As vegans, we pay special attention to our diet. Surely you have informed yourself in detail about the important topics such as nutrients, supplements and bioavailability before your dietary change. Today I would like to introduce you to my vegan food pyramid to show you how to meet all of your nutrient needs on a vegan diet, including critical nutrients.
What is the vegan food pyramid?
The vegan food pyramid is the pure plant-based version of the original pyramid. It shows us which foods we should eat and in which priority.
In order to have a full, balanced and healthy diet, we should follow certain guidelines. This is the only way to guarantee our own health. Thanks to the vegan food pyramid, we can see in what proportion we should consume which foods and what forms the basis of it.
I therefore recommend simply printing out the vegan food pyramid and hanging it on the refrigerator. Or in visible proximity. If you eat a balanced diet, you can absorb your nutrients through food and largely do without supplements.
The Giessen Vegan Food Pyramid – the structure
The Giessen Vegan Food Pyramid was developed by scientists from the Research Institute for Plant-Based Nutrition and adapted for the everyday needs of adults. For this purpose, they first developed a 14-day meal plan and then optimized it with regard to the supply of nutrients. They used the official reference values as a guide.
Of course, the critical nutrients protein, iodine, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc were also taken into account in the development.
The scientists then optimized the pyramid until they were able to publish the correct amounts and recommendations for the individual food groups. The nutritionist Dr. Markus Keller, an expert in vegetarian, vegan and sustainable nutrition, provided scientific support for the project.
Today, we know this scientific work as the Giessen vegan food pyramid.
The pyramid has a very simple structure: At the bottom is the base, what we should eat most often, and at the top is what our body does not need at all or needs the least. These foods should only be eaten in small amounts. (In terms of structure, the pyramid is based on Maslow’s pyramid of needs, which is relevant and the same for all people. At the bottom the indispensable and at the top the superfluous).
What are the differences between the omnivorous and vegan food pyramids?
Compared to the conventional omnivorous food pyramid, the vegan one is not that much different. Because basically the vegan plate differs only with regard to the animal products from the recommendations of the DGE – and that makes only 25%.
The basis on both sides form whole grain cereals, vegetables and fruit. Vegans simply replace milk, meat and eggs with legumes, nuts and seeds, which are much more nutritious. These usually come up far short in the DGE recommendations.
The individual areas of the pyramid
As mentioned above, we read the pyramid from the bottom up, starting with the lowest level.
Drinks and liquids
The foundation of healthy eating is always adequate hydration. That means you should drink enough water and other non-alcoholic, low-sugar or low-calorie beverages, such as tea or coffee, every day. The German Federal Ministry of Nutrition recommends that adults drink an average of 1.5 liters a day. However, this cannot be exactly generalized – while athletes should drink more, people who consume a lot of vegetables and fruit get by with a smaller amount. A cucumber weighs 1 kg and contains 99% water, so with one cucumber you would already have almost 1 liter of water. Of course, environmental factors such as season, heat, etc. also play a role.
With mineral water you can also make sure that it is enriched with at least 400 mg/L calcium. Of course, you can also fill your calcium needs with fortified plant drinks or yogurt alternatives.
Vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruits form the basis of any vegan diet. The fiber, vitamins, phytochemicals and minerals contained in vegetables keep us full for a long time and are essential for a healthy vegan diet.
With different food combinations you can cover the bioavailability of the individual nutrients. For example, if you combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C, the nutrients can be better absorbed and utilized by the body. When consuming fat-soluble vitamins, make sure that you always consume them together with fat. A carrot is rich in beta-carotene, but the body cannot convert it to vitamin A without oil.
At best, you should eat 3 servings of vegetables (about 400 g) and 2 servings of fruit (about 300 g) per day. The more raw the vegetables, the more nutrients they contain.
Carbohydrates: cereals and potatoes
Grains and potatoes are 3rd in the vegan food pyramid. It is best to consume 3 servings of them daily. This can be whole grain bread, potatoes, quinoa, pseudo cereals, rice or whole grain pasta or similar.
It is important to pay attention to the content of the food. Whole grain products are not only healthier, but also keep us full longer. Moreover, they provide us with important nutrients, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber.
Proteins, nuts and seeds
Especially around the proteins, many always worry. However, this is quite simple to implement and should actually not cause anyone a headache. The vegetable protein suppliers should be consumed several times a week. They are not only particularly healthy, but also keep us full for a long time.
A handful of nuts, tofu, lentils, beans, quinoa, rolled oats and co. can already cover a large part of the daily protein requirement. During the day, it is best to consume 1-2 g of protein per body weight in order to be optimally supplied.
The most important sources of protein include:
- Soy (e.g. tofu or soy milk / yogurt)
- Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils and beans)
- Nuts and seeds (and the butter / milk made from them)
- Oils and fats
Here, 4 tablespoons of valuable fats and oils per day is enough. This doesn’t mean you should drink the oil straight from the spoon – unless you like that.
It is more pleasant to consume the saturated and unsaturated fatty acids through olive oil, flax oil enriched with DHA, Alba oil or nut oils when cooking. Nuts, sauces or dips like peanut sauce, guacamole and hummus are also good sources of healthy fats.
Anyway, with the whole range of different vegetable oils, you can add a nice variety to your oil consumption and create new flavors. Olive oil, hemp oil, chia oil and flax oil, for example, should not be heated and are therefore particularly suitable for raw salads.
Luxury foods, sweets and alcohol
Now we have reached the top of the vegan food pyramid. At the top we find unhealthy foods, such as sweets, rich cakes, alcohol, sugared drinks, such as energy drinks and other snacks.
Here we should enjoy a conscious consumption. Unfortunately, the 6th step of the food pyramid is often further down for some and forms a fixed part of the diet.
Even though I feature a lot of cakes and desserts on my blog, these treats should be enjoyed consciously and in moderation. Not in masses.
The vegan food pyramid: what else is behind it?
Even if we know the different levels and stick to them, there are other points that we can take from my graphic.
- Exercise: Move enough every day and at least for 30 minutes to stay healthy permanently. Set yourself a minimum goal of 10,000 steps a day and make sure you take breaks during your day to relax, for example when exercising.
- Supplements: We cannot obtain vitamin D from food. For the body’s own production, we need the support of the sun. So fill up on sunshine as often as you can and supplement with vitamin D3, especially in low-sun months (from October to March).
- One nutrient that we can’t produce ourselves, but is especially important, is vitamin B12. Make sure you use daily supplements that replenish your B12 stores. Also, you should pay attention to your iodine content. You can easily use iodized table salt for this purpose.
By the way, you can cover the “critical nutrients” iron, omega-3, iodine, calcium, B vitamins, vitamin D and zinc with a balanced healthy vegan diet and supplementation, if you also follow the guidelines and food supplements.
Vegan Daily Nutrition
As you can see, it is not witchcraft to follow the guidelines and eat absolutely healthy. We replace meat, dairy products and eggs with legumes and can even absorb more nutrients and eat healthier.
Always make sure that you keep an eye on your blood values and do a blood check at the doctor every now and then. Then you are also on the safe side. If you follow the guidelines of the vegan food pyramid, there should be no reason to worry ;).
Disclaimer: I explicitly point out that I do not give medical advice or assume liability for consequences. Always consult a doctor if you have any concerns.
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