Just about 10-15 years ago it was nearly impossible to find products that would mimic the taste and feel of meat and dairy – something any past meat eater has their tastebuds accustomed to. And it is still hard to find such options in many countries in Europe, for example!
Meat and dairy-free options are on the rise, though, and despite many vegans claim one should stick to whole foods, I am not against mock meats. They are great convenience foods, and as long as you know how to shop for them, they are not as bad for you as one might think. From the Impossible Burger to eggless eggs, vegan cheeses and chicken substitutes – vegan living is becoming not only simpler, but more exciting than ever!
So, how do we know when we should reach for one of these, and which ones we must avoid at all costs?
Genetically Modified Soy
The first problem with vegan processed foods is that a lot of them contain genetically modified soy. The list of problems associated with GMOs is incredibly long: sterility, liver problems, immune problems, low birth weight…
This is the first thing to look for when shopping such products! Make sure it reads ‘Non-GMO’ on the package.
Textured Vegetable Protein & Soy Isolates
As if the risks of GM foods weren’t bad enough, a lot of vegan processed foods (especially fake meats) often contain textured soy or vegetable protein or soy isolates. These are made with toxic chemical called hexane. Hexane helps separate the proteinsn and fats from soy (or other ingredients) so it gets that meaty texture. Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has classified hexane as a neurotoxin. In large quantities, it can cause serious nerve damage. Hexane use in food manufacturing is currently not regulated by the FDA.
Once protein has been extracted using hexane, it can be dried and turned into soy isolate, TVP, or TSP. Or it can be put through an additional step to turn it into hydrolyzed protein.
To make hydrolyzed protein, the protein is boiled for days in a vat of hydrochloric acid and then neutralized. As a result of this chemical process, one of the protein’s amino acids becomes glutamic acid, which you probably know better as its salt form monosodium glutamate (MSG). So, those vegetable proteins essentially become addictive flavor enhancers. Gnolls has a great article on how it is done.
Healthy Vegan Processed Foods?
Processed foods are not as healthy as whole foods, but, as I pointed out earlier – you might want to include them into your menu now and then for convenience reasons, or if you are craving a certain taste.
If you do have to eat processed foods, follow these guidelines:
1) Don’t make processed foods the main part of the meal. Serve them with tons of veggies and whole grains.
2) Opt for the lesser evil. Choose foods which are free of GMOs and hexane.
The Best Choices for Vegan/Vegetarian Processed Foods
These brands/products do not use GMOs or hexane for their veggie processed foods.
Beyond Meat products
Boca organic products
Field Roast Grain Meat Co.
Morning Star Organic products
Trader Joe’s Organic Tofu Burger
Silk Organic products
Bad Choices for Vegan/Vegetarian Processed Foods
These brands/products probably use either GMOs or hexane in their veggie processed foods.
Garden Burger: Garden Vegan, Gourmet, Original, and Sun Dried Tomato
Trader Joe’s Veg Masala Burger
Silk non-organic products
Worst Choices for Vegan Processed Foods
These brands probably use both GMOs and hexane in their veggie processed foods.
Morning Star non-organic products
Boca non-organic products
Fantastic World Foods
Health is Wealth
Spice of Life
Trader Joe’s veggie products (except those listed above)
Whole Foods veggie products
Shopping Tips for Finding GMO and Hexane-Free Veggie Foods
Obviously, the list of good/bad/ugly foods could be much longer. But most people won’t want to bother memorizing all of the different brands and products of veggie processed foods. Instead, your safest bet when shopping is to buy organic products. Both Hexane and GMOs are banned in 100% organic foods.
If you can’t afford to buy all-organic, then opt for quality over quantity and fill the rest of your shopping cart with whole foods such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies!
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