you’ll steadily learn some staple foods which are in your safe zone, but it’s always great to explore further afield and introduce some new and exciting foods into your diet.
Remember, if your item isn’t recognised by the app for whatever reason you can use another app to check that the ingredients are vegan. Apps such as Animal-Free allow you to search for products and check they’re free from any hidden animal-derived ingredients. You can also search by ingredient if you’re unsure.
When it comes to plant-based shopping, practice makes perfect! You’ll soon get to know some familiar ‘safe’ foods which will become a staple part of your diet and become equally familiar with those you need to avoid. Planning your meals, writing a shopping list and checking what’s running low before you go will help to reduce costs, waste and stress levels! Together with our top five tips you’ll be vegan shopping savvy in no time at all, free to enjoy a nutritious and delicious plant-based diet!