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Plant-based foods are more accessible than ever. But, some critics are skeptical that a diet free-from animal products isn’t inherently good for you. So, is vegan junk food healthy, or should you avoid it?

Have you ever caught yourself dreaming about a box of a dozen sugar-glazed vegan Krispy Kreme donuts? Or imagined yourself riding the Heat Wave of that bag of Doritos until you’re so deep into it, you crash into a food coma? 

The answer is most probably yes. And, we can guarantee that you are most certainly not alone.

So, why is it so difficult to fight the munch? Well, the answer is really quite simple…

Processed foods are full of highly engineered additives formulated by food scientists which make them so addictive. In fact, junk food addiction has been compared to drug addiction. 

Also known as a pleasure trap, processed foods stimulate the pleasure centre in your brain, releasing serotonin and dopamine in your brain, leaving you on a sugary or salty high. 

But, they’re plant-based, so overall, they can’t be that bad for your health right?

Is vegan junk food healthy?

“There’s evidence from the Harvard School of Public Health that plant-based diet patterns decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease – the top cause of death worldwide. However, further analysis demonstrated that ‘healthy’ plant-based diet patterns of whole foods ( such as fruits and vegetables) dramatically decreased heart risks. Moreover, ‘unhealthy’ plant diets of processed foods increased heart risk,” Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn states.

“In addition to heart risk, processed vegan junk food increases the rate of bloating, weight gain, low energy, hypertension, erectile dysfunction, and brain fog.”

So, when it comes to your food choices, there really is no choice, Dr. Kahn states.”90+ percent of the time, the plate should be full of whole foods of plant origin, minimally processed, a mixture of raw and cooked, and brightly colored.” 

In particular, we must look out for ultra-processed plant-based foods which include biscuits, cakes, ice-cream, carbonated drinks, breakfast cereals, and many ready to heat products, including pre-prepared pies, pasta, and pizza dishes, Dr. Shireen Kassam, Consultant Haematologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at King’s College Hospital, warns. Their ingredients include chemicals, colorings, sweeteners, and preservatives. 

‘Unhealthy plant-based diets’

“Several studies have shown that ultra-processed foods in the diet, be it plant-based or not, are as an unhealthy plant-based diet is just as bad for health as the typical Western-diet high in animal-derived foods and saturated fat,” Dr. Kassam explains.

“Diets high in ultra-processed foods are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“These foods can contribute to shortening of telomeres (caps at the end of chromosomes). [This is] a sign of aging, and a reduced life expectancy.”

Beyond Meat

Okay, so what about that juicy Beyond Meat burger? Mmmmm. Plant-based and mouth-wateringly delicious. How harmful are meat alternatives to our health?

Although plant-based burgers don’t contain haem iron or harmful nitrates found in processed meat, they are still processed foods. Moreover, they contain high amounts of salt, sugar, saturated fat, and additives.

“All these things can have a negative impact on our health, such as increasing our risk of obesity, tooth decay and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Kassam adds.

She explains that although meat alternatives can be helpful to those wanting to transition to a more plant-based diet, ultimately, they are all processed foods. Therefore, we should be looking to eat predominantly whole foods for the best health outcomes.

Dr. Kassam concludes: “There’s little point in moving from a processed meat-based diet to a primarily processed vegan diet.”

However, eating plant-based burgers, sausages or vegetable-based balls occasionally as part of an otherwise healthy, balanced diet is not going to have a significant negative impact on your health.”

And, when compared to meat burgers, the plant-based option has been proven favorable. 

“The first head-to-head study of beef vs plant burgers done at Stanford University showed advantages for the plant burger in terms of weight, cholesterol and metabolic health,” Dr. Joel Kahn states. 

Moderation

So, plant-based meat alternatives and other vegan junk foods can be consumed, but strictly in moderation.

So, what did you eat yesterday? Take a moment to consider how your food choices may be affecting your health. 

The next time you’re at the supermarket and those colorful packets stacked on the shelves call out your name… It’s probably best to snub them and strut right on past to the whole food aisle. 

Remember, if it’s in a package or box, it’s most probably not the one for you.

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Moon Onyx Starr

Moon is a Vegan Fashion & Lifestyle blogger, entrepreneur, Features Writer, and Journalist. Having lived in the US, New Zealand, India, and the UK, she now calls London home. Check out Moon on Instagram @moon_onyx_starr