NAVIGATE

Kris Carr

Wellness

Guidelines for Eating Vegan Junk Food

Hiya Smarties!

Do you reach for convenient plant-based snacks not knowing whether they’re helping or hurting your health? Read on to find out how to make the best choices at the store and how much is too much. Take it away, Brenda…

Is Vegan Junk Food a Blessing or a Curse?

Most people assume that vegans give up donuts, cheesecake, s’mores, gummy bears, ice cream bars, chicken wings, cheeseburgers and every other favorite food imaginable. Twenty years ago, they would have been right. Today, they’d be dead wrong.

Vegan versions of almost every fast food are now yours for the taking. It is wonderful—and horrible—all at the same time. On the one hand, it is a bit of a relief to know that you can provide your child with a “reasonable look-alike” vegan food when their friends are enjoying ice cream bars on a hot summer day or roasting marshmallows at their highly anticipated class camp out.

Just because something is dairy free and doesn’t use animal products doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If you get a little too cozy with processed food, you could end up with a vegan diet that is as bad as the Standard American Diet (SAD) that we’re so determined to avoid.

The Cost of Eating Processed Vegan Foods

In this hectic world of multitasking, convenience foods have an undeniable attraction. While popping a veggie pie in the microwave is no doubt faster than cooking a meal from scratch, you have to consider the cost of cutting corners with the raw materials used to replace your brain cells (and the rest of your body!).

Processed, packaged foods are carefully designed to tantalize your taste buds and keep you coming back for more. This task is cleverly accomplished with salt, sugar, and fat, all of which have a nasty way of coming back to bite you in the butt.

Many assume vegan snacks are nutritionally beyond reproach. Don’t be fooled. Just because you see the word vegan on a label does not automatically qualify the item as healthful. Nor does it qualify it as low-calorie, low-fat, or “low” anything. Some of the world’s unhealthiest options are 100% vegan—soda pop and deep-fried salty snacks are two perfect examples.

How to Live a Vegan Lifestyle

What does this all mean when it comes to our food choices? Can you afford to eat any of the tempting treats sitting on store shelves? While you don’t have to completely eschew the tasty convenience foods that are appearing in ever-increasing numbers, you best be savvy about where on the spectrum these foods lie. The following guidelines will help you sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Focus on a Whole Food Diet

Focus on eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Make these foods the centerpieces of all your meals. Shoot for at least 10 servings of vegetables and fruits, including at least three servings of leafy greens, each day. Limit your intake of vegan products like vegan cheese.

Eat Vegan Junk Food in Moderation

Frozen entrees, vegan meat, frozen whole grain waffles, packaged mixes, and the like can offer variety and enjoyment, but they should not become dietary staples. Eat them in moderation!

This includes vegan fast foods like vegan hot dogs, ice cream, candy bars, and sweet baked goods containing white flour and/or sugar.

Stick to First-Generation Soy Products When Possible

Stick to organic, first-generation soy products such as edamame, roasted soybeans, baked soybeans, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk. Minimize highly processed foods, especially those based on isolated soy protein or oil.

Learn to Read Nutrition Labels

Learn to read labels! While the nutrition facts give you a lot of valuable information about salt, sugar, fat and nutrient content, the ingredients list is every bit as important. Ingredients are listed by weight, so whatever appears first is present in the greatest quantity. Plus, watch out for ingredients that are tested on animals.

Make Sure You Get All of Your Nutrients

Make sure you are getting adequate nutrients from your diet, particularly vitamin B12, but also vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, iodine and essential fatty acids. Ignoring these nutrients can erode most of the advantages enjoyed on a whole-foods vegan diet.

25 Vegan Junk Foods To Enjoy in Moderation

Without further ado, here are some vegan foods (you might be surprised) that are delicious (but far from healthy). So enjoy these snacks in moderation when you’re on the go or need a treat!

#1 Swedish Fish

Though they’re shaped like fish, these gelatin-free gummy Swedish Fish are an animal-friendly sweet treat.

#2 Oreos

Oreos are a creme-stuffed cookie that’s well-known for being dunkable in milk—yet they’re completely dairy-free.

#3 Sour Patch Kids

Sour patch kids are another gelatin-free option packed full of sour flavors.

#4 The Original Cracker Jack

This salty and sweet treat combines peanuts, caramel, and popcorn for a delightful crunch.

#5 Kettle Brand Potato Chips

If you’re craving the crunch of potato chips, the Kettle brand is a great option for vegans.

#6 Ruffles Original Potato Chips

The crinkle-cut potato chips are another salty potato chip (just watch out for dairy products in some of the flavored options).

#7 Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili

Spicy Sweet Chili, Blaze, and Lightly Salted Doritos are all great options for vegans and perfect for dipping (guacamole, anyone?).

#8 Quaker Life Cereal (Cinnamon)

This cereal—when paired with a non-dairy milk option—delivers flavor and crunch and can quickly satisfy any sweet tooth.

#9 Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix

The powdered portion of this brownie mix is vegan! You simply need to use a replacement for the egg.

#10 Famous Amos Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

These peanut butter cookies—while not as famous as the chocolate chip cookies—are free of dairy products and packed full of peanut butter.

#11 Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

These are a great way to get your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup craving’s covered (unless you want to try this recipe for homemade peanut butter cups).

#12 Lindt Chocolate Bars

If you stick to the rich dark chocolates (70% cocoa and higher) you’ll get your chocolate fix without animal products.

#13 Sara Lee/Marie Callender’s Frozen Pies

Some Sara Lee and Marie Callender frozen pies (like the apple) are free of animal products (but contain things like palm oil and wheat products). So not a gluten-free option but it could be worse for a pie, right?

#14 Nutter Butter Cookies

They may not taste exactly like peanut butter, but they’re salty, sweet, and completely plant-based.

#15 Unfrosted Pop Tarts

Long marketed as a breakfast food—but let’s be real, they’re a dessert—the blueberry, strawberry, and brown-sugar varieties without frosting are vegan-friendly.

#16 SkinnyPop White Cheddar Popcorn

While it literally says “white cheddar” on its label, there is no cheese to be found in this plant-based snack. Instead, they work some magic with non-dairy cheese flavor… almost as good as the real thing.

#17 Airheads

Just lots and lots of sugars in these chewy and tart candy strips.

#18 Fritos

Fritos are a simple snack made with corn, corn oil, and salt. As far as plant-based foods go, this one is pretty straightforward!

#19 Fruit by the Foot

Interestingly, the fruit in most flavors is “pear puree.”

#20 Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars

One of the only snacks on this list that contains whole grain oats, it could be worse as fast food alternatives go.

#21 Ritz Crackers

Though Ritz Crackers have a buttery flavor, the flavor is butter-free. Pair them with vegan cheeses, vegan meat alternatives, your favorite nut butter, and more!

#22 Wheat Thins

Another whole grain wheat cracker option that’s free of artificial colors and flavors, and also high fructose corn syrup.

#23 Hershey’s Syrup

Hershey’s chocolate syrup is another sweet, rich, chocolatey product that vegans can enjoy.

#24 Ore Ida Tater Tots

Potatoes, vegetable oils, and some natural flavors are combined to create Tater Tots.

#25 Original Pringles

Dried potatoes, corn flour, rice flour, and a few other ingredients are pressed together to form these potato chips.

Check Out Some of My Healthy Vegan Recipes

While these big brand vegan snacks can be handy to pick up on the go, I certainly wouldn’t recommend eating them on a regular basis. They’re fine to use sparingly, but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck nutritionally by creating healthy versions at home or opting for packaged snacks made from whole foods. 

Looking for more delicious vegan recipes that are a healthier alternative? Check out some of my vegan snack recipes! There are great snacks from plant sources that can satisfy any craving.

Love & snacks,

Brenda Davis, RD, is co-author of seven books, including “Becoming Vegan,” “The Raw Food Revolution Diet,” and “Defeating Diabetes.” Brenda is the lead dietitian in a diabetes intervention project in Majuro, Marshall Islands, and is a past chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.

Add a comment
  1. Nancy says:

    I have been a vegan for years and everybody tells me I don’t look my age and I think it is because I decided 20 years or so ago to not eat processed foods or animal products (i.e., red meat and of course pig meat)

  2. Brad says:

    Sooooo happy to hear someone talking about this, finally! The idea is to be healthy, right? No matter what lead one down the path to becoming vegan – animal rights, health issues, etc – we still have to focus on eating healthy whole food options, mostly plants, and not junk food. Too many times I see the vegan and vegetarian options being so much worse, health wise, than their meaty counterparts. Thanks for talking about this.

  3. Sharie says:

    enjoyed reading this article! very informative and right on!!

  4. Vegan junk food truly is both a blessing and a curse. I’m glad veganism does not have to entail deprivation, but the more vegan-friendly the world gets the more I am tempted by convenience foods that weren’t around a few years ago. I guess the real problem is our society in which going without donuts is considered deprivation in the first place.

  5. Great post! I too have been trying ti demystify this for people as so many seem to think that if it is vegan it must be healthy. Junk food is junk food regardless of if it is vegan or not. It must be treated a a very rare treat.

  6. Cher B. says:

    Hi Kris,
    I started reading your book crazy sexy diet about 2 weeks ago and it is becoming a life changing experience for me. With each new year my list of illness’s keeps growing, not fun. My husband is now reading the book with me and we ordered a juicer online today!! Woo-hoo!! I have learned from your book to take time every day for me and I use this time to read your book. I am learning so much. Thank you Kris for sharing, I have lost hope and you have given it back to me. I know I can do this!

  7. leslie says:

    I love a good vegan treat, but it’s just that- a treat! I still eat mostly whole foods and stuff I make at home. There is nothing like a good vegan s’more or ice cream sandwich every once in a while though!

  8. Tali says:

    I love love love the benefits of a vegan lifestyle! I stay away from processed foods for sure as I notice the difference in my energy levels when I indulge in a fast and easy convenience vegan food. It’s all about the plants and eating from the earth! Much love.

  9. I think we have learned that if it comes in a box it is not a good option although I agree it is so hard to send your kid to school with no look alike option. As adults it is nice to have that break from stress it is also nice although not mentioned that we have the option of foods for our pets that are healthy and reguire no harm to animals to get the healhty and keep them there. Thanks for a lovely blog. Callie

  10. Dalila Cunha says:

    Awesome Kris. Thanks for writing this, and it’s all so true! I go for raw desserts (especially the Mighty Bar from Cafe Gratitude), when I feel I need some “snacking”, and it’s superfood and good for you :-)))

  11. Farrah says:

    I think it’s great that stuff is available now but you are right, too much is not a good thing at all. I don’t think most people realize there is such thing as a junk food vegan. Thanks for sharing…

  12. I made this mistake when I first became vegetarian and gained weight! After about a year of replacing “chicken” patties in meals in place of what used to be meat on my plate, I realized that the faux meat tasted too much like the real thing. Best decision I could have made. I started eating vegetables and felt so much healthier. Now I’m vegan and I try to stay as far away from substitutes and processed food as much as possible. I have to say, #5 is probably the very most important and something I’m shocked everyone in the world doesn’t do!

  13. Juliette says:

    Hi,
    Found your blog through doing top wellness blog searches and your title alone got me hooked! I totally agree with you that just because you are vegan, doesn’t always mean you are super healthy. I am not vegan, but I am a vegetarian and I know that if you stop trying (cooking, label reading, ect..) you can totally fall into the convinent vegan food trap where all of your meals are being nuked by the microwave. Yikes! Anyway, thanks for all of your awesome posts!

  14. b says:

    I love this blog – very well put!

  15. Dimond says:

    Raw vegan snacks are the best way to go. Tons of choices. Lately I’ve been making a super simple chocolate pudding. Takes 2 minutes to make. I’ll often add fresh greens or green supplements for added nutrition and you can’t even taste them. 🙂 You can also buy pre-made snacks, which I have found very helpful especially if you don’t like or have time to make your own.

  16. Lisa says:

    This is an awesome article—and says what I try to get across to people all the time! I’m tweeting and sharing this…a lot 🙂
    Thank you Brenda!

  17. Thanks Brenda, this is brilliant! I’m going to link to this article on my blog. Well done!

  18. Jenn says:

    Thanks Kris!
    You are such an inspiration 🙂

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