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The vegan diet is exclusively plant-based and excludes meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and honey. People choose to follow a vegan diet typically do so for a combination of reasons: ethical (not killing animals), environmental (a smaller environmental footprint), and health (a plant-only diet is better for you). Fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds are nutritious options, no question. But like many food and diet trends, when opportunity knocks, the market answers with a myriad of processed products of varying nutritional quality. This month we take a closer look at the nutritional profile of some good and not-so-good vegan foods.

Quorn sausages – Quorn is the brand name for an interesting meat alternative composed of mycoprotein, which is a kind of stringy fungus (similar to mushrooms) that is compressed into more familiar food products such as “mince” and sausages. Quorn sausages contain more fibre per 50g serve than beef sausages, but unfortunately they don’t contain added Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 only occurs in animal foods, so adding this essential vitamin to vegan products helps fill this dietary gap.

Chickpea and Sesame Seeds Vegetable Burgers – These contain less than half the protein of a beef burger but are packed with fibre. They are much lower in saturated fat than regular beef burgers.

Soy milk with added calcium – Soy milk is a good source of protein and is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Note that not all plant milks (e.g. rice, oat, and nut “milks”) are fortified and generally have little protein, vitamins or minerals.

Tofutti Cream Cheese – is soy-based and contains less than half the fat of regular cream cheese, but also less than half the protein. There are 13+ ingredients including added sugar, salt, thickening agents, emulsifiers and preservatives. To be fair, regular cream cheese is not a healthy choice either but generally comes with far fewer additives.

Choc Chip Cookies – are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and yeast-free, but they are made with refined flours, chocolate, sugar and salt. Like any cookie (vegan or not) these are high kilojoule/calorie treats best eaten sparingly and in small amounts.

Dairy-Free Chocolate – chocolate without the dairy is still chocolate, just because it is vegan doesn’t give you a free pass to eat it in unlimited amounts.

Unsweetened Coconut Milk – this brand is better than regular coconut milk because it is has half the fat and some calcium added (not all coconut milks have calcium added so check the label). However, it has 16 times less protein than regular milk from regular cows, and has lots of additives.

Protein Snack Bar – this is a highly processed caramel and chocolate bar made according to the label with “real plant-based food ingredients.” There’s a lot of them (we counted around 50). Consider it an occasional treat and opt for an apple or an orange or a handful or nuts for a regular snack food.

Protein Snack Bar

Chocolate Frozen Dessert – This soy-based frozen dessert is lower in saturated fat than regular ice cream as the fat predominantly comes from vegetable oils (not cream). However, it’s no lower in calories (kilojoules) and the main ingredient is added sugar. Like ice cream, it’s an occasional treat.

The un-plugged truth 

  • A “vegan” label does not guarantee a healthy product. 
  • Highly processed foods vegan foods can be high in calories (kilojoules) saturated fat, salt and added sugars and are likely to have a large environmental footprint. 
  • For the healthiest vegan options stick to minimally processed plant foods, including products fortified with essential vitamins lacking in vegan diets.

Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA for her assistance with this article.

Nicole Senior    
Nicole Senior Nicole Senior pulls the plug on hype and marketing spin to provide reliable, practical advice on food for health and enjoyment. She is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious.   
Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.