All food pyramids are not created equal. The beloved “USDA Food Pyramid” that we all grew up with and were reminded of every single day in school, does not quite satisfy the nutritional needs and desires of vegetarians and vegans. Two reasons why many people fall off the “vegetarian wagon” are; people do not “feel full” or people say they become sick on a vegetarian diet. The main causes of these two ill symptoms of vegetarianism are rooted in one issue; the lack of nutritional foods and supplements to support the body. Often times, vegetarians don’t know how to eat properly, thus, leading them to feel sick or not feeling full and satisfied from the foods they are consuming. This leads to vegetarians loading up on veggie burgers, pre-packaged foods, pizza, cheese sandwiches and junk food, just to try to satisfy their hunger, all the while sacrificing their health.
To prevent vegetarians from failing at their lifestyle and diet; to prevent vegetarians and vegans from eating too much of the wrong types of foods (i.e. veggie burgers, soy-based meat alternatives, and carbohydrates) and to prevent vegetarians from getting sick, here is a vegetarian food pyramid to empower vegetarians and vegans with the foods that they should focus on eating everyday to support their bodies and their appetites.
Vegetables and Fruits – The foundation of your vegetarian diet should be fresh vegetables; hence the word “vegetarian.” Vegetarians should eat at least 6 servings per day of vegetables and fruits. This is really important because the plant kingdom provides many nutrients, vitamins and trace minerals that vegetarians and vegans need to provide their bodies with energy and vitamins to support cell growth and development. Avoid canned fruits and vegetables as these types of products do not add much value to the body. Instead, opt to eat fresh or lightly steamed vegetables to maximize the healthy benefits that the plant kingdom has to offer. Vegetables and fruits are also packed with fiber and are a great way to naturally cleanse the body. Vegetarians will be surprised at how much more energized they can feel just by eating fresh vegetables and fruit.
Pasta, Rice, Whole Grains, Cereals, and Bread – Remember a couple of years ago, everyone was “anti-carbohydrates?” During that time, carbohydrates caught a bad rap. The trick is eating complex carbohydrates in moderation. As a vegetarian, grains and pastas are a staple of this meatless diet. Vegetarians and vegans should not eliminate this important fuel from their diets. Just make sure to eat at least 4 servings per day to support the functioning of the brain and provide your body amino acids.
Legumes (beans), Seeds, Nuts – Beans and nuts are great sources of healthy fats, fiber and proteins for the vegetarian diet. 3 servings is the ideal amount that vegetarians and vegans should consume to balance their meatless diet. Try to avoid canned beans because these beans are loaded with preservatives and salt. To really receive the most nutritional value from beans, use dried beans cooked slowly in a crock-pot.
Meat Alternatives – Meat alternatives such as veggie burgers, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tempeh, tofu, and seitan should be limited to about 2 servings per day. It is better to eat tofu, seitan, and tempeh then it is to eat the processed “faux meat” products on the market. The less processed the foods, the more nutrients vegetarians and vegans will receive from meat alternatives.
Fats, Oils, Sweets – Incorporate fats, sweets, and oils in to your vegetarian or vegan diet sparingly. When selecting fats and oils to eat or cook with, try to select the healthier fats such as oils from avocado and olive oil. You can apply the same principal for sweets. Try using agave or applesauce as sweeteners instead of sugar. If sugar is all you have access to, try cooking or baking with raw sugar cane.
If you are a vegetarian that consumes dairy and eggs or a lacto-ovo vegetarian, then you want to make sure that you are consuming no more than 3 servings per day of dairy products such as cheese and milk. If you eat eggs then you should eat eggs sparingly; only 2 to 3 times per week.
As a vegetarian, your primary goal is to have a healthy and diverse diet that includes a range of different meatless foods. Eat a variety of the foods in the vegetarian and vegan pyramid to ensure that a strong dietary foundation has been established to support the commitment to a meatless lifestyle and the commitment to a healthy life.