So, the Vegan Food Pyramid was designed to act as a "mirror" to the conventional Food Pyramid. It assists those choosing a plant-based diet in selecting the foods they need to create a healthy and well-balanced diet.
But do we REALLY need to follow it?
Well, yes and no!
When most of us first go vegan, we sort of wing it because we usually have ZERO clue about what we're doing. Sound familiar? It happened to me too. Things went along just fine for a while, but then I started to realize I was getting sort of tired. Like, a lot!
So when I began to study this diet more closely, and used the Pyramid to guide me, it really helped to clear things up. For instance, I was not eating ANY beans/legumes, which is a major source of energy for us. Mucho importante!
So the Pyramid points you in the right direction, taking the guesswork out of which foods you should eat in order to get the proper nutrition you need.
But we have to remember that it's simply a guide, a beacon that shows you the way. But many people take it SO literally, that it halts their progress as they try to fit all the "recommended" servings into their daily diet.
So what we'll cover here is which food groups appear in the Pyramid and how to make use of the recommendations.
There's a wealth of information here that will help jump start your vegan diet and cooking adventure.
Ready? Let's get started...
Folks, Meet The Vegan Food Pyramid
(Thanks to Joshua Wold for the use of this image. You can purchase it on his website. Woot! :)
The Pyramid may look somewhat familiar. It is very similar to the conventional Pyramid you've likely seen your whole life.
But the cool thing about this Pyramid is that all the animal foods found in the conventional Pyramid have been replaced with plant foods that contain key nutrients that are very similar to those found in animal products -- without a smidge of cholesterol, of course.
So there ya go. All the food us plant-strong ones are supposed to eat in one tidy awesome chart.
There's just one teensy tiny thing...
Do you have to eat all the recommended foods from every food group every single day? What if you have a day where you're just not that hungry? Are you supposed to just shove all the food in your pie hole anyway?!
Well, somewhere along the way I came across three very important pieces of the puzzle...
Look at the Veggie Group in the Pyramid - and note that the recommendation is 2-4 cups of veggies.
So one day you might be in a rush and only eat 1/2 cup of veggies (equal to 1 serving). But the next day you make a soup chock full of veggies and have 2 cups for lunch (equal to 4 servings), then in the evening you have a giant salad (2 cups of raw green salad is a serving, by the way), and you have 1 cup of broccoli with your meal (another 2 servings). And don't forget about accent veggies you likely ate throughout the day like onions, garlic, and bell peppers - likely adding up to another 1/2 cup (serving), perhaps?
This is what is meant by eating a balanced diet -- you're not perfect every day, but over the course of a couple days things even out and you're still on track.
So don't go crazy trying to eat exactly the amounts called for on a daily basis. Use it as a general guide so you understand the various food groups you want to reach for to keep your vegan diet in balance.
One thing you will notice pretty quickly is that there is no room for CRAP food. You only have so much room in your tummy, and if you want to be healthy, then you simply must save the room for your veggies, beans, whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
Go ahead and have the occasional junk food if you must, but do so sparingly. Just be smart -- this food is building and running your body!
And remember also, if you eat and eat and never seem to feel full, then you are likely not getting the nutrients your body needs.
For instance, the Pyramid's Fortified Soymilk and Alternates grouping takes the place of the conventional pyramid's Dairy Food Group -- both food groups focus on calcium-rich foods.
A serving of calcium-rich greens (like Kale or Broccoli) count as a serving in the Vegetables Group AND in the Fortified Soymilks and Alternates. Why? Because they are vegetables which also contain lots of calcium.
Here's another one. The Bean and Bean Alternates group takes the place of the conventional pyramid's Meat grouping (protein).
A serving of calcium-enriched tofu, then, would fall into not only the Bean and Bean Alternates Group (soy bean), but the Fortified Soymilk and Alternates Group too (calcium-enriched).
Final one. A serving of almond butter will fall into not only the Bean and Bean Alternates grouping (protein), but also the Fortified Soymilk and Alternates group because almonds are high in calcium.
If you need help figuring out which foods fall into which groups, then visit my in-depth nutrition article where you will find a tool to help you figure out the nutritional data for various foods. A little "too much information", but it is there if you need it!
Serving sizes in the Vegan Food Pyramid are smaller than you might think.
When you take all this into consideration, it's easy to meet the suggested servings/cups needed to balance your diet.
And although it may take a little time to get used to, and you might find yourself measuring out your food for a while, once you begin to experiment with these amounts it will become second nature to you. You'll be well on your way to meeting the recommended nutrients required.
My eCourse Plan It With Sass! breaks apart all the information from this Pyramid into easy-to-implement steps so you not only know which foods to eat every day but by the end of the course you're creating balanced meals and menus. Super helpful!
Let's Have a Chat: The Conventional USDA Guidelines
Now, if you're anything like me, you're curious about the traditional Food Pyramid. I mean, shouldn't we all be following the guidelines laid out for us for years and years by "the Powers that be?"
It's definitely worth taking a look at so you feel very confident that you are making the right dietary choices.
So let's examine our United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines. If you have been following the USDA dietary guidelines your entire life, it is certainly understandable because most of us have as well. It is natural to look to others who might know more about the topic of nutrition than we do.
But just because the USDA makes the proclamation of what we should eat, does that mean these food groups are, in fact, what you should eat on a daily basis?
Before you answer, consider the following...
Oy vey. I think most of us would agree that these foods are not exactly the hallmark of a healthy diet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce (drum roll please)...
This is the latest and the greatest from the USDA as of June 2011.
What do we notice? Well, first of all it appears that we have all become pretty dumbed down if we can only deal with a simple graphic like this. :)
But seriously, they recommend 30 percent of our diet should be grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits and 20 percent protein. And then off to the side for good measure is the dairy. It is thought that it is easiest for people to look at this image and know just by looking at their plate if they are meeting the recommended food groups each day and week.
So they started out with a chart that had a category called "Meat" and now they have switched this category to "Protein." Could it be because they have come to the conclusion that we can get our protein from foods other than meat, no problem?
That's all well and good. But what does the USDA have to say about the vegan diet?
So not only have they adapted the traditional USDA Dietary Guidelines, but they went one step further to actually include changes in food group composition and amounts to include the vegetarian and vegan diets!
They've come a long way, Baby. (About time. Sheesh!)
*Note: The 2015 Guidelines are the current Federal policy until the 2020 Dietary Guidelines are published.
Whether you are 100% plant-based or not...
...you need to take control and educate yourself as much as you can about the food you put in your mouth and its effect on your health and wellness.
Because we are always learning new facts about food and nutrition, and it's very important to not get "stuck" in a food rut that may have been based on something you learned when you were a kid.
For instance, as you can see by the first poster above, the USDA started out by recommending "Beyond the Basic 7, eat anything you want!"
And now, according to the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines put out by the USDA and the HSS...
Although the majority of Americans consume sufficient amounts of most nutrients, some nutrients are consumed by many individuals in amounts below the Estimated Average Requirement or Adequate Intake levels. The U.S. population, across almost every age and sex group, consumes eating patterns that are too high in refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and for some age-sex groups, high in the meats, poultry, and eggs subgroup. Americans also consume too little potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C.It is suggested that low intakes for most of these nutrients occur within the context of unhealthy overall eating patterns, due to low intakes of the food groups—vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that contain these nutrients. They recommend that shifting to increase the intake of these food groups can move intakes of these underconsumed nutrients closer to recommendations.14
All I know for sure is the majority of people in the U.S. have been taking the advice of the USDA for over 70 years, and continue to fill their diets with meat, dairy, and eggs. And the majority of people here in the U.S. have problems with obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other diseases and health challenges.
Perhaps those on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee have something to do with it...
Am I saying a plant-strong diet is the answer to every problem we have?
Ummmmm, actually, yes.
(That was a joke. Sort of.)
But the facts really speak pretty loudly, don't you think?
The vegan diet is here to stay, no doubt about it, and it is gaining even more momentum as time goes by. In other words, you are in very good company.
Hope this article has helped you to feel confident in choosing the foods and beverages that make up a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Thanks for spending the time with me.