The Vegan Food Pyramid: Answering the Age-Old Vegan Question

Vegans are nearly constantly bombarded with questions about their diet. "What do you eat?" seems to be the most-often asked one. Many people find it hard to understand what a person's diet could possibly consist of if it doesn't include meat, eggs and dairy.

The answer to the question of what vegans eat is, of course, everything else! Vegans enjoy a wide variety of foods. In fact, most vegans have a more varied diet than omnivores because taking meat and dairy out of the equation encourages cooks to be more creative with their meals and try out new foods that would have been ignored otherwise.

Nourish Your Body with Healthy Vegan Foods

To help vegans make sure that they are getting the right nutrients to nourish their bodies, a vegan food pyramid has been created. Like the familiar USDA food pyramid, the vegan food pyramid gives general advice about which food groups should be consume and in what quantities.

The base of the vegan food pyramid is composed of fruits and vegetables. This means that fruits and vegetables should make up the largest part of your diet. You should eat about three to five servings of each every day. Your fruits and vegetables can take nearly any form, like a whole-fruit smoothie or a hearty vegetable soup. This can include cooked or raw vegetables, but foods like condensed fruit juice or fruit snacks should be avoided in favor of real, whole fruits and vegetables.

The next level of the vegan food pyramid features whole grains. Whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat bread, corn, oats, barley, and other unprocessed grain foods. White bread and other bleached flour products do not count as whole grains because they are processed and less nutritious than whole grains.

One level higher on the vegan food pyramid includes beans/legumes and soy products. You should eat approximately two to three servings from each of these groups every day. The beans, legumes, and seeds group can include a wide variety of foods: lentils, beans, nuts, peas, and sunflower, flax, or pumpkin seeds, among others. Your vegan food pyramid requirements from the soy group can be met with delicious foods like fortified soy milk, meat substitutes, tofu, and tempeh. Beware of some pre-packaged meat substitutes or vegan microwave meals, though: some of these contain huge amounts of salt.

At the very top of the vegan food pyramid, in the small triangle that should make up the smallest part of your diet, resides the fats and sugars group. Just like the USDA food pyramid, the vegan food pyramid suggests that you use foods like olive oil, sugar, salt, and processed sweets sparingly.

There is some question among vegans about whether the bottom level of the vegan food pyramid should be fruits/vegetables or whole grains. The vegan food pyramid actually suggests roughly equal servings of both groups, so the placement isn't all that important.

The vegan food pyramid has been a valuable and easy-to-understand model of vegan nutrition since it was first distributed among vegans. It's a great graphic way to get an understanding of what types of foods should be going in to a vegan diet. Although a vegan diet is among the healthiest in the world, it can be easy to rely too heavily on one group or another. Having this graphical representation of a healthy diet can work wonders for helping vegans understand the healthiest way to distribute their daily intake.