Health & Fitness Issue 2016: Why imperfection is perfection

No need for stress when it comes to a vegan diet — just make better choices.

click to enlarge There are many vegan alternatives out there for your favorite snack foods. - Paige Butterfield
Paige Butterfield
There are many vegan alternatives out there for your favorite snack foods.

Get a six-pack. Volunteer. Embrace my inner DIY-queen. Act somewhat like an adult: take my coffee black, stop using those (adorable) zoo-animal paper plates and limit my intake of Koala Crisp chocolate cereal. Spend more quality time with my cat. Get my chakras realigned. Oh, shoot, and my car, too.

Rarely do I keep my New Year’s resolutions. Come February, my list of sparkling proposals snowball into an inventory of “Crap I Never Got Around To.”

My No. 1 yearly letdown? Not becoming a Level-99 Vegan.

You know, the macro-counting, wheatgrass-shot-drinking, “Does that apple cider vinegar have the mother?” plant-based health nut. I wish I had the determination and willpower those shimmering unicorns do. Alas, I do not. Level-99s, you deserve a medal, or maybe everlasting youth is your reward. But this year, I’m giving up my goal of perfection for a realistic one:

Do my best to make better vegan food choices.

Doing my best means trying to eat more of my vegan meals raw and at home, but not stressing if I develop Alien-Hand Syndrome and reach for — GASP — a can of soup. It means leaving room for imperfection. Heck, I might even eat a cookie straight from the box if I’m feeling devilish. But the difference between being a Healthy Vegan and a Junk-Food Vegan is that Healthy Vegans choose healthier versions of these pre-packaged temptations, and only in moderation.

For instance, Oreos are vegan, according to PETA’s website. Upon hearing this, most people first go into shock. Secondly, they ask, “Then what the heck are they made of?” High-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavor, to side-eye two ingredients.

However, you don’t have to trek to the Ultra Super Healthy Organic Health Food Store for an alternative. Back to Nature, a brand that can be found in supermarkets like Publix, has three types of vegan cookies. Its Madagascar Vanilla Wafers (a.k.a vanilla heaven) are free of high-fructose corn syrup, have 9 grams of sugar compared to Oreos’ hefty 14, and their first ingredient is whole-grain wheat flour. Plus, you get five cookies per serving instead of three with Oreos. Sold.

Back to Nature also sells a line of cereals, crackers and soups. To see which are vegan, go to and use the convenient veg filter under “My Diet.”

Other “accidentally” vegan sweets like Dum Dums have features that make Oreos look tame. While they might remind you of your childhood, with ingredients like corn syrup, artificial flavors and artificial colors, only a dum-dum would eat them. (This is where you laugh.) There is an alternative, though. YumEarth Organics Pops are certified USDA organic, vegan, made from real fruit extracts and free of artificial dyes. The brand’s other natural vegan treats include fruit snacks, sour jelly beans and licorice. They can often be found in stores like Walgreens and T.J. Maxx.

If you’re not a “dessert first” kind of person, I probably don’t want to be your friend. But I’ll still show you there are plenty of vegan, healthful pre-packaged meals and snacks worth checking out, too.

My favorite fast protein pick is Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger. At one point, I had all three of my roommates eating these, and we hoarded them in our freezer until they took over the ice maker. Of course, the ice maker had to go. Tex-Mex, Asian and Thai are a few of the brand’s other vegan varieties that find their way to my plate. With the California patty’s 110 calories, you can stop carb-shunning and devour the burger à la bun. Find them at Publix and Winn-Dixie, to start.

Amy’s, with its 70-plus vegan options, has to make the list. The downfall is that, like other pre-packaged foods, some of its products are exploding with sodium (hint: not so healthy). However, Amy’s stands out by using all-natural ingredients (one of the few brands that actually means it), in everything from its popular burritos, such as the Indian samosa wrap, to Toaster Pops and frozen pizza. The brand sells a few low-sodium items as well.

Though you shouldn’t be devouring a whole Amy’s pizza — every night, ahem, boyfriend — if you’re craving a slice, Amy’s has the goods without the gross ingredients. The all-vegetarian brand is taking over stores and can be found in Winn-Dixie, Publix, Target and more.

Also available at most supermarkets are plentiful vegan snacks that won’t snackotage your resolution. While I continue to suspect rice cakes are a byproduct of old socks and stale packing peanuts, Lundberg Family Farms has somehow made them tasty through treats like caramel corn and Sweet Dreams Dark Chocolate. SkinnyPop Popcorn is another go-to, with 39 calories per cup. The non-G.M.O brand has a few flavors, but white Cheddar, yes, secretly vegan, wears the crown.

Kind, Clif, Luna and Larabars have vegan goodies for on-the-go snacking, too; just make sure your favorite doesn’t contain honey, whey or milk protein. If it says, “May contain milk,” you’re OK as long as you don’t have an allergy. This warning just means the product was processed on the same equipment.

From snack bars to breakfast cereals, there’s always a healthier vegan choice within reach. Resolving to eat a plant-based diet isn’t about brewing your own kombucha and pretending to enjoy wheat bran. It’s about doing your best, even if that includes a bowl of Koala Crisps in the morning. 

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