Vegan Junk Food – What You Need To Know
A vegan lifestyle is good for the environment and good for society, but is it good for you?
Generally, yes! Vegan diets are typically an excellent choice for getting the required nutrients that are lacking in many people’s diets. However, certain types of vegan foods are more nutritious than others.
Vegan diets tend to be healthier than regular diets, but they aren’t inherently so. Just as with any other diet, you must consider the content of each dish or snack.
Everyone deserves a treat sometimes, but excessive non-nutritive food is terrible for you, even if it is vegan.
What is a Junk Food?
Everyone deserves a treat sometimes, but excessive non-nutritive food is terrible for you, even if it is vegan.
Junk food refers to a food product with a low nutrient to calorie ratio. Junk foods are typically high in processed sugar and fat, and they often contain excess calories and sodium.
However, junk food tastes delightful. In moderation, junk food can make for a nice treat without an enormous impact on your health.
Consuming junk food is not always bad as long as you are mindful of the frequency that you are eating junk food and the other foods that make up your diet.
Can Vegan Food be a Junk Food?
Yes, junk food can be vegan!
While vegan food will never contain animal fat, it can still lack many nutrients or be full of sugar, sodium, excess calories, and vegetable fat.
Vegan diets are typically higher in fruits and vegetables than a standard diet, but this doesn’t mean that you can never enjoy tasty junk foods as a vegan.
You aren’t limited to traditional foods that happen to be vegan, as there are plenty of other options for specialty vegan junk food. You can generally find them near the gluten-free section or the health-foods section of the store.
Don’t let this fool you! Just because you find vegan junk food in the health-food aisle does not mean that it is healthy.
Finally, if there isn’t a ready-made version of your favorite junk food, you can make almost any junk food with vegan-friendly ingredients at home.
Is Vegan Junk Food Better Than Regular Junk Food?
In some ways, vegan junk food is better than regular junk food, but not in all aspects.
Vegan junk food isn’t inherently healthier for you than regular junk food. Plenty of foods on PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” list show that many vegan junk foods are the same as traditional junk food.
The best way to know if any specific food is healthier than another is by looking at the sugar, fat, and vitamin content and comparing it to the total calories.
However, some non-vegan meat-based junk foods, such as Slim Jims or Beef Jerky, have a small increased risk of mutagenic cancer. You won’t find any health-related risks from consuming animal products in vegan junk food.
While vegan junk food is not necessarily healthier than regular junk food, it is better because of its non-health-related benefits.
While there is some overlap between vegan and regular junk foods, you know that you are eating foods that are more ethically created by choosing vegan junk food options.
Vegan junk food is typically more eco-friendly and uses less water to produce. Additionally, vegan junk food never harms animals.
How Will Junk Food Affect Your Body?
Junk food is generally bad for you, but it will not significantly impact your body in moderation. If you overeat a particular type of junk food, you can start to see an impact.
The way junk food will affect your body depends on the type of junk food you’re eating because different aspects of junk food can harm you in different ways.
How Sugar Affects Your Body
While natural sugars from fruits and complex carbohydrates are necessary for your brain to function, excessive amounts of processed sugar are not.
Studies show that diets high in processed sugar lead to poorer dental health and an increased risk of obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
How Fats Affect Your Body
Fats are a little more complicated than processed sugar because there are many types of fats, and they all affect the body differently.
As with any other macromolecule, dietary fats are vital to healthy bodily function. Many vitamins are fat-soluble, and you need at least some fat to process them fully. Fats are also crucial for cellular growth and are a great energy source.
However, despite their necessity, too much of any type of fat is bad for you.
Most scientists and nutritionists agree that saturated fats, like those in coconut oil, are bad for your heart in large amounts. Saturated fats tend to increase cholesterol and strain your cardiac muscles, putting you at a greater risk for heart disease.
There is debate on the health benefits versus the health risks of unsaturated fats. While unsaturated fats do not increase cholesterol like saturated fats, whether they benefit or harm your health is a hotly-debated topic.
Regardless, unsaturated fats such as peanut oil and soybean oil are very calorie-dense, and you should use them in moderation.
How Excess Calories Affect Your Body
You need to eat a certain amount of calories each day to stay healthy and maintain your body weight. Calories are the energy that powers your mind and body, and they are the fuel that keeps you going.
However, when you consume more calories than your body uses on a frequent basis, there are too many calories in your diet.
One impact of excess calories is that they can cause weight gain. If you are not using all of your energy, your body will store it as body fat. You can gain body fat from a diet full of proteins and sugars if you frequently consume excess calories.
You need a certain percentage of body fat to maintain proper health. Depending on your gender and height, some body fat is needed to protect your kidneys. Too much body fat puts additional stress on bones and joints and can lead to decreased mobility.
A diet full of excess calories can also negatively impact your body’s health. High-calorie diets increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer.
High-calorie diets have some of the most inconsistent effects on the human body, but the results are all very harmful.
Calories are needed to stay healthy, but you should avoid excessive calories. This warning against excess calories is especially true when the food you are consuming has low nutritional value.
How Excess Sodium Affects Your Body
Sodium is an electrolyte that is necessary for your body to survive. Diets that are too high or too low in sodium can significantly adversely affect your health.
However, many unhealthy foods put you at risk for excessive sodium instead of insufficient sodium intake.
Sodium is necessary to pump your heart, allow any muscle movement, and control water retention and excretion. However, if your system contains too much sodium, extra stress is on your muscles.
Excessive sodium consumption increases your risk of hypernatremia, high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. Additionally, too much sodium in your diet can lead to a shorter life expectancy.
How a Lack of Vitamins Affects Your Body
A lack of proper vitamins and nutrition can affect everything from the big to the small. Without sufficient vitamins, your hair, skin, and nail health will decrease. Vitamins are needed to encourage strong bone growth and to support the immune system. A long-term vitamin deficiency in your diet can make problems worsen over time and cause lasting harmful damage to your body’s internal systems.
A vitamin-poor diet is the leading cause of poor bone health in older women.
Not receiving the proper nutrients can lead to osteoporosis, tooth decay, depression, heart disease, and strokes.
How to Make Junk Food More Healthy?
If you plan on quick, ready-made junk foods, always read the nutritional information on the packaging. Any “added sugar” is probably processed, and you should avoid foods with a high fat-to-calorie ratio.
However, if you have the time and the money, the best way to make junk food more healthy is to make it at home.
If you make your own junk food, follow some of these tips to help make your treat more healthy!
Use Alternatives for Granulated Sugar
Highly-processed sugars are not suitable for your health. Sometimes, small amounts of granulated sugar are inescapable, but often you can replace all or most of the sugar in a recipe with an alternative that will leave your dish just as sweet.
First, consider traditional sugar alternatives.
Splenda brand sugar alternatives are vegan, not including their brown-sugar blend. However, there is some concern that this sweetener might increase the risk of some types of cancer.
Stevia products are also vegan. While Stevia can have a slight aftertaste, this sugar alternative does not currently have negative scientific findings. However, Stevie is relatively new in popularity, and scientists’ studies are not very extensive.
Next, consider fruits that may add sweetness to your treats. Dates are an excellent source of natural, unprocessed sugar, and you can substitute them in several recipes.
When grains are processed, many of the nutritional benefits are lost. Try replacing processed grains with whole grains or other nutritionally dense foods whenever possible.
Use Salt Alternatives
There are two different ways to go about salt alternatives: the first is to mimic the taste of salt, and the second is to replace the need for salt.
If you are attempting to mimic the taste of salt, potassium chloride is an excellent sodium-free salt alternative. One of the most popular brands is NoSalt.
An important thing to remember is that potassium is an electrolyte, just like sodium. Adding a potassium-based salt alternative is excellent to help balance your electrolytes, but you can also consume too much potassium.
Other than mimicking the taste of salt, you can replace the need for salt to decrease the sodium in your dishes. The best way to do this is to add other herbs or spices. For example, if you’re making savory junk food and you want to make it more healthy, you may be able to replace the salty taste with garlic, sriracha, or a spice blend.
Don’t Forget About Beverages
While some people take the “food” part of junk food very literally, it’s important to remember that unhealthy beverages can also be junk foods.
Soda pop filled with large amounts of sugar and calories is bad for your health.
Switching to diet soda is better in some regards, as you won’t have to worry about any sugar or calories. However, it is also worse in some respects, as diet soda often contains aspartame and other cancer-causing chemicals.
Consider sparkling water as an alternative to other sugary drinks.
Vegan milk and juices are great additions to your diet in moderation. These drinks are high in nutrients, but some types of vegan milk have a high-fat content, while many juices are high in sugar and calories. Look at the labels when you buy to make sure you are making health-conscious choices!
Best Vegan Junk Food
In moderation, vegan junk food is a delicious way to treat yourself and enjoy some of your favorite comfort snacks.
Some of the best vegan junk food options are foods that non-vegans buy and enjoy, including:
- Pringles (in Original, Paprika, Salsa de Chile Habanero, and several other flavors)
- Uncrustables (in grape and strawberry, but NOT hazelnut or honey)
- Sweedish Fish
Vegan diets are generally healthier than regular diets, but this is a correlation, not causation.
Just because a food is vegan doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthier. Vegan junk foods exist, and there’s a lot of overlap between vegan junk food and regular junk food.
While excessive junk food is bad for your health, you can enjoy your treats in moderation, and you can make your own to boost the nutritional value and decrease harmful effects.
If you’re buying vegan junk food from the store, check the label to see the nutrition-to-calorie ratios.
The vegan lifestyle is good for the environment and animals, and it is beneficial for people too, as long as people are eating the food mindfully.
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