Are plant-based, grain-free diets healthy?

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Alternative versions of familiar dishes — like bean rice, Hearts of Palm Pasta and plant-based chicken — are everywhere in supermarkets.

Many of them seem better to you than the foods they’re supposed to replace, but are you making healthy substitutions when you choose them? We looked at five increasingly popular products and compared them to the original versions.

Plant-based creamers are made from plant milks like oat, coconut, soy, and almond, but are thicker, like half-and-half. Nutritionally, it doesn’t matter whether you choose a half-and-half or plant-based creamer, as long as you use it in moderation, says Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, MD, director of nutrition at Stony Brook Medicine in New York. One tablespoon of half and half contains 20 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat. Depending on the type of milk, creamers can contain 15 to 30 calories and 0 to 1 gram of saturated fat.

Size Added sugars However, different. There’s nothing in half-and-half, while plant-based creams are often sweetened and flavored. “If you add a lot of ‘cream’ to your coffee or drink a lot of coffee, the sugars will add up,” says Amy Keating, a Consumer Reports nutritionist and registered dietitian.

Look for low or no added sugars. If you want something sweeter, use it instead of sugar in your coffee. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.

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Another difference: Plant-based milk creamers may have added vegetable oils and emulsifiers like guar gum and carrageenan. They have a thicker texture and creamier taste than plant milk. But “there are indications that emulsifiers may be bad for the GI tract,” Connolly-Schoonen says, citing limited research that suggests some of them can damage the gut lining. Again, though, creams are fine for most people if you use small amounts, she says.

Trading your morning shredded wheat or oatmeal for a grain-free cereal is not a healthy food exchange. “You might think there’s something wrong with eating these whole grains, but that’s not the case,” says Keating. “Many studies show that including whole grains in your diet reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and more, and regular grains are a convenient way to get them.”

However, some grain-free cereals, such as grain-free granolas, are good for you. They’re usually made from a combination of nuts and seeds — which provide healthy fats, fiber, protein, and nutrients like magnesium and potassium — instead of traditional oats.

Be mindful of added sugars and portion sizes. Ideally, a serving should contain no more than 4 grams of sugars. “But package serving sizes are often between a quarter and a half cup,” says Keating. It’s smaller in your bowl, so keep in mind that if you double the serving, you double the calories, fat, and sugar.

Other grain-free cereals are often made with tapioca, potato, and tapioca flours, or with chickpea or lentil flour instead of grains. Apart from bean flour which contains protein and potassium, these products do not have much nutritional value. A Recent CR test Six evaluated non-grain cereals. None tasted good, and only one received top marks for nutrition.

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A recent low-carb pasta alternative is hearts of palms, which are cut strips of cream-colored vegetables. People say it’s closer to the taste and texture of the real thing. It’s also very low in calories – 50 per cup and about 200 per cooked spaghetti.

“Considering that most Americans don’t consume enough vegetables on a daily basis, eating hearts of palm pasta is a great way to increase vegetables in your diet,” says Keating.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Rice

Riced cauliflower is a great alternative for those looking to add a high-fiber vegetable with a very low carb count, and it only has about 20 calories per serving. Rice made from chickpeas is not lower in carbohydrates than the rice we know, but it provides more protein and fiber.

Salt is added to these products for taste. “Sodium “It’s one of the things that drives people to overeat,” Connolly-Schoonen says. “Conventional rice is low in sodium, and you’re not adding it yourself. As long as you’re keeping tabs on sodium (the recommended daily limit is under 2,300 milligrams), these items are a good choice,” says Connolly-Schoonen. .but don’t expect to have the flavor or texture of regular rice. Some bean rices may not have a firm texture, and cauliflower rice has more crunch than chew.

Plant-based ‘chicken’

Some consumers think Plant-based “meats” They’re healthier than the types they’re supposed to resemble, but that’s not always the case. Protein often comes in the form of soy or pea isolate. These proteins are extracted from the original plant, but they are not the same as the vegetables you buy at a produce stand.

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Another concern, Keating says, is that it’s unclear whether replacing meats with these alternatives has the same health benefits as eating whole plant foods like beans, vegetables and tofu. They may be higher in sodium than the products they replace. But if fake meats make it easier to start eating a plant-based diet, it’s fine to eat them a few times a week.

Copyright 2022, Consumer Reports Inc.

Consumer Reports is an independent, not-for-profit organization that works with consumers to help create a fairer, safer and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services and does not accept advertisements. read more ConsumerReports.org.

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