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Vegan Food Pyramid

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 own Vegan Food Pyramids. Although most Vegan Pyramids are on the right track, they don’t always reflect the most current information about Vegan Diets and health. This is why we 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, as well as the most common questions regarding the Vegan Pyramid.

Health Benefits from following the Vegan Food Pyramid

  • Heart Health: 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 is can actually reverse some of the heart damage done by a previously unhealthy lifestyle.1
  • Weight Control: One consistent factor with most of the foods in the vegan pyramid is that they are high in fiber. Fiber has been shown to fight appetite and help people lose weight. 2
  • Curbs Cancer: A diet high in saturated and trans fasts from animal foods have been consistently associated with an increased cancer risk. On the other hand, the antioxidants found in vegan foods are able to ward off the cellular damage that precedes cancer. 3

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: 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.
  • Iron: 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.
  • Vitamin D/Calcium: 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.

Ready to begin? Here is an updated version of the Vegan Food Pyramid.

The Vegan Food Pyramid

½ Base: Starchy Vegetables and Whole Grains (4-8 servings per day)

Whole grains and starchy vegetables are superb sources of carbohydrates, antioxidants, and fiber. Therefore, in order 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.

Whole Grains (Serving=1 slice bread or ½ cup raw grain)

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Wild rice
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth

Starchy Vegetables (Serving=1/2 cup)

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Baked potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Plantains
  • Turnips
  • Yams
  • Arrowhead
  • Water chestnuts

½ Base: Lentils, Beans, Legumes (3-4 servings per day)

Many vegan pyramids place legumes towards the top -ignoring the fact that beans are a critical protein source for vegans. Protein, along with select B vitamins found in legumes, are sorely lacking in many vegan’s diets. In fact, low protein diets have been linked with weight gain, muscle loss, and immune system suppression.

Legumes (Serving=1/2 cup)

  • Adzuki Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Broad Beans (Fava Beans)
  • Butter Beans
  • Calico Beans
  • Cannellini Beans
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
  • Edamame
  • Great Northern Beans
  • Italian Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima Beans
  • Mung Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Soy Beans
  • Split Peas
  • White Beans

Second Level: Fruits and Non- Starchy Vegetables (5-9 servings per day)

Fruits and vegetables are one of the most important 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.

Fruits (1/2 cup)

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Pomegranate
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Apricot
  • Cherry
  • Cranberry
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Kiki
  • Grapefruit
  • Nectarines
  • Plums

Non-Starchy Vegetables (Serving=1 cup)

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Green Beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Bell Pepper
  • Baby corn
  • Onions
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Okra
  • Shallots
  • Squash
  • Zucchini

½ Third Level: 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 one of the few vegan sources of complete protein. Not only that, but they contain highly bio-available calcium, making sure you absorb this important mineral for strong bones.

Soy-Based Foods (Serving=1 cup liquid, ½ cup solid)

  • Tofu
  • Soy milk
  • Soy protein powder
  • Edamame
  • Texturized vegetable protein
  • Meat substitutes
  • Tempeh
  • Soy nuts
  • Soy veggie burgers
  • Soy yogurt
  • Soy protein fortified cereal

½ Third Level: Healthy Fats (2-3 servings per day)

Healthy Fats (tbsp. liquid oil, ¼ cup solid)

  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Almonds
  • Beech
  • Butternut
  • Brazil nut
  • Candlenut
  • Cashew
  • Chestnuts
  • Sweet Chestnut
  • Colocynth
  • Cucurbita ficifolia
  • Filbert
  • Hickory, including
  • Pecan
  • Shagbark Hickory
  • Kola nut
  • Macadamia
  • Mamoncillo
  • Maya nut
  • Oak acorns
  • Ogbono nut
  • Paradise nut
  • Pili nut
  • Pistachio
  • Walnut

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 the case of margarine and coconut oils. Therefore, the vegan diet should contain plenty of nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil to make sure one gets enough healthy fats in the diet.

Tip of the Pyramid: Processed Food, Candy, Soda (eat sparingly)

It’s best to steer clear of processed food and stick to the fresh and natural foods that are found in the rest of the pyramid. Many foods like Oreos and Coke, are widely considered unhealthy.

Processed Foods (serving size varies)

  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Margarine
  • Coconut oil
  • Refined grains
  • Sugary cereal

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.

  • Oversimplifies: If you were to only eat a diet based on the vegan pyramid without doing any additional research, you may not fully comprehend the challenges that a vegan diet can entail.
  • Not Individualized: Everyone’s lifestyle, culture, and taste preferences are unique. Unfortunately, the vegan pyramid isn’t able to take this into account – resulting in a generic guide that may not work for everyone.
  • Deficiencies: The vegan pyramid, even if followed very closely, may not be able to ward off some of the deficiencies commonly seen in vegans.

Despite its shortcomings, the vegan pyramid remains a powerful tool for reaping the benefits of a vegan diet.

 

References:

1. Ornish D. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet. 1990 Jul 21; 336(8708):129-33

2. Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001 May; 59(5):129-39.

3. D L Tribble and E Frank. Dietary antioxidants, cancer, and atherosclerotic heart disease. West J Med. 1994 December; 161(6): 605-612.