Experts Explain: Is Processed Food Healthier if It’s Vegan?

Experts Explain: Is Processed Food Healthier if It’s Vegan?

We all know that a diet packed with fruits and vegetables is healthy for our bodies. But sometimes, we also want to enjoy a bag of potato chips in front of the TV or treat ourselves to ice cream, pizza, or a hot dog. And, as long as we’re eating a balanced diet most of the time, we say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in a little bit of junk food. Here, we’ve put together some of our top vegan junk food picks, from pizza to Oreos to candy.

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But first, what actually is junk food? How should we feel about eating it? And is vegan junk food any better for you than the animal-based alternative?

What is junk food? And is it bad?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, junk food can be defined in two ways. The first is “food that is high in calories but low in nutritional content.” And the second is “something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no real value.”

Some people might refer to junk food—which includes things like French fries, ice cream, and candy—as “bad food,” but now, many registered dietitians reject categorizing foods in this way. 


Stefani Sassos MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, told Good Housekeeping in 2021 that while some foods do have ingredients “that aren’t nutritious for the body” (like trans fats), one of the healthiest ways to approach diet is to eat without strict rules.

“Listen to your body; if you are craving a food and want to enjoy it, then know it’s okay to eat your favorite foods in moderation without guilt or judgment,” she says. “Every single meal doesn’t have to be the most perfect, most nutritious meal of your life.”

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Is vegan junk food healthier than animal-based junk food?

The truth is, just because something is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There are plenty of nutritious vegan foods out there (find out more about those by following our guide to a whole foods, plant-based diet), but French fries and nuggets usually aren’t among them.

But that’s ok because we’re not generally eating these foods thinking that they’re packed with vitamins and minerals anyway. That said, it’s worth remembering that they still do give us some nutrients, like carbohydrates and protein, for example.

But some research has suggested that when it comes to animal-free meat and dairy, these products are likely better for our health than the animal-based alternatives.

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In 2022, Chris Bryant, PhD, from the University of Bath, conducted a review of 43 studies into the health and environmental impacts of plant-based foods. He found that all of these alternatives are not only better for the planet than animal products, but they’re also better for human health. After all, processed meats, like bacon, are classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization.

Again, this is not to say that all animal-free food products are healthy, but just that they may be an improvement on the animal version. But it’s worth reiterating, regardless of nutritional value, as long as you’re eating well overall, junk food is totally fine in moderation, say many experts.

The best vegan junk food to buy right now

Heading to the grocery store and want to pick up some treats? Here are some of our favorite vegan junk food products to grab. Some are from totally vegan brands, and others are accidentally vegan, but all are totally delicious. Happy snacking!


1 Daiya’s Cheeze Lover Pizza

Pizza is one of the world’s most loved foods, but it doesn’t have to be loaded with dairy cheese to be tasty. This Daiya pizza (which is also gluten-free) is satisfyingly gooey, but it’s topped with two types of vegan cheese: mozzarella and cheddar. Prefer your pizzas meaty? The brand also offers vegan pies topped with plant-based pepperoni and sausage crumbles.


2 Dino Nuggs

Dinosaur nuggets are arguably most kids’ favorite Friday night dinner. You can give them the same experience, just without the meat, by keeping these plant-based dino nuggets from Simulate stocked up in the freezer. Also, there’s no rule that says adults can’t enjoy these, too!


3 Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili

Doritos are one of the best snacks for sharing with friends and family during a movie or game night. While not all of the flavors are vegan, there are a handful of animal-free options to choose from, including these Spicy Sweet Chili-flavored chips.


4 Oreos

Yes, the rumors are true: Oreos are accidentally vegan. They might be branded as “milk’s favorite cookie,” but there’s no actual dairy in the recipe. And they taste just as delicious when paired with a tall glass of oat milk.


5 VGAN White Chocolate

Is there anything better than sitting down in the evening with a bar of chocolate and streaming your favorite show? This white chocolate bar from VGAN is the perfect accompaniment to your next Netflix binge. It’s not only milk-free, but it’s also gluten-free and certified organic. Plus, it contains delicious crunchy pieces of almond and salted caramel.

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6 Moving Mountains Hot Dogs

When grilling season hits, it’s time to break out the hot dogs. But you don’t have to go for the animal-based option, because these vegan sunflower seed-based hot dogs from Moving Mountains look, cook, and taste just like the real deal.


7 Skittles

If you’re questioning whether Skittles are actually vegan, we’re thrilled to tell you that the answer is a big yes! Most varieties of this popular colorful candy don’t contain any animal ingredients.


8 Non-Dairy Magnums

Since 2019, the much-loved ice cream brand Magnum launched non-dairy versions of its iconic frozen treats in the US. Just like the original, they’re covered in delicious Belgian chocolate, while the ice cream center is made with a combination of coconut oil and pea protein.


9 Arby’s Seasoned Curly Fries

Ok, so fast-food chain Arby’s isn’t really known for being the most vegan-friendly destination (its tagline is literally “we have the meats”). But its tasty Seasoned Curly Fries, which can be bought frozen in grocery stores, are totally animal-free.


10 Unfrosted Pop-Tarts

Most Pop-Tarts are not vegan, and that’s because they’re frosted with icing that contains gelatin (and this means that they’re not vegetarian either). But there are a handful of options that come without the frosting, including Strawberry, Blueberry, and Brown Sugar Cinnamon.

For more on vegan junk food, read:

Here at VegNews, we live and breathe the vegan lifestyle, and only recommend products we feel make our lives amazing. Occasionally, articles may include shopping links where we might earn a small commission. In no way does this effect the editorial integrity of VegNews.

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