HEALTHY OR NOT?
BY VIRGINIA CUNNINGHAM, LA BASED HEALTH AND WELLNESS FREELANCE WRITER
So, you’ve just gone vegan for your health, for ethical reasons and possibly for the environment. As long as you compensate for the protein loss of animal products, it’s all good, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of products out there that can, in good faith, claim to be vegan, but that can be, in reality, very unhealthy for you.
Here is a rogue’s gallery of nefarious vegan processed foods that are commonly accepted as “health food” and the dangers each poses:
For many people, tofu symbolizes the idea of a healthy, meat-free diet. Unfortunately, it can lead to a whole complex of imbalances and digestive problems. First of all, tofu is made from soy, which means you’re taking in high levels of phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors. These not only make tofu hard to digest, they can also block proper absorption of essential minerals and vitamins.
Furthermore, soy contains phytoestrogens, a chemical that can throw your hormone levels off kilter. This can cause irregular menstrual cycles among women and mood swings in nearly everyone.
To make matters worse, most tofu that is sold in America is highly processed and nearly all of it is genetically modified, therefore, if you can’t part with tofu, make sure it’s organic. Better yet, eat sprouted tofu.
Since soy is best digested when fermented, if you want to rely on it as a protein alternative, consider tempeh or miso. And, though the aroma and consistency are off-putting to some people, the Asian superfood natto is another fermented soy option.
One of the biggest challenges for vegans and vegetarians is getting adequate protein intake in the absence of meat and dairy. With this in mind, whey, soy or rice additives are a common go-to. The problem is that these staples of protein shakes and smoothies are likely to include artificial flavoring and may present to problems of GMOs in soy.
If you still want a convenient way of getting non-animal proteins into your diet, make sure you buy New Zealand whey protein isolate.
Many vegans and vegetarians grew up in meat-eating households and find cravings for bacon or sausage hard to bury. In the last twenty years, veggie dinners and freezer aisles have began to offer meat-tooth simulations with names like “Fakin’” or “Tofurky” that seem too good to be true. In fact, they are.
A quick glance at almost any of the many soy-meat substitutes’ ingredient list will disabuse people who think they’re getting a “natural” alternative to meats. The endless list of processed ingredients is enough to make a chemistry major wince. Furthermore, since many vegan/vegetarians adopt their diet for environmental reasons, the fact that these non-animal protein sources are bad for Mother Earth’s health is a double whammy.
The “vegetable” part of the equation can be a smokescreen for vegetarians who think they’re getting a healthful alternative to animal oils and fats. While it’s true that canola or sunflower oils are vegan, there are few food products that can compete with the harmful effects of vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils contain polyunsaturated fats—fats our bodies are not meant to digest. On a chemical level, polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and likely to oxidize, which increases cell mutation. As you may guess, mutations increase the likelihood of cancer, reproductive problems and heart issues—a bitter irony, since many vegetable oils are touted as “heart smart.”
For the very same reasons, margarines and butter substitutes are to be avoided. Instead, turn to coconut, olive and palm oils for delicious cooking alternatives.
Maintaining a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet is more difficult than it seems. Always be sure to check out the ingredients listed on all of your food items that claim to be “heart-smart” and when in doubt, go for organic.
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who covers everything from health and wellness to marketing and technology. She currently writes for NorthwestPharmacy.com, which enables her to advocate for healthier lifestyles through vitamins and supplements.