Fast food is such an integral part of the American culture that giving it up may very well be the hardest decision one has ever had to make.
In the past, those going vegan have had to make this decision and stick by it. Not anymore, though, as many popular fast-food chains are integrating more and more vegan fast food options.
Before we dive into vegan fast food, let’s first talk about veganism. Vegans are individuals who avoid all animal-based products, including eggs and dairy.
Going vegan is a lifestyle change and requires dedication. A person may choose to go vegan for ethical, environmental, or even health reasons. But then, is vegan fast food healthy, or it just as harmful as normal fast food?
- 1 Is Vegan Fast Food Healthy?
- 2 What Fast Food Is Vegan?
- 3 Vegans and Protein
- 4 Is Vegan Food Healthier than Regular Food?
- 5 Side Effects of Vegan Food
- 6 How to Order Vegan at Fast Food Joints
- 7 What’s Vegan at McDonald’s?
Is Vegan Fast Food Healthy?
There are countless benefits associated with following a strictly plant-based diet. It is said to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Following a vegan diet can also help your weight loss goals and can help you lower your Body Mass Index.
With a vegan diet, you can adopt a healthier lifestyle and avoid the side effects that antibiotics and hormonal injections used in modern agriculture entail.
Here, the question arises of whether vegan fast food is just as healthy as a normal vegan diet is. The answer is no; it may not be as healthy as we deem it to be.
A lot of vegan fast food alternatives focus more on recreating the taste of meat and not on nutritional value.
Vegan fast food may sound healthy and nutritionally appealing, but truth be told, it can have just as much or even higher amounts of calories and saturated fat as regular fast food.
In fact, it may even be worse as it may not hold even half the amount of protein that meat does.
Before we delve into the health benefits and cons of vegan meat alternatives, let’s first talk about which fast food companies have introduced vegan menus.
What Fast Food Is Vegan?
To ensure a more inclusive menu that caters to a broader range of consumers, many fast-food chains introduced vegan dishes. Some of the fast-food chains that cater to vegans are:
- Del Taco
- Burger King
- Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
- Carl’s Jr.
- White Castle
- Taco Bell
- In-N-Out Burger
- Papa Johns
KFC and Dunkin also recently joined in on the movement. In August 2019, KFC launched vegan fried chicken and Dunkin introduced a plant-based sausage breakfast sandwich.
Greggs’s vegan sausage became so famous that the company made record sales in 2019 and distributed bonuses worth $9.17 million.
Burger King is probably the second most popular fast-food chain after McDonald’s.
To hold onto vegan customers, the company introduced the Impossible Whopper, which is supposedly a healthier alternative. However, a nutritional value comparison tells otherwise.
|Impossible Whopper||Regular Whopper|
|630 calories||660 calories|
|11g saturated fat||12g saturated fat|
|10mg cholesterol||90mg cholesterol|
|25g protein||28g protein|
|1080mg sodium||980mg sodium|
The vegan whopper is by no means healthy. It may be slightly healthier than the regular whopper, but the difference is almost negligible.
In fact, the plant-based option has more sodium and almost the same amount of saturated fat. Combined with fries and soda, your vegan meal’s calorie count crosses 1000 calories.
Similarly, the Fala-Full sandwich from Veggie Grill is not as healthy as it sounds. It consists of two pitas with falafels, hummus, tabouleh, and three different sauces.
This completely plant-based meal has 1100 calories, 10g of saturated fat, and 2,380mg of sodium.
A Big Mac, in comparison, has less than half the calories (540), 950mg of sodium and 10g of saturated fat. But that doesn’t mean that all vegan fast food is just as unhealthy as the Fala-Full.
The grilled chicken sandwich from Veggie Grill is made with soybean, wheat, and pea-based protein. It is a completely vegan sandwich that has 900mg of sodium, 530 calories, and only 3g of saturated fat.
Fast food, in general, is unhealthy, whether it’s vegan or not. The amount of saturated fat, sodium, and calories depends upon the item you chose. Being vegan does not necessarily mean being healthy.
It means you avoid all animal-based products. However, finding vegan options that supplement nutrients and proteins obtained from food is harder than you think.
Vegans and Protein
According to Numerator, a market intelligence firm, health, and curiosity are the leading reasons why people make plant-based purchases.
The driving factor for such a major lifestyle change is, however, either ethical or environmental concerns.
Those looking for a healthier lifestyle might be in for a shock, as vegan food may, in fact, be the opposite if consumed incorrectly. Some of the most common meat substitutes in a vegan diet include:
Some meat-based main courses are also supplemented by:
The options are indeed endless; however, are they just as nutritious? Let’s break them down one by one.
Tofu is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and is a popular seafood supplement. In fact, the vegan version of fish and chips is made with tofu.
As fish is considered to be a major source of Omega-3, tofu is perceived to be an ideal supplement. However, that is not entirely true.
Tofu contains a type of Omega 3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). To effectively utilize ALA, the body needs to break it down into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
But our bodies aren’t equipped to do that, which makes it essentially useless.
Omega-3 is essential for the body, especially in the form of DHA, which is known to boost brain function and overall health. It is also believed to reduce symptoms of depression and is particularly important to the body.
For vegans, tofu alone is not a good enough substitute. They should further supplement their much-needed Omega-3 intake with sources like algae oil.
Omega-3 present in algae oil is high in both EPA and DHA and can be a successful substitute for fatty fish oils.
Seitan is made of hydrated gluten, which is the main source of protein found in wheat.
It is a good protein substitute for vegetarians and vegans; however, it falls short on the required amount of the amino acid – lysine. Because lysine is absolutely essential for humans, seitan is not considered a complete source of protein.
Amino acid lysine has multiple benefits.
- Protects against and treats cold sores by blocking arginine
- Blocks stress receptors to reduce anxiety
- Can improve calcium absorption and retention in the body
- Possibly help with wound healing by promoting collagen production in the body.
Lysine can, in itself, also act as a binding agent, which helps prevent bleeding and creates a scaffold over the wound, preventing excessive bleeding. It is also believed to promote the growth of new blood vessels which speed up recovery.
Amino acid lysine is essential for humans, and vegans can fulfill their protein requirements by incorporating beans into their diet.
Doing so is beneficial for them as lysine is known to reduce the risk of cancer, cataracts, and diabetes, and it can also reduce blood pressure.
You can also fulfill your lysine requirements by consuming the following foods:
- Dried Apricots
- Kidney Beans
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
Another common meat substitute for meat is jackfruit. The fruit, when ripe, has a slightly sweet taste, much like a fig.
However, when unripe, the fruit has a savory taste fleshy texture, which makes it the perfect meat replacement in vegan dishes.
Taste-wise, a jackfruit, when prepared right, can be the ideal meat substitute. However, jackfruit is not particularly nutritious.
The fruit is almost 100% carbohydrates and zero proteins. In fact, according to dietary experts, all plant-based sources of protein are not half as beneficial as meat.
Plant-based sources of protein usually lack one or the other of the nine amino acids necessary for the human body.
Lentils and beans do contain high amounts of proteins but not the full set of necessary amino acids. The only really good quality source of plant-based protein is soy.
As far as plant-based protein sources go, soy is probably the best source. Around 36-56% of the dry weight is essentially protein.
Although it is not as high a source of protein as animal sources are, it is the best you can get when following a vegan diet.
Is Vegan Food Healthier than Regular Food?
When done right, vegan food can prove substantially more beneficial than following an animal-based diet, not only for you but also for the environment.
Following a strict plant-based diet can help reduce the carbon footprint by reducing methane production, which is a harmful greenhouse gas.
As far as health benefits go, vegan diets do have the edge over animal-based diets. As per the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those following a strictly plant-based diet showed better health overall.
They have reduced weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure as compared to those that follow an animal-based diet.
They also have better digestive systems due to their increased fiber intake. They have higher levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Potassium, Magnesium, and lower levels of saturated fat.
A vegan diet may be the solution to the increasing number of obese people around the world. However, vegan fast food will not make a difference to this number.
While going vegan is healthy, fast food, whether plant-based or animal-based, is generally unhealthy.
By following a vegan diet, you can not only control your weight but also reduce the chances of suffering from diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases.
You can avoid the harmful side effects of hormonal injections passed on from animals to their consumers.
Females, in particular, can benefit from this as these hormonal injections are known to be a major cause of hormonal imbalances within women.
Side Effects of Vegan Food
Vegan food, while it may be the cure for obesity, can also be the cause of certain deficiencies. If you are unable to balance your nutrients properly, you may run the risk of falling short on some of them.
Meat contains heme iron, which is easily absorbed into the human body.
Those following a plant-based diet consume non-heme iron sources, which not easily absorbed into the body. As a result, vegans run the risk of developing an iron deficiency.
Vegans should consume non-heme iron sources with food rich in Vitamin C as it helps in the absorption process.
Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products like eggs, meat, poultry, or fish. It is essential for our body. Those deficient in B12 run the risk of contracting megaloblastic anemia.
They also face constant fatigue and loss of appetite and can potentially develop severe neurological symptoms.
Plant-based food does not contain vitamin B-12, which is why it is fortified in many vegan products like plant-based milk, cereals, and soy.
Those following a plant-based diet must incorporate these foods into their daily diet. They could also fulfill their vitamin B-12 requirement through supplementation.
Calcium and Vitamin D
A major source of calcium and vitamin D is dairy products. Vegan products, however, do not contain these naturally.
They are fortified in multiple products, which is a good thing as these are critical to bone development and are known to have multiple other benefits.
Vitamin D not only improves bone health but also boosts the immune system, nerve, and muscle function.
It also plays an important role in protecting against heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, strokes, and diabetes.
While sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, consuming it in food is just as essential as sun exposure.
If you feel that your current diet runs short of your daily requirement, then you can make an active effort to sit out in the sun for around 20-30 minutes, twice a week, to fulfill your body’s requirements.
Omega 3 is commonly found in fatty fish oils and is absolutely necessary for maintaining optimal brain health. It is harder to obtain the required amount of Omega 3 when following a vegan diet plan.
However, algae and seaweed are two sources that contain both DHA and EPA, which are essential for the body.
To ensure that you get all the required nutrients through your diet, you need to follow a well-balanced diet. You must read the nutritional value label on all food products before consuming them.
As long as you incorporate iron, calcium, vitamin D, and Omega 3 in your diet with essential amino acids, you should be good to go.
Vegan fast food, however, is another story. By following a vegan diet, you can gain substantial benefits and maintain a good figure and overall health.
However, fried food high in saturated fat and calories is in no way a healthy alternative to regular fast food even though it is perceived to be because it is called ‘vegan fast food.’
If you are someone who has opted to go vegan for the health benefits that the lifestyle comes with, then you should stay away from all fast food options.
We understand that completely removing fast food from your life may be difficult, but we urge you to try.
How to Order Vegan at Fast Food Joints
Even though many fast-food restaurants now incorporate vegan dishes in their menus, you can still get a quick bite to eat at those that don’t.
You could go for the vegetarian options and ask for no mayo, cream, or cheese on your sandwiches.
At In-N-Out, you could order a meatless burger without mayo or sauce, and that works perfectly fine. At Auntie Anne’s pretzels, you can ask for your pretzel to be made without butter and enjoy a good pretzel without the guilt.
You can order the cinnamon sugar, garlic, sweet almond, jalapeno, raisin, or the original pretzel, and they are all vegan.
What’s Vegan at McDonald’s?
Even though McDonald’s doesn’t necessarily have a vegan menu, it doesn’t mean you have to give it up.
You could order the apple pie and enjoy a cup of coffee. You can order fruit and maple oatmeal or apple slices. The southwest salad is another vegan option, so it is slushy.
If you are ever in Finland or Sweden, you can even try the McVegan, which is a vegan burger that the company introduced in 2017.
Going vegan is a lifestyle change that can be quite difficult to make. While we understand that you may need to grab a quick bite once in a while, we suggest that you don’t incorporate fast food into your daily routine.
Be it vegan fast food or regular fast food, it is an unhealthy lifestyle.Last updated on: