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Kira Karapetian

By: Kira Karapetian on January 16th, 2018

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Shop Your Diet Series: Part II: Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Trends & Research

It’s two weeks into the new year and how many of us are still sticking to that diet resolution? I hope many of you are still inspired to eat healthy and finding ways to keep shopping for that new diet. While willpower plays a big role in how well you keep your resolution, but being armed with the right nutritional information about foods can give you an advantage, too. With help from Label Insight, your 2018 diet may be your most successful.

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In this second edition of our series on shopping your diet – the first was on the Paleo diet – we are looking at food through the eyes of a vegetarian. There are an estimated 8 million vegetarians (includes vegans) in the U.S. according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. A vegetarian is someone who abstains from eating meat such as beef, chicken, pork or fish. A vegan, however, goes further by also abstaining from eating food products produced by living animals, such as milk from cows or goats, or eggs from chickens. I note this distinction as we’ll address some vegan concerns here as well.

We asked our resident Vegan at Label Insight, Matthew Klinger, for his thoughts on the subject. Here's what he had to say: "The facts are out and the movement is spreading. People are learning that they can gain health and variety without compromising on taste. Just about every type of meal can be made with plant protein instead of animal protein, so there's nothing you really have to 'give up'. The goal is just to start adding more and more plants (fruits, veggies, nuts, grains and seeds) to your diet incrementally and seeing how it makes you feel. I started feeling so great that I never wanted to back to what I was eating before." 

Shopping Vegetarian - It’s More than Just Broccoli for Dinner

Our database identified nearly 150,000 food and beverage products that are considered vegetarian based on their ingredients -- that amounts to 47% of all the food products in the Label Insight database. That alone makes it sound pretty easy to shop vegetarian. Let’s look at where you are most likely to find those products in the grocery store.

The top aisle to shop if you are vegetarian may not be the most healthy…snacks, candy and cookies lead the way. But other aisles that contain a good number of vegetarian options are soups and other canned goods, dairy, frozen foods and finally grains and pasta. Quinoa and other grains can be a good source of protein for vegetarians.

Once we dig down further, the number one shelf to browse if you are vegetarian is the one with all of the delicious cheese, followed by canned beans and soup. And don’t miss the shelves with popcorn, peanuts, seeds and similar snacks – they contain the most vegetarian ingredients, followed by pre-packaged fruits and vegetables; herbs and spices; candy; and then pickles, olives, peppers and relishes. And don’t forget salsa – another top category with vegetarian ingredients – so vegetarians have no trouble getting their dip on.

Perhaps surprisingly one of the top ranked categories for vegetarians is chocolate bars. Taken further, chocolate is one of the categories with the most vegetarian-certified products…wait, what?

Getting Vegetarian Certified

Some products have been independently certified vegetarian by a third-party organization. The certification is meant to reinforce the vegetarian marketing appeal of a product but buyers should still do their homework to make sure the product meets their individual needs. Products most likely to be vegetarian-certified are snacks, cookies and candy; cereal and other breakfast foods; grain and pasta; the bakery aisle and the dairy case. Within the snacks, cookies and candy, chocolate is the most likely to be certified as vegetarian. Perhaps we just need to feel a little bit good about indulging in our favorite treat.

Watch Out for Animal By-Products

If you are strictly staying away from animal products (vegans are in this group), then reading those ingredient panels is still important, even when you wouldn’t necessarily think that they contain meat. Animal by-products are products harvested or manufactured from livestock other than muscle meat, such as fat, blood, milk and eggs. Among products that are considered vegetarian, Label Insight’s database includes more than 35,000 items that contain animal by-products and 29,000 that “may contain” animal by-products. This means a little extra work for vegans to find products that comply with their diet standard.

If you are avoiding these animal by-products, take extra care when buying common vegetarian foods such as chocolates, ice cream, nuts and trail mix, yogurt, cookies, jam and jelly, candy - even marshmallows - and honey. Commonly used ingredients that may contain animal by-products include sugar; natural flavor; glycerine or glycerol; natural and artificial flavoring; and lactic acid. So while natural flavoring and ingredients may sound appealing, these can mean ingredients that are sourced from livestock.

So How Hard Is It to Shop a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet?

To be sure, consumers trying to adhere to a strict vegan diet may find it hard to determine which products – or which specific ingredients – qualify. But overall, shopping a vegetarian diet is very doable as long as you continue to check those labels.

"It's much easier and cheaper than most people think. You'll look great, lose weight and feel younger while saving money on groceries and reducing your impact on the environment - what is not to love?" - Matthew Klingner, Vegan, Customer Success Associate at Label Insight

Our next installment of “shop your diet” will evaluate the trendy ketogenic high fat, low-carb diet. 

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