Food Myths Nutrition

Why Vegan Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Healthy

is vegan healthyLast week, Oprah had a food-focused show with guests Michael Pollan, a journalist and food expert, and Kathy Freston, a high-profile vegan who calls herself “The Veganist.”  The main message of the show — that Americans should become more conscious about where their food comes from — was a good one, as was the eye-opening tour of a Cargill slaughterhouse.  But the show’s emphasis on a vegan lifestyle with heavy reliance on highly-processed vegan foods could easily lead people away from, rather than closer to, a healthier diet.  Here’s a little more info:

When a Vegan Diet is Healthy, it…

Relies heavily on vegetables and fruits

Includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains

Includes lots of beans and other legumes

Involves protein sources that are low in or free of saturated fat, like tofu, beans, and oils

Is gentle on the planet because it’s plant-based

But a Vegan Diet is Unhealthy (and hard on the planet) When it…

Relies heavily on highly-processed meat alternatives (like Tofurky, Morning Star Farms, Boca, etc) — because the processing of these foods removes much of the nutritional value of soy and adds sodium, fat, and preservatives

Includes large amounts of packaged foods like crackers, chips, frozen fries, etc, that are not only high-calorie, but also create excessive waste from all the packaging

Focuses on eating the same foods over and over

Doesn’t include a variety of good protein and calcium sources

Relies too heavily on non-dairy products that don’t offer much nutritional value (like almond milk, grain milk, rice milk and yogurt, etc)

Includes large amounts of refined carbohydrates (white bread, refined cereals, etc)

A Vegetarian or Omnivore’s Diet Might Be A Healthier Choice When…

It includes meat, dairy, and eggs from sustainably-raised animals

It relies mostly on plant-based foods, with meats eaten sparingly

A consumer has access to (and money to buy) animal products that come from small farms where animals are humanely treated and killed

It is largely based on whole foods, rather than processed or refined foods

Moral of the Story…

Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, or meat-lover, the food choices you make really matter.  Any of these lifestyles can be healthy or unhealthy, and the products you buy and eat — both at home and out — make all the difference.  Here’s some more info on how to buy meat from sustainable sources, dairy from humanely-treated cows, eggs from happy chickens, and produce from eco-conscious farmers.  Even if you’re on a budget, you can find organic and sustainable products at reasonable prices — here’s where to look.

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  • Anna
    February 18, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I watched the vegan episode of Oprah you mentioned. I remember being stunned at the shopping cart (of the Oprah staffer going vegan) that was stuffed to the gills with processed food. I couldn’t spot a vegetable in sight (unless they were in the buried under the boxes of frozen food). So happy to read your blog and know that someone else noticed too. Bleh!

  • Steve
    February 19, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Good article Meels!

  • Amelia
    February 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I’m glad we’re on the same page about this — I was appalled Michael Pollan didn’t stand up and protest!

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