Going vegan isn’t an automatic route to good health. If you find yourself low on energy, gaining weight or bored, you may be falling into a poor-diet trap. These traps can affect vegans, vegetarians and carnivores. In the next few posts, I’ll explore each of them and give you some suggestions on how to make a vegan diet really work for you.
Trap 1: Eating Junk
Just because a food is vegan doesn’t mean it is healthy. The food world sells unhealthy foods with and without animal products, so you can’t let your guard down. For example, Swedish fish, Lay’s potato chips, DumDums, Cracker Jack, Oreos, Airhead’s taffy and 7 Eleven’s select cherry snack pie all make PETA’s snack list. I don’t for a moment think anyone would call these health foods.
You can eat a junky, processed diet as a vegan just as effectively as you can as an omnivore. Have a bagel with soy cream cheese for breakfast, a couple of vegan dogs for lunch on white buns and a bowl of white pasta with jarred sauce for dinner and call yourself a vegan – but you certainly won’t win any nutritional awards. People usually follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons – that doesn’t mean they necessarily care about their health. Just like you have to take control of your own health as an ominivore, you have to do it as a vegan too.
A processed vegan diet that mimics the Standard American Diet is equally SAD. Instead, a healthy vegan diet that promotes weight maintenance and good health should contain mostly plant foods…real plant foods. This isn’t rocket science: think leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula), green veggies (green beans, zucchini, asparagus), starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, winter squash), whole grains (barley, faro), pseudo grains (quinoa, amaranth), legumes (lentils, black beans, chick peas), soy products…in moderation…(tofu, tempeh), fruits and nuts (almonds and walnuts.) You don’t have to eat only these foods – sometimes you can have a treat just like you do on any sensible ominivorous diet. But, think about limiting processed vegan food as much as you’d limit processed animal-containing food; vegan yogurts, vegan cheese, vegan burgers and dogs and nuggets, meat substitutes, refined crackers, white pasta and breads and, of course, sweet treats are not staples.
Next time, we’ll talk about calories — consuming enough can be a problem for some vegans.