Is Veganism Healthy? [how to make eating ethical and healthful]

Is Veganism Healthy? [how to make eating ethical and healthful]

So, I have a confession to make: I’ve gained weight since going vegan last October. Not like crazy amounts of weight, just five or so fluctuating pounds, but that’s enough for me to realize that despite my rigorous 6-days-per-week workout schedule, I’m going in the wrong direction. This is NOT to say that weight is the only indicator of health, by the way, but I know that my eating habits are not as healthy as they once were…or as they should be.

This realization [or revelation] made me re-examine my diet [aka what and how I eat] to find weaknesses. And I found one alright.

[I found other problems too, which I may share about at another time.]

The biggest problem was veganism.

My Vegan Story

Just so you know, I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or scientist – though I wish I were one [or all] of these things. I’m just a health fanatic who has been studying [and trying out and fine-tuning] my own healthy eating habits for the past ten years. I’ve also been a personal trainer for the past six years, which has taught me a lot about what motivates and influences people’s eating decisions.

I became a full-fledged vegan last year after flirting with veganism for about three years. The final decision was in response to climate change and the obvious havoc that meat consumption is wreaking on the planet. My side reasons were to no longer be complicit in the unethical treatment of animals, feeling much better when eating vegan, and the health benefits of avoiding meat.

[You can read more about these reasons in my two blog posts: Why I’m Going Vegan, and Another Reason to Be Vegan]

Since making the switch, I’ve been writing a lot about being vegan, posting vegan recipes, discussing being vegan with kids, and sharing what my meals look like. However, now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Is being vegan healthy?

The Problem with Veganism

It’s a common misconception that vegan is synonymous with healthy. While it’s true that eating meat – especially too much and factory farmed meat – has negative health consequences, does that necessarily mean that cutting out all animal products is more healthful?

The short answer: no, unfortunately, it doesn’t.

The major problem with veganism is that lots of unhealthy foods are vegan. Veganism [or plant-based, if you prefer] as a diet isn’t necessarily healthy because plenty of unhealthy foods are vegan. Check out this list:

  • Tortilla chips
  • Potato chips [cheese free]
  • French fries
  • Dairy-free ice creams
  • Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Frosted Flakes [and many, many other junk cereals]
  • Laffy Taffy candy [and many other types of candy]
  • Olive Garden breadsticks
  • Highly processed vegan alternatives to meat products

And the list goes on and on.

[This is my vegan vice lately. Ingredient list includes: organic whole ground yellow corn, sunflower oil and/or safflower oil, and jalapeño lime seasonings. Is it the worst thing I could be eating? No. But is it the best thing I could be eating? Definitely not. This bag is basically worthless calories with tons of refined carbohydrates.]

I remember the first time Brett and I went out together after I became vegan and the only thing I could eat on the entire menu was French fries. So, guess what I had for dinner? French fries. Would anyone call that a healthy meal?

[In retrospect, I probably could have ordered a plate of lettuce without any dressing and a side of steamed broccoli, but seriously, would you choose that over French fries???]

So, what I’ve noticed is that, if something is vegan, I’ll eat it because…well, it’s vegan and there aren’t as many options available for me. However, this has lead to me eating a lot of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t.

I hadn’t eaten French fries for years before I became a vegan because under no circumstances [other than starvation and literally nothing else available] are French fries a healthful choice. I also had long ago given up burgers and chips and sugary candy, because they are also really worthless foods. And I’ve already expounded on how much I loathe cereal for being a total waste of a food in a previous post.

And yet, here I am eating vegan burgers with a side of fries like it’s totally okay.

I reached this point honestly, though. I was so focused on eating only what is vegan, that I totally forgot about eating what is vegan and healthy.

So, I’ve realized that in order to be a vegan [for all the very important moral, ethical, and health reasons] and to be healthy and live a long, productive, active, disease-free life, I have to tweak my version of veganism a little bit. I have to make it work for me in the healthiest way possible.

My Version of Veganism

So now that I’ve realized that veganism doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat anything that doesn’t list animal products on the label, I’m recommitting myself to a vegan diet that means: zero animal products [that’s pretty obvious] and also zero processed foods [of which there are tons in the vegan section of the grocery store] and zero added sugar [which is definitely a vice for vegans – even if it is organic and not processed using bone char].

Vegan burrito bowl [brown rice, black beans, sautéed peppers and onions, homemade salsa]

I’m making an exception for some processed vegan meats because they really make veganism more accessible for my family [aka my partner, Brett], but I will mostly avoid them – even tofu, tempeh, vegan sausage [which I actually like way more than I ever liked real sausage], and vegan meat alternatives.

Vegetable tofu bowl [carrots, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu]

So what will I eat?

Well, It’s time to go back to…[drum roll, please]… my vegetable-only diet! I’ve done some form of this diet for roughly a month each year since 2018…and it’s time to bring it back, but this time with a vegan twist.

I will eat vegetables [lots and lots and lots of them], fruit, legumes, nuts, and the occasional whole grain [like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and 100% whole grain bread].

Good thing our backyard garden is producing lots and lots of fresh veggies! This is our haul in one day [and I didn’t pick even a quarter of the cherry tomatoes that were ripe] minus the eight ears of corn I also picked.

To live a truly healthy lifestyle, vegans have to not only pass up the animal products, but also the processed vegan alternatives, sugary snacks, and junk foods that are common in the vegan food aisle. These items, which are fine as exceptions, shouldn’t be diet staples.

I’ll post later with more details about my [nearly] vegetable-only diet, but in the meantime, I just wanted to encourage any other vegans out there who, like me, want to be the healthiest they can be, to put down the vegan breakfast bars, bag of pretzels, and dairy-free Haagen Das, and instead, pick up carrot sticks with hummus, a whole apple, or banana “ice cream.”

Who’s with me???

🥦🥑🥝

Karis

10 thoughts on “Is Veganism Healthy? [how to make eating ethical and healthful]

  1. But isn’t food supposed to provide some enjoyment in life? It sounds like you are giving up foods simply to lose weight?! I mean yes, I understand your preference to be a vegan but to give up all refined vegan food seems extreme just to lose 5 lbs. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating I know that I could never give up refined foods because A. they taste good and B. eliminating food just starts be down a slippery slope. Will you allow your kids to keep eating the processed / refined foods?? Will you be able to eat oatmeal or other carbs as long as they aren’t processed / refined?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lindsay. These are great questions! I’m not totally giving up anything. I think that foods that are bad for you should be eaten occasionally, maybe even rarely. So, I will still eat processed and unhealthy foods sometimes (like that vegan ice cream I love and even French fries on rare occasions). And I’m not doing it to lose weight. All of my dietary choices are about being the healthiest I can be, not the lightest. For me, weight is a gauge and now that I’m at a healthy, happy weight, my diet should maintain that weight. If I start gaining weight THAT is a slippery slope. Especially as a health freak, I’m way more obsessed with getting all of my nutrients and feeding my body well than I am with enjoying my food. But I know that’s not true for everyone. Some people prefer to eat whatever they want and aren’t worried about the consequences. It’s a personal choice. And my kids will eat the same as me at home but I don’t restrict their eating at school or friends houses or when eating out. And yes, whole grains like oatmeal are fine. 😁 I’ve read so so so many great books on the topic of nutrition lately (How Not to Die, In Defense of Food, Food Matters) and watched great documentaries (Forks over Knives, In Defense of Food – same as the book) and they all advocate for a lifestyle of fewer or zero processed foods as well as fewer animal products for optimal health. (Or as minimally processed as one is able because some may have different options available.) I highly recommend all these sources. Thanks for asking!

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      1. Thank you for being open to questions and always responding so kindly. I think it’s just hard for me to imagine having such a strict “diet”. I mean yes, my body has some pretty high caloric needs due to the amounts of exercise I do and I don’t know how I would be able to consume enough fruits and veggies to satisfy those needs. Have you ever considered sharing a “day in the life” post of the things that you eat and that you make for your family that meet the zero processed food guidelines??

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know – it doesn’t feel that restrictive to me, but I really enjoy what I eat and I feel a lot better physically when I eat clean. I also perform much better in my running and cycling when I’m eating clean. Like you, I exercise a lot – 1-2 hrs per day, so I eat a lot of high caloric plant-based foods like beans, lentils, nuts, avocados, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc. There are a lot of options besides just fruit and veggies. I would have a hard time meeting my caloric needs with only salad, but I eat a wide variety of foods. They are just all foods that don’t come in a package or from a factory. Back in June, I posted a week of plant-based meals that we had as a family (my “vegan in real life” post). Tho one meal did include tofu and the rest of my family had eggs one night, that’s a good example of what we eat typically. And in 2019 I posted everything I ate for a week of my vegetable only diet (including calorie counts). Back then I wasn’t vegan so I had eggs a few times and chicken one night, but nothing processed and I still eat basically the same way, just without the chicken and eggs. (You can check it out: https://nomakeupmama.com/2019/10/31/a-week-of-my-nearly-vegetable-only-diet/) But I will definitely do it again because I think it is helpful for people to see that eating vegan and unprocessed is much more attainable than it may sound. 😁 I do want to reiterate tho, that you were totally right in your first question about changing what you eat to lose weight. Weight loss is not the sole indicator of health, so any decision to change what I eat is about trying to be healthier, which in turn makes me feel better and improves my physical performance. If my posts ever lead people to think weight loss is the most important thing, that would be a tremendous failure on my part. I may go back and edit my original post to remove the mention of my weight gain, if that’s the impression that it gives. So thanks for pointing that out!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece ! I have always wondered whether the processed vegan/ vegetarian products are actually good for us and the long term impacts of eating them – especially the meat alternatives. I’ve tried to look into it but because a lot of these products are so new there isn’t any research. Plus the meat alternatives that they’ve used in Buddhist temples for decades are not processed like that of brands like beyond meat or Quorn so you can’t really use that as a case study.

    Do you find you feel a big difference in your health limiting the amount processed vegan foods? And do you find it easy to find good recipes to support this ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t more research available on the health impacts of meat alternatives. I’m sure there will be in the future as these products become more and more common. And truthfully, it’s not that I believe they are totally bad…it’s more that they aren’t as healthy as non-processed foods. I think the common wisdom that whole plant foods are better for us than foods made in labs applies just as much to meat alternatives as it does macaroni and cheese. But the meat alternatives may be better than meat. Only time and research will tell.

      As for me personally, I always feel my best and perform my best when I am eating completely “clean” (or free from processed foods). As a vegan, this means making a lot of things from scratch – like all my own bread and peanut butter and nut milk. And I have found eating this way to be much simpler but not difficult. For example, last night we had a family favorite meal – burrito bowls – which had sautéed peppers and onions over brown rice, with homemade salsa, black beans, and topped with fresh avocado. We could have bought any of these things pre-packaged and prepared in a store, but I think it’s healthier to buy the whole food and prepare it myself. We also could have bought tortilla chips, tortillas, vegan beef alternative, and vegan cheese…but we didn’t need them and I think we are healthier without them.

      Sorry for the lengthy response! Hope this answers your question!

      Like

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