Weder S, Schaefer C, Keller M (2018) The Gießen vegan food pyramid. Ernahrungs Umschau 65(8): 134–143
Following a vegan diet doesn't mean you have to give up delicious foods forever, nor does it mean resigning yourself to being deficient in certain nutrients. Following a whole-foods plant-based diet has shown to help people avoid chronic diseases, combat obesity, save animals, and help the environment - all without forgoing good flavour or good nutrition.
So how do you follow a healthy, vegan, plant-based diet? The vegan food pyramid is a great place to start. You won't see any meat or animal products on this pyramid. Instead, you'll learn about the abundance of delicious, nutrient-packed food groups you should consume on a healthy vegan diet.
Here is our general guide to following the vegan food pyramid:
Water is the most crucial part of the diet as it aids in our bodily functions e.g. digestion, blood flow, cellular repair, etc. Depending on a person's activity and intensity of work and lifestyle, it is recommended to consume 1.5 to 2 litres of water daily.
Tea, coffee, energy drinks and flavoured water do contain fluids but please do bear in mind that some of these are diuretic which means they will make you lose water through urine and sweat and may cause dehydration.
Vegetables and Fruits
The second tier of the food pyramid includes fruit and vegetables. These two food groups should be the foundation of every diet, vegan or not. Think of fruit and veggies as the star of the show, with the show being your plate. Ideally, at least 400gms or 3 servings of vegetables is recommended daily and at least 250gms or 2 servings of fruits is recommended daily. 1-3gms of dried Seaweed (Nori) is recommended daily as an alternative iodine supplementation.
Incorporating a diverse range of fruit and vegetables into your diet (AKA eating the rainbow) gives your body a great range of nutrients and fuel. Plus your meals will be a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach (extra bonus points if you eat lots of leafy greens, Popeye wasn't strong for no reason).
The saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' isn't too far from the truth. A whole lot of nutrients like fibre, vitamin C, A, and K, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins, and zinc can be found in different fruits and veggies.
What will all this goodness do? The list of benefits is lengthy but in a nutshell, an abundance of fruit and vegetables will put you at lower risk of developing illnesses, keep your cognitive function high, and generally help you feel great so you have the energy to fill your days with what you love most.
Not sure how to include more fruit and vegetables into your diet? Here are some recommendations:
- Try different ways of cooking vegetables and find what you love most. Grill, pickle, sautée, or roast them.
- Add them to a smoothie. Blend together a fruit smoothie and add veggies like spinach, cauliflower and courgette, we promise you'll hardly taste them but you'll still reap all of the benefits.
- Buy or prepare frozen vegetables. They’re quick to cook and last longer so even if you haven't done the groceries you'll always have some at home for a healthy dinner.
- Find inspiration from a vegan chef. Sometimes making a new dish is just what you need to excite you about fruit or veggie you wouldn't usually eat.
- Add fruit to salads. You'll be eating your veggies and fruit in one go! Fruits like mango, strawberries, grapes, watermelon and pear make great, refreshing additions to salads. If you're stuck for ideas, Google is your best friend.
Whole Grains and Starchy vegetables
Whole grains make up the third level of the vegan food pyramid. There's no reason to demonise carbohydrates, here, carbs are your friend! They are important when it comes to having a balanced, plant-based diet as they provide great nutrition in the form of iron, B-vitamins, fibre, magnesium, zinc, healthy fats and antioxidants.
When you go shopping, you’ll find two types of grains: refined and whole, and you should go for the latter every time you can. This is because, unlike refined grains, which have been modified, whole grains include the three parts they should include - endosperm, bran, and germ - and, consequently, they have a higher nutrient content. Some examples of whole grains are brown or wild rice, oats, bulgur wheat, and whole wheat bread.
How do you include more whole grains in your vegan diet?
- Mix up your meals by trying new grains regularly. Have you ever had bulgur, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, or quinoa?
- Add whole grains to your salads and bowls. You’ll get the nutrients and feel a lot fuller.
- Look for foods that are made using whole grains as a key ingredient. Amino Mantra patties use whole grains, including quinoa, buckwheat, as a base ingredient. Our patties are an easy, tasty way to add more allergen-friendly whole grains to your diet.
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, kumara, pumpkin, etc. are misrepresented as a cause of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses. Often in fast-food culture, these vegetables are slathered with fats or deep-fried and served as cheap accompaniments. The key thing to remember is that anything deep-fried tends to have long-term adverse effects on our health. The best way to cook these vegetables is to roast, steam, boil them and season with herbs and spices to enhance the flavours.
Legumes; Seeds & Nuts and Fortified dairy substitutes
If you're new to a vegan diet then legumes are about to be your new favourite thing. They're versatile, delicious and above all, nutritious. Plus, they're very wallet-friendly and will help you feel fuller for longer. There are many types of foods within the group of legumes: pulses (e.g. chickpeas and lentils), fresh peas, peanuts, soybeans and fresh beans, and all of them constitute an amazing source of protein for vegans, as well as iron, zinc, selenium and folate. It is recommended to consume at least 1 serving, 60-75gms raw or 250-300gms cooked legumes, 50-100gms of tempeh, tofu, seitan, lupine products.
Seeds are little nutrient powerhouses and generally come from vegetables, flowers or certain crops. Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower and hemp generally contain healthy fats, fibre, calcium and protein, while flax and chia seeds are amazing sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Consume at least 1-2 servings daily of 30gms per serving.
While nuts are high in calories, they're also high in nutrients. Not only are they a great source of monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, but they'll also provide you with fibre, protein, and vitamins and minerals like magnesium and vitamin E. However, with that, said, they should be eaten in moderation (except when eating peanut butter by the spoon, right?).
How do you include more legumes in your diet?
- Always have canned legumes in your pantry: a golden rule any vegan will swear by.
- Experiment with tofu and tempeh. There are many ways of cooking them, so why not?
- Bake with them! Black bean brownies and chickpea cookies are delicious, don't knock them until you try them (and thank us later).
- Keep nuts or seeds on hand for a quick snack and energy boost. Either pick your favourite trail mix or make your own by mixing them together.
- Eat Amino Matra patties! Legumes are another key ingredient in our patties. By eating our different flavours, you'll get a well-balanced intake of different types of legumes.
When following a non-vegan diet, dairy foods provide nutrients like protein, vitamin D, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorous. However, excluding animal and dairy products from your diet doesn't mean you have to miss out on those nutrients, and that's where fortified dairy substitutes come in. Consume at least 1-3 servings of non-sweetened dairy substitutes with 100-200gms per servings.
What are they? Fortified dairy substitutes are things like non-dairy milk, yoghurt and cereals that have added vitamins and minerals, giving them a higher nutritional value.
How do you add fortified dairy substitutes to your diet?
- Use almond, coconut, soy, oat or cashew milk in your coffee, smoothie, cereal or porridge!
- Look out for fortified cereals and pour yourself a healthy serving of B12 for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Plant oils and natural fats
Fortified/non-fortified cold-pressed oils from linseed, avocado, walnut, etc. are suggested to be added to your diet. 1-2 servings of 1 tablespoon per serving is recommended to be consumed daily. However, please limit these categories of foods if you have any health issues.
Snacks, Sweets and Alcohol
You're at the top of the vegan food pyramid! But what does that mean? Unfortunately for your taste buds but fortunately for your overall health, you should consume these food groups sparingly, They are not whole foods and should be considered as treats or 'sometimes' foods. This group includes fats like oils, sweets like lollies and chocolate, and any other highly processed foods or snacks.
However, if you have a big sweet tooth, don't despair. You can still incorporate these foods into your life. If you're following a diverse, mainly whole food, plant-based diet, then the occasional scoop of vegan ice cream is unlikely to cause you health issues.
The food groups we mentioned above are essential for a healthy plant-based diet but there a few more things to remember to ensure your diet covers all of your nutritional needs:
- Water! It almost goes without saying, but just in case, make sure you drink 8 glasses of water per day (or more if you're active)
- Vitamin B12. It can be tricky to get the b12 levels you need on a vegan diet, if you think you may be falling short then supplementing is a great option. You can read more about Vitamin B12 in our blog post 'Vegan Sources of B12'.
- Sunshine! If you get at least 20 minutes of sunshine each day then you're likely getting the Vitamin D3 you need, if not you can find supplements for this too
- The Giessen Vegan Food Pyramid recommendations apply to healthy adults. For groups with altered nutritional needs, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, children and adolescents, a separate health check and assessment for nutritional requirements needs to be done.
Here at Amino Mantra, we make wholesome vegan patties, free from common allergens, preservatives and additives, and nutritionally complete. Try these if you are starting out your plant-based journey.
Reference for image and content -
Weder S, Schaefer C, Keller M (2018) The Gießen vegan food pyramid. Ernahrungs Umschau 65(8): 134–143