10 Vegan Foods That AREN'T Healthy—And What to Eat Instead
Just because a food is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy.
You already know a plant-based diet has major benefits for your waistline, budget, overall health, and the world. However, it can be easy to fall into the trap of consuming more “vegan junk food” than whole, nutritious foods that make a vegan diet so healthy.
The demand for plant-based products is higher than ever and vegan alternatives to meat, dairy, and even egg taste better than ever. But many of these substitutes can be just as unhealthy as the original ones. Here are some unhealthy vegan foods to consider an indulgence rather than a health food, and what you can eat instead to curb your plant-based cravings.
Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Coconut Seven-Layer Bar
This flavor from Ben & Jerry’s has 18g fat, nine of which are saturated, in one half-cup serving! It is also full of chemical additives and six different types of sugar! One serving of this stuff packs in 320 calories and more sugar than is recommended in a day for most women. And this isn’t the only non-dairy ice cream out there touting more saturated fat and sugar than standard ice creams.
Many non-dairy ice creams are made with coconut oil or other highly-processed oils to help give the product a richer, creamier mouthfeel. We have some pretty strong feelings about coconut oil, and research is finally showing it shouldn’t keep its “health halo” status any longer.
Try This Instead: Almond Dream Vanilla Dessert Sandwiches
These almond-based ice cream sandwiches make you feel like a kid again, just without the dairy and excess sugar. These perfectly-portioned desserts tout 100 calories, 4g fat, 05.g sat fat, and 8g sugar each. You could eat half the box and still consume less fat than a serving of many vegan ice creams!
View Product: Almond Dream Vanilla Lil’ Dreamers Dessert Sandwiches
The Impossible Burger
Plant-based burgers and other meat substitutes can be a nutritious and tasty way to get your protein, but many of the alternatives out there are highly-processed and full of chemical additives. Thanks to coconut oil once again, plus highly-processed forms of soy, some meat substitutes can contain more fat and even sodium than a traditional beef burger.
The original Impossible Burger packs 290 calories and 17g fat (a whopping 14 of which are saturated), and it also contains one-fourth of your daily sodium limit. It certainly does not meet our nutrition standards.
Fortunately, Impossible Foods has created a new, lighter recipe, but it still packs 8g sat fat per serving—the American Heart Association recommends eating less than 13g per day. We advise choosing a different vegan option most of the time, if you have the chance.
Try This Instead: Amy’s California Veggie Burger, Light in Sodium
While making your own plant-based burger is typically the healthiest option, this product from Amy’s stacks up very well nutritionally. These burgers are made from wholesome ingredients, like mushrooms and oats, which help them to pack over 10 percent of your daily fiber needs. Each patty has only 110 calories, 4g fat, and 250mg sodium. It doesn’t contain any saturated fat.
View Product: Amy’s California Veggie Burger, Light in Sodium
SoDelicious Dairy-Free Plain Yogurt
Since this yogurt is labeled “plain,” you’d expect it to contain zero grams of sugar, right? Well, this flavor is sweetened with cane sugar and contains 15g per serving. It also contains 6g sat fat, which means it doesn’t meet our nutritional standards. SoDelicious isn’t the only brand to contain high levels of saturated fat though, and many coconut-based products pack more than you might think.
Try This Instead: Silk Dairy-Free Plain Yogurt
While this “plain” flavor still does pack some sugar, it’s less than half of what the SoDelicious brand contains and has no saturated fat. This yogurt is soy-based, which means it packs a fiber, protein, and micronutrient boost for a balanced breakfast or snack option. One cup of this yogurt contains 140 calories, 5g fat, 13g carbs, and 9g protein.
View Product: Silk Dairy-Free Plain Yogurt
Interested in learning more about plant-based diets?
Amy’s Kitchen Chinese Noodles & Veggies With Cashew Cream Sauce
On average, vegan frozen meals contain just as much sodium, additives, and other preservatives as the other omnivorous options in the freezer aisle. While Amy’s Kitchen does sell some great products for busier days, this meal in particular packs one-third of your daily sodium limit. It also has 11g sugar, which are all added.
Try This Instead: Sweet Earth Foods Bean and Mango Cubano
Sweet Earth Foods is a relatively new brand of frozen, plant-based foods and has some great options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This Bean and Mango Cubano bowl is made with simple, wholesome ingredients and is much lower in sodium than a vast majority of the frozen meal options out there. This bowl contains 350 calories, 9g fat, 1g sat fat, 340mg sodium, and 13g each fiber and protein. While it does contain 13g sugar, it comes from the mango chunks instead of cane sugar.
View Product: Sweet Earth Foods Bean and Mango Cubano
Stonyfield Farms Dairy-Free Raspberry Yogurt
While this dairy-free yogurt is lower in fat than some of the coconut-based options, it packs almost an entire day’s worth of sugar! Many of the vegan yogurt options out there are extremely high in sugar, attempting to make up for the change in mouthfeel with sweetness. There are plenty of options out there that have three times less, or even no sugar, and we certainly don’t view this food with more sugar than a Snickers as a healthy option.
Try This Instead: Forager Project Blueberry Cashewgurt
A nut-based yogurt will give you all the creaminess of the coconut-based varieties, but will pack heart-healthy unsaturated fats instead of saturated. One 5.3-ounce container has 140 calories, 6g fat, 1g sat fat, 12g sugar, and 3g protein.
View Product: Forager Project Blueberry Cashewgurt
Alternative Baking Company Colossal Chocolate Chip Cookie
Now, just because a cookie is made sans eggs and dairy does not make it automatically healthier. Case in point is this flavor from Alternative Baking Company. It’s important to note this one cookie is two servings worth, and each serving packs 8g fat (three of which are saturated) and 17g sugar. If you ate the whole cookie, you would be consuming 460 calories and more than a day’s worth of your sugar limit.
Try This Instead: Enjoy Life Soft-Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies
These cookies are allergen-free and made with wholesome ingredients like brown rice flour and date paste for a feel-good indulgence. Two of these soft-baked cookies have 120 calories, 5g fat, 1g sat fat, and 10g sugar.
View Product: Enjoy Life Soft-Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies
Daiya Cheddar-Style Deluxe Cheeze Sauce
Vegan cheese substitutes taste better than ever, and are great to occasionally curb a craving, but should be used sparingly. This “cheeze sauce” contains 5g sat fat and one-third of your daily sodium limit in a meager one-fourth cup serving! And that’s without touching a bowl of pasta or a plate full of tortilla chips.
Try This Instead: Victoria Vegan Alfredo Sauce
It was difficult to find a packaged cheese sauce that wasn’t full of saturated fat and sodium, but this one by the Victoria brand is one you can certainly feel good about serving. Their alfredo sauce is based with cashews instead of coconut, which significantly lowers the amount of calories and saturated fat. A one-fourth cup serving contains 70 calories, 5g fat, 1g sat fat, and 350mg sodium.
View Product: Victoria Vegan Alfredo Sauce
Clif Bar Chocolate Chunk With Sea Salt
Vegan or not, there are a lot of “nutritional bars” out there that really just aren’t all that nutritious. Unless you are an athlete or participating in an extreme sport like the man on the packaging label, you’ll likely want to avoid Clif bars. This one packs almost a day’s worth of sugar (22g) and contains 45g carbs, which is a lot for a snack. It’s also too low in calories to be considered a beneficial meal replacement.
Try This Instead: This Bar Saves Lives Wild Blueberry Pistachio
These bars are not only healthy, but delicious, and even better—they are on a mission. For every bar you buy from this company, they will donate a specially-formulated meal to someone suffering from malnutrition around the world. The Wild Blueberry Pistachio flavor contains 160 calories, 7g fat, 0.5g sat fat, 7g fiber, 8g sugar, and 4g protein.
View Product: This Bar Saves Lives Wild Blueberry Pistachio
Tostitos Cantina Traditional Tortilla Chips
Tortilla chips are a sneaky offender here, as the nutrition label doesn’t seem all that bad, until you see the serving size. A 150-calorie serving size only allows you seven chips, and we all know that just can’t be done. Add a bowl of guacamole, and you’ll have consumed a whole lot of calories in no time, before your meal even begins!
Try This Instead: Joseph’s Flax, Oat, and Whole Wheat Flour Pita Bread
This pita bread comes in regular and mini sizes, whether you’re looking for a snack or something to hold your veggie burger. This pita bread is lower in carbs than other brands, thanks to flax and other superfoods, and even packs in a decent amount of protein. Each regular-sized pita round contains 80 calories, 2.5g fat, 0g sat fat, 11g carbs, 2g fiber, and 6g protein.
Yves Veggie Cuisine Veggie Turkey
While this nutrition label looks better than many of the others on this list, the list of ingredients is what makes this an offender. Besides protein, this product has little nutritional value and is made of various processed wheat varieties and additives. Would you have been able to guess what this product was from its list of ingredients? That’s a good rule of thumb to go by when purchasing processed foods.
Try this instead: LightLife Tempeh
Tempeh is an excellent plant-protein for vegans, as it is a fermented food and can help give your body the probiotic boost it needs. This brand of tempeh only has three ingredients—cultured organic soybeans, water, and organic brown rice—and packs 140 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g sat fat, 10g carbs, 7g fiber, and 16g protein. It even has 10 percent of your daily iron needs.
View Product: LightLife Tempeh
Ore-Ida Golden Tater Tots
There are plenty of “accidentally vegan” foods out there, like Oreos and Nutter Butters, but that doesn’t give anyone license to consume them regularly. The serving size for these tater tots only allot for seven tots and still pack 8g fat and almost 20 percent of your daily sodium limit.
Try this instead: Cascadian Farm Organic Crinkle Cut French Fries
These fries are simply made with organic potatoes and canola oil (our dietitian’s favorite cooking oil) and boast a 21-fry serving size. Each serving contains 80 calories, 2g fat, 0g sat fat, and only 15mg sodium. They are also a good source of potassium.
View Product: Cascadian Farm Organic Crinkle Cut French Fries