A vegetarian diet is proven to be nutritiously adequate as well as a means of disease prevention. However, it is important to be mindful when planning meals as one can eat a cheese pizza every day for the rest of their life and still call themself a vegetarian. By simply avoiding meat (or all animal products) and ignoring the importance of varied intake, one is at higher risk for developing nutritional deficiencies, GI discomfort, and an impaired immune system. However, by ensuring well-rounded meals, a plant-based diet can provide complete nourishment while simultaneously promoting disease prevention and environmental sustainability. There are many resources available to help you ensure that you obtain all the required nutrients to sustain a long and healthy life while respecting your nutritional preferences.
Schijf van Vijf
Schijf van Vijf, provided by the Voedingcentrum, provides an excellent example of how the general public (those without dietary restrictions) can meet nutrition needs. America provides a similar idea called My Plate, which is a recommendation of what one’s plate should resemble in order to achieve proper nutrition. Both of these examples can also be tailored to fit a vegetarian or plant based diet. When you think of your typical plate, or think of all the meals and snacks you have consumed for the day, are they similar to the “plates” below?
Plant Based Plate
Essentially, the above is a helpful rule of thumb to ensure your intake is nutritiously complete. The goal is to fill each section of the plate with one food selection from each group. Therefore, each group has a list of possible options that can be exchanged every meal. It certainly opens the creative floodgates as you can start creating meal plans just from looking at the guide. For example, a dinner including half of a baked sweet potato filled with pumpkin seeds and walnuts, almost half a plate of broccoli tossed in a miso dressing, and a dessert of fresh fruit.
Starchy versus Non-starchy Vegetables
If you notice, bread, grains and starchy vegetables are all in the same section of the “plate”. That is because they provide the same amount of carbohydrate per serving. Non-starchy vegetables have their own section because they provide 1/3 the amount of carbohydrates per serving when compared to the foods in the grain section. Non-starchy vegetables are also important as they provide vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals; they are a rich source of dietary fiber which can help to lower cholesterol and aid in digestion; research has shown that consistent daily non-starchy vegetable intake is associated with lower risk of suffering health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
Pre- and Pro-biotic Check List.
An important consideration for any diet is gut health as it is a strong contributor of our immune system. Examples of pre-biotic food sources include garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, bran, root vegetables, legumes, and chicory; which are already included in the above “my plate” guideline; the non- and starchy vegetable, and grain section. Pre-biotics are the foods that contain fibers which are not fully digested and are instead used to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut by feeding probiotics. Commonly known vegetarian food sources of probiotics are live-cultured yogurt and kefir; miso, tempeh, pickles, microalgae, sauerkraut, and kombucha are probiotic options for those who prefer to remain plant-based. By including daily intake of vegetables, grains, and fermented products, you are supporting the health of your gut microbiota.
The Big Picture
Personally, I do not recommend paying such close attention to percentages and confirming that each plate looks exactly like the above. The intention is to ensure that your diet includes variety and to have a simple guideline regarding the general quantity of each food group. If a food is left out of one meal, it can be added to a snack or the following meal; what is missing in a day can be compensated the next day. “My Plate” is a handy tool to use for meal planning and grocery shopping. This is a fine general guideline, however there are many other aspects to be considered such as B12 supplementation, ensuring proper amino acid combinations, and food allergies/intolerances. Stay tuned for the next post by Ellazondo Nutrition to continue to learn more.