I was recently asked by a reader about strategies for eating vegan but staying away from high processed foods. I find that one of the biggest issues that face vegans (especially new vegans) is changing eating habits from a meat based to a plant based diets. Many times it is easier to turn to meat analogues, faux cheeses, and other processed vegan or by chance vegan products that are familiar.
I know from my own experience of going vegetarian at a young age that many times I turned to veggie burgers as my protein or main dish and ate the vegetable or starch sides my mom made. As I grew up and became more aware of nutrition and what is good and bad for you body I began to change my diet. My husband is a good example of change from junk food vegan to healthy vegan. When we first started dating his daily food intake was that of pop, chips and veggie burgers, all vegan and all highly processed junk foods. Today my husband’s usual day is oatmeal, a variety of fruits, steamed veggies, whole grain and tofu or beans. This is not to say that he and I are perfect and only eat a high whole foods diet but at home we try to 75% of the time.
For us 75% of our food intake is fresh fruits and veggies, beans and brown rice. About 10% of our diet consist of lightly processed foods such as sprouted grain bread, sprouted tofu, and tempeh. I classify foods with 5 or less ingredients as lightly processed and the ingredients have to be recognizable I shouldn’t have to turn to my dictionary to find out what it is. The last 5% of our diet is alcohol (mostly red wine, gin and beer), and highly processed foods such as faux cheese, meat analogues, crackers and fried foods.
I think it is important to recognize what you are putting in your body. Go take a look at those yummy veggie burgers you have stashed in your freezer- do they contain for than 5-7 ingredients? Can you recognize them all without having to pull out the dictionary? If you answered yes then great they are an okay choice. However know that the better choice might be to grab some beans, spices, diced up veggies and bread crumbs and make your own yummy veggie burgers.
A good starting point when shopping is to avoid the inside aisle of your market- you know the ones with all the processed foods like chips and pop. Fill your at least 2/3 of your basket with fruits and veggies, the remaining 1/3 should be filled with beans, lightly processed foods, whole grains and a few more highly processed (but only a few). Make sure to check labels- if you don’t recognize an ingredient put it down it’s not for you (I would like to note some healthy ingredients may be new to you so focus more on chemical sounding ingredients and artificial colours to start).
Here are some great resources for living a more whole food vegan lifestyle: