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8 Vegan Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think

author image K. Aleisha Fetters
K. Aleisha Fetters is a health and fitness writer. She holds a master’s degree in New Media from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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8 Vegan Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think
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To most dieters, “vegan” has become synonymous with “healthy.” If that’s you, it’ time to rethink what vegan really means, says plant-based dietitian, Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of “Plant-Powered for Life.” “While eating vegan can improve your health, there are plenty of ooey-gooey desserts, drinks and comfort foods out there that are packed with calories, saturated fat and sodium that don’t contain any meat or animal products,” Palmer says. She has even seen people gain weight and their health go down the drain when they switch to vegan diets. The reason: They are swapping out meat for these eight deceptively unhealthy vegan foods.

1. Processed Faux Meats
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1 Processed Faux Meats

“Fake meat is often loaded with artificial ingredients, preservatives, processed oils and nutritionally empty ingredients,” says vegan dietitian Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD, founder of Healthy Grocery Girl. Some veggie patties even contain more calories than beef patties and with far less protein, says Sharon Palmer, RDN, who suggests always turning to real, whole, minimally processed plant proteins like tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds before turning to faux meats. If you’re really craving a veggie burger, read the ingredients label before you buy. Look for packages that list beans or legumes, not soy protein isolate or wheat gluten, as the first ingredient, Roosevelt says. That way you know you are getting more whole foods from your burger.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

2. Vegan Desserts
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2 Vegan Desserts

These can be even worse for you than their butter-and-egg-containing counterparts. That’s because to replace those ingredients food manufacturers add in starches, gums and pectins, explains plant-based dietitian Devon L. Golem, Ph.D., RD, LD. The result: They can contain more simple carbohydrates and calories than non-vegan desserts. If you’re shopping for a vegan sweet treat, always read the ingredients list and keep an eye out for forms of sugar (if it ends in “-ose,” it’s probably sugar), oils, refined grains and synthetic ingredients, and be sure to compare different brands’ calories, sugar and saturated fat content, recommends plant-based dietitian Sharon Palmer.

Related: 16 Famous Vegans and Vegetarians

3. Coconut Yogurt
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3 Coconut Yogurt

If you think this is a healthy alternative to dairy yogurt, think again. A single serving of coconut yogurt can contain about 60 percent of your recommended daily saturated fat intake -- and with only about one gram of protein. “Many people think that the saturated fat in coconut is very healthy, but it’s still saturated fat, so it would be wise not to overdo it,” says pescatarian and vegan nutritionist Joanne L. Williams, Ph.D., author of “Health Begins in the Kitchen.” If you want to splurge with some coconut yogurt every now and then, look for organic options made without tons of added sugar, recommends vegan dietitian Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD.

Related: The 11 Biggest Myths About the Vegan Diet, Debunked

4. White Breads and Pastas
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4 White Breads and Pastas

When people switch from an omnivorous to vegan diet, the most common error is eating refined grains to try to fill up, says plant-based dietitian, Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of “Plant-Powered for Life.” However, trying to replace meat with simple carbohydrates is never going to work. When you turn to white bread and pastas, you are consuming tons of simple carbohydrates, spiking your blood sugar and leaving you hungry again within 30 minutes. She recommends sticking to whole grains like whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, farro and barley for filling protein as well as good-for-you nutrients like zinc, iron and B6.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

5. Frozen Vegan Meals
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5 Frozen Vegan Meals

Whether meat- and cheese-filled or vegan, frozen meals are typically packed with preservatives, salt and hard-to-pronounce additives, says vegan dietitian Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD, founder of Healthy Grocery Girl. “It’s easy to be attracted to low-calorie, high-protein frozen meals. However, for optimal health it’s important to consume meals and snacks made from real ingredients,” she says. “Always read the ingredient list first to avoid artificial sweeteners. Look for meals that include whole grains, vegetables and beans. Double-check by reviewing the nutrition facts panel -- place meals that are high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat back in the freezer.

Related: 16 Famous Vegans and Vegetarians

6. Veggie Chips
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6 Veggie Chips

They seem like an easy way to sneak in an extra serving of vegetables, but many packaged veggie chips are made mostly of potato starch or corn flour, says Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD. “Processed chips made from a combination of flours, starches, oil, sugar and salt are cheap to make and taste good, so they are an easy sell. However, to achieve real health, we need to eat real food,” she says. “When selecting vegetable chips, the first few ingredients should be vegetables you recognize like sweet potatoes, beets or parsnips.” If you’re feeling creative, you can make them at home with a dehydrator and control exactly what you’re eating.

Related: 7 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

7. Granola Bars
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7 Granola Bars

What’s holding that granola together? Often, it’s sugars, refined oils, artificial colors and flavors and preservatives, says Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD. No wonder it tastes so good and looks so delicious. Start reading your labels. “When selecting granola bars, look for options that contain at least three grams of protein and three grams of fiber per serving. Protein and fiber are key for managing blood sugar levels and appetite,” she says. Meanwhile, you’ll also want to see where sugar lands on your label. If it’s one of the first three ingredients listed (agave, honey and dextrose all count as sugar), eating it will score you more sugar than anything else. Move on.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

8. Seitan
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8 Seitan

Do you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance? Then you are going to want to avoid seitan. “Seitan is an ancient Asian food made from the gluten protein in wheat,” says Devon L. Golem, Ph.D., RD, LD. “It’s basically wheat with the other components washed away, leaving only the protein component.” If you have celiac disease, eating seitan can contribute to damage in your small intestine that affects your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. However, there’s no evidence that people benefit from going gluten-free if they don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Golem says. So if you have no trouble digesting other gluten-containing foods like whole-wheat pasta, there’s no real reason to lay off seitan.

Related: 16 Famous Vegans and Vegetarians

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Are you a vegan? What are your favorite vegan foods? Do you eat any of the foods we mentioned in this piece? Will you take any off of your menu after reading this? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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