Is vegan food healthy? Not always! A vegan diet can be incredibly healthy, but it can also be packed with plant-based junk food. Find out how to tell the difference.
There is a joke that I like to make whenever I bring vegan cupcakes to a potluck and someone says they want a second one, but they shouldn’t. “But they’re vegan,” I say. “They’re practically broccoli!”
The thing is, vegan baked goods are definitely not broccoli. A vegan cupcake is cruelty free, and it might contain fewer saturated fats then a conventional cupcake, but one thing it definitely is not is health food. A cupcake is an indulgence, vegan or not.
Is vegan food healthy? How to tell!
Just like almost any special diet, vegan food can be very healthy if you stick to unprocessed, whole foods.
Related Reading: Vegetarianism: Great for your heart if you avoid these foods.
Load up your plate with fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, and nuts, and you are looking at a satisfying, healthy meal, but I know plenty of people who eat vegan and don’t eat a healthy diet at all.
I call this type of vegan diet “Potato Chip Vegan.”
Many varieties of potato chips are totally free of animal products, and that means that they are – by definition – vegan. Does that mean that they are healthy? No way! Potato chips are deep fried and then doused with salt and artificial flavoring. That sort of food is just not good for your body.
Here are some examples of foods that are totally vegan and totally unhealthy:
- potato chips – Most potato chips are vegan. Some do contain dairy products, though. One thing that they all have in common: they are not healthy.
- vegan cupcakes, cookies, pies, and candy – Did you know that Oreos and Twizzlers are vegan? Deliciously animal product free? Yes! Healthy? No!
- french fries – Deep fried and covered in salt, fries are usually free of animal products, unless they’re fried in animal fats.
- packaged granola bars – These are loaded with sugar and refined grains.
- crescent roll or biscuit dough that comes in a tube – Yep! Many of these are vegan, but they’re loaded with processed ingredients.
What do these foods have in common? They’re all processed. The trick to making your vegan diet a healthy one is to kick the processed food habit. That even means cutting down on packaged organic snacks. If you’re going to choose processed foods, picking cruelty-free, organic snacks is better for the planet, but chances are it’s no better for your body than its conventional cousins.
Of course, you don’t need processed food to eat a vegan diet. Sure, there are processed fake meat and dairy products, but they are by no means a requirement. A balanced diet packed with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains is the ticket to an unprocessed, healthy vegan lifestyle.
Healthy Vegan Food
Asking “Is vegan food healthy?” is as broad as asking “Is food healthy?” Some vegan foods are great for you, and some are sometimes foods. It’s all about what you put in your shopping cart. We looked at some examples of processed vegan foods above. Now let’s check out some healthy, whole food vegan recipes that celebrate what’s great about eating vegan:
- Easy Ginger-Sesame Kale
- Maque Choux Soup
- Red Lentils with Tamarind
- Pearl Cous Cous Salad with Grilled Peaches
- Smoky Avocado and Caramelized Onion Crostini
- Almost Raw Corn and Black Bean Chips
From snacks to main dishes, vegan food is really as healthy as you make it. If you load up on potato chips and Oreos, you’re not going to see any improvements in your health. Stock your kitchen with fresh foods, and you are ready to reap the health benefits that come with a whole food vegan diet.
Image Credits: photos by Becky Striepe