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Is being vegan healthy?

Like I wrote in a previous post, veganism is on the rise and there are many types of vegans besides full-time vegans. Many people are adopting a (semi-)vegan diet for health reasons or because they want to lose weight. Since ‘vegan’ doesn’t always imply ‘healthy’ I decided to write about the pitfalls of a vegan diet.

As you may, or may not, know my diet is primarily plant-based. I haven’t eaten meat in three years, I rarely eat fish and dairy. If I eat out and there’s no vegan option I usually eat fish, because I am allergic to dairy and believe fish is the healthier option. In my opinion eating plant-based is the best thing you can do for both your health and your weight. Years ago I effortlessly lost nearly 10 kilos (22 pounds) by eating entirely vegan. It really works and it makes you feel great. If you need more information, just read books like The Starch Solution or Eat to Live, they’re great books if you want to learn more about veganism and the authors use a lot of scientific research to back up their claims.

Veganism is all about eliminating animal products from your diet and as a result you lose weight, get healthy and contribute to a more sustainable planet (bonus!). However, not all vegan products are by definition healthy. What’s so great about Eat to Live, for example, is that the author Joel Fuhrman highlights that it’s important to eat lots of (green) vegetables. Remember, sugar is also vegan and so is white bread but these aren’t healthy products. Below I’ve listed 4 pitfalls of a plant-based diet, whether you’re a full-time or part-time vegan.

1. Oil

A lot of people believe that olive oil is a health product, while in fact it’s a highly processed full-fat product and not that great for your health1. I used to be a huge olive oil fan; I grew up in Italy, olive oil is basically my middle name. I still use it, but I use it a lot less. I used to sprinkle almost everything with olive oil and add spoonfuls to my food. Now I stick to one tablespoon a day, for cooking. I know there are a lot of conscious people living an oil-free life, by cooking with water, but I’m just not a fan. I need the oil to sauté my onions or make my salad dressing. I’m sure it’s fine to use a little oil, as long as the rest of your diet is healthy.

2. Processed foods

The more popular vegan food is becoming, the more fake, processed foods keep appearing on the supermarket shelves. While 5 years ago it was hard to find a vegan burger that didn’t taste like cardboard, now we have vegan sausages, nuggets, meatballs, bacon and many flavors of ice-cream. I’ve tried almost all of these foods, but I save them for special occasions. After all, most of these products are heavily processed and often contain a lot of white sugar, refined white flour, lots of salt and oil. They don’t offer a lot of nutritional value and are usually very rich in calories. This doesn’t just include fake vegan food, but also white bread and pasta. The consumption of any refined, or processed foods (whether vegan or not) is not good for your health2 and something you should avoid or eat only occasionally. It won’t help with weight loss either!

3. Sugar

Yes, sugar is vegan. You can eat spoonfuls of sugar every day, gain weight and still happily call yourself a vegan. But that doesn’t mean you’re healthy and it surely won’t help with weight loss. Sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes and cancer and should not be consumed excessively3. Sugar doesn’t offer a lot of nutrients and can raise your blood sugar and cause you to overeat. Now I’m talking about any added sugars, not natural sugar found in fruit. I eat lots of fruit and I promise you, I’m not obese and very healthy. Fruits offer many nutrients that are great for your health and they don’t result in sweet cravings and overeating (as is often the case with processed foods). Fruit has a much more subtle sweetness and if you’ve eaten a lot of added sugar you may need to train your taste buds to get used to it. Eating fruit will definitely satisfy your sweet cravings and unless you’re a diabetic you don’t need to limit yourself!

4. Salt

Like sugar, salt is entirely vegan. I am a huge salt-lover myself and I am still teaching myself to eat less salt. What I’ve forced myself to do is stop cooking with salt and only add it directly to my plate. This way I fully enjoy the salty flavor without eating too much salt. I also drink a lot of water, because I know I still eat too much salt. Sodium is important for your health, but most of us get too much of it. Like sugar, salt is added to many processed foods to make them taste better. However, eating too much salt can result in high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease4 among many other illnesses. Plus, it results in water retention and bloating which doesn’t help you look good either.

Remember: ‘Vegan’ doesn’t equal ‘healthy’

So while I am a huge believer in a plant-based diet, there are some pitfalls which I’ve outlined above. These are general pitfalls that I know a lot of people struggle with. It’s important to eat fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods with lots of fruits and veggies. This is my philosophy regarding a healthy lifestyle and what I base all my recipes on. While eating potato chips or French fries every day may be in line with a vegan diet, it isn’t healthy. Sure I eat vegan nuggets or burgers every once in a while, but I don’t fry them in litres of oil and I eat a lot of veggies on the side. It’s good to remember that just because something is labelled ‘vegan’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Emmelyn X

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