Author: Simon Hill, Plant Proof
With the rise of veganism, more and more food manufacturers have flooded the market with vegan junk food of all sorts. We can now easily find ice creams, fake meats and sweet treats that are often packed with similar amounts of sugar and fat as their non-vegan counterparts. Leading plant-based health advocate, Simon Hill, reminds us that just because a food is vegan and does not contain animal products, does not mean that it must be heathy. To support us in navigating a healthy plant-powered journey, Simon has kindly shared his progressive plant-based food pyramid to use as a guide.
As vegan junk food becomes more easily accessible to those who choose to eliminate animal products for ethical reasons, such food replacements are doing little to nothing to help those who look to a vegan diet for its health-promoting potential. This is where the distinction between a vegan and a whole-food plant-based diet emerges: the former focuses on the elimination of animal products, while the latter is more interested in consuming healthy and unrefined foods that have been shown to prevent and even reverse chronic diseases.
The good news is that beyond new fancy food products, marketing fads and mixed messages you may be getting from the media, eating a truly healthy vegan or plant-based diet is incredibly simple, affordable and delicious. There are only a few principles to keep in mind, which I will now run through. I have also created a ‘vegan food pyramid’ that summarises all of this information. My hope is that a simple pyramid such as this one can take the guesswork out of nutrition and help make it easier for you, your family and friends to make healthier decisions regarding your food choices.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
At the bottom of the pyramid are the foods that should be the stars of your meals; fruits and vegetables. Aim to have a serving of berries a day (preferably organic, as berries tend to be heavily pesticide-laden), three servings of other fruits (such as a banana, peach and apple), and 3+ servings of vegetables between both green and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and kale, and other vegetables such as capsicum and zucchini. And remember – try to keep it as diverse as possible by switching it up based on what is in season.
2. Unrefined Whole Grains
Next up are unrefined whole-grains. That’s right, despite the recent demonisation of ‘carbs’, unrefined whole-grain foods are essential to a balanced and health-promoting diet. Aim for 3+ servings a day of foods such as rolled oats, brown rice and quinoa, which are packed with gut-happy fibre.
For your protein, aim for 3+ servings of legumes, including organic tofu or tempeh, each day. Black beans, chickpeas, and red kidney beans are all great choices – they are rich in protein, fibre, iron and other important nutrients. Hummus is also a great easy and delicious way to sneak more legumes into your diet – especially for the younger ones!
4. Whole Food Fats
When it comes to fats, aim for 1-3 servings per day of foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds. These foods contain good amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats but also impressive amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Try adding a few tablespoons of Peanut Butter to a sliced apple – a delicious and easy snack that’ll satisfy your whole food fat needs!
5. Processed/Fatty Foods
Try to keep the amount of processed foods such as oils, packaged and refined foods to an absolute minimum, if possible less than 1 serving per day. If you’re used to cooking with oils, you can easily swap out oil for either veggie stock or water – it won’t crisp up quite as well but you’ll be saving yourself a ton of nutritionally-empty calories!
6. Not To Miss & Supplements
Above these general guidelines, consuming 2-3 tbsp of either ground flaxseed or chia seeds per day will ensure you’re getting sufficient Omega-3s, and 1-2 Brazil nuts a day will provide you with all the selenium you need. If you’re not consuming a lot of Omega 3 rich foods, or simply want an insurance policy, I recommend supplementing with a DHA/EPA algae oil. Beyond food but equally as essential for optimal health, if you are eating no or few animal foods, be sure you’re including a B12 supplement into your daily routine, Vitamin D2 or a vegan D3 (if you aren’t getting 20 minutes of sun per day) and any other supplements you may need based on blood test results such as Iron.
I encourage you to print the pyramid out and hang it up on your fridge. Treat it as a rough guide to help you make healthier choices – it is by no means necessary for you to follow it literally for you to reap the many benefits of a healthier diet, but the more the better. Remember, health is indeed a spectrum, so aim to be consistent rather than perfect!