With the rise of veganism, more and more food manufacturers have flooded the market with vegan junk food of all sorts. We can now easily find ice creams, fake meats and sweet treats that are often packed with similar amounts of sugar and fat as their non-vegan counterparts.
As vegan junk food becomes more easily accessible to those who choose to eliminate animal products for ethical reasons, such food replacements are doing little to nothing to help those who look to a vegan diet for its health-promoting potential. This is where the distinction between a vegan and a whole-food plant-based diet emerges: the former focuses on the elimination of animal products, while the latter is more interested in consuming healthy and unrefined foods that have been shown to prevent and even reverse chronic diseases.
So, to support you in navigating a healthy plant-powered journey, I have created the Plant Proof Healthy Vegan Food pyramid to use as a guide.
I hope this Pyramid helps you and your family/friends make healthier decisions with your food choices. For too long we have been trained to believe that everything we see on TV is healthy or that everything with pretty packaging and ‘buzz words’ on the packaging in the grocery store is healthy. We have fallen victim to clever marketing and agendas from industries that do not have our health as their number one priority. In fact, many of them profit more as we become further addicted to their toxic ‘food’ offerings. Despite their morals & values, we must concede that these industries have done a tremendous job making humans think they need animal & processed food products to thrive…when in fact they do the exact opposite. Think about that for a second, that’s a monumental job.
The good news is that beyond new fancy food products, marketing fads and mixed messages you may be getting from the media, eating a truly healthy vegan or plant-based diet is incredibly simple, affordable and delicious. It’s also incredibly good for planetary health and, of course, animal welfare. There are only a few principles to keep in mind, which I will now run through. My hope is that a simple pyramid such as this one can take the guesswork out of nutrition and help make it easier for you, your family and friends to make healthier decisions regarding your food choices.
The Healthy Vegan Food Pyramid is not meant to be followed literally but rather to serve as a high-level understanding of the various food groups and the number of serves of each group you should try and consume each and every day. Of course, the more muscular you are and more active you are, the more calories you need (higher Basal Metabolic Rate) so naturally, the number of servings or portion sizes will increase to meet your specific requirements.
At the bottom of the pyramid are the foods that should be the stars of your meals: fruits and vegetables. Aim to have 3 servings of berries a day (preferably organic, as berries tend to be heavily pesticide-laden), three servings of other fruits (such as a banana, peach and apple), and 3+ servings of vegetables between both green and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and kale, and other vegetables such as capsicum and zucchini. And remember – try to keep it as diverse as possible by switching it up based on what is in season.
Next up are unrefined whole-grains. That’s right, despite the demonisation of ‘carbs’, unrefined whole-grain foods are essential to a balanced and health-promoting diet. Aim for 3+ servings a day of foods such as rolled oats and quinoa, which are packed with gut-healthy fibre.
For your protein, aim for 3+ servings of legumes, including organic tofu or tempeh, each day. Black beans, chickpeas, and red kidney beans are all great choices – they are rich in protein, fibre, iron and other important nutrients. Hummus is also an easy and delicious way to sneak more legumes into your diet – especially for the younger ones!
When it comes to fats, aim for 3 servings per day of foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds. These foods contain good amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats but also impressive amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Try adding a few tablespoons of peanut butter to a sliced apple – a delicious and easy snack that’ll satisfy your whole food fat needs!
Try to keep the amount of heavily processed foods such as oils, packaged and refined foods to an absolute minimum, if possible less than 1 serving per day. If you like cooking or dressing salads with oil, opt for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. While this is by no means necessary to a healthy diet, a diet can be healthy with the inclusion with oil. But keep in mind that you can also easily swap out oil for either veggie stock or water when cooking – it won’t crisp up quite as well but you’ll be saving yourself a ton of calories!
Above these general guidelines, consuming 2-3 tbsp of either ground flaxseed or chia seeds per day will ensure you’re getting sufficient Omega-3s, and 1-2 Brazil nuts a day will provide you with all the selenium you need. If you’re not consuming a lot of Omega-3 rich foods, or simply want an insurance policy, I recommend supplementing with a DHA/EPA algae oil. Beyond food but equally as essential for optimal health, if you are eating no or few animal foods, be sure you’re including a B12 supplement into your daily routine, and a vegan Vitamin D3 supplement (if you aren’t getting at least 20 minutes of sun per day) and any other supplements you may need based on blood test results such as Iron. If you’d like a supplement to cover your B12 + Vitamin D3 + Omega 3 needs, I have formulated a safe and TGA listed vegan supplement with Nutrikynd.
I encourage you to print the pyramid out and hang it up on your fridge. Treat it as a rough guide to help you make healthier choices – it is by no means necessary for you to follow it literally for you to reap the many benefits of a healthier diet, but the more the better. Remember, health is indeed a spectrum, so aim to be consistent rather than perfect!
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