From Minnesota Veg Living Magazine, 2023
by Suzy Sorensen, Registered Dietician
Fried chicken! Mini corn dogs! Donuts! Frozen pizza! Salted caramel cluster ice cream! Boxed macaroni and cheese! For those considering plant-based eating, all the old comfort foods and favorites are available in a compassionate, vegan version. Whoopie! Or wait, is that a good thing??
Not so long ago, a vegan meal was synonymous with a whole-foods meal plan based on a foundation of fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes. A veggie burger meant making your own black bean patty, and a vegan pizza was just cheese-less. Eating vegan generally meant eating a high-fiber, low-fat, nutrient-rich meal plan.
Historically, vegans have had lower body weights, lower cholesterol levels, lower diabetes and cancer risks; as a population, plant-eaters have reaped the benefits of their healthful diet.
While it’s fun to have new fun and tasty foods available, there is now emerging information that “junk food vegans” are suffering some of the same negative health afflictions as non-veg eaters.
The availability of vegan junk food has added a new twist. Now vegan foods can be high in fat, salt, and sugar, and low in fiber and nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried all the junk foods above! I sometimes say I’m not in it for health, I’m a compassionate vegan. But as a Registered Dietitian, I see the impact of poor nutrition on health every day.
Following a healthy, balanced meal plan is recommended for everyone, including vegans. Getting adequate nutrition to feel our best can demonstrate to others that a compassionate plant-based diet is a positive choice.
The recommendations from those who study the research* are consistent. To promote health and prevent disease, make whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes a major part of your normal diet.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and veggies: choose mostly whole foods (as nature made them), select a rainbow of colors for variety, and choose at least 5 servings of produce each day
- Make at least half of your grains whole grain products: use whole grain hot or cold cereals and breads, whole grain pasta, and eat the grains themselves (like wild rice, popcorn, oatmeal)
- Choose unprocessed legumes (pulses) like beans and lentils as a primary protein source
- Aim to eat mostly unprocessed whole foods
- Minimize added sugar, fat, salt, and alcohol
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, encourages foods rich in nutrients as our first choice. What we put into our bodies plays a significant role in our health and well-being.
If we use healthy whole foods as the foundation of our vegan meal plan, we have room for “empty” calories from vegan junk food on occasion, but perhaps think of these foods as extras or add-ons to have on occasion rather than including them as a part of the daily routine.
*American Heart Association
*Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025
*American Institute for Cancer Research
*World Health Organization
Suzy Sorensen (she/her) is a Twin Cities-based Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is vegan and passionate about plant-based eating! She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and had a private practice for 13 years and continues to support those interested in plant-based eating as a dietitian at M Health Fairview.