Friends and relatives often question “can you eat x or y” on your vegan diet? Many people can barely comprehend not eating meat and fish, let alone dairy products, eggs, and honey–of all things.
Fewer people understand what a vegan diet has to do with avoiding processed foods–such as white rice, white pasta, white bread, and sugar–or even vegetable oils.
These measures are the guidelines of a whole-foods plant-based vegan diet, such as that endorsed by Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2 Diet, and displayed in Del Sroufe’s Forks Over Knives cookbook, containing healthy vegan recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Julieanna Hever, and others.
Bottom line is, while many processed foods may be technically vegan or “accidentally vegan” as PETA refers to products with no animal-based ingredients, they are unlikely to be “accidentally healthy”.
And while you may relax your standards on a rare occasion–when dining out or visiting friends–you’ll surely feel better long-term by keeping tempting vegan junk foods out of your grocery cart, and out of your house.
When analyzing packaged foods, I often refer to nutritionist/dietitian Jeff Novick’s rules and guidelines for telling the difference between a health food vs what’s really healthy for you:
Rule #1-Never believe anything on the front of the package…ever!
Rule #2-Always read the Nutrition Facts Label and the Ingredients List.
Novick gives guidelines for fat, sodium, white sugars and refined sugars, and refined carbohydrates–4 things commonly abused in the United States.
Daily fat requirement–in order to avoid essential fatty acid deficiency–is only 3 to 5%, while the typical American intake is 35%!
Calculate fat % by dividing calories from fat by the # of calories
Daily sodium requirement is 500mg/day; aim for no more than 1 calorie: 1mg of sodium
Novick says that–since the Nutrition Facts panel lists “total sugars” only–you cannot determine natural sugars (such as in fruit) versus added sugars. Therefore, refer to the ingredients listing in order to avoid all added sugars (at least, he says, sugars should not be among the first 3 to 5 ingredients)
The “Nutrition Facts” panel does not tell the reader anything interesting about carbohydrates, Novick says. Therefore, refer to the ingredients list, and SEEK OUT the desirable terms “whole” or “sprouted” and AVOID the words “wheat”,” white”, “durum”, “semolina”, “bleached”, “unbleached”, “artichoke” and “enriched flour”.
Aim for products that carry >3g of fiber per 100 calories
To apply Novick’s technique, let’s take a package of Nabisco Newtons Fruit Thins stashed in a typical SAD household. The box touts “8g of whole grain per serving”, “made with real fruit”, “blueberry brown sugar”, and “natural flavor”.
Sounds so wholesome, someone might even mistake them for a “health food”! OK, I admit it: I finished off the bag, without thinking…
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