It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that there’s one definitive Vegan Food Pyramid. Doctors, dietitians, and even Universities have all produced their Vegan Food Pyramids. Although most Vegan Pyramids are on the right track, they don’t always reflect Vegan Diets and health’s most current information. That’s why I want to present a more updated version of The Vegan Food Pyramid; see details below.
However, before we delve into The Vegan Food Pyramid, we should discuss some of the health benefits of following a diet consistent with The Vegan Pyramid and the most common questions regarding the Vegan Pyramid.
Health Benefits from following the Vegan Food Pyramid
Research clearly shows that people who follow a diet resembling the vegan pyramid are much less likely to get cardiovascular disease down the road. In fact, a vegan diet is so powerful that it can actually reverse some of the heart damage done by a previously unhealthy lifestyle.
One consistent factor with most vegan pyramid foods is that they are high in fiber. Fiber has been shown to fight appetite and help people lose weight.
A diet high in saturated and trans fats from animal foods has been consistently associated with increased cancer risk. On the other hand, the antioxidants found in vegan foods can ward off the cellular damage that precedes cancer.
What about Supplements?
Although following this vegan food pyramid will minimize the need for supplementation, deficiencies are still possible. Here are some supplements to consider if you’re following the vegan diet:
Vitamin B12 is almost exclusively found in meat. Although fermented grains like tempeh can provide some B12, it’s best to take a supplement just in case.
Beans and fortified grains contain plenty of iron. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t absorb much of it. That’s why an iron supplement is an easy way to prevent anemia.
Vegan or not, it’s a real challenge to get enough vitamin D and calcium through diet alone. A combination calcium vitamin D supplement ensures you’re getting the bone-building nutrients you need.
What about Servings?
You will notice that there is a serving range for each food group. That’s because people’s caloric needs vary. If you need more calories, opt for the high end of the range. If you’re trying to lose weight, opt for the lower end of the range. Serving sizes for various food groups are listed below.
The Vegan Food Pyramid
Starchy Vegetables and Whole Grains (4-8 servings per day)
Whole grains and starchy vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates, antioxidants, and fiber. Therefore, to make sure one gets enough of these vital nutrients, a large part of the vegan diet should be made up of these foods.
Most vegan food pyramids don’t distinguish between vegetables and grain types. It’s important to note that the difference between starchy vegetables, regular vegetables, refined grains, and whole grains is significant, thus their placement in separate categories.
Lentils, Beans, Legumes (3-4 servings per day)
Many vegan pyramids place legumes towards the top, ignoring that beans are a critical protein source for vegans. Protein, along with select B vitamins found in legumes, is sorely lacking in many vegan diets. In fact, low protein diets have been linked with weight gain, muscle loss, and immune system suppression.
Fruits and Non- Starchy Vegetables (5-9 servings per day)
Fruits and vegetables are one of the most essential parts of any diet – not just vegan. Besides being packed with essential nutrients, fresh produce is full of potent antioxidants that ward off chronic disease.
Soy-Based Foods (2-3 servings per day)
Although you’ll be getting the majority of your protein from beans and nuts, soy-based foods like tofu and soymilk are among the few vegan sources of complete protein. Not only that, but they contain highly bio-available calcium, making sure you absorb this vital mineral for healthy bones.
Most vegan food pyramids ignore the crucial distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. Although most of the fats found in vegan foods are healthy, there are certainly exceptions to this rule, especially in margarine and coconut oils. Therefore, the vegan diet should contain plenty of nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil to ensure one gets enough healthy fats in the diet.
Processed Food, Candy, Soda (eat sparingly)
It’s best to steer clear of processed food and stick to the fresh and natural foods found in the rest of the pyramid. Many foods like Oreos and Coke are widely considered unhealthy.
Things to keep in mind when following The Vegan Pyramid
Although the vegan pyramid is a great tool, keeping these points in mind should help you follow it.
If you were to only eat a diet based on the vegan pyramid without doing any additional research, you might not fully comprehend the challenges that a vegan diet can entail.
Everyone’s lifestyle, culture, and taste preferences are unique. Unfortunately, the vegan pyramid cannot take this into account – resulting in a generic guide that may not work for everyone.
The vegan pyramid, even if followed very closely, may not be able to ward off some of the weaknesses commonly seen in vegans. Despite its shortcomings, the vegan pyramid remains a powerful tool for reaping a vegan diet’s benefits.