There is an automatic assumption with veganism that because it is all plant-based foods, that means they are healthier. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Vegan diets have a lot of the same problems as the average American diet. These issues include difficulty finding a balance of all vital nutrients, consuming too many processed foods, and an overwhelming temptation for “junk foods.” This segment is in three parts: Accidentally vegan foods, vegan fast food, and the truth of vegan processed foods.
What is accidentally vegan?
Accidentally vegan products are foods that were not created with the purpose of feeding vegans but rather were a happy accident showing that delicious treats of all kinds can be made without using dairy products, honey, or other animal-derived ingredients.
This includes so many high-sugar snacks such as Air Heads, Twizzlers, Cracker Jack, Fruit By The Foot, Sour Patch Kids, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, and so many other brand names.* Some people during the transition of omnivore to vegan find they gain weight simply because they think if it’s vegan, it’s not bad. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
*Note: It’s a common misconception, but sodas are not vegan. It’s important to do your research when it comes to cola products because many sodas contain ester gum. Ester gum is often used to thicken or stabilize food products and because it uses glycerol, it can be of animal origin.
Dangers of high sugar diets
Today, an average American consumes about 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. New numbers came out in February 2015. The Washington Post did a story on it using grams (4 grams = 1 tsp). Americans are now consuming 126 grams, which would equal close to 32 teaspoons. The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose. In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar. It is actually a hepatotoxin and is metabolized directly into fat, factors that can cause a whole host of problems that can have far-reaching effects on your health.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology in the University of California says that your body can safely metabolize at least 6 tsp of added sugar/day. But since most Americans are consuming over 3 times that amount, majority of the excess sugar becomes metabolized into body fat.
Here are some of the effects that consuming too much sugar has on your health:
- It overloads and damages your liver. The effects of too much sugar or fructose can be likened to the effects of alcohol. All the fructose you eat gets shuttled to the only organ that has the transporter for it: your liver. This severely taxes and overloads the organ, leading to potential liver damage.
- It tricks your body into gaining weight and affects your insulin and leptin signaling. Fructose fools your metabolism by turning off your body’s appetite-control system. It fails to stimulate insulin, which in turn fails to suppress ghrelin which then fails to stimulate leptin. This causes you to eat more and develop insulin resistance
- It causes metabolic dysfunction. Eating too much sugar causes a barrage of symptoms known as classic metabolic syndrome. These include weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL and increased LDL, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
- It increases your uric acid levels. High uric acid levels are a risk factor for heart and kidney disease. In fact, the connection between fructose, metabolic syndrome, and your uric acid is now so clear that your uric acid level can now be used as a marker for fructose toxicity.
What does it all mean?
Veganism is no reason to stop eating your favorite foods. If you are dying to eat a piece of chocolate cake, there is a myriad of delicious and sweet recipes for vegan cake. One of the biggest blessings of veganism is that you will never need to give up chocolate.
Enjoy your sweet treats in moderation. Keep your diet full of three square meals a day with healthy snacks in between, but don’t be afraid to sneak a bowl of luscious cherry soy ice cream with Hershey’s Chocolate syrup on top. There is a vegan dessert for every sweet tooth, but try to remember that balance and proper nutrition is just as important in veganism as every other diet.
What are other accidentally vegan foods?