There always seems to be this impression that being vegan or eating vegan foods means healthy. Maybe, once upon a time, this was true as until recently there was very little plant-based options in mainstream grocery stores so people opted for fruit, veg, grains, nuts and seeds. However, we are lucky enough to live in a world today were there are endless plant-based options. You can get decent vegan options of practically any food including burgers, pizza, cheese, cream, streaky bacon, etc.. The list is endless. But if a burger is vegan does that automatically mean it is healthier than its beef counterpart? Well it really depends on the brand, the ingredients and the nutrition you are expecting to get from it.
At the end of the day, vegan or not, processed food is processed food. They are filled with just as many preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners. Safefood Ireland found that a quarter of meat substitutes contain insufficient protein (that is if you are relying solely on them as a protein source in replacement of meat). They can also be high in fats and salts. Having said that, some of them are lower in saturated fat and are a good source of fibre in comparison to their meat counterpart.
The same can be said for vegan treats such as chocolate, ice-cream and crisps. Just because they’re vegan, doesn’t mean they are better for you. For example, Hunky Dory’s Cheese and Onion flavour are vegan. However their Sour Cream and Onion are not. Does that make the Cheese and Onion flavour healthier? not at all. In fact their nutritional values are both pretty much the same. It’s also important to note that refined sugar is vegan. Therefore, plant-based foods can be just as full of it as any other food. Vegan chocolate is a good example of this.
This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t eat these foods if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. However, I try to eat them in moderation and not include them as a regular food in my diet but if I want a burger or some cheese I will have them. I also try to read the ingredients on products before buying them and I will opt for versions with more whole foods and less nasties.
The bottom line is that if you choose a plant-based lifestyle for its health benefits then you are more than likely going to be focusing on whole-foods rather than processed ones. However, it’s great to know that those options are available when you need or want them.