Eating Vegan and the Processed Food Dilemma

As vegans, we have all lived on some deserted islands.  We have all defended our protein intakes.  And, we have spoken (or perhaps marched) on behalf of the animals.

But of all the curves the omni crowd throws at me, the one I struggle with the most is the topic of processed foods.

I am what I like to call a “meaty vegan.”  I grew up in the woods of New England, eating wholesome foods like ham steaks, meatloaf, and spaghetti sauce “flavored with meat.”  So personally I enjoy the meat analogs that allow me to bridge the gap between my personal heritage and veganism.

I am a meaty vegan, and this is my food.

But that also comes with it’s own set of concerns, mostly around the fact that most of this food is highly processed and contains a lot of oil, salt, and sugars.

So what is this meaty vegan to do?

I reached out to some of my fav vegan brands on the market and asked them a simple question:    “How do you feel vegan processed foods differ from conventional processed foods?”

beyond-meat-logoBeyond Meat:  “Vegan food commonly does have higher nutritional content and better ingredients, so one could probably say it is more often healthier, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily healthier. We pride ourselves on making a product that has balanced nutritionals, high-quality natural ingredients, and is no more processed than your typical loaf of bread.”

official_fr_logo_10_09Field Roast Grain Meat Co: “Our products are simply crafted and artisan-made, using traditional food-making practices. For example, when making our Field Roast Sausages we begin with a grind (ours of grain meat), then chop our own fresh vegetables and add some liquids and seasonings…”

HeidiHoLOGOHeidi Ho: Even vegan processed foods are contributing to solving our animal based diet reliance, the diminishing resources of here and now, and benefiting this very pissed off planet…Vegan does not mean healthy. Plant-based or plant-strong suggests a diet rich in whole ingredients. We use these whole ingredients to make our processed plant-based cheese alternatives. Heidi Ho uses nuts, seeds, vegetables, and a combination of herbs and spices to create a delicious cheese alternatives and it is benefiting all three pillars: the health of our customers, the planet, and animals.”

My personal thoughts:  I would prefer to eat all raw, leafy produce fresh from the Earth.  But that is honestly not practical for me.  My personal tastes combined with a hectic travel schedule and need for quick dinners has me away from the fields and into the frozen aisle.

Even Veggie Grill’s macaroni and cheese is made with quinoa pasta and natural ingredients. But it is still processed.

But I agree with Beyond Meat.  Vegan processed food in my opinion is healthier than non-vegan processed food.  Oreos and potato chips aside, when I look at vegan processed food I see contents like “carrot fiber,” “pea protein,” and “palm oil.”

I also agree with Heidi Ho that anything we can do to lessen our impact on the animals and the planet are pluses.

Non-vegan foods have things like casein, glycerides, and stearic acid.  There are a lot more sketchy ingredients.

I think about my hot dog experience.  When I was a kid, I knew what was in hot dogs.  And I hated them.  As a vegan (who knows what is NOT in them) I love them!  I would much rather eat the processed vegan equivalent of the processed meat version.

In closing, while not perfect I still feel that a vegan diet with processed foods is more healthy than a non-vegan diet with processed foods.

I continually strive to eat more leafy, raw veggies and fruits.


UPDATE: Tofurky responded to my inquiry after my post went public.  Their response was very thorough and I wanted to share it in it’s entirety with my peeps:


1. Nutritionally.   …Tofurky products have the same or more protein with no cholesterol and greatly reduced sodium levels.

2. Meat products almost always have nitrates and nitrites as preservatives, both of which are known cancer causing additives.   Tofurky products have none of these or any other preservatives.

3. Within meat alternatives, Tofurky products stand out in that they are based on Organic , Non GMO traditional soy proteins like Tofu and Tempeh.   These are lightly processed forms of soy that have a long history of providing good nutrition throughout the world.   Nearly all of our competitors use hexane extracted soy protein isolates and concentrates which are a much more heavily processed form of soy.  We never use hexane extracted ingredients.  Ironically, many meat sausages and hot dogs also contain hexane extracted soy protein because it absorbs so much water.

4. Most meat products come from animals fed antibiotics and GMO grains.   Tofurky has already certified 7 products with the Non GMO project and expects to have our whole refrigerated line certified later this year.

5. Tofurky never uses MSG or HVP, two common flavor enhancers in meat products.   We try and only use simple ingredients that people can easily understand.

6.  Tofurky products are 100% vegan and thus compassionate choices for those wishing to give up meat but still looking for products with a meatlike texture and flavor.

7.  Making one pound of Tofurky requires .46 pound of grains.   Making one pound of Turkey requires 4.7 pounds of grain so Tofurky is a more efficient way of producing protein.

8. To make one pound of Tofurky , it takes less than 200 gallons of water.  To make a pound of Sausage, it takes over 2000 gallons of water.

4 thoughts on “Eating Vegan and the Processed Food Dilemma”

  1. Love this article Scott. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to be part of it! “Processed Foods” is definitely a hot topic and one that we’re happy to help shine some light on. Keep up the great work!


  2. The big problem with Beyond Meat is that it contains extremely high concentrations of Soy Protein Isolate. I would strongly discourage someone from consuming it, there are far healthier vegan foods to eat containing healthier sources of protein. To create soy protein isolate you blanch the molecular structure using chemical processes which remove the fat and carbohydrate leaving only the protein. Unfortunately, this blanching process leads to a unstable molecular structure which is commonly referred to as a free radical. There is much evidence linking free radicals to things like cancer, arthritis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. It’s disturbing to hear Beyond Meat claim that vegan processed food is healthier than non-vegan processed food since that is entirely dependent on the products being compared (and ones own interpretation of the processes involved in creating the ingredients used.) For instance, Beyond Meat doesn’t seem to have an issue with loading their foods with protein isolate.


  3. Thanks for your feedback Daniel. While the excerpt of our comment does say that vegan processed foods are more often healthier, it also doesn’t mean it is necessarily healthier. There are indeed lots of great sources of protein in the Vegan community, like the work which our friends over at Vega are doing with Hemp protein.

    As for those looking to avoid Soy and Soy proteins, we recently introduced our line of Beef Crumbles which are made only of Pea Protein and all our products are Non-GMO, Gluten-Free and Kosher.

    We appreciate your insights and feedback and will remain steadfast in our efforts to improve our ingredients and processes to always provide the best quality product to our fans as possible.

    Whether you’re eating Beyond Meat, or other plant-based options, creating solutions to reduce global meat consumption as well as for Animal Welfare, Human Health, Climate Change and Resource Conservation remains mission critical for us.


  4. Beyond Meat,
    I share Daniel’s concern. Are the crumbles from protein isolate? The blanching process he describes is the same whether the protein is pea or soy based (which leads to free radicals.) Thanks for clarifying!


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