Tell people that you are vegan and they assume that you are super healthy, existing on a diet of mung beans, sprouts and kale...
However, it's easy to eat just as badly following a vegan diet as that of your average westerner - think fast food, takeaways, ready meals, snacks with a 2 year shelf life... this is mostly because of the intention behind the decision to eat this way. Many people choose to follow a vegan diet for economic and ethical reasons (to save the planet or to save the animals…) so their main concern isn’t nutrition or their own health.
January 2020 saw the highest uptake ever of the Veganuary challenge (400k worldwide) - where people give up meat and dairy for January and eat a vegan diet instead... I was momentarily happy to hear this until I visited my local supermarket just after new year. Two whole chiller cabinets were decorated with bright coloured pictures of vegetables and marketed as 'healthy options' for Veganuary. They contained an enormous selection of burgers, sausages & ready meals, mostly made with highly processed meat alternatives - I tried really hard to find something made with actual vegetables or beans and couldn't. It seemed to me that the contents of the ‘healthy vegan’ chiller cabinet were aimed at people who usually ate fast food and ready meals and liked the idea of being healthier without having to deal with actual vegetables or cooking.
Among this array of ready made processed food were things like Caribbean Jackfruit - yes Jackfruit IS an actual plant, but it was covered in a sugary, oily sauce containing so many fake foodstuffs, most of which were unrecognisable on the ingredients label and this is the problem.
People tell me that they've been 'good' as they chose a vegan burger over a beef burger when in reality neither have any substantial nutritional value, both have been highly processed and contain ingredients that trigger the body’s inflammatory response. The only real way to get a burger with some nutritional value (meat or veggie) is to make it yourself from scratch (or buy it from someone who does)...
(cookie image from freshnlean.com)
Someone excitedly told me that she was being 'healthy' eating Oreos as someone had told her they were vegan... yes they are vegan but not deliberately (a lot of biscuits are accidentally vegan) but they are far from nutritious.
I had a comment on a social media post last week from someone telling me that she is proud to be a ‘junk food vegan’ because that is her choice and she enjoys it. I don’t have a problem with people like this who are knowingly choosing to eat unhealthy food. My issue comes when the food industry trick people into buying a vegan cottage pie or vegan burger by making them think it’s a healthy choice. By the way, there ARE some healthier options for ready to eat vegan foods but they are harder to find and shouldn’t be eaten regularly (brands like Strong Roots).
So, what to do? transitioning to a whole-foods plant-based diet is not an easy thing to do for anyone, let alone anyone who isn’t organised and doesn’t really cook. It involves meal planning, meal prep, shopping for perishable foods at least twice a week and cooking from scratch… this is because it involves Real Food. Real ingredients that don’t have a shelf life of 2 years, real ingredients that grow mould if unused after a few days… yes it’s more work than a junk food diet, but it doesn’t have to include soaking beans for days on end and making your own muesli!
I work with people who are ready to improve their health by making lasting changes to their diet, I also encourage shortcuts where possible, this makes the changes more likely to stick. We are all busy, we are all stressed and if we can buy a tin of ready cooked cannellini beans rather than soaking them overnight and having to cook them before adding them to a dish, then why not do that! The people who come to me have already made the decision to change, and I think that that is the hardest part.