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Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

04 Dec 2017

vegan food products are not always the healthier option

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, December 04, 2017

The vegan diet is one that is exclusively plant-based and excludes any food derived from animals including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. According to Google Trends, interest in veganism is exploding; searches for the word ‘vegan’ have tripled over the past 5 years. Australia shows the most interest in vegan foods, followed by Canada and the United States. Vegan diet followers typically do so for a combination of: ethical reasons (not killing animals for food), environmental reasons (generally, plant foods have a smaller environmental footprint than animal foods), or health reasons (they believe a plant-only diet is better for them). It’s this last health-related reason we’re examining in this post.

Foods marketed as vegan have a perceived health halo but are they always the healthier option? Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are nutritious options, no question. But like many food and diet trends, when opportunity knocks the market answers with a myriad of products of varying nutritional quality. We take a closer look at the nutritional profile of some good and not-so-good vegan products.

 THE GOOD: good options for meat-free eating

Quorn sausages - Quorn is the brand name for an interesting meat alternative composed of mycoprotein, which is a kind of stringy fungus (similar to mushrooms) that is compressed into more familiar food products such as “mince” and sausages. Quorn sausages contain more fibre per 50g serve than beef sausages, but unfortunately they don’t contain added Vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 only occurs in animal foods, so adding this essential vitamin to vegan products helps fill this dietary gap. Read more in our previous article on faux meats here (Insert link to faux meat article from Sept issue)

Chickpea & Sesame Seeds Vegetable Burgerscontain less than half the protein of a beef burger but it’s packed with fibre to keep you feeling full. It’s much lower in saturated fat than regular beef burgers.

Soy milk with added calcium - This particular soy milk is a good option as it is naturally higher in protein and has been fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Be wary that not all dairy-free milks are fortified and may have little protein, vitamins or minerals.

THE NOT SO GOOD: don’t choose these for health reasons

Tofutti Cream Cheese- is soy-based and contains less than half the fat of regular cream cheese, but also less than half the protein. There are 13+ ingredients including sugar, salt, thickening agents, emulsifiers and preservatives. To be fair, regular cream cheese is not a healthy choice either.

Choc Chip Cookies - are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and yeast-free, but they are made with refined flours, chocolate, sugar and salt. Like any cookie (vegan or not) these are high kilojoule/calorie treats best eaten sparingly and in small amounts.

Dairy-Free Chocolate- chocolate without the dairy is still chocolate, just because it is vegan doesn’t give you a free pass to eat it in unlimited amounts.

Unsweetened Coconut Milk  - is better than regular coconut milk because it is has half the fat and some calcium added. However, it has 16 times less protein than regular dairy milk, and lots of additives.

Protein Snack Bar - this bar claims it is made from ‘peas, leafy greens, sprouts, grasses and vegetables’ but it doesn’t look green, so we wonder how much green stuff is actually in it. It looks like a cereal bar with caramel and chocolate drizzle. By weight this product actually contains more sugar than it does protein, and the ingredients list is over 50 long!

Chocolate Frozen Dessert- This soy-based frozen dessert is lower in saturated fat than regular dairy ice creams as the fat predominantly comes from vegetable oils. However the kilojoules are similar (or a little higher) to regular chocolate ice cream and the main ingredient is sugar. This is not a health food and best enjoyed in small portions.

The un-plugged truth

  • A ‘vegan’ label does not guarantee a healthy product. Highly processed foods -vegan or not – can be high in kilojoules, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
  • Highly processed vegan foods can still have a large environmental footprint from the resources and energy to manufacture them, and if they’re not nutritious they don’t represent a good health return on the environmental inputs required to make them.
  • For the healthiest vegan options stick to minimally processed plant foods, including products fortified with essential vitamins lacking in vegan diets.