Over the last few years I have become increasingly aware of the difference in ingredients the same product can contain when compared to a different brand. It’s pretty common knowledge that processed foods and ready meals often contain lots of “nasties”, even if they are advertised as health foods, vegan, plant-based, low fat, high fibre, the list goes on. But what about simple things like plant milk or peanut butter?
It’s astonishing what you find in certain soya milks or yogurts for example, when the exact same product from a different brand contains a fraction of the ingredients. You can usually tell by the price as - with food like with most other things – you get what you pay for (ironically you pay more for less ingredients).
While it makes sense to add certain vitamins and minerals to plant-based foods I don’t want them to be loaded with stabilisers, emulsifiers, thickeners, acidity regulators, flavouring and so on. The reason for many of these additives is to make them cheaper and to increase their shelf life, sometimes to make them more appealing too (in most cases by making them sweeter or saltier than they need to be).
From an ethical and sustainable point of view I’m personally all for plant based meat replacements and vegan cheese. Although often not particularly healthy as they tend to contain similar amounts of saturated fat and sodium as the “real thing”, they can be a great way to satisfy meat and cheese cravings and help people lower their consumption of animal products without feeling like they have to give up that pleasure.
From a health point of view I have learned that it’s a good idea to read the small print and check exactly what is inside a product regardless of all the bold health claims you often find on packaging. Plant-based foods are a real trend (which is great!), but any food is only ever as good as its ingredients and when these read like the manual to a chemistry experiment then I usually decide to stay away (think Methylcellulose, Carrageenan, Dextrose, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate/ Lactate/ Acetate, Pea/ Soy Protein Isolate, modified starch etc.). They may be safe for human consumption, certainly if eaten in moderation, but they definitely don’t add any nutritional value to a food and quite often you’ll find a better alternative if you look a little further.