Processed food can be tasty, but isn’t the healthiest choice.
Gone are the days when vegans had to buy basic ingredients and cook everything from scratch. As the food industry harnesses the power of the vegan pound, the range of vegan foods available is expanding rapidly. An increase in animal-free alternatives is welcome, but what might be the implications for vegan diets?
What is junk food?
Today, there’s an abundance of junk food available to vegans, which can be defined as pre-prepared food with low nutritional value. Put another way, this type of food is convenient, highly processed and laden with added sugar, fat or salt. Mock meat, pastry products and non-dairy ice cream are examples of foods that might fit into this category.
Why limit it?
Processing can increase a food’s environmental footprint and strip away good stuff. For example, white wheat flour is less nutritious than wholemeal flour because fibre-rich and nutrient-dense parts of the grain have been removed. Processing may also involve bulking out a product with less nutritious ingredients. A vegetable burger can contain a lot of breadcrumbs, flour and potato, none of which help it to be a nutritious alternative to meat. Another issue is the addition of fat, sugar and salt. Did you know that two soya sausages might contain nearly as much salt as two rashers of bacon?
Don’t miss out
Some types of junk food can be cheap, but there are lots of healthier ways of getting nutritional bang for your buck. For example, large bags of red split lentils and frozen fruit and vegetables are great value for money.
Furthermore, processed foods can often be pricey compared to basic plant foods. Relying on convenience food can limit the amount of money available for buying health-promoting fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and nuts. For many, going vegan is an opportunity to eat better by preparing simple, tasty meals.
It’s not all bad news
You can be kind to animals and lower your environmental footprint by switching to plant-based food. It might be lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre than the animal-based equivalent, and it may even provide some 5-a-day goodness. Processed meat, like sausages and cured meat, is classed as an agent that causes cancer by the World Health Organization, so arguably, animal-free alternatives are always a healthier option.
Let’s strive to eat in a way that’s good for us, good for animals and good for the planet. Maximise the quality of your diet by limiting processed options laden with added sugar, fat and salt and eating plenty of healthy plant foods like vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and nuts.
For more information about vegan nutrition, check out vegansociety.com/nutrition, including the new VNutrition app.
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Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society. www.vegansociety.com