The vegan food pyramid is an adaptation of the USDA food pyramid, which focuses on foods recommended for vegans in order to reach their nutritional goals. The original vegan pyramid was created in 2003 by the American Dietetic Association, although there are a few different versions circulating now. You can use the pyramid as a guide to vegan meal-planning, and as a checklist to ensure you're getting the right foods each day.
About the Vegan Food Pyramid
The vegan food pyramid divides foods into groups based on their type and nutritional value, and includes the number of servings from each group that should be consumed daily for optimal health. The pyramid design gives a visual depiction of the importance of each group, with those foods that should be consumed more often at the wide base, and those that should be consumed sparingly at the narrow tip.
The Basic Vegan Pyramid
The original vegan pyramid is made up of five different vegan food groups, and includes a range of servings you should enjoy each day to maximize nutritional value.
The whole grains group occupies the base of the pyramid, with a recommended intake of six to eleven servings per day. Foods in the whole grains group include:
It's important to note that the grains should be unprocessed and whole. For example, whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice, and slow-cooking oatmeal.
Legumes, Nuts, Soy, and Other Protein Sources
The next food group in the pyramid includes sources of protein and calcium, with the recommended daily consumption of five to eight servings. These foods include:
- Cooked peas, beans, or lentils
- Nuts or nut butters
- Fortified soy milk or soy cheese
- Meat analog (vegan meat substitute, such as meatless burger patties)
- Hummus or tahini
The vegetable group includes fresh, canned, or frozen veggies. You should eat at least four servings of vegetables each day. Some suggestions for vegetable choices are:
- Raw or cooked vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
- Vegetable juices
- Fortified tomato juice
- Salad greens
- Pickled vegetables (dill pickles, beets, onions, etc.)
Two or more servings of fruit are recommended each day. There are a number of easy ways to get your fruit servings in, including:
- Fresh fruits (apples, oranges, berries, etc.)
- Canned or frozen fruit
- Dried fruit
- Fruit juice or smoothies
Fats and Oils
Believe it or not, most food pyramids include fats and oils as an essential group. Despite the bad rap fats have, they are necessary in any healthy diet. The tricky part is distinguishing between the good fats and the bad ones. Two servings are recommended daily. Good fats and oils can be found in:
- Olive or canola oils
- Nuts and nut butters
- Green or black olives
- Flax seeds and flax seed oil
The Modified Vegan Pyramids
Newer editions of the vegan pyramid have been developed by various organizations to further break down the food groups and add supplements. In several of these modified pyramids, the group that includes legumes, nuts, and soy has been broken down into two separate groups. One group is based on nuts, legumes, and other protein-rich foods, while the other includes only soy-based products that are high in calcium.
As for supplements, the newer food pyramids recommend that vegans take supplemental vitamin B12, which is found in animal products and is essential to the functions of the brain and nervous system, as well as blood formation. Vegans who don't get a lot of natural sunlight should also take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin from direct sunlight, and aids in bone formation along with calcium.
Water and Exercise
While not featured in the pyramid itself, most versions of the vegan pyramid include recommendations for water and exercise, as well as a small list of foods to avoid.
- Water: Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day
- Exercise: At least one hour of physical activity each day
- Avoid: Saturated or concentrated fats and oils, added sugar
Looking at the food pyramids, it's easy to be overwhelmed at the sheer amount of food that is recommended for daily consumption. Serving sizes are small, however. For example:
- Bread: one slice
- Grains, pasta, rice: 1/2 cup
- Cooked beans: one cup
- Nuts: 1/4 cup
- Nut butters: two tablespoons
- Soy milk: 1/2 cup
- Cooked vegetables: 1/2 cup
- Raw vegetables: one cup
- Fruit or vegetable juices: 1/2 cup
- Oils: one teaspoon
- Fruits: one small fruit, or 1/2 cup berries or chopped fruit pieces
The main goal of the vegan food pyramid is to provide a guideline to help vegans meet their nutritional needs each and every day. Using the recommendations as a base for your own diet will ensure that you'll stay healthy and fit while enjoying a vegan lifestyle.