Is going vegan a healthier option?

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Sabrina Almeida

The answer is complex. It could help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, but it can also result in nutritional deficiencies. In the end your dietary choices play a major role in whether or not it is good for you. Making this big lifestyle change without understanding how it could impact your health is a recipe for disaster.

Becoming meat-free is trending especially among Millennials, both for health and environmental reasons. The meteoric rise of the newly-introduced Beyond Meat Burger is our finest example. But it is a misconception that anything and everything vegan or vegetarian is a healthy choice. Take the samosa whose calorie count could rival a double patty meat hamburger. The latter already has a bad rap, but few will acknowledge that the popular Indian deep fried snack is just as, if not more, lethal.

In the same vein, a recent media report questions the lofty claims of the plant-based burger that is doing wonders for Tim Horton’s sales. The most obvious downside being that it is after all a ‘processed’ food. Moreover, health experts say there is no scientific evidence to support manufacturer claims that the Beyond Meat product is healthier than a beef burger!!!

I’m reminded of a friend who adopted veganism as part of her weight loss efforts. Having never cooked anything vegetarian, she relied on take out from South Asian restaurants. Definitely not a healthy option. Come barbeque season, processed vegan hot dogs and burgers found their way to the grill. Not good either! Any weight reduction was more from starvation than her newly-adopted meatless diet. Without proper thought and planning, protein and vitamin deficiencies were tagged on to her list of health concerns. The new diet didn’t help her diabetes, cholesterol or blood pressure except to nudge it upwards.

Meat, fish, egg and dairy being common sources of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D and B-12, vegans (and vegetarians) must find suitable alternatives to avoid health issues. Beans, nuts, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals can help bridge the nutritional gap. However, additional supplements may be required depending on whether you are able to eat all and enough of these. Not everyone loves spinach or tofu for that matter.

The negative report card Beyond Meat received from some health experts is largely common sense. Processed foods, meat or otherwise, are not recommended. In fact, some go so far as to say lean meat options may be a healthier choice when compared to processed vegan products. However, the company argues that these explanations are too simplistic while touting the cancer and heart disease risks associated with red meat to make its case. All in all, experts are asking us to be more discerning of our dietary choices. For instance, a small piece of lean meat is a wise choice when compared to oily shahi paneer.

The Canada food guide’s recommendation to eat less meat involves including fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet. Healthy plant-based eating does not extent to processed alternatives in the deli and freezer section. Also, whether or not a product is healthy goes beyond its saturated fat content. Salt, sugar, trans fat and preservatives being other critical factors. For instance, white buns and high salt levels contribute to making a beef burger less healthy. Meatless alternatives can have the same issues. Deep fried French fries, veg pakoras and bhajiyas are not healthy.

It’s important to closely examine vegan and vegetarian options you may want to purchase. For one, they might contain animal by-products which are not always highlighted. Secondly any health benefits will come from making the right choices. Spinach and kale chips are vegetarian but not necessarily healthy. Remember preparation and quality of food are equally important. To clear the misconception, studies show that diets with less healthy plant foods can actually raise the risk of diabetes by 16%.

In the end a healthy diet, vegetarian or including meat, requires a lot of thought and planning. There is no short cut and processed foods like tofu deli meats are not a healthy choice! -CINEWS

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