Health-conscious vegetarians have to be just as vigilant as the burger-scarfing fast food-ites. There are many ingredients to be wary of and sometimes they lurk in so-called health foods like energy bars, which may be full of fats and refined sugars. As much as possible, get your protein from natural sources like quinoa, soy or spirulina, or from food combinations that add up to complete protein, like beans and seeds (as in hummus), beans and rice, beans and corn and so forth. Fake meat substitutes are highly processed; MorningStar Farms Chik’n Nuggets have 59 ingredients, which include several forms of MSG. You may not see the words monosodium glutamate on the label, but the soy protein isolate, autolyzed yeast extract, artificial flavors and hydrolyzed soy protein contain it or are forms of it, cleverly disguised. Not just meat substitutes, but cheese substitutes for vegans, can be full of additives like carrageenan or GMO soy.
Not only the vegetarian but the dieter, too, can fall prey to high processing when they read claims like “vitamin-fortified” or “low fat” on a product and it translates falsely as “healthy.”
The reasons that natural food products, your head of broccoli or side of beef, are messed with by manufacturers, vary hugely. It can be to store it longer, like making something into salami or peach jam, or a lot longer, like those iconic several-years-old burgers and fries we’ve seen online. It can be to change the texture, like with tofu, or it can be to increase nutritional value, like milk with vitamin D added or orange juice with calcium. All too often additives in processing make things much cheaper for manufacturers; that may be the biggest motivator.
But the problem is when these additives are used in excess. Everyone knows that huge quantities of salt or sugar or fat aren’t good for you, but manufacturers know those ingredients add to the taste-appeal of convenience foods and so add them to processed canned, jarred, boxed, and frozen foods in much higher proportions than what you would put in if you were cooking it for your family.