While you probably grew up learning about the traditional food pyramid, you may be less familiar with any of the plant-based versions. In the past, we were taught that animal products play a vital role in our diet, so when switching to a plant-based diet, many people make the assumption that you may lack certain nutrients. This blog aims to debunk those myths and teach you how to get all the nutrients, in the right balance in a simple pyramid diagram.
So, if you are under the impression that a plant-based diet is complex to follow or that you may end up malnourished, the next few paragraphs should change your mind.
In 2009, the American Dietetic Association published a position paper on vegetarian diets. It stated: ‘Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.’
It went on to say: ‘The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fibre, and phytochemicals.’
And now, nearly all major health organisations agree that a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods, whole grains and legumes is beneficial to your health. So, how exactly should you divide up your plate to ensure you are getting the balance right?
THE PLANT-BASED FOOD PYRAMID
This is intended as a guide only. I recommend that you consult a dietician or nutritionist to assist you in developing a personalised plan, depending on your current nutritional requirements.
THE BASE OF THE PYRAMID
This is focused on unrefined grains and vegetables. This is where the bulk of your food, and therefore kilojoules, should come from. Remember to ‘eat the rainbow’ with as much variety as possible. You should aim for a minimum of five servings of greens (there is no upper limit), three servings of vegetables and three servings of grains a day.
Example (1 day): 1 cup broccoli, 2 cups spinach, 1 cup celery, 1 cup cucumber, 1 slice sourdough bread, 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1 cup cooked brown rice, 1 sweet potato, 1 cup cauliflower, 1 cup carrots, 1 potato, 1 cup butternut.
THE SECOND LEVEL OF THE PYRAMID
This area includes fats, fruits and plant proteins. Fat examples include nuts, seeds, avocado, tahini and cold-pressed vegetable oils. Use these in moderation. Fruit examples include berries, papaya, bananas, apples, oranges, watermelon or mangoes. Proteins include foods such as tofu, tempeh, soymilk, legumes, plant-based meats and plant protein powders.
Example (1 day): 1⁄2 avocado, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 1 banana, 1 mango,1 vegan burger, 1 cup cooked beans.
THE TIP OF THE PYRAMID
This includes foods that you should eat occasionally, i.e. the treats! These are processed foods, homemade treats and dark vegan chocolate.
HOW TO GET ALL YOU NEED IN ONE DAY AND A BASIC GUIDE TO MEAL PLANNING
Each recipe in this book has a simple guide to make it easier for you to understand how to build your own daily meal plans, using the principles of the plant-based food pyramid.
If you need more help and tips, you can find tons of vegan recipes and inspiration in my book ‘Made with Love and Plants’. You can get it from Takealot, Exclusive Books, Amazon, or select independent bookstores.