I’ve often said that I have absolutely nothing against people who choose different diets and/or lifestyles, so long as it isn’t harming anyone (those people included) and isn’t being shoved down my throat like some unwanted rhetoric. Unfortunately, most people who choose such diets or lifestyle choices are prone to wanting others to jump on the bandwagon; either through a sense of not wanting to be alone or because they seek validation for their choices. Whichever reason they may have, it’s almost a safe guarantee that if one of your friends or family members has made the decision to consume a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’re gonna hear about it! And today, I’m gonna be one of ’em! Buckle up…
In recent weeks, I’ve slowly groomed myself to reduce the amount of calories I consume in a day. No, I don’t starve myself! I can certainly promise you that I’m not going hungry and the pool floatie I seem to be carrying around my mid-section would sustain me for weeks without food, anyway. But I digress… I recently wrote that as part of an unofficial “New Year’s resolution,” I would be trying to maintain a certain level of calorie-deficit in my daily diet in an effort to coax my body towards tapping into its rather substantial fat stores. I’ve also been aware for some time that I tend to consume far more calories in the course of a day than I generally require.
It’s been going rather well, with no lingering hunger and no visible effects that I can report. I’m still exercising regularly, but one significant side effect is that I’ve noticed better, more balanced blood sugar levels overall. This is due in part to the fact that for about two meals a day, I’m only consuming a negligible amount of carbohydrates for my insulin pump to deal with. In fact, when you factor in meals such as a tuna steak with brussel sprouts, I occasionally don’t have to bolus at all! This means that I can maintain blood sugar levels that are in range for longer periods of time than my usual diet.
That’s been nice and all, but as a 210-pound man, I frequently crave certain foods that would be better off left in the grocery store. One of those guilty pleasures (besides cheeseburgers) is buffalo chicken. I absolutely love the stuff, despite the fact that the after-effects very much dislike me. I’ve had buffalo chicken in almost all of its form, including buying plain chicken strips and/or nuggets and simply making my own buffalo sauce at home using hot sauce. After all, buffalo sauce is only hot sauce mixed with butter. (I’m drooling through the chest pain here, folks!)
Recently while doing groceries, I decided that in the spirit of eating better and trying to reduce the number of calories I consume, that I would purchase and try a package of vegan chicken strips. They boasted as being “hot buffalo” so I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll try anything once…” I’ve had friends serve me vegetarian meals over the years, and I can freely admit that they’ve been delicious. It’s isn’t all tofu and quinoa. Given that the vegan strips were on special, it was a perfect time to try them out. I baked ’em. I ate ’em. I went out and bought more…
They were quite delicious, and I did indeed purchase more while they were still on special. But as with al things in life, there should be a balance. And there is in fact, some good news and some bad news. For obvious reasons, I won’t be naming brands or locations and before I dip into information from everywhere else, here are the facts I collected during my own consumption of these vegan chicken bites. The first problem is that they’re comparatively more expensive than traditional chicken strips and/or nuggets. Even while on special, factoring in the portion size shows the vegan option to be more expensive.
This is a problem, especially if you’re as cheap as I am! And as the old saying goes, “as long as a burger costs $1.37 and a salad costs $6.95 at my favourite restaurant…” Right? Am I the only fiscally responsible one here??? Maybe? But the biggest aspect is looking into what you actually get from these vegan bites as opposed to chicken-based bites. In order to make this comparison, I matched up the vegan chicken bites against their popular, fast-food chain counterparts in order to see how they stacked up against one another.
First, let’s look at the chicken version. For a popular chain’s pack of just 4 chicken “nuggets” or bites (approximately 58 grams), you’re looking at about 170 calories, 10 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbohydrates. Not too bad, right? 10 grams of carbs for a meal is manageable. Throw some greens into that equation and it’s a pretty low-cost meal, especially since it would only represent ROUGHLY 10% of my daily caloric intake. Not a bad start to the show, if my second meal is just as low, followed by a “all bets are off” meal of about 500 calories.
Now for the vegan option. This is based on the brand I tried, either buffalo or plain so that my wife could partake (she isn’t a fan of buffalo). For a 51 gram serving, which is about two strips, you’re looking at 90 calories and about 4 grams of fat. So there’s a reasonable reduction in those respects, but it’s a negligible difference of 8 grams of carbohydrates for this serving. Considering the fact that this serving is a bit smaller than the chicken alternative, you’re basically getting the same level of bang for your bolus. But it’s still ideal for a bit of a reduced-calorie serving.
Here’s the real kicker: some of these vegan alternatives are often made to look, smell and taste like the meat they try to replace. And there’s a fair bit they do to accomplish this. Meat replacement options can often contain high levels of sodium, fillers and preservatives to not only give them a signature look, but to make them palatable. And you’ll have less nutrients and vitamins than their meat-based counterparts.
To be clear, a vegan diet isn’t inherently bad for you; but these specific frozen meat replacements aren’t GREAT for you. That’s the point I’m trying to make. In fact, an article posted online by Men’s Health names frozen meat alternatives, tofu deli meats, frozen vegan meals and veggie chips as food alternatives that are inherently bad for you. In defence of vegans, those foods aren’t the greatest for you in their original iterations, either. It’s all about watching the sodium and calorie levels and reading your nutritional labels properly.
My verdict on all of this is that your local grocery store may be selling vegan options that are boasted to be “healthier,” but this just isn’t so. Eating these vegan strips/bites on the odd occasion when they come on special won’t harm you any more than going out for fast-food once a week. As with all things in life, it’s about moderation. But from a Diabetes standpoint, you can burn through just as much insulin eating these vegan options as their genuine counterparts. Sorry, folks. Be wary.
If anyone has their own stories or information on this topic they’d like to share, feel free to post them in the comments. Please, keep it kind. I’ll mention that I wrote this post in the interest of sharing the information and my experience, not to pick a fight with anyone whose lifestyle is based on a vegan or vegetarian diet. I’m still reeling from the unfortunate blogger who thought she had to attack me personally for writing a post about the differences between meat and vegetarian diets. Seriously. Grow up and quit arguing, people. As the theme song goes, “The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum…” Can’t we all just get along? ☯