Is all vegan food healthy?

Healthy and unhealthy foods

To qualify as healthy, food needs to supply a modest amount of calories while being rich in good stuff and containing little or no bad stuff. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and protein qualify as “the good stuff”. On the other hand, saturated fat, cholesterol, antibiotics, toxins, and excess salt are “the bad stuff”.

Junk food

Junk food provides mostly empty calories and very little nutritional value:

  • Sugary drinks such as colas and sodas.
  • Highly processed sweets, usually heavy on white flour, refined sugar and syrups. Think of candy, cookies and most breakfast cereals.
  • Fried, fatty and salty snacks, such as french fries, potato chips, and almost anything which is crispy and crunchy.
  • Most pizza and hamburgers, especially those prepared quickly. These consist mostly of meat, cheese and highly-processed white flower.
  • Meat by itself is high in protein and unhealthy fats, but it lacks other nutritional components. Most unhealthy is fried meat, like fried chicken or fried or grilled sausages.

Especially unhealthy and somewhat addictive are the combinations of high-fat and high-sugar as well as high-fat and high-salt.

Junk vegan food

Fried bananas covered with a sugary syrup are incredibly tasty, but not healthy

Some vegan foods also fall into the “junk food” category:

  • Fruit juices with long shelf-life. These are usually heat-treated, pasteurized, sterilized such that in the end mostly the sugar survives. Even if the juice is labeled “multi-vitamin”, the vitamins are probably long gone by the time you open the bottle. Also be suspicious of juices from vegetables or rare and exotic fruits. The main ingredient might still be inexpensive apple or orange juice.
  • White flour, refined sugar and syrups are vegan. But sweets and deserts made with these raw materials still deliver mostly empty calories.
  • Potato chips and other snacks fried in vegetable oil are also vegan. But they are nevertheless heavy on fats and salt, thus delivering primarily empty calories.
  • Vegan foods imitating meat products (vegan salami, vegan sausages, imitation burger patties, etc.) are usually too heavily processed. Thus they contain too many additives, stabilizers, salt or sugar while delivering very little nutritional value.

These are just some examples, but I hope that you get the point: heavily processed, fried, salted or very sweet foods are never good. In fact, here is a simple rule of thumb: if you look at a food and cannot immediately tell what it’s made of, it’s probably not healthy.

Healthy vegan foods

Fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts are the main “ingredients” of a healthy diet. But to have the largest possible benefit, pay attention to the following points:

  • Eat mostly vegetables and less fruit, supplement with grains and round off with just a few nuts per day.
  • Challenge yourself to consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.
  • Eat your fruits, nuts and most vegetables raw and grains and some vegetables cooked or processed as little as possible.
  • Consume the entire fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. For example, prefer fruits over fruit juice (where the fiber is missing) and whole grains over white rice or white flower (where most of the vitamins and fiber are missing). Of course, when I say “eat the whole thing”, I don’t expect you to eat the inedible (apple, pear) seeds, (cherry) pits, (avocado) peels or (walnut, pistachio) shells. 😊
  • Take a B12 supplement.

Those are just the basics. To get the full story, please read What constitutes a healthy vegan diet.

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