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What is a Junk Food Vegan?

Plantz Matter pear, orange and broccoli

What is a Junk Food Vegan?

A junk food vegan is someone whose diet is primarily made up of highly processed foods that do not contain anything animal-derived. Vegans do not consume meat (including fish), dairy, eggs or anything developed from an animal. Exclusion includes food additives if they initially come from an animal source. Junk foods are generally considered foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. Junk food has little value or use in a healthy diet hence the term' junk'.

To find out what a calorie is read my blog titled What is a Calorie?

What is Processed Food?

Processed foods are foods that have been changed from their original state. The more processed a food is, the further away it is from its origin. Processed foods are often stripped of their nutritional value, including fibre. Nutrients are needed to nourish our bodies and keep them functioning in the optimal way. Nutrients are essential for maintenance as well as growth.

Fibre is plant matter that is resistant to digestion. It is vital to digestive and overall health. It helps to clean out our bodies by keeping us regular and full for longer, helps improve blood sugar control, lowers cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of disease. Unfortunately, most of us do not get enough fibre in our diet.

If you are trying to increase your fibre intake, do it slowly to avoid stomach discomfort and bloating. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water to assist the fibre in moving through your body.

Processed foods often contain many additives and are high in fat, sugar, and salt. In fact, processed foods are designed to have specific combinations of fat, carbohydrates, salt and sugar to make it harder to stop eating.

This ideal combination is also called the bliss point because it gives consumers maximum satisfaction. Processed foods are created to stimulate our brains and our palates. They switch off our satiety instincts, so we consume more, think potato chips.

The increased consumption of processed foods in recent decades is a contributing factor to the rising obesity levels in regions with access to these 'foods'. On top of being hyper-palatable, processed foods are higher in calories than plant-based foods. One hundred grams of potato chips is around 530 calories, whereas 100 grams of potatoes are 110 calories.

Plant-based foods are more satisfying because they have a lower calorie density, which means you can eat more, triggering the stretch receptors in your stomach and telling your brain you are full. Plant-based foods have higher nutritional value and fibre, keeping your body nourished and satisfied for longer.

Exploring Vegan Junk Food

Vegan junk food can be a delicious treat. It offers versions of our favourite comfort foods without animal ingredients. Many popular junk foods now have vegan versions. The market has been flooded with vegan burgers, vegan cheeses, and plant-based milks.

Vegan alternatives are designed to mimic the taste and texture of animal foods such as meat products and dairy cheese. They can be a great option for those transitioning or following a plant-based diet.

Protein and Nutritional Content

It's important to consider the nutritional content of these foods. While they can be tasty, they might not always be the healthiest option. But, some vegan snacks are fortified with essential amino acids, B12 and proteins to ensure a balanced diet. Vegan meat alternatives, like plant-based burgers, often contain a good amount of protein, just watch the fat, salt and additives.

The positives of alternative proteins can make us feel justified in choosing them over less processed foods. For instance, black beans and other beans are excellent sources of protein. If we want to be healthy vegans we may need to learn to make a few meals from scratch.

What are Transitional Foods?

Transitional vegan foods are processed foods without animal products but designed to be like animal products. They are a way to replace foods such as meat and cheese but abstain from animal products. They are helpful for people who want to reduce animal products or vegans who would like to eat foods they ate before becoming vegan.

Transitional foods are a positive influence in reducing animal product consumption and keeping vegans from returning to a standard diet. Vegans may use these products sporadically, even on a plant-based diet, if they feel they're missing something or dining out.

The downside is that they are still processed food and can contain all the nasties that regular processed foods contain, minus animal products.

For this reason, be sure to read the ingredients and nutritional chart before you purchase a product. For example, some products contain high amounts of saturated fat and sodium, which will have negative health consequences. Other products may contain palm oil which could have environmental and ethical impacts.

When transitioning to a vegan diet, we should aim to increase our plant-based intake, not simply switch one processed food for another. Dr Douglas Lisle is an evolutionary psychologist and co-author with Dr Allan Goldhamer of The Pleasure Trap.

Dr Lisle points out, "We know what people are eating today. They're eating enormous quantities of meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy products, oil, salt, and sugar; they're eating burgers, pizza, hamburgers, etc. We know they're doing all these things – extremely rich food – and this rich food is clogging up people's arteries, making them obese and getting them in serious trouble."

Even though we know better, Dr Lisle states that mostly we "are staying away from unprocessed whole natural plant food, which is what this organism thrives on." While I agree with what he is trying to tell us, most of us are not eating enough servings of plants and plants matter. I also recognise that it is difficult for some of us to transition back to healthy eating. To find out what Dr Michael Greger recommends read the blog post What Should You Eat Daily?

Are Processed Foods Addictive?

In my opinion, yes. Not everyone agrees or recognises food addiction as a true addiction. I believe this attitude will change the more light that is shed on the manipulative nature of the food industry and its impact on the health and well-being of many of us.

Processed foods are designer foods that are created to overwhelm our natural instincts. They excite our brains and trick us into thinking that the detrimental food is right for us, and the right food is unsatisfying and bland.

Dr Lisle promotes plant-based eating and asks us during his TEDx Fremont presentation, "If we knew the right direction to go, why is it so hard?" His answer to this is the pleasure trap. The pleasure trap is a force that pulls us in the wrong direction despite us knowing better. We can have so much knowledge about what is good for us but struggle to implement it in our daily lives.

Processed foods are a pleasure trap. We know they don't do us any good, but we struggle to give them up. Dr Lisle says, "Anytime we use a supernormal stimulus, a stimulus that is not supposed to be in the environment, that is not characteristic of that animal's natural history, we run the threat that the creature is going to make huge mistakes, potentially self-destructive, maybe even fatal."

We are not designed to consume these, and they threaten our health and well-being because they do not naturally occur in the environment. Our bodies have evolved to like and enjoy natural foods. When we consume junk food, there is a lift in our dopamine circuitry; we are tricked into thinking junk food is excellent.

However, over time we become habituated and get used to the intense stimulus. This neural adaption dulls our senses to the food stimulus as our brain normalises it. Good food doesn't taste good to us anymore.

Dr Lisle said humans are wired to "seek the most pleasure for the least pain and the least effort." Course correcting and escaping the pleasure trap can be challenging. It is doable, but it takes deprivation and time. If you have a food addiction, you might not be able to have any processed food in your diet. Chef AJ always says, "If it's in your house it's in your mouth." Once we remove the hyper-palatable processed food from our diet our added salt, fat and sugar intake will be significantly reduced our bodies will come back to their natural state. Our tastebuds and brain will be happy to have natural whole plant-based foods again.

In Summary

While processed foods are convenient and help people transition to and stay on a vegan diet, they can have negative health consequences. Ideally, highly processed foods should be avoided in favour of minimally processed foods such as wholegrain pasta or tofu, and transitional foods should be used to ease into a plant-based diet and a higher plant intake.

Many may not find that a whole food plant-based salt, oil, and sugar-free (SOS) diet does not fit their lifestyle. If you are starting, it can feel like a minefield trying to navigate all the health and ethical elements of veganism. Learning as you go, 'progress, not perfection,' is okay. Any reduction in animal product consumption you can make is positive; if not for you, at least it is for the animals.

Even after being a vegan for many years, I occasionally consume transition foods. They can lead to a slippery slope, so I am conscious of how much I am using and avoid bringing a lot into my house. If you are concerned about the negative nutritional aspects of transitional foods but still want to consume them, try eating them alongside some whole plant foods such as air-fried potatoes, salad or veggies. This way you can satisfy your palate, increase your plant intake and keep down the calorie density. To read more about calorie density read What is Calorie Density?

To find out If you can relate to this post and find it interesting, please share. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.


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