Your Personal Vegetarian Food Pyramid

The US Food & Drug Administration introduced the first official dietary food pyramid back in 1992 as a replacement for the earlier "Food Groups Classification System".

FDA Dietary Food Pyramid

1992 US Food Pyramid

This new graphic guideline suggested visually that foods on the bottom of the pyramid should be staple foods making up the bulk of ones diet plan. Food groups in higher tiers were recommended to represent a smaller part of the diet while those foods at the top of the pyramid should be consumed only sparingly.

Today there are as many dietary pyramids out there as there are fad diets. So let's join in the fun and come up with our own customized vegetarian diet pyramid.

This will be more than just an amusing exercise. The practical importance of creating our own food pyramid will become clear during our discussion on meal planning.

We'll start by discussing our personal choices as an example but we encourage you to go through the process yourself using your personal experiences and preferences to create your own customized vegetarian diet plan. Remember, this may be an ongoing process and , over time, your preferences can change. Nothing is carved in stone here.

Let's pick up where we left off in our discussion of Deciding To Become Vegetarian. After checking out our gut reactions to the different food groups at the grocery store we came to the conclusion that the produce department offers the most natural food choices for us in an unaltered state. So we're going to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the bottom of our food pyramid. They will become the basis and bulk of our vegetarian diet plan.

OK, what's next? Here are our possible choices;

    * meats
    * seafood
    * breads & grains (includes pasta)
    * milk & milk products
    * eggs
    * dried beans
    * soy products
    * fresh nuts & seeds
    * oils
    * herbs & spices
    * other seasonings

With the exception of fresh nuts & seeds and maybe milk, none of the other food groups appears to pass our gut reaction test. All of these foods must be altered in some way before they become palatable. Therefore they can best be described and categorized as survival foods.

Now we humans are a very clever and inventive lot. Our ancient ancestors must have experimented and learned about all kinds of ways to prepare different types of foods in order to survive. These practices from different regions of the world then probably grew into prized cultural traditions over the centuries. And today we are blessed with such a rich and diverse selection of ethnic cuisines that it boggles the mind.

At this point, please indulge me as I relate a short episode from the past.

An Early Lesson

As a young boy I really enjoyed Scouting and all of the outdoor activities we got involved with. But I especially enjoyed our family camping trips and fishing expeditions. Over the years we caught a lot of fish. But I never could ignore an inner contradiction I experienced at the end of each day of fishing when we had to prepare the fish for the skillet.

I remember one trip in particular to Rock Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. We would spend hours fishing to catch a few fish. But we also spent hours on top of some bluffs overlooking the lake where we had camped. We would climb to the top of those hills to pick wild blueberries. We ate our fill of blueberries and harvested even more which we took back to camp for use later. Of course, I loved the "adventure of the hunt" that fishing represented to me and I played the part. Secretly, however, I despised doing what we had to do to those fish in order to eat them. And, frankly, they weren't really all that good. I much prefered our blueberry hunts. We had heard rumors that there were bears up in those hills. So we got our share of adventure and thrills keeping an eye out for the bears.

Ripe Blueberries

Today I have the advantage of a few years under my belt and I'm in a better position to reason out what I was experiencing back then.

Here is the lesson that I couldn't quite grasp as a young boy.

We have to learn how to doesn't just come naturally to us like picking blueberries. We also have to learn how to hunt game or raise farm animals and then prepare them for consumsion. We have to learn how to sow and harvest grains and how to properly dry them and prepare them for milling. We must learn the art of making cheeses, other milk products and how to extract oils from various sources.

All of the other food groups in the food pyramid besides fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds represent optional foods for us. We are not physically equipped to eat them in their natural state. Carnivores (meat eaters) have sharp, tearing teeth and claws or beaks and talons to capture and devour their prey. Graminivores (grain eaters), like many birds, have beaks designed to peck in the ground or at seed-bearing grasses and other plants. They swallow the grains whole without chewing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with going fishing or baking a loaf of bread. We just need to remember that these are survival foods and we should treat them accordingly. They have very high concentrations of certain nutrients and should only be eaten in moderation.

If our ancient ancestors were hungry and had run out of blueberries, they probably decided it was time to go hunting or fishing or to experiment with something else that they had never tried before.

Citrus Selection

Fortunately, today we're not faced with such stark choices. Our modern agriculture produces an incredibly wide variety of food choices for us year round. However, this is why it is important for us to have a clear understanding of why we are making our food pyramid choices before walking into the grocery store. The tempting bounty we are faced with today has a way of enticing us into ignoring any common sense decisions we may have already made.

So as we begin to refine our study of the different food groups and begin to design our own personal vegetarian food pyramid, our chief concern is that fresh produce ought to make up the bulk of our diet since that is our most natural food source. Finishing our food pyramid design now becomes much simpler and here are a few guidelines for us to follow that might be helpful.

    1) If something is repulsive to us in its natural state, we probably don't need it to be healthy.
    2) The more refined or processed a food is, the less likely it is to be nutritious.

    3) The more concentrated a food is, the higher up the food pyramid it ought to be placed.

Following these guidelines, our personal vegetarian food pyramid currently looks like this.
Our Food Pyramid
It is interesting to notice that even the "official" FDA food pyramid already clearly promotes a food regimen that is very largely a vegetarian-based diet. The biggest difference between our food pyramid and the FDA version is that we have swapped the two bottom tiers. We then eliminated all animal products except for cheeses and milk products and we moved the dried beans down one tier.

We feel that it is much more important to follow a fruit and vegetable dominated diet than one based on breads, pasta and grains for a number of health reasons which we'll touch on in our discussion of Vegetarian Nutrition. But before we get to that, let's consider the different

Types of Vegetarian Diets.

How Was Your Transition To Going Meatless?

Once we've made the decision to go meatless, we start to re-evaluate our entire food regimen in a new light. Some food choices that we used to take for granted suddenly take on a new importance for us and we make new choices...We start to do things differently.

If you have an interesting story about how you fared the transition to going meatless we'd love to hear about it. Just type in your entry below. When approved, it will appear below as a new website page.

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I tried your grocery store gut reaction test and was amazed. It really opened my eyes about food choices! Fresh fruits and vegetables are now at the …

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