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4 Surprisingly Unhealthy Vegetarian Foods

January 4, 2013
Clean Plates founder, Jared Koch suggests alternatives to certain kinds of "health food" that aren't really all that healthy.

These days, it’s easier than ever to find vegetarian foods. But just because something is meat-free or even dairy-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Here are 4 vegetarian foods that seem healthy, but actually aren’t, along with cleaned-up substitutions from Clean Plates founder Jared Koch.

Veggie burgers
Most pre-packaged veggie burgers are loaded with processed ingredients and high in sodium. Among the ingredients in one popular brand: soy protein concentrate, hydrolyzed wheat protein, artificial flavor and disodium guanylate. Jared suggests looking for ones made from beans, grains and veggies, or making your own (check out The Clean Plates Cookbook).

The famous, spongy block was once thought to be an essential protein source for a healthy vegetarian diet, but many plant-based eaters now avoid it entirely. Why? Tofu is a processed form of soy, and there are some questions surrounding soy’s effect on women’s hormones (it’s thought to be an estrogen disruptor). Go easy on this stuff, and if you do partake, look for organic and non-GMO varieties.

Faux meats
These are often suggested as a good transition food for those moving to a vegetarian diet, but fake meat is exactly that: fake food. Most meat replacements, like textured vegetable protein (TVP), seitan and Quorn, are highly processed. If you need something meaty, Jared recommends opting for organic tempeh, which is made from whole soybeans. Because it’s fermented, nutty-tasting tempeh is easier to digest and less likely to cause sensitivity reactions.

Vegan sweets
Just like “regular” baked goods and treats, vegan sweets can be loaded with sugar and heavy in oils, not to mention they often employ tofu and soy products as dairy substitutes. Jared suggests that when a sugar craving hits, aim for treats with natural sweeteners like coconut palm sugar or raw honey, and remember—even these are best in moderation.

You’ve been veg-ucated.

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