Processed Foods

12 Jul

I’ve heard that certain chocolate, frosting-filled sandwich cookies, fresh fries, and potato chips are all vegan.  One of my favorite documentaries on vegan diets actually provides a long list of food favorites that are, allegedly (I say that because they probably are, but I haven’t actually read the nutrition labels on all these items) vegan.  Hyper-palatable, hard to eat just one bite, incredibly salty and sugary, comfort foods are included.  Sounds like a miracle, right?  Imagine dipping your favorite sandwich cookie into that organic, non-GMO soy milk before bed?  I don’t tell people what to do and I try not to criticize, but for myself, I stay away from the processed foods.  I think a healthy diet contains as few of them as possible, given the limitations of human willpower.

A vegan diet for me is intended to meet one goal more than any other – to keep me healthy.  A diet heavy in processed foods, in my opinion, is a step away from that goal.  Nutrient density is something worth considering before we consume anything, even if it’s only a small taste.   A lot of people have a tough time stopping after a small sample of hyper-palatable food.  Will a single French fry destroy your life?  I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, but I’m guessing the answer is no.  But, maybe it’s never just one French fry for you and that’s really the bigger issue.  After all, isn’t that what the French fry people are counting on when formulating their product?

Just because you eat a vegan diet doesn’t mean you’re making good dietary choices.  Nutrient-dense foods, with more healthful benefits calorie for calorie, are probably much better than highly processed, hyper-palatable, nutritionally void foods.  Think potato chips versus zucchini chips or catchup versus hummus.

I strive for minimally processed vegan foods.  I am a passionate coffee drinker and I love my coffee with milk.  Since I don’t consume diary, that generally leaves highly processed alternatives.  I find most non-dairy creamers to be, well, dairy.  Read your ingredients and you’ll see not only transfats (which producers can disclaim because as long as their products have only a little transfat, they are able to say they are transfat-free), but also casein, a dairy derivative.  In addition to hydrogenated fats and dairy, many non-dairy creamers contain numerous addition chemicals that I can’t pronounce, much less spell.

Then there are nut milks – soy, almond, cashew, coconut, etc.  There are also oat, hemp, rice and flax varieties of non-dairy milks.  These tend to be in a liquid form (as opposed to the powdered form of many traditional non-dairy creamers).  These are generally dairy-free, but sadly, they tend to be highly processed foods fraught with chemicals, fats and sugars. Many of the nut milks are very popular, especially the flavored versions (they tend to come in vanilla and chocolate), but again, not quite the the healthful alternative one might hope. And not entirely functional as coffee creamer, for the most part.  But, I’ll get into the quality of non-dairy beverages in another post.  That, and vegan cheese.

The point is this – don’t take for granted a vegan food is a healthy food.  While I believe many vegan options are excellent dietary choices (fruits and vegetables in their whole forms), highly processed foods are probably not. I stick to whole grains (and not any quick-cooking or instant varieties – the good stuff takes time to prepare), beans, fruits and vegetables.  I also limit my bread intake, keeping it to a treat a few times per week rather than a staple with my meals.  Sweeteners of any kind are off my menu, except in very limited circumstances or on special occasions.  Because of the high calories relative to nutrients, I also limit oil, especially butter alternatives.

With all the wonderful options available with whole vegan foods, I’m not often tempted to stray too far.  Did I mention that coffee is a minimally processed vegan choice? Eat well, friends.




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