“Tasty Vegan Food? Cupcakes Show it Can Be Done,” declared the New York Times , in an article spotlighting the vegan chef who won first prize on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars .
I notice the Times called the vegan cupcakes “tasty,” not “healthy.” The award-winning recipes don’t contain any butter, eggs, or milk, but that doesn’t make them good for you. Not even close! One dozen raspberry tiramisu cupcakes contain a staggering 5 1/2 cups of sugar including the frosting (no, that is not a typo. Five and a half cups of sugar).
To be fair, the chef did not extol the cupcakes’ health benefits, either. And this is not meant to slam veganism, a way of eating that excludes animal-derived food, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and even honey. More power to people who choose this lifestyle out of a desire to prevent cruelty to animals and tread lightly on the planet.
But is veganism good for you? Or should I say, is it good for you? There's considerable debate. Some people do better on vegan diets than others. Over the long term, it’s not uncommon for vegans to become deficient in several key nutrients, particularly vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, calcium, and protein.
If your main reason for being a vegan is the health benefits, my recommendation is to do your homework ( VeganHealth.org is a good place to start) and make sure you're getting what you need from your diet. Don’t just assume that if you avoid animal products, everything will work out and you’ll feel fantastic. I was a vegetarian for many years -- I ate dairy and eggs, but no meat -- and during much of that time I was a “carbivore," consuming lots of pasta, bread, and baked goods. Oh, and cheese. The fact that I got sick a lot told me that approach wasn't right for me.
Subscribing rigidly to a diet, any diet, has a sneaky way of leading you astray. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’ve modified your eating habits in the first place -- to improve your health, right? -- and start thinking that as long as you’re following the rules, it doesn’t matter what you eat.
Even worse, over time, you may find yourself looking for loopholes in the rules. Remember the Atkins diet craze from a few years ago? The plan strictly limited starches and sweets, which sounds okay on paper, but many of the diet’s followers just replaced those foods with super-processed fake products loaded with artificial sugars. Zero carbs, maybe, but plenty of weird chemicals and additives.