Have you ever given a second thought about that veggie burger, tofu parmigiana or even a vegan granola bar before taking a bite? Despite sounding deliciously healthy, these processed vegan food could contain ingredients that may do more harm than good to your health.
A strict meat- and dairy-free diet requires vegans to look for alternatives such as soy and mock meats as a source of protein. However, these processed vegan food may contain potentially dangerous fillers and chemicals that invalidate them as being healthy food options.
Below are five ingredients that are commonly used in processed vegan food which you may not know exist.
The first issue with vegan processed foods is that they mostly contain genetically modified soy. Hexane, a by-product of gasoline refining, is used to produce Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) that is commonly used as mock meat in vegan dishes such as veggie burgers, tacos and polenta casserole. This is because the chemical helps extract the protein from soy to achieve a meaty texture.
Meanwhile, the United States' Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified hexane as a neurotoxin because in large quantities, it can cause serious nerve damage. However, there is still scant evidence on the safety of ingesting food containing hexane over the long term.
2. Seitan (Wheat gluten)
Seitan is a high-protein gluten which has been extracted from wheat. It is a common meat substitute for vegetarian dishes. Unlike many meat substitutes, Seitan is not soy-derived but made entirely of wheat gluten. Because of this, the highly allergenic protein may trigger development of a more severe gluten allergy or intolerance.
For those who are sensitive to gluten or is diagnosed with celiac disease (the most severe form of gluten sensitivity), the existence of Seitan in the body causes the immune system to mount an attack on the gluten proteins and whilst at it, attacks the intestinal wall itself. This immune reaction can cause degeneration of the intestinal wall, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, anaemia, fatigue and other health-risks.
Also known as Cochineal and Natural Red 4, Carmine is a red food colouring that comes from boiling Dactylopius coccus, which is a type of beetle. This is used in various vegan favorites such as grapefruit juice, vegan yoghurt, canned fruits and even in cosmetics.
There have been reports this food additive can cause severe allergic reactions in some people, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Thus, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now made it a requirement that the ingredient be clearly listed on food and cosmetic labels.
One common vegetarian alternative to gelatin is carrageenan. Commercial preparations of this gelling agent involve washing, boiling and filtering out the solid components of Irish moss seaweed.
Carrageenan is obtained either through dehydrating the remaining liquid with alcohol or boiling until a gel is produced, or pressing and drying the gel to create carrageenan powder.
Carrageenan is used in dairy alternatives for items such as soy-based beverages and vegan desserts. However, individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or other gastrointestinal disorders are cautioned to avoid this ingredient as it can aggravate symptoms and inflammation. Researchers also found that degraded carrageenan causes ulcerations and inflammation in lab animals that closely resemble ulcerative colitis, a human inflammatory bowel disease.
Studies, including industry-funded studies, conducted over five decades from the 1960s showed that food-grade Carrageenan is linked to colon inflammation and colon cancer in animals. In 1983, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified degraded low molecular weight Carrageenan as a possible human carcinogen.
5. Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP) is one of the most common soy-based flavour enhancers used to make processed vegan food. HVP contains the same compound as monosodium glutamate (MSG) so the effects are similar.
Acid- HVP is created when cereals and legumes, such as corn, wheat and soy, are boiled in hydrochloric acid. The solution is then neutralised with sodium hydroxide. The resulting liquid is a breakdown of vegetable proteins into amino acids. Although it is chemically created, HVP is originally derived from vegetable products and is therefore considered to be a natural flavouring accepted by vegans.
While many have converted to a vegan diet for health reasons and many more are about to venture down this path, let this list serve as some food for thought.
Simple changes you can make to your lifestyle
Despite studies having found a relationship that diets high in vegetables can yield lower risks of cancer, none has proven that a strict, vegan diet can prevent or cure cancer. If you are health-conscious and would like to minimise the risk of cancer or other life-threatening diseases, here are some simple diet and lifestyle changes that you can achieve without pushing your body to its limit.
- Increase the intensity and amount of physical activity.
- Limit intake of red and processed meats.
- Get the recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid obesity and weight gain around the midsection.
- Avoid excess alcohol.
- Undergo regular health screening
Do something for your loved ones and make love the reason for early health screening today!