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This past weekend I joyously got to catch up with a dear girlfriend at the Sydney Vegan Markets.
Surrounded by such abundant plant based deliciousness we both had the happy problem: “What of ALL the tempting options to pick?” This is increasingly becoming a common question – at least in my neck of the woods – and I’m most grateful.
However it did get me thinking about the common misconceptions and stumbling blocks faced by todays vegans. If you can relate to a little confusion so far as how best to feed yourself and your family then todays show on:
The Ultimate Vegan Food Pyramid For Getting and Staying Lean is for you.
I’m going to structure my recommendations like that severely dated old pyramid you might have known at school.
We start with the largest food group to indulge in pretty much freely and work our way up to the small and pointy tip of those foods to be enjoyed in moderation.
Before we get rolling I have a caveat. I feel like there’s often a caveat however each of us are so incredibly unique that our food choices do need to reflect that. Not so much in the type of food as I’d love to see a vegan world where everyone is fuelling their bodies with plant based whole foods rather than the bodies and excretions of other living, feeling beings… more so in the quantities of certain higher carb foods.
I’m not carb hating – I save the hate for craving causing refined crap-o-la (!) let’s just say if you’re an endurance athlete or in a bulking up phase nearly all the food in my pyramid (except for the pointy tip) will be a free for all for you.
For my fellow vegans / vegan curious who just want to get or stay fit, strong, lean and healthy I split The Ultimate Vegan Food Pyramid into Free, Abundant, Generous and Mighty yet Moderate! That’s sounding super doable right? Let’s get rolling with the deliciousness:
Foundational Free Foods: Fibrous Veg.
Foundational Facts: These are the leafy greens, cruciferous friends (kale, cauli, broccoli, cabbage, brussels) and other non starchy veg such as asparagus, zucchini and mushrooms that you can literally eat unlimited amounts of. They possess both high nutritional value and low caloric density.
I have 3 considerations here:
- Aim for a variety. Yes, you’re looking to eat the rainbow.
- Buy organic when you can especially with dirty dozen veg such as spinach, celery and capsicum.(these are actually the only 3 fibrous veg that made the 2018 dirty dozen list: though starchy veg potato and fruit tomato are on the list). However do not sacrifice veg just because you can’t afford / acquire organic.
- Try to make a fibrous veg (or better 10!) the star / the bulk of every meal. Yes you’re going to protein pimp the meal via the next 3 tiers and flavour enhance it however before you cook it (if you cook it) the majority of your plate / bowl / chopping board should be covered in extensive fibrous love!
3 Myths and Misconceptions:
- Frozen is less nutritious. Actually frozen is fine. Often it’s snap frozen fresher than the stuff loitering around the supermarket. I often buy frozen as it’s cheaper and quicker.
- Priorities ‘super foods’! Of course some foods are more nutritious than others however ‘super food’ has just become a super effective marketing ploy. Priorities a variety of seasonal foods and if you hate a food (like my mum and kale) find something you can sustainably enjoy instead (like collard leaves, rocket or spinach).
- Just eating the food is enough. Sadly it’s what your body assimilates not just what you swallow. Having said that, if I get overwhelmed by needing to consume vitamin C rich foods whenever I have iron rich foods and equally needing to avoid coffee and wine an hour either side of my iron rich meals I remind myself that:
A) There are other high value micronutrients in my iron rich foods.
B) I can also take a few selected supplements (iron, B12 and sometimes Omega 3’s from algae with added D3) to support my meals.
C) My food is a constant, evolving work in progress.
Here are some of my fav ways to use Free Fibrous Veg daily:
- Build your smoothie around kale, spinach and broccoli stem.
- Start off your salad with rocket, red cabbage, cos lettuce + grated zucchini, chopped asparagus and capsicum.
- Base your curry around eggplant, cauli and capsicum + serve it over zoodles.
[Caveat] These are not complete meals, I’ll add to them as we work our way up the ultimate vegan food pyramid for getting and staying lean!
Second Tier Abundant Foods: Other Veg, Fruit, Legumes.
Abundant Facts: These are starchy veg such as spuds, pumpkin, onion, corn and carrot plus all fresh fruit PLUS all legumes and beans. These delicious foods are of high nutritional value with a higher carb count and higher caloric density. So they are still all good! Good enough to eat a serve at every single meal however not 100% free.
I have 3 considerations here:
- Use your abundant foods as the secondary star of the meal. I aim for a serve or 2 (1/2 a cup of legumes and / or a piece of starchy veg or fruit) at each meal rather than covering my plate in sweet potatoes or scattering a few green veg over an entire bowl of beans. It’s still an abundant meal however I’d have 1/2 a large stuffed sweet potato with a huge plate full of salad or I’d scatter my 1/2-1 cup of bean mix over a mountain of fibrous veg.
- Choose fresh fruit or frozen over dried or juiced.It’s way too easy to over consume dried or juiced fruit. Additionally you’ll lose the valuable fibre if you juice your fruit. Even in a smoothie where you get to keep all that filling fibre it’s vital to start with your foundational base of veg so that you avoid chugging down a massive liquid dessert.
- Buy organic where possible however again don’t chose no fruit over organic fruit. Here are the fruit that made the 2018 dirty dozen list: Strawberries, Nectarines, Apples, Grapes, Peaches, Cherries, Pears and yes, Tomatoes.
3 Myths and Misconceptions:
- Are canned beans bad? An article on nutritionfacts.org spills the beans however here’s the gist of it: “Nutrition-wise, cooked and canned are about the same, but the sodium content of canned beans can be 100 times that of cooked. Draining and rinsing the canned beans can get rid of about half the sodium, but you’re also draining and rinsing away some of the nutrition (so) when buying canned beans, get the no-salt added varieties, and keep and use the bean juice.”
- Do beans make you gassy? Again this is super well covered by org in an article called beans and gas: clearing the air.It seems long term after about 8 weeks of increased bean consumption only 3% of people studied reported increased flatulence (after an initial 35% in the first week). So our bodies adapt and even for the 3% who don’t, the health benefits of swapping animal product consumption for beans (including but not limited to “less obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancers, kidney disease, maybe less stroke”) surely warrant a tad more wind? Eating too fast, dairy consumption, carbonated water and (sadly!) cruciferous veg have all been shown to increase gas more than beans.
- Fruit / potato are not weight loss foods OR all sugars / carbs are the same. I’m ashamed to admit I jumped on the super low fruit and spud consumption band wagon in my super-low-carb-vego days. I never believed fruit was the same as candy: one is full of fibre and high value micronutrients the other is craving-causing-crap. Fruit can absolutely help keep you fit, strong, lean and happy! Especially when your tastebuds have not been dulled to natural sweetness as happens when you’re assaulting them daily with refined sugars. As the secondary star of a meal – or as dessert – fruit gives you that high value sweet fix without sending you into a downward demolish fest spiral in the way that fake foods do. Equally spuds have micronutrient value and have their place in your eating routine. My guideline here, with the abundant (yet not Free!) foods like fruit and potatoes is to pick your favs and LOVE them rather than turn to them just out of habit or convenience.
Here are some of my fav ways to use Abundant Other Veg, Fruit, Legumes daily:
- Add 1/2 a large apple and 50 grams frozen berries to your smoothie.
- Include a cup of baked starchy veg with your salad plus a heaping of hummus made with chickpeas or a scattering of 50-75grams edamame.
- Include 1/2 a can of mixed four beans in your weekly curry cook up plus some starchy onions and carrots.
Third Tier Generous Foods: Grains and Other Proteins.
Generous Facts: Grains have absolutely been over villain’ised and equally the need for excessive protein has been overly emphasized. Some of my fav grains: Quinoa, Oats, Buckwheat, Spelt, Barley, Millet, Brown Rice, Whole Rye, Corn, Whole wheat.
Some of my fav vegan proteins (aside from legumes / beans and excluding some of those proteins also counted as fats in the mighty yet moderate section): Tempeh, tofu, nutritional yeast, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds.
I have 3 considerations here:
- Choose only whole grains in this ideal vegan food pyramid. That is the entire grain found in the proportions found in nature: though it may be cracked, ground, split or flaked. Whole grains contain higher amounts of phytochemicals, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and fibre.
- Wherever possible choose whole food proteins like tempeh and tofu that you bake, grill, BBQ or make into burgers / mince over store bought processed fake meats. To be more specific, I personally aim for not more than 2-3 serves of processed vegan foods each week. Not including plant based protein powder which I have every day – more out of desire than need.
- Aim for a serve a day of the grains and a serve a meal of the proteins. If that sounds extreme here are two considerations:
A) Is what you’re currently doing with your eating strategy working for you? If it is – ALL GOOD – please keep doing what you’re doing. However if it isn’t I hugely recommend working your way towards more free fibrous veg and less grains in your day. No less food. Nothing restrictive. Just a little food swap to see how it works for your body and your energy. I’ve seen too many vegans (gosh too many everyones!) get crazy reliant on easy Go2’s like bread, pasta and rice at the expense of ALL the other deliciousness to be enjoyed like: fibrous veg, starchy veg, legumes and fruit.
B) Measure your protein serves till you have an idea of what 15-30 grams of protein a meal looks like. You might get 15 grams in 2 plant based burgers + an extra 5 grams with veg. Equally know that a sprinkle of hemp seeds isn’t really a serve, you need a tablespoon to get 5.3 grams of protein and that’s going to feel light weight. I’d throw in a tablespoon of pumpkins seeds and 75 grams of edamame to pimp the protein in that meal. 100 grams of tofu or tempeh has your protein (+calcium, +iron requirements) for a meal covered.
3 Myths and Misconceptions:
- Animal protein is necessary for heme iron. It’s true heme iron can only be found in animal products however it’s also true we don’t need heme iron and if you trust Dr Greger from nutritionfacts.org (as I 100% do) you’ll want to actively avoid it. I’ll link to the article / video ‘The Safety of Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron’ however here’s the gist of it: “Heme iron, the type found predominantly in blood and muscle, is absorbed better than the non-heme iron that predominates in plants, but may increase the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.”
- Plant proteins are not complete proteins.A complete protein contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. The myth is that you must eat individual foods that have ALL the essential amino acids when really you can instead eat a variety of plant based proteins either in one meal or even throughout the day which together easily contain the essential amino acids. These foods like: quinoa, chia, hemp, soy, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat and barley paired with lentils or black beans paired with rice have the added extra benefit of NOT containing saturated fat, cholesterol and extreme animal cruelty.
- The more the better with protein!I perpetuated this myth for years. I was wrong. My clients often ask me “How much protein do I need to eat?” This is something I’ve changed my mind on over the years. Originally I worked it out based on lean muscle mass and goals / activity levels. Next, to keep it simple I used to say: “Aim for at least 100gm of protein a day.” I’ve since learnt that 1/2 that is enough.
=> That if you consume enough calories then by default YOU WILL GET ENOUGH PROTEIN.
=> That if ALL you eat in a day is broccoli or beans YOU WILL GET ENOUGH PROTEIN.
=> That really FIBRE deficiency is a thing and protein deficiency isn’t.
Beyond all that I’ve learnt that very much more is NOT better particularly with animal protein. In the show notes I’ll link to an article (again from nutritionfacts.org) on Why animal proteins trigger the release of the cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1 more than plant proteins:
Here are some of my fav ways to use Generous Grains and Other Proteins daily:
- Add a scoop of plant based protein powder + 1/2 teaspoon of Spirulina to your smoothie OR 2 tablespoons of hemp / chia seeds.
- Stir a 1/2 cup cooked quinoa through a light weight salad or top it with 100 grams marinated, baked tofu.
- Top your curry with a tablespoon each of hemp and pumpkin seeds + serve it with kale crisps flavoured with a heaped tablespoon of nutritional yeast.
Mighty yet Moderate Foods: Good Fats.
Moderate Facts: Fats are an essential part of the ultimate vegan food pyramid to provide energy, maintain your core body temperature and absorb certain nutrients and fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. While good fats help keep your heart and body healthy bad fats increase your risk of disease and obesity.
I have 3 considerations here:
- Choose whole food good fats such as nuts, seeds and avocado and eat a variety. Oils are so much easier to consume (over consume) so include them however… you guessed it – in moderation!. What does that even mean?!! To me it means measuring my oil and only adding it where necessary. So I’ll happily add a teaspoon of coconut oil to my kale crisps and I’d never dream of adding a random tablespoon of the stuff to my breakfast smoothie (“it’s GOOD fat though!”) as it’s much more fun to enjoy a small handle of nuts with that smoothie. I’ll experiment to see if a tablespoon of macadamia oil in my weekly batch of dairy free pesto works as well as several tablespoons (it does!).
- Deploy the running tally strategy to track / keep your fat intake… moderate. With high caloric density yet high nutritional value foods I recommend deciding on a set amount to eat in a day and a week and then when you go a little over one day you adjust to go a little under the next day. It means my weeks start with huge nut serves and finish with no nut serves (!) however I stay on track!
- Aim for a measured serve a meal with good fats.Maybe 1/4 of an avocado or a tablespoon of seeds or 30-50 grams of nuts. To be fair I go over this (regularly and joyfully!) when I’m counting a fat as a protein (like nuts or seeds) and then again as a fat (like avocado or oil).
3 Myths and Misconceptions:
- You need to eat fish or take fish oil supplements for Omega 3’s. I again turned to Dr Greger and from nutritionfacts.org to help me get to the bottom of this myth. Before I looked into it I assumed fish was a great fuel. High protein, low carb, low fat and full of essential fatty acids. I assumed fish was saturated fat free. I never considered the quality of the water fish live in. The quality of the fuel they eat. The concentration of toxins that travel along the food chain, getting intensified with larger fish such as Salmon and Tuna. From his video Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil? I’ll quote the Dr: “Advice to eat oily fish, or take fish oil, to lower risk of heart disease, stroke, or mortality is no longer supported by the balance of available evidence.” If you’re concerned about brain development and function then Dr’s Greger’s recommendation is to take: 250 mg daily of pollutant free (yeast or algae-derived) long-chain omega-3’s (EPA/DHA).
- Fat will make you fat. I know believe fake will make you fat! Fat is fun. It’s satisfying and it slows down the rate at which carbs are broken down and absorbed into your blood stream. In show #540 I share how to:Fight Fat With Fat PLUS 11 Vegan Fat Upgrades.
- Vegan = Healthy. Whole food plant based eating is absolutely healthy while being a junk food vegan is absolutely unhealthy. As grateful as I am for the abundance of vegan food deliciousness available today I’m also concerned that there is serious potential for an epidemic of unhealthy vegans. One of the most effective ways to advocate for the lifestyle is to be fit, strong, healthy and happy. To do that I recommend saving those fatty, processed vegan treats to once a week. In show #527 I get more specific with:6 Keys To Escape The Junk Food Vegan Epidemic.
Here are some of my fav ways to use Mighty yet Moderate Good Fats daily:
- Add a tablespoon of nut/seed butter to your smoothie or follow it with 50 grams of your fav nuts.
- Add avocado and/or dairy free pesto (mine has avocado oil and pecans in it) to your baked veg before you add them to your salad.
- Cook your curry in coconut milk and your kale crisps in coconut oil.
To come full circle and back to the Sydney Vegan Markets – If you’re curious, I had Port Belly… a delicious plater of salad, fruit, grains and this crazy amazing pork belly substitute made from marinated and BBQ’d tofu and eggplant. I stopped myself there (sadly) as in an extreme scheduling faux pas I’d arranged to have photos taken at the gym the following day and it was not the most opportune time to be stuffing myself full of raw vegan carrot cake, pop corn cauli, hearty pies, polenta chips and all number of other temptations. My girlfriend had dumplings and a salted caramel cup.
Today has been a surprisingly chockablock show! Talking chockablock – I have 3 interviews recorded for release over the next few weeks – I’m excited to share these chats with you!
To get actionable today, let’s return to the very beginning and Foundational Free Foods: Fibrous Veg. I’d love you to try and squeeze a few more into your day. Ideally by muscling out something refined in favour of a fibrous friend.
If you’ve enjoyed this show and gotten value out of it I’d super appreciate it if you pop over to iTunes and leave me a review. It helps other people find Healthification and it really does inspire me to power on with the weekly and sometimes twice weekly episodes.
The Healthification podcast is proudly bought to you by my FREE ‘Easy Vegan’ plan. It took me 25 years to transition from a meat eater to a happy, healthy Vegan! You can do it in just 3 days with my simplified ‘easy vegan’ plan! Get the fit, strong, and healthy plant based body you deserve… while avoiding ALL the mistakes I made along the way!
Till next time, remember Creating a body and life you love is Freedom. (If this ex-carb queen, non genetically gifted, naturally uncoordinated vegan chick can do it – so can YOU!!!)
If you liked The Ultimate Vegan Food Pyramid For Getting and Staying Lean you’ll also like: 7 DAY EASY VEGAN PLAN
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