Now more than ever at the grocery store there are an overwhelming number of vegan and vegetarian options to replace animal proteins in the diet. But are they good options? Not necessarily. There are many favorable health outcomes related to vegan and vegetarian diets, but we need to be aware of the processing and ingredients of all food options in order to see the health benefits. Here’s a few things to look out for in your vegan or vegetarian products:
Saturated Fat: This fat has the potential to increase LDL cholesterol numbers and risk for heart disease. (LDL is the blood cholesterol we want to be LOW.) Saturated fat is found in dairy foods like butter, whole milk, cheese and ice cream (which is why the recommendation is to consume low fat or fat free for most individuals). This is also the type of fat that is largely found in red meat. However, there are plant-based fats that are high in saturated fat, too. The fat in coconut oil and palm oil is more than 80% saturated, making it a possible contributor to high LDL cholesterol levels for some individuals. Look for this type of fat in meat alternatives and any packaged foods at the store.
Sodium: Any type of salt or soy sauce used to flavor a meat or meat alternative increases the sodium (or salt) content of a food. Meat alternatives that are highly processed, either in cans, frozen or fresh have the potential to have high amounts of sodium, so they can still be a not-so-great option. High sodium can increase blood pressure and put you at risk for developing heart disease.
Total Fat: Sometimes a processed food is just that: a processed food, meant for convenience. Looking at total fat is important especially when we are seeking “short cuts” in the kitchen. Keeping total fat down will keep calories down and make those convenience foods a little on the healthier side. Keeping weight in check can reduce risk for developing insulin resistance and can also help keep blood pressure down, too.
Ingredients: Keeping ingredients real, understandable, and limited in our ready-to-eat foods is important. Soy protein isolate used as a protein is very different from the whole soybean. Remember, whole ingredients provide more nutrition and are often a better option (plus, you may not feel as weighed down after eating them!).
Next time you visit the store, take a moment to explore some of the products you’ve been wondering about. If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate vegan or vegetarian items into your diet, contact a Beacon Health & Fitness dietitian today!
Kate Glick, RD email@example.com
Erica Weinandy, RD firstname.lastname@example.org