For the would-be vegetarian, switching from a meat-filled diet to one without any trace of it can be daunting. Questions like “what do vegetarians eat?” and “how can I ensure that I’m getting the right nutrition?” keep popping into your head!
To clear up any confusion, you can depend on a concept called vegetarian food pyramid – which essentially is a simple guide to vegetarian nutrition.
What Type of Vegetarian Are You?
But before you dive into what the vegetarian food pyramid is, you need to remember the particular type of vegetarian diet that you have chosen.
For example, if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you are likely to eat all dairy products, as well as eggs.
On the other hand, if you are a vegan, you don’t consume any non-vegetarian items, including meat, eggs, milk, gelatin, or even honey.
The reason why knowing your specific vegetarian type is important is because this will impact the contents of your vegetarian food pyramid.
What the Vegetarian Food Pyramid Does
So vegetarian food pyramid targets a specific type of vegetarian, and elaborates on the type and portions of foods recommended for a healthy and balanced diet plan. Substitution is an important term to understand here as you need to substitute every item with the item that falls in your particular category.
Each of us has different calorie needs. So to understand the food pyramid better, let us consider an individual who has no restrictions on diet.
For this individual, a healthy and balanced vegetarian meal should have three main food groups: protein, vitamins and carbohydrates.
The size of portions of each of these components would largely depend on the individual’s age, gender, overall health condition and the kind of activity the person is used to do in a day.
However the basic aim for the food pyramid is to ensure 100% balance and vegetarian nutrition for the person who is following the pyramid.
Individual Calorie Needs: A Key Component of a Vegetarian Food Pyramid
Though a truly healthy and balanced diet would be one which contains all the three mentioned food groups, the amounts of proteins and carbohydrates can vary according to age and the lifestyle the individual has.
For example a teenager, or a young and active person, would require more protein in comparison to an elderly vegetarian who does not have a very active lifestyle.
Therefore the most important consideration when managing a vegetarian food pyramid is the individual calorie needs.
Core Food Groups in a Vegetarian Food Pyramid
It is also necessary from the vegetarian nutrition point of view that the pyramid contain some basic foods that can supply calories no matter what your age, gender or activity level is.
What are the different foods that ‘must’ be in your pyramid? As you can see in the diagram above (courtesy of the Mayo Clinic), these include sweetened foods, fats and oils, but not in large quantities.
Vegetables and fruits are the next to follow in line. Milk, yogurt, legumes, and nuts comprise the third priority, and at the very bottom of the pyramid (which means they are the food type that you should be eating most), are carbohydrates, including basic carbohydrates like whole grain bread, rice and cereals, which provide the body nutrition as well as energy.
So in a nutshell, here’s how you read the vegetarian food pyramid: start reading from the bottom up. This means that the foods listed at the top of the pyramid are usually weight-inducers and should not be taken in large proportions.
Likewise, foods that appear at the bottom rung provide you with vegetarian nutrition and energy – hence, you can have them in larger quantities. The items that appear in the center of the pyramid should be taken according to your own body needs and preferences.