Once you decide to go vegan, you are already convinced in the fact that there are plenty of foods you can eat to meet your nutrient needs and satisfy any food craving you might have. Yet, if you’ve done a bit of research and checked out some of the other articles in the Vegan Nutrition Essentials section here on the site, you possibly know that vegans need to consume more calories from plant foods in order to meet these nutritional requirements.
Here is where many of us (both beginners and long-term vegans) can get a bit confused.
A diet mainly composed of meat, dairy and vegetables can be pretty straight forward, and if you are used to planning such meals it may be a bit challenging to make the switch in terms of quantities and types of foods to include.
This is why following the plant plate and these
8 Rules That Will Help You Plan A Daily Menu To Meet Nutrient Needs As A Vegan
is the way to go!
Scientific and epidemiological evidence clearly shows that those who follow a primarily plant-based diet have a dramatically lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, and stroke – the major killers of Americans. Back in 1991, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) developed The New Four Food Groups (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes – now also known as The Power Plate) as the healthy alternative to the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and the very old Basic Four. This plan promotes a low-fat, 100% vegetarian (vegan) diet, and it supplies all of an average adult’s daily requirements.
Don’t stress over it too much, though. It’s the way you eat most of the time that matters. So if you miss a serving of legumes now and then, or fall a little short on your calcium-rich foods once in a while, it’s not a big deal. And keep in mind that these are minimums. Many women and most men will need more food than this to meet calorie needs.
1. Legumes: a minimum of 2 servings per day
Legumes – which is another name for beans, peas, and lentils — are all good sources of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, soy milk, tempeh, and texturized vegetable protein.
Serving size: 1/2 cup cooked beans; 4 ounces tofu or tempeh; 8 ounces soy milk
Also check out How Much Protein Exactly For Vegans
2. Vegetables: 4 or more servings per day
Vegetables are packed with nutrients; they provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fiber, and other vitamins. Dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens, chicory, or bok choy are especially good sources of these important nutrients. Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin provide extra beta-carotene. Include generous portions of a variety of vegetables in your diet.
Serving size: 1 cup raw vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked vegetables.
3. Fruits: 3 or more servings a day
Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Be sure to include at least one serving each day of fruits that are high in vitamin C — citrus fruits, melons, and strawberries are all good choices. Choose whole fruit over fruit juices, which do not contain very much fiber.
Serving size: 1 medium piece of fruit; 1/2 cup cooked fruit; 1/2 cup juice
4. Whole Grains: 5 or more servings a day
This group includes bread, rice, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, bulgur, buckwheat groats, and tortillas. Emphasize whole grains over refined, and if you like them, include some whole grain bread and some sprouted grains in meals.
Grains are rich in fiber and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, B vitamins and zinc.
Serving size: 1/2 cup hot cereal; 1 ounce dry cereal; 1 slice bread
5. Nuts and seeds: in moderation
Choose moderate amounts of healthy higher-fat foods like nuts. Make sure you’re getting enough of the essential fat ALA by including flaxseeds, walnuts, or one of the vegetable oils that provides this nutrient and consider an algae-derived supplement of DHA/EPA.
6. Make sure you’re getting plenty of calcium.
7. Don’t shun supplements.
You absolutely need to take a supplement of vitamin B12 unless you are certain that your diet contains enough from fortified foods. Sea vegetables and fermented foods are not a reliable source of this nutrient. If you don’t get adequate sun exposure, take a vitamin D supplement. And, if you don’t use a few shakes of iodized salt on your food every day, a supplement of iodine can be a good idea.
8. Keep the focus on whole plant foods, but don’t get too obsessive about this.
Gently processed foods can be helpful for meeting nutrient needs and they can make your healthy vegan diet easier to stick with for the long term. So will the occasional ‘junk food’ treats you don’t need to deny yourself all the time!