This article was originally written and published in the Katy Trail Weekly.
Is going vegan healthy? That all depends.
Plant-based meat alternatives are trending right now and there is endless chatter claiming that going “vegan” is better for our health and the environment.
So should you go vegan?
Well, that depends.
I am all for animal rights but to make a blanket statement that suggests by being vegan you are ultimately healthier than non-vegans would be quite unfair. Even the idea of “plant-based” has become misleading. A term that once indicated a diet composed mostly of unprocessed, whole foods like: fruits, seeds, whole grains and vegetables, can now include any food made with these once “whole food” ingredients but processed enough to taste like something entirely different, including chips, “burgers”, and “nuggets”.
Countless research suggests eating a more predominately vegan diet consisting of whole, plant-based foods, can radically improve our overall well-being but the boundaries outlining what actually constitutes as “plant-based” have become quite blurred.
What most of these studies fail to elaborate on is the stark difference between adding vegetables to the diet and reducing animal consumption, versus exchanging animal products for something resembling the former, but made with highly processed “vegan” ingredients.
Animals rights aside, when it comes to our health, a vital detail most absent from either argument is not necessarily whether a food is vegan, or not, but the quality of the ingredients in the food itself.
Whole foods, not to be confused with the actual grocery store, like vegetables, can be a powerhouse of nutrients, containing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemical and anti-inflammatory properties, we do not glean from a traditional steak and potato diet, regardless of supplementation with a daily smoothie. This is also true of processed vegan foods.
Someone who declares themselves a vegan, regardless of their reasoning, could technically avoid produce for their entire life, enjoying an abundance of packaged items, like pasta, chips, vegan queso and genetically modified tofu.
Somehow, eating a more “plant-based” diet has become a situation where we are tossing out the cold cuts and replacing them with pea protein isolates, coloring agents, oil and other precarious ingredients made to look like them. This, however, is not “health”, nor is a diet full of mono-cropped corn, soy and protein isolates better for the environment.
Let’s stick with the basics. “The food you eat can either be the safest or most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”— A pioneer in the vegan world, Anne Wigmore.
When it comes to animal products, if you choose to eat them, it is important to consider the source. To cut costs, large scale farms often feed animals grains, corn, and inflammatory vegetable oils. This diet will alter both the quality of the meat and the ratio of omega fatty acids causing an inflammatory response in the body, especially when eaten regularly. To get the best nutrition from animal products, get to know your farmers. Ideally, shop locally, or stick to grass-fed and free range products when you are out and about. Get to know your butcher. Factory farms produce tons of toxic waste, but regeneratively farmed animals and produce can be good for the ecosystem. Local markets can offer grass-fed and finished beef and a variety of pasture raised proteins and eggs.
Just the other day I was cruising through the store and stumbled upon an “eggless” “plant-based” “egg”. (Which is truly laughable, sorry not sorry). It contained ingredients like: mung bean protein isolates, canola oil, gellan gum and ingredients I could not pronounce, let alone associate with any “plant.” Are you familiar with the vegetable, “tetrasodium pyrophosphate”? I am not.
Eating more vegetables and less animal proteins is important and ultimately, the more you fill your plate with low starchy, nutrient dense greens and vegetables, the less likely you are to fill up on the latter. The richer the diet in wholesome greens and vegetables, the better you will look and feel. Period.
If you are new to eating a more “plant-based” diet, there is no need to take extreme measures. Instead of swapping out the burgers for the strange looking “plant-based” non-meat imposter products, try marinating a portabella mushroom in spices and grilling that up.
Eat more plants, but the real kind.
Looking for a nutritionist? Hit me up… Lauren@laurengillan.com 😉