Skip to main content

Dietitian E-News July 2020: Trends in Plant-Based Eating

Plant-based eating has been trending steadily upwards for the past several years. Read more for tips and news on how almonds are a mainstay for your recommendations.


Plant-based eating has been trending steadily upwards for the past several years, but a recent blog post from the Hartman Group suggests that with the increased attention on health and wellness surrounding COVID-19, “plant-based eating certainly has the potential to gain further traction among consumers.”

Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes have, of course, long been the basis of healthy eating recommendations in the US Dietary Guidelines and in other dietary recommendations around the world. While the plant-based concept is not new to RDNs, the lingo can be confusing to consumers. Some people mistakenly consider plant-based eating on par with vegetarian or vegan diets, but flexitarian eating or a Mediterranean diet probably come closest to describing a plant-based style. Unlike vegans, for example, who eschew animal foods based on a philosophy of animal rights, people who decide to eat plant-based tend to do so for health reasons.

A new survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) confirms the Hartman Group’s prediction that interest in plant-based foods is growing: 28% of respondents to the IFIC survey say they are eating more protein from plant sources, 24% are eating more plant-based dairy alternatives and 17% are eating more plant-based meat alternatives compared to 2019. These increases may be tied to a health halo associated with the term plant-based: more than four in 10 consumers (43%) think that a product described as “plant-based” would be healthier than one that is not, even if it had the exact same Nutrition Facts label. 

It’s important to remind consumers that plant-based alternatives to some of their favorite foods are great options, but so are the “originals” - fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, whole grains, canned or dried beans and lentils, and naturally nutritious, shelf-stable almonds, other nuts and seeds.

Plant-based is an eating style that seems likely to staying power even as we move into our new normal, down the road.

We just relaunched our website so take a few minutes to check it out. You’ll find lots of great new info there along with our oldies but goodies. Wishing you a happy start to summer!

Plant-Forward Fare

Sample Post: Whole wheat noodles, crisp snow peas, broccoli and red bell pepper are accented by garnishes of scallion and crunchy sliced #almonds. But the showstopper to this dish is the spicy #almond sauce that packs a wallop of heat.

RESEARCH UPDATE: Examining the Link Between Almonds and Healthy Habits

People are always looking for the best tips for maintaining a healthy body weight and being in top health – without overhauling their entire lives.  Recent research by King’s College in London looked at the link between British almond eaters and their nutrient intakes, as well as some health measures.1

This UK research is actually the second analysis of population-based survey data showing that almond intake is associated with higher diet quality scores. The first study looked at US participants using data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) and found similar connections between almond intake – usual intake of about an ounce of almond in the course of a day – in diet quality scores and other health measures2. Specific highlights from this NHANES analysis included:

  • Almond eaters who typically consumed an average of an ounce of almonds per day were more likely to be physically active and less likely to smoke, suggesting that eating almonds is associated with healthier lifestyle patterns.
  • Consumption of almonds was associated with higher intake of several nutrients identified as nutrients of public health concern, including dietary fiber. Almond consumers had higher intakes of other “shortfall nutrients” including vitamins A, D, E, and C; folate; and magnesium versus non-consumers.
  • Almond eaters had other healthy dietary habits including consuming less total sugar, less added sugar and less saturated fat.
  • Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were both lower in almond eaters than non-almond eaters.

Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES; 2001-2010) to look at the association between almond consumption and dietary adequacy and diet quality of American adults, along with other lifestyle components. Adults ages 19 years and older (n = 24,808) from across the United States were included. Almond consumers (n=395) were defined as those who reported consuming almonds or almond butter during at least one of their two 24-hour diet recalls.

The diet quality element of the research was determined by using the USDA-developed Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2010 score (100 points is a top score) and component scores.  The HEI-2010 total score was about 15 points higher in almond consumers than non-consumers.  Nearly all diet component scores were better in almond consumers.  Interestingly, almond consumers had higher HEI scores for high-fiber foods, total vegetables, greens and beans, and total/whole fruit.

This study suggests that almond consumers may have healthier overall lifestyle components than non-consumers, and that regular consumption of almonds should be encouraged as part of a healthy dietary pattern.  Currently, less than 2% of US adults regularly eats almonds, which represents a large percentage of the population that might benefit from replacing empty-calorie snacks with almonds. The healthier habits associated with those who eat almonds may inspire wellness seekers to try this healthy grab-n-go snack.

Although eating almonds may not necessarily be the cause of these healthier lifestyle factors, there is something about the portfolio of healthier habits associated with people who choose almonds.  Study limitations also include the reliance on self-reported dietary intake collected during 24-hour dietary recalls, as well as the possibility that almond consumers were misclassified, and there is a potential for residual confounding.

The unique nutrient package in almonds provides 160 calories with 6 grams of plant protein, 4 grams of filling dietary fiber, 13 grams of unsaturated fats,  50% of the Daily Value for vitamin E and 20% of the Daily Value for magnesium in each one ounce healthy handful.

Helpful Handouts

Visit our Dietitian Tools for more great resources for you and your clients. 

Here are two that are particularly relevant for discussing plant-based eating:

1 Dikariyanto, V., Berry, S.E., Francis, L. et al. Whole almond consumption is associated with better diet quality and cardiovascular disease risk factors in the UK adult population: National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) 2008–2017. Eur J Nutr (2020).

2 O'Neil, C.E., T.A. Nicklas, V.L. Fulgoni III. 2016. Almond consumption is associated with better nutrient intake, nutrient adequacy, and diet quality in adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010 Food And Nutrition Sciences 7:504-515.