Food pyramid - whole plant foods

Often, when people decide to reduce or eliminate foods of animal origin, they have no idea what to eat during the day, let alone how to meet all their nutritional needs on a diet that is entirely based on plants!

This article aims to introduce you to the basics of a healthy vegan diet, portion sizes, food groups and which nutrients to look out for.

Changing eating habits and gathering new information can be confusing because we've learned that animal products play a vital role in our diet. But a diet based on whole plant foods is healthier if you try to make it balanced and varied.

In this article, I will introduce you to the food pyramid - a concept used to visually display the recommended food groups in the diet and their amounts.

Through this pyramid, you will receive excellent guidelines for your comprehensive health, reducing the risk of disease, increasing energy and vitality, proper intake of fiber, protein and fat, regulating portions and creating colorful dishes that not only your palate and eyes will love, but also your budget.

Before we answer the question:

Is a vegan diet healthy?

Are you under the impression that a vegan diet is very complicated and can lead to many unwanted effects? I know this message is all over the media and in most people's minds, but let's ask the science.

In 2016, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published an article on a complete plant-based diet, which states that:

"A properly planned vegan diet is healthy, nutritionally adequate and can provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. A well-planned (varied and balanced) plant-based diet is suitable for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, childhood and adolescence, as well as for athletes." 

People who consume a whole plant-based diet have been proven to have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who consume foods of animal origin. This is contributed by the benefits of plant foods that lower the level of bad cholesterol, prevent the occurrence of high blood pressure and maintain the optimal function of the arteries.
Moreover, people who base their diet on plants have lower overall cancer rates , a lower body mass index (they are less obese) and a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

Notes from accepted health organizations advise that we eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fiber and phytochemicals because they reduce the risk of chronic diseases (they are healthier).

We will also find in their guides to reduce the intake of saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol (the main and in some cases the only sources of these harmful compounds are animal products).

If health and ethics haven't piqued your interest in a whole plant-based diet, you may be won over by the fact that a vegan diet is more environmentally sustainable than a diet rich in animal products, as it uses fewer natural resources and is associated with far less damage to the environment.


Vegan food pyramid

What does the "proper", "balanced", "varied" and "adequately planned" complete plant-based diet look like, which nutritionists and medical experts talk about and write about?

This is where the food pyramid is of great help - a concept used to visually display the recommended food groups in the diet and their amounts.

The pyramid consists of different parts representing food groups. They are ordered from bottom to top representing the recommended amount, from higher to lower, that we should consume.

Let's take a look at
the details of what each of them entails.

1. Liquid

Liquid is the base of the pyramid, indicating the importance of hydration and the amount we should drink daily. Among the various drinks available to us, water is the best choice!

Water is found in all cells, and life is not possible without it. It has a transport function in our body, it also dissolves nutrients and regulates our body temperature.

Experts advise drinking water abundantly and often, not only when we feel thirsty to compensate for water loss, but regularly throughout the day to maintain optimal body function and nurture our health.

The recommended values ​​vary individually, but the guideline is to consume around 1.5 liters of calorie-free/low-calorie drinks per day.

Non-carbonated and carbonated water
, unsweetened fruit and herbal teas, fruit and vegetable juices diluted with water (3 parts water, 1 part juice) are considered calorie-free and low-calorie drinks.

2. Vegetables and fruits

Both raw and cooked vegetables and fruits are incredibly healthy, so they should be on your menu every day! I advise you, as every nutritionist does, to "eat the rainbow" and choose all kinds of colors of vegetables and fruits for your plate.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They provide us with essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.

It's fun to try new foods and combine different colors, textures and tastes. Do not be afraid of changing and introducing new types of vegetables and fruits, because each fruit contains different spectrums of valuable nutrients.

You can read more about portions and the "5 a day" rule in a short blog post published earlier.

The goal is to consume three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit per day, and the portion is approximately a handful (this rule automatically results in appropriate amounts for the appropriate age).

If you can't manage to eat that many vegetables and fruits, I advise you to make smoothies and soups, or eat them as breakfast, snacks or dessert.

3. Cereals, processed cereals and potatoes

Don't be surprised, this food group used to be at the top of the pyramid. Cereals, processed cereals, their whole products and potatoes are still an indispensable part of the diet, but with the development of science and observation of the habits of the population and food pyramids, it has been adapted to the latest facts.

Cereals and company are an excellent source of energy, complex carbohydrates, essential fibers, high-quality proteins, vitamins and minerals (especially B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium).

For your healthy menu, choose whole grains (whole grain) and whole grain products (integral) as often as possible, because these foods
include both the husk and the germ of the grain and are therefore particularly rich in nutrients and contribute to the feeling of satiety.

Examples are cooked wheat, rye, barley, bulgur, wholemeal rice, oatmeal, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, wholemeal bread and pasta, etc.
Biscuits, pastries and cakes are also a source of carbohydrates, but these are still highly processed foods with high energy content (a lot of calories) and low nutritional value ("empty" calories because they do not contain, for example, vitamins and minerals).

4. Legumes

Whether fresh, dried or canned, legumes have a lot to offer.
Legumes and their products also have a high content of protein and iron, which makes them a good alternative to meat, and the fiber they contain ensures long-term satiety and a controlled and gentle rise in blood sugar.
World health organizations for nutrition advise that legumes are more often on the menu due to the high content of micronutrients such as vitamins B1, B6, folic acid, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.

The variety of legumes invites you to try them and allows us to travel the world in a culinary sense:
- White beans enrich Italian minestrone soup, and darker varieties are very popular in South American dishes.
- We know the stew made from g raška well from our mothers and grandmothers.
- Lentils are suitable for thickening soups or as an ingredient in salads, and bring an oriental taste to our dishes.
- Chickpeas are now also popular in our country, you probably know them in the form of hummus and falafel, or in dishes with curry.
- Soy and its products (tofu, tempeh...), originally from China, are deservedly "super" food, I will write a lot more about that soon.

5. Foods rich in calcium

How many times have you heard that you should drink milk for strong bones? Although your body needs calcium, there are better and healthier sources of calcium that come without the harmful effects of dairy products.

Marketing that promotes milk and its "superior" calcium content is seriously misleading , and studies prove the harmfulness of dairy products to general health and bone health.

The sure truth is that you can get enough calcium on an exclusively plant-based diet simply by paying attention to include foods rich in calcium. It is important to note that an adequate intake of vitamin D is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium.

Sources of calcium are dark green leafy vegetables (chard, spinach, kale...), sesame seeds and their paste (tahini), almonds, dried figs, mineral water, broccoli, and soy products and vegetable milk are often enriched with calcium.

6. Nuts and seeds

Are you afraid of oils and fats? You shouldn't.

Although low-fat diets have been popular for a long time, experts agree that it is beneficial to consume healthy sources of fats and oils daily to provide essential fatty acids.

The primary difference between fats and oils is that fats are formed primarily from saturated fatty acids, which solidify at room temperature, while oils are composed primarily of unsaturated fatty acids, which are liquid at room temperature.

Fat is a macronutrient that has been misunderstood for a while, but we need it for energy, cell function, nutrient absorption, and more.

Focus on healthy sources, such as nuts and seeds, and you don't have to worry about harmful effects - because there aren't any.

Flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, pumpkins, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts, pistachios... the list doesn't end there, but you get what I mean. The number of these nutritious foods is large, and it is up to you to include them in your menu for the health of the heart, brain and aging gracefully.

7. Supplements (if necessary)

In the last place, at the top of the pyramid, because of the small amounts in which they are needed and not because they are not important - nutritional supplements.

Although it is not difficult to get everything we need through proper nutrition, there are certain periods in life (eg pregnancy, breastfeeding or old age) or conditions (illnesses, high stress or physical exertion) when we should consume certain nutrients in larger quantities.

There is no universal rule for everyone, so I recommend you talk to a nutritionist before taking supplements. An expert in the field of nutrition will advise you on how to ensure adequate amounts of nutrients that you may be lacking in your diet or for which you have an increased need.

The average vegan (a person who eats only plant-based foods - does not necessarily mean that he eats a balanced, varied and complete diet) should pay attention to 3 nutrients: vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine.

I must emphasize that, looking through the same criteria, the average resident, who consumes foods of both plant and animal origin, must pay attention to 7 micronutrients: the 3 listed + vitamin C, vitamin E, folate and magnesium, and 1 macronutrient: fiber.

*Of course, I will write about this topic in more detail and cite numerous literature from which the statements originate.


A complete plant-based diet is healthy and nutritionally adequate, and provides health benefits during all life stages.

A varied and balanced vegan diet ensures vitality, reduces the risk of certain diseases and helps in the treatment of many chronic diseases.

The food pyramid is a concept designed by health and nutrition experts to facilitate the understanding and implementation of recommendations on proper nutrition.

The pyramid helps us identify and choose healthy foods, and indicates the frequency and quantity that we should consume.
1. Liquid is the base of the pyramid, indicating the importance of hydration and the amount we should drink daily. Water is the best choice, so don't forget to drink it regularly, especially during warm days. (1.5 L per day)

2. Fruits and vegetables. The recommendation is 5 portions a day, 3 vegetables and 2 fruits. You can read more about these precious sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients on the blog or in Instagram posts.

3. In third place are complex sources of carbohydrates, excellent sources of fiber, long-lasting energy, vitamins and minerals: "whole grains, pseudo-grains and vegetables with similar characteristics". (3 portions per day)

4. Legumes and other sources of vegetable proteins. This group of foods is incredibly healthy, and a couple of virtues are the content of essential amino acids and the contribution to the feeling of satiety. It is recommended to consume 50g of legumes or 75g of tofu, tempeh, seitan or other protein sources based on soy, lupine or peas every day.

5. Foods rich in calcium - important for maintaining strong bones, healthy teeth, blood clotting and muscle control. (1 portion per day)

6. Sixth place: "nuts, seeds and vegetable oils" - rich sources of healthy fats and various nutrients. A daily intake of 3 to 5 spoons is recommended.

7. At the top of the pyramid, sometimes necessary: ​​"supplements". Nutritional supplements should not be used as a substitute for a balanced and varied diet, and you must consult a nutritionist before taking them.

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