Veganism has become a watchword for health, but this is a misplaced notion. Yes, there are considerable health benefits from removing animal products from our diet, including reducing heart disease and cancer risk, but there is a plethora of vegan food on the market which are less than health promoting. Oreos, Pringles, Bourbon biscuits, Walker’s crisps, Jelly Tots, and (some) Pot Noodles are all ‘accidentally vegan’ foods. The large food manufacturers are now making vegan versions of their best sellers (e.g. vegan Magnums, Galaxy chocolate, Greggs, and KFC). One only needs to look at the ingredient list of these products to realise we shouldn’t be eating too many of them. Many contain high levels of saturated fat, sugar, salt, and chemical additives. Vegan Magnums, for example, contain glucose fructose syrup, sunflower lecithin, E471, exhausted vanilla bean pieces, E412, E410, E407, and E160a. Hardly wholesome.
What makes for a healthy vegan diet?
The greatest health benefits can be achieved by aiming to eat wholefoods. In reality, it is impossible to avoid all processing of foods. Almost everything we buy from supermarkets is processed is some way. The key is to ask the question, “would my grandmother recognise the ingredients in this food?” The chances are she wouldn’t know what an emulsifier is, let alone hydrogenated oil, maltodextrin, and gelling agents, to name but a few ingredients commonly found in junk foods. She would, however, recognise fruits, vegetables, sultanas, lentils, beans, spinach, seeds, oats, nuts, and just about every other wholefood.
Eating this way is also referred to as a ‘wholefood plant-based’ (WFPB) diet. The high fibre content of WFPB foods is proven to assist healthy weight-loss, due in large part to the fact that it tends to make you feel full without being high in calories. WFPB diets are also naturally nutrient dense. Green leafy vegetables such as kale contain vast amounts of vitamin A, B6, K, C, and potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, and manganese. Fruits such as blueberries have large quantities of antioxidants. And flax seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is highly beneficial for heart, bowel, and joint health.
What makes the standard western diet unhealthy is a multitude of factors. It is not merely the presence of animal fats and proteins which causes harm. The problem is also the high levels of sugar, salt, fat/oils, added chemicals, and the general lack of nutritional value in many foods we now consume.
In summary, to eat a WFPB vegan diet, remember to:
- Avoid animal products (including meat and dairy)
- Look for ingredients which your grandmother would have recognised
- Make sure that plants constitute most of what you consume – including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts
- Try to eliminate foods high in additives, added sugars, white flour, and processed oils