The Rise of Healthy Vegan Fast Food: Is It Possible?

The Rise of Healthy Vegan Fast Food: Is It Possible?

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By Valentine Reed-Johnson, RD, CDN, Contributing Blogger

Something is happening around the country, a rise in vegan “fast food.” As encouraging as it sounds, is this particular trend just another health craze?

Sex Appeal
Promoting plant-based foods, to detox, rejuvenate and lose weight is sexy and appealing. Advertisers succeed in sending the message that drinking cleansing juices will instantly make you feel and look healthier. There is something “cultish” and exclusive about being a part of this trend. Health is simply an added bonus, not the priority.

Juice bars have begun selling prepared foods such as kale salad with quinoa, gluten-free muffins, acai berry puddings, and cucumber vegetarian sushi. Although many of these foods can fit into a healthy eating plan, the message of true nutrition and health is getting lost.

Missing Nutrients
The line has been blurred as to whether vegan fast food items are considered snacks or meals. If the message were to promote them as healthy snacks before and after working out, for example, then it would provide additional value to a balanced diet. If vegan fast food were considered meals, then there are certain food groups missing from many of the options being offered.

A vegan diet requires significant attention and hard work to ensure the inclusion of a wide variety of nutrients. Vegetarians include fish, eggs and/or dairy; they can more readily get their nutrition from the food they eat. Vegans, on the other hand, definitely struggle to get major vitamins and minerals into their diet because their food choices are more limited.

Calcium, Iron, and B12
Seeing as vegans don’t consume any animal products (like meat, fish or poultry), they are at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies if they don’t pay close attention. Once you’re deficient in a nutrient, it can bring about a variety of unpleasant symptoms. For example, a calcium-depleted diet can lead to tetany, or stiff muscles. To ensure that you’re taking in enough calcium, choose dark leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, and legumes (beans and lentils).

Another common deficiency is iron, which can lead to anemia. To ensure you’re taking enough iron, a vegan needs to turn to non-heme (or plant-based) sources similar to calcium rich items: leafy greens such as kelp, Swiss chard, spinach, and beans such as soybeans and kidney beans, and iron-fortified cereals/grains. Additionally, non-heme iron is best absorbed when coupled with vitamin C-rich foods like any citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons, and limes.

Vitamin B12 aids in metabolizing, or breaking down the foods you eat into energy. Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin such as liver, beef, milk, eggs, fish and cheese. As vegans don’t consume these foods, they must get their vitamin B12 levels checked regularly by a physician. If vitamin B12 is low, a physician may recommend a vitamin B12 supplement by injection or nasal spray.

So What’s the Deal?
Not only does the vegan fast food craze exclude whole food groups, but it can also give your wallet a beating! Instead of relying heavily on current trends like vegan fast food to become healthier or lose weight, learn simple ways to prepare healthy meals at home. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you.
Valentine is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, currently working at a hospital in Westchester, NY. At the hospital she covers cardiac units, but eventually hopes to open up a private practice in Manhattan. Valentine believes in providing practical nutrition knowledge, encouraging others to think logically when it comes to their health. Follow Valentine on twitter or check out her website.

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