I’m not a vegan. I love boiled eggs in my salad. Though I don’t anticipate going back to the heavy taste of regular cheddar cheese, on occasion I do like mozzarella cheese melted on my veggie burgers. Just those two admissions cancel the vegan membership I thought I wanted four years ago when I transitioned from vegetarian. Since then I’ve learned a couple of things. Number one: while I enjoyed the weight drop and light-weight feeling that came with it, I felt a dietary restriction that I had no intention of committing the rest of my life to. Number two: I LOVE bread! And number three: I thought that following a vegan lifestyle automatically improved my long-term health.
Not so at all.
I will say that my physicals have awarded me a clean bill of health and I’m grateful for that. To follow a vegan diet – meaning no meat, dairy or animal products of any kind – is to enjoy a life of low-cholesterol and low-fat, both of which are touted to severely reduce the risk of heart disease. Many people believe that vegan definition means that all vegans can eat are fruits, vegetables. Not so at all. A consciously healthy vegan diet includes all beans and lentils (protein), non-dairy milks (calcium), along with fruits, veggies, rice, and potatoes, which offer good carbohydrates, good fats (avocado), and essential nutrients.
However, the problem with that vegan definition is that it gives a thumbs up to high-fat, high salt, and empty calorie food choices, and they all come from processed foods – the REAL enemy of good nutrition.
Labels are powerful. So when I labelled myself a vegan four years ago, I cut out any foods that I thought were animal related. Dairy and cake products were easy. I’m a label-reader so when I discovered that beef fat was one of the ingredients in Ho-Hos, I had no problem walking away since I’m not much of a sweets eater anyway. Salty products are my weakness. As long as I THOUGHT chips, pretzels, and the like were vegan no-nos, I was fine. But as I said, labels are powerful. I believed vegan – no heavy artery-clogging animal fat equaled healthier food choices. But what about the sodium which can lead to high blood pressure? What about the sugar, which when eaten in excess turns to fat in the body? Look at the sodium content in these VEGAN foods:
- Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Chips: 140 calories and 270 mg of sodium in a single serving bag.
- Munchos (my fave chips): 160 calories and 230 mg of sodium in a 1 ounce serving. Keep in mind that most times, Munchos chips are only available in the larger-size bag, which has 4.5, 1-oz servings. So eating that whole bag is 720 calories, and over 1,000 mg of sodium!
- Red Bull Energizer Drinks: 168 calories, 140 mg of sodium and 111 mg of caffeine. (Just thought I’d throw that in there)
These are just a few foods. PETA has a whole list of “Accidentally Vegan Foods” that you can see here if you’re interested.
Balancing Processed Foods
With so many unhealthy foods available for vegans, by labelling myself a vegan I felt like I was giving myself permission to eat whatever foods didn’t have animal products. Now I know that I didn’t have to CHOOSE to eat those foods, but an emotional eater like me needs a clear-cut process.
So even though, with the exception of eggs and mozzarella cheese on occasion, I’m still meatless, dairy-less with plans to stay that way. And with a balanced mindset, I’ll enjoy a 1-oz portion of Munchos, bake some home-made challah (bread), or prepare a batch of peanut butter balls. Processed foods, even ones with the vegan okay, are the real nutritional problems because the process adds extra salt, extra sugar and extra fat.
By balancing my vegan, clean-eating, and processed-foods-in-moderation mindset, I feel like I’ve found a health regimen that works for me, and one I’ll stick to.