The Vegan Food Pyramid | A Complete Guide to meet your nutrition requirements
Many of you may be wondering why do we need a Vegan food pyramid and how does it help?
The Vegan food pyramid is designed to serve as a guide for those who are looking to shift to a plant-based diet. It helps in choosing the foods needed to create a well-balanced diet. This diet is beneficial for those who are looking to lose weight and reverse their illnesses.
Do we need to follow the vegan food pyramid closely?
Well, the answer is yes and no!
For too long we have been made to believe that the food products marketed on television, newspapers, and magazines are healthy. We buy them frequently as they are readily available and end up spoiling our health. These products are highly processed and so addictive that it has become difficult to stay away from it. We have become victims of these companies, who do not care for our health. While our health deteriorates, these companies enjoy good profits selling their products.
Further, we have been made to believe that dairy products, and animal products are necessary for good health. This is not true. It is important to note that a whole food plant-based vegan diet can meet all the nutritional requirements needed for optimum health.
When most of us decide to go vegan, we hardly have any clue about how to transition to the vegan diet in the right manner. We broadly know that we have to substitute milk, milk products, and animal products with plant-based products. You may be wondering how to get the nutrients that were available in meat, eggs, and dairy?
With little knowledge, I too embarked on my journey to become a vegan. Initially, things went on fine for a couple of months but soon realized I felt a little tired. This is where the Vegan food pyramid served as a guide to modify my eating habits.
Soon I began to study this diet in detail and the Vegan food pyramid helped me clear my confusion. For example, I was not eating ANY beans or legumes, which is a major source of energy. Here knowing the Vegan food pyramid helped, as it enabled me to identify which food group was missing in my nutrition requirements.
Hence, we will discuss what food groups appear in the Vegan food pyramid and how to make use of the recommendations. This will help you kick start your vegan journey
The Vegan Food Pyramid
The vegan food pyramid is very similar to the conventional food pyramid. The only difference being the animal foods are replaced with plant foods. Plant foods contain key nutrients similar to animal foods without a smudge of cholesterol.
Further, would like to mention that you don’t need to stress over eating a perfect diet following those recommendations all the time. What matters the most is what food you choose to eat. If you don’t feel hungry or don’t feel like eating the recommended servings, it is perfectly fine. Most likely, you will develop an eating pattern over some time.
If you are new to veganism, this article will guide you on how much food you need to take on your plate. If you are a vegan for a while, you can still read this article and find where you are going wrong?
Why is a vegan diet smart and safe?
Many of you may think that following a vegan diet is tough, complicated and involves a lot of challenges. Let us understand why it is not.
In 2009, the American Dietetic Association published a position paper which stated that
“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets including vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may help in the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. Well planned vegetarian diets are recommended for people across all age groups including pregnant and lactating women, infants, kids, adults and also athletes.”
Most vegetarians tend to have low cholesterol levels, low blood pressure and type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarians. They generally have a low body mass index. The vegetarian diet helps in reducing the risk of chronic illnesses like heart diseases and cancer due to lower intake of saturated fats and cholesterol and increased intake of fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. Hence, more and more nutrition experts and health organizations are recommending people to adopt a vegan diet.
What exactly does a vegan diet look like?
A vegan diet is all about eating WHOLE foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and eliminating dairy and animal products. Whole foods keep you full and don’t just fill you up with empty calories like processed and junk foods. This doesn’t mean you need to stay away from your favorite food like ice-creams, cakes, and pastries. You can indulge in them occasionally.
We would also like to mention that moving to a vegan diet not only helps improve your health but also helps save the environment and our planet. Ocean dead zones, extinction of animals, climate change are a few examples of how nature is getting affected due to man’s greed.
How did we come up with the Vegan food pyramid?
We are not dieticians ourselves. However, we looked at what experts and people at PCRM are recommending.
While many may think that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is ideal, people may find it difficult to eat them at all mealtimes. Though they are rich in all nutrients, you may not find it satisfying and sustainable. It may become difficult to survive by just eating salads, fruits, and seeds all the time. Hence you will find GRAINS at the bottom of our pyramid.
Understanding the Vegan food pyramid
Grains – Eat food made from whole and unprocessed grains like brown rice, quinoa, millets, whole wheat, buckwheat. They are healthier and keep you full for a long time. You can increase or decrease the servings based on your requirements.
Vegetables – Both RAW and COOKED vegetables are healthy and should be included in your daily diet. Do not forget to include leafy vegetables as they are rich in nutrients. You can also juice the vegetables as they become easier to digest.
Fruits – Fruits can be had 3-4 times a day and you can include a variety of fruits. Choose to eat whole fruits than juicing as it kills the fiber from the fruit. Fruits should be had on an empty stomach as they provide maximum nutrition.
Legumes – The common ones in this category include beans like chickpeas, kidney beans, soybeans peas, peanuts. You can increase or decrease the servings depending on your requirements.
Nuts and seeds – You can eat around 10 almonds/cashews in a day. You can get enough essential fats by including 1 tbsp of chia seeds/flax seeds or walnuts in your diet. This will provide you sufficient energy.
Meeting nutritional needs as a Vegan
Most vegans are deficient in Vit.B3 and Vit.B12. But that doesn’t mean that veganism is complicated and difficult to follow. Diets that contain animal products are high in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans-fat and lack fiber, Folate, Magnesium, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
We have listed below the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) of some nutrients we need daily.
CALCIUM – The daily recommended intake of Calcium is 1000mg for most adults. It may be slightly more for elderly people and teenagers. This mineral is important for good bone health and the functioning of muscles and nerves.
It is also important to note that your body doesn’t absorb calcium if it is deficient in Vitamin D. Foods that contain high amounts of Calcium are
a) Vegetable like Spinach, Kale, Broccoli,
b) Fruits – Oranges
c) Nuts and seeds – Almonds, Tahini
d) Legumes – Soy milk, Tofu, Chickpeas
IRON – The daily requirement intake of Iron is 8mg for males and 18mg for females. It is slightly higher in females due to the monthly blood loss during the reproductive years. Iron is necessary for the transportation of oxygen throughout the body. Our body can store iron and increase absorption when the levels deplete. We can enhance iron absorption by adding Vitamin C to iron sources.
Foods that contain iron are
Grains – Oatmeal
Vegetables – Spinach
Fruits – Dried figs
Legumes – Kidney beans, chickpeas, green peas
Nuts and seeds – Almonds and Tahini
ZINC – The DRI is 8mg for females and 11mg for males. It is a very important mineral as it plays a role in building up the immune system
Foods that contain high amounts of zinc are:
Grains – Oatmeal, Brown rice
Legumes – Kidney beans, chickpeas, green peas
Nuts and seeds – Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds
IODINE – The DRI is 150 mcg for adults and it is very important for pregnant women and lactating mothers. It is important for the production of thyroid hormones and metabolism. The sources of iodine include vegetables and the Himalayan pink salt.
PROTEINS – Let us tackle the myths around protein here. Proteins help in maintaining the muscle and bone mass. The source of essential amino acids (which combine to form proteins) come from plant sources. The DRI of protein for an average adult is 0.8gms per kg of body weight which is around 50 gms for a person with a healthy weight. We can easily get our proteins from our whole food vegan diet.
Some high protein vegan foods include –
Grains – Amaranth, Quinoa
Legumes – Peanuts, Tofu, lentils, Soymilk, and beans
Nuts and seeds – Almonds and pumpkin seeds
OMEGA 3 – is mainly found in fatty fish. Worry not. We can also get them from plant sources. The essential fatty acid ALA that comes from plants gets converted to Omega 3 in our body. It is important for brain development, heart and eye health, and many others. Omega 3 can fight against depression and anxiety, inflammation in the body and also autoimmune disorders. The DRI for ALA is 1.1 gm for females and 1.6gms for males. Foods that contain ALA are Hemp seeds, Chia seeds, flax seeds, and Walnuts.
VITAMIN D – Vitamins are necessary for our body to grow naturally. It helps our body absorb calcium. Calcium is one of the building blocks of bone. Lack of Vitamin D can lead to bone illnesses like osteoporosis. It also has a role in the functioning of your nerve, muscle and immune system. The DRI of Vitamin D is 15mcg or 600 international units for adults. Sources of Vitamin D include
a) Exposure to Sun
c) Mushrooms, plant-based milk, cereals, orange juice.
VITAMIN B12 – is a water-soluble vitamin. It is necessary to keep our nerves healthy, support the production of DNA and red blood cells. It also helps in the normal functioning of the brain. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that our body cannot make on its own. So, you need to get it from your diet or supplements. This is the only nutrient that we cannot get from plant sources. Some products are fortified, making it a source of Vitamin B12. Sources of Vitamin B12 include –
a) Fortified Nutritional yeast
b) Fortified non-dairy milk
How much should I eat on a vegan diet?
This is one question that tends to bother many people. The most important thing that you need to understand is the calorie density. For example: If you have to choose between a burger and a salad, you should know that you will be consuming more calories in a burger than a salad. This is just one meal and you have to consider the other meals that you will have on that day.
When you go on a vegan diet, most people are not sure whether they are eating enough calories. Sometimes you eat less and at other times you tend to overeat even when you are consuming healthy food. Eating excess of healthy items is bad too. While eating whole foods helps to cut back calories, it is important to ensure that you are eating enough calories required for the day. Hence It is best to listen to your body signals on how much food is required than what others say.
Rather than staying hungry for long and reaching out for junk food, it is better to eat food when you feel hungry. This will help you stay fit and healthy, improve your energy levels, your mood swings and stop your food cravings. If you eat less than what your body requires, you will feel tired, lazy and have a crappy mood.
Remember to stay away from oils and sugar and this itself will lead you to good health and a healthy weight. The recommendations given on the vegan food pyramid are broad ones. Therefore, you can modify it to suit your requirements accordingly.
Do read our article “How to lose weight at home” for more insights on losing weight the vegan way.
Please share your thoughts and comments with us below. Do share this article with your friends and family who is looking to get healthy and reverse their illnesses.