Highly-processed vegan foods: some love them, some hate them.
But fact is, the availability of these products is ever increasing. The number of options is growing, and flavor and texture are continually improving.
In larger stores, you can find almost identical vegan alternatives to nearly all non-vegan foods, which is pretty impressive.
These highly processed vegan foods are great for busy days when you want a quick meal or when you want to veganize a non-vegan recipe.
But there are also disadvantages that need to be considered.
So what should you do? Strictly avoid all highly-processed vegan foods, consume them moderately, or enjoy them as you please because it’s better than eating animal products?
Well, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of highly processed vegan foods before we make a decision.
Let’s go ➡️
What are highly processed vegan foods?
Highly processed vegan foods are products more made in a lab and not so much grown and harvested.
These include ready-made meals, frozen meals, convenience foods, fast food, ice cream, as well as vegan meat and cheese alternatives.
Advantages of processed vegan foods
If you are a health-conscious vegan, you probably wonder what could possibly be good about processed foods. I get it; I used to think the same way.
But I learned it’s not all black and white, and highly processed foods can be a good option sometimes.
So what are some advances of highly processed vegan foods? Let’s find out!
Highly-processed foods taste delicious
One of the most significant advantages of processed foods is that they usually taste amazing with minimal effort required.
For example, I’ve tried to make healthy vegan feta cheese many times.
While it always tasted good, it never came close to the vegan feta cheese I buy in stores, which tastes almost exactly like “real” feta cheese and the texture is remarkably similar as well.
Another major benefit of highly-processed foods is that they are super convenient. Suppose you come home after a busy day at work, super hungry.
Instead of standing in the kitchen for an hour or two you can take a pizza out of the freezer, pop it in the oven, and have a meal ready in less than 20 minutes with literally no effort required.
Health 0 - Convenience 1
Helpful when transitioning to a vegan diet
Highly-processed vegan foods are excellent if you are transitioning to a vegan diet or are a new vegan because they allow you to veganize all your favorite meals.
Switching to a new way of eating is a lot easier if you can still enjoy familiar dishes.
Additionally, you don’t need to stress all the time about finding and trying new recipes. Instead, all you do is swap the animal product ingredients with plant food alternatives.
Further, using highly-processed vegan foods can be incredibly helpful if you experience cravings or have a hard time giving up animal products.
And don’t worry, even if you’ve been vegan for a long time, you can still enjoy processed vegan foods for one or all of the above reasons as well.
Great for showing others that veganism isn’t restrictive
I like to bring dishes made with highly-processed vegan foods to social gatherings. I do this because people are drawn to the familiar.
For example, I can make a delicious lentil Bolognese, but often people are more reluctant to try it.
However, if I make the same dish but use vegan ground beef instead of lentils it will look like regular Bolognese, and the flavor and texture will be strikingly similar.
As a result, the Bolognese made with vegan ground beef doesn’t stand out, and people tend to be more willing to give it a try.
Of course, some people might be more interested in trying the lentil Bolognese because it looks different or because they don’t want anything “artificial”.
However, in my experience, the more a vegan meal looks like the non-vegan version, the more people are open to trying it.
Might still be healthier than animal products
It’s not a secret that processed vegan foods are not the healthiest thing in the world (see disadvantages). But many might still healthier than the non-vegan foods they try to replace.
Vegan cheese, for example, is high in salt and fat and low in nutrients. But on the other hand it is free of hormones, cholesterol, and animal suffering, among others.
A larger variety of foods
There are many vegan alternatives to animal products you can make at home (like cheese or “chicken” nuggets).
However, some vegan equivalents are difficult or even impossible to make yourself. I’m thinking of vegan lunch meat or vegan minced meat, for example.
Of course, there are many ways to substitute vegan minced meat with whole foods options.
But you can’t replicate minced beef with these foods the same way you can with highly-processed vegan foods.
For those reasons, highly-processed vegan foods may help increase the variety of dishes you can prepare.
Another advantage of processed vegan foods is that they are often fortified with vitamins and minerals that are critical for vegans. In this way, they help to reduce the risk of nutrient deficiency.
Naturally, a healthy, whole-foods vegan diet combined with adequate supplementing is the best way to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
However, most of us (including me) don’t eat perfectly healthy all the time.
And sometimes, you may forget to take a supplement. For those reasons, it can be beneficial to have a little “back up.”
And just so there’s no misunderstanding.
Fortified products are not a replacement for taking supplements that are required for vegans (vitamin B12, f.e.). They simply add another layer of security.
Disadvantages of processed vegan foods
Highly-processed vegan foods offer a lot of excellent benefits, but there are also some considerable downsides.
While it can be tempting and tasty to enjoy a diet high in processed vegan foods, it’s not ideal from a health point of view.
Let’s take a look at why consuming large amounts of highly-processed vegan foods may not be the best idea.
Often high in fat, oil, salt, trans fats, and sugar
One of the most compelling arguments against highly-processed foods is that they tend to be (very) high in fat/oil, salt, and/or sugar and possibly contain harmful trans-fats.
These ingredients can negatively impact health, promote weight gain, and don’t add any nutritional value.
Can be more expensive
As delicious as they are, processed vegan foods can be quite expensive.
If someone says that being vegan is expensive it is often because they enjoy a diet high in highly-processed foods.
If you want to save money and/or make being vegan more affordable, your best bet is to substitute highly processed vegan foods with a more wholesome option (f.e. lentils instead of vegan ground beef). Or, you could make homemade versions of highly-processed vegan foods (f.e. homemade vegan cheese).
May cause more trash
This point varies greatly depending on where you live and where you shop, but highly-processed vegan foods tend to come packed in plastic.
Naturally, that is not very environmentally friendly.
Generally, it tends to be easier to find whole foods unpacked or packed in more environmentally friendly ways (paper, biodegradable plastic) than it is to find highly-processed vegan foods in sustainable packaging/unpackaged.
Not as nutritious as whole foods
Another major drawback of highly-processed foods is that they are not nearly as nutritious as whole foods.
During food processing, valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber are lost or significantly reduced in their amount.
If you consume processed vegan foods frequently, you may have an increased risk of nutrient deficiency.
For that reason enjoying highly-processed vegan foods now and then is fine, but most of what you eat should come from whole food sources.
They contain artificial flavorings, conservatives, texturing agents, and artificial coloring
To improve look, taste, and texture, artificial flavors, texturing agents, and artificial colors are commonly found in highly-processed vegan foods. (Yes, they are one of the main reasons why processed foods taste oh so good!)
But unfortunately, these artificial additives and conservatives can be harmful to your health, particularly when consumed in large and frequent amounts.
Alright, in this post, you learned a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of highly-processed vegan foods.
As you can see, it’s not all black and white. There are both “good” and “bad” sides to the consumption of these foods.
Ultimately you must do what feels best for you, your body, and your situation.
But if you are interested in the opinion of a vegan nutritionist (😄):
For best health, I recommend a mostly whole foods vegan diet where occasional processed foods can be enjoyed without guilt.
Summary: The pros and cons of highly processed vegan foods
What’s your take on highly-processed vegan foods?