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.
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.
While it is simple, it is common for people in the initial stages of reducing animal products from their diet to have some slight reservations or concerns. This is only normal – we have all grown up in an environment that very much conditions us to believe that eating animal products is essential to good health. A healthy level of scepticism is a good thing. If you weren’t wondering where you will get your iron, or protein, I would have concerns.
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.
There are only a few things to to keep in mind, which are summarised in the below graphic and text beneath. 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. I have literally spent 100’s and 100’s of hours creating this pyramid to ensure it creates a nutritionally adequate diet – so all the hard work has been done for you.
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 at least 2 servings of berries a day, three servings of other fruits (such as a banana, peach and apple), and 3+ servings of greens/cruciferous vegetables (e.g kale and broccoli) and 3+ servings of other vegetables (e.g 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, nut, seeds and/or oils. 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!
If you decide to cook with oils, I recommend EVOO for moderate temperature cooking and refined olive oil for hot temperature cooking. If you are based in the USA, a culinary algae oil is now available that is suitable for all cooking temperatures and has a great fat profile. While oil is by no means necessary to a healthy diet, a diet can be healthy with the inclusion with oil. It is worth noting that oil is very calorie dense and contains minimal amounts of micronutrients. On average, 1 tbsp provide 120 calories. So if weight loss is your goal, and you are eating restricted calories, it makes sense to be limiting oil in preference for more nutrient rich whole foods.
Try to keep the amount of heavily processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, vegan fast food, soda etc to a minimum, if possible less than 1 serving per day.
6. Plant-based milk
To meet your daily calcium requirements I recommend adding a calcium-fortified plant-based milk to your daily routine. Aim for 1.5 cups a day of a plant-based milk that contains at least 150mg of calcium per 100ml.
Above these general guidelines, consuming 1-2 tbsp of either ground flaxseed or chia seeds per day (1tbsp for women, 2tbsp for men) will ensure you’re getting sufficient Omega-3s, 1 Brazil nut for selenium and 2tsp of dulse flakes for iodine (My daily smoothie contains all of this).
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.
Other supplements to include are:
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 for an Australian company called Nutrikynd.
If you are not convinced that you can get every single nutrient you need by following the information in this food pyramid I challenge you to enter a few days of eating into an app like Cronometer (free app that tracks macronutrients, micronutrients and calories on your phone). You’ll be surprised how nutrient dense this way of eating is!
I encourage you to download the pyramid and save it to your computer/phone and share with friends who you think it may also benefit. 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 about long term averages (not one week cleanses), so aim to be consistent rather than perfect!
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