The vegan diet-one that contains no meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal-derived ingredients-is gaining popularity as a road to weight loss and overall health. However, like any wellness trend, it is important to understand the myths and realities in order to take the proper approach. Should you choose to switch to a vegan diet, or even just try a few vegan meals, there are some things that you should keep in mind.
Vegan or not, it’s important to read nutrition labels on any item you’re planning to try. Even if a product declares itself to be certified vegan, it still may contain unhealthy ingredients. There are also foods that are “accidentally vegan”-foods that contain no animal-based ingredients, but aren’t necessarily good for you. Things like soda, Oreos, certain varieties of Doritos, and Sour Patch Kids all qualify as vegan, but are by no means health foods.
Beware of Faux Meats
Frozen veggie burgers, faux sausages, imitation deli meats, and tofu hot dogs are helpful to those first making the switch to veganism. Their resemblance to familiar meat products can ease the dietary transition, but beware of making a steady diet of them. Though they are generally lower in fat and calories than their animal counterparts and have no cholesterol, faux meats are processed products. Like all processed foods, they can contain high levels of sodium, flavor enhancers, and preservatives. Some use egg whites or cheese as binding agents and are therefore not vegan. Faux meats are also high in protein, which is fine in moderation but can cause unpleasant health problems when consumed in excess.
Treats Are Still Treats
Cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, cheesecake-all of these are considered special treats. But if someone offered you a vegan version, would you be right to assume it was “better” for you? The answer is both yes and no. Vegan desserts lack certain ingredients that are considered unhealthy, such as butter, eggs, and cream, so they are cholesterol-free and generally lower in saturated fats. However, vegans do bake with oils and butter substitutes, as well as sugars or other sweeteners. The bottom line? Whether vegan or not, desserts should be considered a treat.
Vegan vs. Whole Foods
By now you may be asking yourself, if all of this stuff is vegan, why is veganism considered so healthy? The trend towards veganism involves more than just eating veggie burgers in place of beef. Many vegans take an overall approach to dietary health, moving away from mass-produced, processed products and towards whole grains, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables. When these changes are made, the diet contains more important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals packaged as nature intended. Saturated fat intake is lowered and cholesterol intake is eliminated. Eating more whole, fresh foods also means taking in fewer chemicals such as artificial coloring and preservatives. Overall, the body begins to receive the nutrients it needs without the potential health hazards of manmade food additives.
If you wish to transition to a vegan diet, keep these tips in mind. Strive to seek fresh foods and whole grains whenever possible while keeping processed food intake to a minimum. By taking dietary steps to improve your personal health, you can lower your risk of chronic disease, bring down cholesterol levels, and begin a journey to greater wellness.