Your go-to guide to navigating the supermarket for all of your plant-based needs. From the best products in the freezer section to all the must-have whole-grain bread and cereals.

Kelly Plowe, M.S., R.D.
December 08, 2020
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Over the past few years, our traditional, meat-heavy, Western diets have been on the decline, taking a back seat to more plant-based diets or even the vegan diet. Yes, they don't always mean the same thing, which can be confusing, we know.

Research shows plant-centric diets are typically healthier than diets that include meat, dairy, and eggs, resulting in better health outcomes like reduced inflammation and reduced risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes (try some of these top inflammation-fighting foods).

But just eliminating animal products like beef, fish, eggs, and milk won't cut it. If you're trying to improve or maintain your health, you need to focus on eating whole foods (versus ultra-processed). A recent study found that plant-based diet or not, eating a diet high in whole foods versus consuming a predominantly ultra-processed diet led to eating 500 fewer calories per day, without even trying to limit intake. (Try our 30-Day Whole Food Challenge to help cut down on processed foods in your diet.)

When following a plant-based diet, planning in advance will help you eat a variety of foods and most importantly, get adequate amounts of important nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins B12 and D.

This is where a plant-based shopping list comes in! This grocery list is primarily focused on important whole foods that should make up the bulk of your diet, but it also features a few items like burgers and dessert that can be enjoyed on occasion. We've included fruits, vegetables, grains, protein-rich foods, nuts, seeds, dairy alternatives and also included some of our favorite brands to look for at the store.

Produce

  • Apples
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Bagged greens and salads
  • Beets
  • Bell pepper
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Dried fruit (apples, apricots, banana slices, etc.)
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Kiwifruit
  • Leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine, etc.)
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Zucchini

Why they're good for you: Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense. Eating a variety is important so that you get a mix of different plant compounds and nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

What to look for: When making your weekly shopping list, keep in mind that you need about five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Unfortunately, only 10% of Americans eat enough produce. You'll also find dried fruit in the produce section—the portion size is one-fourth of a cup.

Whole-Grain Products

Why they're good for you: Whole grains provide a variety of nutrients like iron, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, copper, and selenium. They're also a source of fiber and protein.

What to look for: Whole-grain products are typically found in three sections: whole grains, cereal aisle, and bakery/breads. You'll also find a few options in the snack aisle and freezer section.

Shopping for whole grains can be tricky. A recent study from Tufts University found that many consumers have trouble identifying whole grains and are unsure of the amount of whole grains a product contains. Look for the Whole Grains Stamp on products and the word "whole" listed before a grain, like "whole-wheat" or "whole-grain" in the ingredients list.

Legumes

Why they're good for you: There are nine essential amino acids. Essential means we must get them from our diet—our bodies don't make them—and most plant proteins tend to be low in the amino acid, lysine. Legumes, on the other hand, are unique in that they contain lysine, making them an important part of a plant-based diet. Legumes are also a good source of fiber, iron, potassium, and folate.

What to look for: You can find most beans and peas in canned and dry form. Look for beans and peas that are "low in sodium" or have "no salt added" mentioned on the label. You can also rinse them to remove any residual sodium. Canned and dry are both good for you—canned products just save you time in the kitchen.

Edamame is often found in the frozen section and hummus is refrigerated. When shopping for peanut butter, look for options with just peanuts and salt (optional). Avoid products with added sugar or palm oil.

Nuts and Seeds

Why they're good for you: We often think of nuts and seeds as a source of healthy fats (and they are), but they're also a good source of fiber and protein. For instance, a serving of pistachios has 6 grams of plant-based protein (the same amount found in an egg) and chia seeds have 5 grams. Nuts and seeds are also a source of different nutrients, depending on the type—walnuts, hemp seeds, and flax seeds all contain omega-3 fatty acids, while almonds are a good source of vitamin E.

What to look for: When buying whole nuts, avoid products that have been roasted in oil (versus dry-roasted). Also, skip options that are heavily salted or overly sweetened. When it comes to nut butter, the ingredients should be simple—just the nut or seed and salt (optional). Avoid nut and seed butter with added sugar or palm oil.

Dairy and Egg Alternatives

Why they're good for you: Non-dairy milk can be a good source of protein and calcium and/or vitamin D if fortified. Some yogurts provide protein as well, along with probiotics. When it comes to cheeses and butter, they're not necessarily nutritious, but they do help make following a plant-based diet easier, especially if you're new to this way of eating.

What to look for: When shopping for non-dairy milk and yogurt, look for options with minimal added sugars—unsweetened and plain are best, respectively. They should have protein added, too, about 5 grams or more per serving. With cheeses and butter, look for products with minimal ingredients and those that use healthier sources of fat and oils like nuts, avocados, and olive oil.

Meat Alternatives

Why they're good for you: These plant-based meat alternatives are typically lower in saturated fat compared to animal proteins, especially red meat. They're also an easy way to get a large dose of protein.

What to look for: You want to look for products that are as minimally processed as possible. The burger options should be enjoyed more sparingly. The bulk of your plant-based diet should come from whole foods.

Snacks

Why they're good for you: Snacks are great for holding you over between meals and are an opportunity to add in more nourishing foods and nutrients. Look for options that help you meet your fruit and vegetable quote or perhaps they increase your protein intake. Sometimes, snacks help to fill a craving and there are healthier options to do this, too.

What to look for: It depends on the snack, but in general, look for products that are low in added salt and saturated fat and have minimal added sugars as well.

Freezer Section

Why good for you: Frozen foods can save you time and cut down on food waste, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce is already washed and in most cases, chopped, and it can last for months in the freezer. Frozen entrees can save you if you're in a pinch and there are many plant-based breakfast items to be enjoyed on occasion. The same goes for dessert, while not necessarily nutritious, they can certainly be enjoyed from time to time.

What to look for: Avoid fruits and vegetables that are packed in syrups or sauces. They can be high in sodium or added sugar. Entrees can be high in sodium, too. Aim for a product with less than 30% of your daily sodium needs (if you're enjoying it as a meal). Try to keep desserts simple. Built-in portion control, like with the mochi and popsicles is helpful, too.