Nutritional health organizations have produced a chart that categorizes foods according to their health benefits for a more balanced lifestyle. This chart is called a food pyramid.
Every country has its own cultural identity. Eating habits are a big part of a country’s culture. For this reason, there are different versions of the food pyramid. One of them is the vegetarian pyramid which is analyzed below.
Veganism is not something new. From the earliest years we derive information that philosophers such as (Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato) but also later ones such as Einstein supported veganism.
The Harvard School of Public Health as well as the World Health Organization (W.H.O), in 1993, in conjunction with Greek scientists, make the Mediterranean Diet a “main prototype” that should be followed for life to preserve and protect health.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern for many countries, with many beneficial health effects, including a reduced risk of mortality and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Many researchers are studying the relationship between the dietary habits of the Mediterranean peoples and their way of life as well as the correlation with their long life span.
Plant Based and Mediterranean Similarities:
Both the Mediterranean and Plant based pyramids focus on a variety of nutritious foods, mostly plant-based, including: grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. Both are driven by reduced or zero consumption of processed foods.
- Cereals (bread, oats, whole grains, oatmeal) – daily
- Fruits & Vegetables: (leafy greens, cruciferous e.g. broccoli and brightly colored fruits) special emphasis on seasonality in color and production area – daily
- Legumes & Nuts: (legumes: beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, nuts: almonds, walnuts, etc.) daily
- Olive oil: replaces other forms of saturated fat, such as animal butter and margarines.
- In addition to the dietary characteristics, in both diet models emphasis is placed on daily physical activity to maintain a normal weight, well-being and the prevention of diseases caused by excess body weight.
Benefits of a plant based diet:
A plant based diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants seems to be able to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as:
- cardiovascular diseases
- type II diabetes
- certain types of cancer but also
- reduction of cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- decrease blood pressure
- better blood glucose values
- weight loss
Plant Based Pyramid
The revised vegan food pyramid according to Oldways is based on daily physical activity as well as eating meals with family and friends.
The pyramid refers to the variety of unprocessed foods that should be consumed daily (base of the pyramid) and as the pyramid “narrows” to be consumed in smaller quantity and frequency.
I) Eating colorful fruits and vegetables is a big part of this pyramid.
II) Above this we find whole grain products with an emphasis on rice, millet, quinoa, oats, bread, cereals and pasta.
III) Legumes, soy, nuts and seeds are plant-based sources of protein and are recommended on a daily basis.
IV) Plant-based milks and desserts should be fortified with calcium.
V) Olive oil is used in cooking and in salads, while spices and herbs are what give them the flavor.
Water should be the main hydration liquid, drinking at least 8 glasses daily. More, of course, if there is physical activity.
Sugar and salt should be replaced with spices and seasonings such as cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, rosemary, basil, etc. to enhance the taste but also receiving more nutritional benefits from them.
Daily food consumption
Vegetables: 5+ servings
- Vegetables contain many nutrients such as vitamins and fiber while being low in calories. They are rich in: vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, riboflavin and calcium.
- Choose: a) seasonal vegetables, b) green leafy vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, spinach, greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.) as well as c) dark orange and yellow vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, pumpkin).
- 1 serving equals: ½ cup fresh or frozen vegetables or 1 cup cooked
Fruits: 4+ servings
- Fruits are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Fruits are a snack that gives energy due to the carbohydrates it contains but also hydrates due to the water they contain.
- Choose: a) a variety of fruits, b) focus on brightly colored seasonal fruits and c) whole fruits instead of their juices as they contain more fiber.
- 1 serving is equivalent to: 1 medium fruit or ½ fl of juice or 1 fl of grapes, berries etc. small fruits
Grains: 6+ servings
- Cereals are a very good source of carbohydrates, protein and fiber.
- It is also a good source of vitamins of the B complex, but also of minerals such as: zinc, selenium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium.
- In case of intolerance to them, consult health scientists about their modification with sources that benefit you.
- This category includes: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, barley, spelt, wheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice
- 1 serving equals: ½ cup rice or quinoa or oatmeal or pasta or couscous or millet or cereal or 1 thin slice of bread (30g) wholegrain or zea’s
Legumes & Plant-based Drinks / Dessert: 3+ servings
- Legumes are a very good source of protein and fiber. They are also rich in minerals such as: iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
- This category includes: peas, beans, lentils, fava beans, chickpeas, chickpeas, but also tofu and tem
- 1 serving equals: ½ cup cooked legumes
- Plant-based milks and their products are enriched with calcium that often reaches the content of cow’s milk.
- 1 serving corresponds to: 1 cup plant-based milk or ¾ cup yogurt dessert or 30-40 g cheese
Nuts & Seeds: 2 servings
- Nuts contain fatty acids which are good for our heart. Chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and calcium.
- This category includes: walnuts, peanuts, almonds, seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
- 1 serving equals: ¼ cup nuts or 2 tbsp nut spread (tahini, almond butter, peanut butter, etc.)
Fats: prefer olive oil instead of other oils ideally at the end of cooking and over salads, in moderation.
Fresh Herbs: coriander, oregano, tarragon, basil, parsley
Spices: turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, chili, nutmeg, paprika
To Sum up:
The largest percentage of the Mediterranean diet consists of plant products which are beneficial in terms of our wider health.
Emphasize: green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, berries, products enriched with calcium (tofu, milk – yogurt, etc.), omega 3 fats: nuts (walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds) and iodized salt. Special attention regarding: B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine and calcium for their adequate coverage (for vitamin D & B12 possible supplementary administration is suggested in a total vegetarian diet).
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well-planned vegetarian diet can be appropriate for all stages of life including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, old age, and athletes.