Although there's no uniform vegan food pyramid, it's very simple to convert the USDA food pyramid into a structure that works for vegans.
If you replace the meats section with beans and legumes and replace the dairy section with fortified dairy substitutes, you come out with a perfect vegan food guide pyramid.
Don't worry- you don't have to count every single thing you eat every single day to ensure you're getting enough of each category. If you eat a well balanced, healthy vegan diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables, you will definitely get plenty of the vitamins and minerals you need.
For decades, the USDA has been promoting some version of the food guide pyramid, and have often faced criticism about where they get their nutritional information. Children are provided with food guides at school and their parents are reminded of them at the pediatrician's office, so it's critical that the information is true and unbiased, but that hasn't always been the case.
In 2011, the USDA abandoned the food pyramid for a less confusing USDA food plate guide. I like the concept of this food plate much better, and it reminds me of the vegan food plate I created years ago as a guide for how to create well-balanced vegan meals. However, of course I still disagree with them showing a glass of milk as a necessary component of a healthy meal.
Agree to disagree. For now.
The basis for a nutritious vegan diet is whole grains.
Throw out those ideas about carbs being the devil!! It's just not true. We need complex carbohydrates for energy, and we need good solid whole grains in our diets.
We enjoy oats in the morning, whole wheat bread, sprouted grain bread with all kinds of grains, quinoa, millet, bulgur, barley, and fresh popped corn. That satisfies the grain section of the vegan food pyramid.
Above that on the food pyramid, you want to make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The more variety, the better. Check out this list of fruits and vegetables and try to eat at least one fruit/vegetable from every color of the rainbow every day.
R apples, beets-- I LOVE beets, strawberries
O oranges, yams, pumpkins, carrots, papaya, cantaloupe
Y bananas, butternut squash, mango
G green leafy vegetables, broccoli, asparagus (the easiest color to eat)
B grapes, blue potatoes, blueberries
I purple carrots or potatoes, grapes, raspberries
V plums, blackberries
There are some great grocery stores out there that will carry all of these all the time, and others that do in season. You could also consider joining a CSA to get local, seasonal fruits and vegetables weekly.
Next we move to the next level--legumes.
Beans, beans, they're good for your heart... And for your entire body. Eat lots of them, and again, try as much variety as you can. In my household, we love lentils, cannellini beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, and split peas, and use them all the time.
Fortified dairy substitutes
I grew up in a household where milk was an absolute necessity and my mom would rush to the store if we were out. I drank glasses and glasses of milk a day.
I tell you this because I want you to know that I am fully aware of what milk tastes like and yet, I love milk substitutes like almond milk, soymilk, rice milk, hemp milk, and even hazelnut milk. You can use milk substitutes in the exact same place you used cow's milk; they're great in cereals, coffee, baking recipes, and as added ingredients in other vegan recipes. You will want to eat 2-4 servings of them to satisfy the vegan food pyramid's suggestions.
If you're trying nondairy milk for the first time, you have to keep in mind that it is not milk, and it's not meant to be. It's not bright white like cow's milk. That may seem trivial, but it can throw you off to see a slightly brown product be called milk, and that can make you think you don't like the taste.
The taste will be different, but if you think of it as an entirely different product than cow's milk, you will accept that difference much quicker, and then before long, you won't think the smell/taste of "regular" cow's milk tastes normal anymore.
At the top of the vegan food pyramid are the oils and added fats
I cook with olive oil and coconut oil. I am half Italian and I can cook anything with some garlic and olive oil, but I've also learned that coconut oil can be cooked at higher temperatures than olive oil without breaking down the beneficial ingredients. It has a very mild coconut flavor that can usually be masked with other flavors if you don't love coconut.
If you're trying to lose weight, you could consider some fatty fruits and vegetables to be part of this category. For example, avocadoes and olives have more fat than other produce, and while it's "good fat," it can be helpful to cut back on them while you're actively losing weight.
You could also consider nuts and seeds to be part of the top portion of the vegan food pyramid. There are numerous health benefits of nuts and seeds, but it's still good to eat them in moderation. About 1/4 cup of nuts once a day will give you amazing energy and stamina.
Learn more about the benefits of walnuts here.
If you stick to whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds, and add in pre-packaged processed foods only very occasionally, you are going to be following the vegan food pyramid without even trying.
Even if you're exhausted by the time you get home from work, you can whip up a 10-15 minute meal that satisfies all the requirements of thevegan food pyramid. What I do on the nights I can't think is this:
Eventually, when you have a great idea for what is on the vegan food pyramid, you don't have to look at it often because you already know what you need to eat.