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Ok so I am trying to become a full time vegan. Giving up meat and eggs seemed easy and dairy wouldn't be such a hassle if I didn't have such a sweet tooth but I'm working on it. I've decided to begin a Vegan diet because I want to be healthy. Therefore I want to quit eating sweets (which seems to be the biggest challenge) and processed foods but I am not sure exactly what processed foods are. Besides not having a full understanding of processed foods I would like to know what processed foods are good for me.

Samantha asked this
March 21, 2012 at 11:08 PM



Hey Samantha! Best of luck on your vegan journey :) I'm a vegetarian but I eat a vegan diet for a significant portion of the year, so I hope I can be of some help.

In general, most things that have more than one ingredient listed are processed. You don't necessarily have to avoid all processed foods (but more power to you if you do!); in general, it's best to stick to whole grains, legumes, and fresh produce.

For grains, buy some brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa (also a great protein source!), barley, etc. Technically, they may have been "processed" since they're in a package, but any processing would be minimal, so they would be a good choice. They are a good, healthy staple to keep on hand and they will allow you to prepare a wide variety of foods.

Legumes (black beans, lentils, etc.) are a great vegan source of protein. If you buy them in a can, they would be considered processed. However, if you rinse them to rid them of any excess salt, they would still be a good choice. For something slightly less processed, you could buy them in a bag and prepare them yourself.

Fresh produce should be pretty self-explanatory. There's no ingredient list needed - you know it's just one ingredient! You really can't go wrong with the fresh, unpackaged stuff.

One thing that I like to do is prepare a big batch of grains in advance - quinoa or rice, usually. Then I can use them throughout the week, pairing them with different ingredients for completely different meals: black bean quinoa burgers one day; quinoa with sauteed tomato, onion, spinach, and mushrooms the next.

Remember: the closer a food is to its natural state, the less processed it is. Not all processed foods are equally bad: obviously, a can of black beans is much better for you than a Twinkie! You can't really go wrong with fresh fruits & veggies, whole grains, and legumes.

Hopefully that helped somewhat! :)

Laura Hogg answered
March 26, 2012 at 11:22 AM

What an incredible goal, Samantha! Laura has certainly shared excellent advice, much of which is based on her own experience. While I eat very little meat myself, I still eat animal products on occasion - largely to make meal planning easier for our family. Though often times (like this evening) I will prepare a veg and meat version. Tonight we enjoyed chicken and tofu with a raspberry balsamic glaze along with a side of (vegan) cauliflower risotto and a whole grain roll. I like to think of myself as a 'flexitarian' :)

The reason I am going into this is to suggest a way for you to transition over to the vegan lifestyle. If things begin to feel overwhelming for you (just as many new diets do), you can always begin as a flexitarian and simply cut back on animal products while being flexible for when you do not have other options. Or you could begin as a vegetarian (far less strict than a vegan) just as Laura has. There are a variety of levels of vegetarianism (described in one of my blogs), as some vegetarians still eat fish, eggs, or dairy. Regardless, I want to offer you hope as there are many ways you can go about eating healthier. Cutting out or reducing animal products is definitely a great way to do that! :)

When it comes to processed foods, there is not an exact definition. As Laura mentioned, whole foods are the only exception to the rule if you do want to be technical, thought it would be incredibly challenging to satisfy this requirement. The processed foods I would aim to eliminate are those snacky foods that do not contain any whole food ingredients such as potato chips, candy, fruit snacks, etc. Aim for foods that contain whole ingredients, such as granola bars made with whole grains, dried fruit, and nuts.

As you are trying to focus on sugar, I encourage you to read the ingredient statement. As ingredients are listed in order by the primary ingredient to the least ingredient, aim for products that either do not list sugar or have sugar listed toward the end of the ingredient list (this would mean sugar is one of the least prevalent ingredients).

If you follow Laura's advice with each of the main food groups, you will be well on your way toward a healthier lifestyle!

Though it is okay to have sweets once in a while :) I love a rich piece of dark chocolate or a cup of hot chocolate (soy or almond) milk in the evening to satisfy my sweet tooth and I hope you can find something that will work for you!

Cheers to good health and good food!


Jessica Corwin MPH RDN Health Coach answered
March 27, 2012 at 8:14 PM
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