Eating According to a Plant-Based Food Guide

You’ve probably seen some version of a food guide — a graphic representation of food categories divided into segments. The more space a food group takes up, the more you’re supposed to eat of it to maintain a healthy diet. Many traditional food guides include meat or protein, fruit, vegetable, grain, and dairy categories. Vegetarian food guides are also available to help guide your dietary choices.

This way of grouping foods to provide a one-size-fits-all way of eating is not necessarily ideal for or relevant to everyone. Take all food guides in stride. How much you eat and what you choose to eat need to apply directly to you and your lifestyle, activity level, and health concerns.

A plant-based food guide can be adjusted in cases of disease or food sensitivities, but for the most part this is an excellent foundation for superior health. Here’s how this breakdown looks on a daily basis:

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • These should make up a majority of your overall food intake, approximately 40 percent to 60 percent, with an emphasis on leafy green veggies.

    • Include at least four servings of vegetables, three of which are raw, and make sure at least one serving is green vegetables and one or more servings are starchy and colorful, such as beets, carrots, or sweet potatoes.

    • Vegetables should be fresh, not canned or frozen.

      Not all frozen veggies are the same. Many frozen vegetables are even more nutritious than fresh vegetables because they are frozen at their peak ripeness, which means they maintain their nutrients. Be sure to look for organic and non-genetically modified frozen (and fresh) vegetables.

    • Include sea vegetables, such as arame, nori, and dulse.

    • Have one to two (or more) servings of fresh fruit, preferably in season and organic.

  • Whole grains

    • Eat two to five servings.

    • Focus on gluten-free whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.

    • Choose alternatives to whole wheat as often as you can (kamut, spelt, rye, barley, and oats).

    • Choose sprouted-grain products as often as you can.

  • Proteins

    • Have at least two servings, one of which is 1/2 cup of legumes, beans, tempeh, or tofu.

    • If you’re using plant-based protein supplements (such as hemp, pea, or brown-rice powders), use one scoop per day.

      Protein supplements aren’t usually necessary to obtain adequate protein on a plant-based diet because plant protein is abundant in many sources, such as nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Therefore, be careful not to consume excessive amounts of protein. As a culture, Americans are obsessed with getting enough protein; focus on quality protein and not quantity.

  • Fats and oils

    • Eat one serving (approximately 1/2 cup) of nuts or seeds.

    • Have one to two tablespoons of nut or seed butters.

    • Use one tablespoon of oil (grapeseed, coconut, flax, chia, hemp, or olive) for cooking or in salads.

      Do not cook with flax, hemp, or chia oil. These oils should be used only with foods that don’t require heating.

    • Enjoy one or more servings of whole fatty fruits, such as avocados, coconuts, and olives. This can be in the form of 1/4 avocado, four olives, or 1/4–1/2 cup fresh coconut meat.

These are just general guidelines and suggestions to help get you started with your new plant-based lifestyle. As you become accustomed to these guidelines, adapt them accordingly to what works best for you.

Don't get too caught up in exact amounts or measurements of food or servings. As long as you’re eating a well-rounded and balanced diet, your body gets what it needs. It’s important to follow some general guidelines to get started, but in time you’ll start to trust yourself because your body knows best.

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