Are there unhealthy vegetarian foods?

Vegetarian diets are touted for their many health benefits but you can also eat lots of unhealthy food on a vegetarian diet.  The grocery store is full of packaged, processed vegetarian foods with long and complicated ingredient lists.  As with any healthy diet we want to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store and minimize the amount of food we buy from the middle aisles.

A few key watch-outs for those choosing vegetarian food:

Faux meats:

Faux meats including bologna slices, ham and bacon are definitely easy vegetarian sandwich options. However, they are super processed and come with a long list of unpronounceable components including artificial ingredients, preservatives, oils and salt. Some healthier sandwich options include:

. hummus and veggies

. avocado, lettuce and tomato

. nut butter and banana

. mozzarella cheese, pesto and tomato

. tempeh bacon, lettuce and tomato


Alongside faux meat comes veggie burgers and veggie hotdogs. They are also highly processed and contain way too many ingredients to count. These too should not be eaten on a regular basis.  However, there has been lots of product innovation in the veggie burger category and more and more new burgers are reaching the grocery stores these days. Most of the new products I have seen are frozen and have really simple, clean ingredient lists so read labels carefully. Homemade veggie burgers are easy to make so look for recipes online, make a batch and keep them in the freezer. See recipe below.


Bread and pasta:

When people give up meat they sometimes look for quick, easy-to-prepare foods they know will fill them up like bread and pasta. The challenge here is these foods will spike blood sugar and leave you hungry soon after you finish eating. The best option is to look for breads and pastas made from whole grains which will take longer to digest thus keeping blood sugar levels stable longer. Also adding some clean vegetarian protein will help stave off those hunger pangs.


Nuts and seeds:

Nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamins, minerals and even protein. For those following a vegetarian diet adding nuts or seeds to meals or as a snack can really increase your nutrient intake. However, you want to make sure you buy raw, if possible, unsalted/unseasoned nuts and seeds as some seasonings contain high amounts of salt, sugar, oil and even msg.


Protein powders:

One of the most common, though sometimes unfounded, concerns for those following a vegetarian diet is protein intake. Some people choose to add protein powder to their morning smoothies. These protein powders can be made from whey, pea or brown rice which are all vegetarian sources however they may also contain not-so-healthy ingredients, are highly processed and may contain added sugars and artificial ingredients. To add protein to smoothies consider nuts or seeds (hemp is my personal favourite as you can even buy hemp protein powder), nut or seed butters or even silken tofu or soy milk.

Following a vegetarian diet shouldn’t pose too many challenges as long as you eat good quality, whole foods. If you are looking for tips and tricks about vegetarian diets, sign up for my newsletter. Or sign up for A Parent’s Guide To Raising Healthy Vegetarian Kids.

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