Level 10 übervegan
February 17, 2012 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Can a man survive eating only black beans and apples?

Assume also access to beer and multivitamin tablets. Beans can be cooked, but no spices. Apples may be sliced or peeled, but not cooked or mashed.
posted by LiteOpera to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

You need fat in a diet.

This is a rather unhealthy diet.
posted by dfriedman at 3:28 PM on February 17, 2012

Add some cheese and you might make it. With the vitamins to fend off scurvy etc.

I don't recommend this, though.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:32 PM on February 17, 2012

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Helllllll no.

That 'diet' will wreak havoc on your body.
posted by Modica at 3:32 PM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, I missed the title "ubervegan." Well, you do need some fat. Avocados or olive oil, maybe.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:33 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Basically, no. The concept that's probably most relevant is complete protein - most beans (except soybeans, and they have other problems) do not contain all of the essential amino acids.

(I am assuming you're just blue-skying here - this is a Very Bad Idea, although you'd survive for a while.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:35 PM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Beans aren't nutritionally complete on their own, and apples aren't even close, so you may be missing out on some of the essential amino acids (amino acids your body can't synthesize) if you eat only beans and apples. Multivitamins don't have protein in them, so you can't get those missing amino acids from the vitamins. Apples don't have much of anything to them, nutritionally, besides some fiber and simple sugars.

Beans plus corn or beans plus rice are two good subsistence diets, and give you pretty much all the amino acids you need to survive. If you have those, along with appropriate calories from simple and complex carbs, your body can make most of the fats it needs (aside from a few essential fatty acids).
posted by killdevil at 3:37 PM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

dfriedman: why do you need fat in a diet? Your body will produce it for you.

As far as I know, you should be OK so long as you get the esential nutrients. There are also some minerals you need, but you can get that from water.
Add some cheese and you might make it. With the vitamins to fend off scurvy etc.
You need to eat fresh, uncooked food to get vitamin C. Usually that's done by eating fresh fruit, which apples are. You can get it from raw meat, but no one realized that when scurvy was still a problem.

All living things contain the essential amino acids in order to be alive. So if you eat another living thing, you should get at least a little, the question though is if you get enough in relative quantities.

The question is about survival not 'health'. I'm sure such a diet would cause all kinds of health problems.
posted by delmoi at 3:37 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Survive for how long? And what do you mean by "survive"? I mean, people have "survived" in prison camps eating much worse for years.

A more precise question might be "How long can a person stay healthy on this diet?"
posted by MoonOrb at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Black beans are, I believe, a complete protein, as seen here. So, yes, you'll survive. (But spices! They're vegan too! At least throw some salt on!)
posted by mittens at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2012

why do you need fat in a diet? Your body will produce it for you.

Essential fatty acids must be ingested.
posted by scody at 3:44 PM on February 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I think you could go many months before having seriously compromised health, and at least a week or two sustaining basically ordinary performance levels (walking 2-5 miles a day, not 20, etc. - I wouldn't want to be fighting ninjas/zombies or racing to a shelter on the other side of the continent on foot or anything,) eating nothing but black beans and apples. It's not nearly the problem that nothing but rice and water would be, for instance.

But in any case, I'd guess that within six to eight weeks, you'd be feeling pretty lousy, even with the vitamins. Also, I'm a darned picky eater who eats the same things day after day after day, and that diet sounds ridiculously boring to me. Perhaps sufficient beer consumption will render that a non-issue?
posted by SMPA at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Non-animal sources of complete proteins in clude: soybeans, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and spirulina. There may be other sources but black beans are not soybeans.

If you really insist on eating a vegan diet, at least eat some avocado to get fat.
posted by dfriedman at 3:47 PM on February 17, 2012

Find out the shortfalls for yourself. Throw a week of that diet into FitDay or Daily Plate and look at your nutritional pie chart.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:07 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Essential fatty acids must be ingested.
Apples and black beans both contain linolenic and linoleic acids, which are the only two for humans.

Anyway, I looked up the nutiritonal info for apples and black beans and here's what I came up with.

				%DV		servings per day	
vitamin	Name			Apple	bean	Apple	bean
A	Retinol			0.0161	0.0210	62.1	47.6
Bp	Choline			0.0190		52.6	
B1	thaimin			0.0200	0.2800	50.0	3.6
B2	ribolavin		0.0235	0.0480	42.6	20.8
B3	naiacin			0.0070	0.0430	142.9	23.3
B5	panthothenic acid	0.0090	0.0400	111.1	25.0
B6	pyridoxine		0.0300	0.0600	33.3	16.7
B7	biotin			0.0062		161.3	
B9	folic acid		0.0120	0.6400	83.3	1.6
B12	cobalamin				
C	Ascorbic acid		0.1142		8.8	
D	ergocalciferol				
E	tocopherol				
K	naphthoquinoids		0.0410		24.4	

Essential Fats
	Linolenic acid 		18mg	18mg				
	Linoleic acid		22mg	22mg				

So you'd need to take at least 161 apples, and you'd still need vitamins B12, D, and E. (the beans would be superfluous)
posted by delmoi at 4:13 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering if you heard this as a recommendation from someone. 20 years ago the version was chickpeas and oranges.
posted by Miko at 4:16 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Multivitamins do not include either sodium or potassium, which are essential to short-term survival. Absence of sodium in this diet will sicken you much faster than other factors.
posted by Nomyte at 4:17 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Survive? Probably. Thrive? Doubtful.
posted by sm1tten at 4:25 PM on February 17, 2012

If it is temporary: there have been several monks (and others) who have done beer and water only for Lent.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:26 PM on February 17, 2012

My no-citations-opinion is that I think you would live for a very long time.

Then, I used some free software to calculate what you would be missing. You would be calcium deficient, but I don't think that would kill you. You would be SEVERELY sodium deficient, that might kill you, but you might be able to get it from your water (would you have access to water?). You would be missing 8 amino acids entirely; I'm not sure which ones are essential, and I'm not sure if that would kill you, but it might. It would kill you very slowly, I'm sure.

Fat might actually be okay - you would get enough essential fatty acids from the black beans, surprisingly. You wouldn't get enough fat overall, but you would have the essential fatty acids, so I think you might be okay. I'm not sure though.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:31 PM on February 17, 2012

People seem mostly to be missing the "beer" part of this diet. Beer contains sodium, for example, as well as quite a few other nutrients. It seems like an important part of the equation.

I have to say that this diet sounds better than a lot of the extreme concentration camp/prison camp/siege diets one reads about in history. My guess is that it would keep you alive a long time. No doubt there'd be some long-term risks, but it doesn't sound like you'd die of malnutrition inside a year or anything.
posted by yoink at 5:02 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

yoink: I added two cans of generic beer to my calculation, which together contain about 2% of the RDA of sodium.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:07 PM on February 17, 2012

Guinness seems to be higher in sodium than most generic US beers. It also contains potassium and calcium:

Sodium 18 mg/L
Potassium 597 mg/L
Calcium 32 mg/L

Why, it's practically a health food. Of course, you're going to have to get pretty wasted to get your RDA...
posted by yoink at 5:18 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

What's the purpose behind the question?
Will you survive? Yes, probably.
Will you be healthy? No, you most definitely will not.

Your multi-vitamin is useless, certain nutrients need fat to be absorbed by your body. Ever heard of fat-soluble vitamins? They need... fat...!
Your body needs cholesterol or your hormones will go all out of whack. Once that happens, your health will start degrading evvvvver so slowly.

Your HDL will be too low.
Your Triglicerides will be too high.

You will get depressed.
Your bones and muscles will get weak. By this, I mean that your body will be starving itself (no matter how much beans and apples and multi-vitamins you eat) that it will steal the minerals it needs from your own body, you'll literally be eating yourself alive. Ask me how I know.

Your blood sugar levels will always be too high or too low causing a huge burden on your pancreas.
Your body won't be able to repair itself, and when eventually your arteries get damaged by plaque, your body won't be able to repair it unless you consume cholesterol and saturated fats.

So what do I suggest? Cook those beans with slab bacon. For starters. Then you might have a chance :-)
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:30 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Beware that some beer is refined by using isinglass finings, which are fish-derived, so you'll want to screen your beers carefully.

Also, yes, per midnightmoonlight, cholesterol is actually an important part of your diet. The CNS uses cholesterol a lot and kind of stops working that well if you don't get enough.

Also, it's another dirty word in diet circles, but you may want to factor in a non-beer derived SUGAR (or at least starch). A metabolizable one. Recent research (I've seen it now in both the NYT - an article about Decision Fatigue - and New Scientist - the most recent issue) seems to indicate that without metabolizable sugars in our diets, our brains don't work well and we don't stay on an even emotional keel.

Of course, if you do add sugar into your diet, beware that some white sugars are bleached with charcoal derived from animal bones. Depending on how thorough you are about your veganism you'll want to look into that too.
posted by kalessin at 6:01 PM on February 17, 2012

Thanks for all the thoughtful answers. I never actually intended to try this. I just really like black beans (boiled with no spices) and raw apples. I've indeed gone several days on this diet, including beer in whatever quantities are appropriate and of course my daily multivitamin. It popped into my head that this has to be bad for me, and then it occurred to me that maybe it isn't. I'm not a nutrition expert (obviously) but these two few foods seem to me to be in their own category as cheap, ubiquitous, and relatively healthy foods that I enjoy as much, if not more, than more "sinful" choices.
posted by LiteOpera at 6:24 PM on February 17, 2012

Depends on the beer, too. A pale ale is nutritionally a different beast than a massive chunky dark one like Guiness or Kilkenny. If you want to examine monk diets, there was probably a fair bit of small beer going on, which nutritionally is basically fermented brown bread + brewer's yeast. Very different beasts.
posted by Jilder at 10:20 PM on February 17, 2012

Definitely put some oil in the beans. Bonus if you add a little nutritional yeast (for B12).
posted by amtho at 12:00 AM on February 18, 2012

Ignore the nonsense about cholesterol. Your need to ingest cholesterol is zero. Human beings synthesize all the cholesterol they need, indeed a significant percentage make too much LDL; some have too little HDL, but there's no way for them to ingest it. Cholesterol production inside the body is influenced by diet, but there is no *need* to ingest cholesterol, nor has there ever been shown to be any health benefit to doing so.
posted by VikingSword at 12:38 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dont think so, You need vitamins, electrolytes and protein to survive.
posted by BobS13 at 2:35 AM on February 18, 2012

Right, what if he fried the beans in oil and salt? Could even rotate types of oil.

I guess at some point you'd kill for something fresh and green, but I think you could go for quite a while happily on this. (And black beans, fried or not, over arugula (easy from the box) and drizzled with oil might even solve the problem).
posted by Salamandrous at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2012

"Human beings synthesize all the cholesterol they need, indeed a significant percentage make too much LDL; some have too little HDL"

Without consuming saturated fats and cholesterol, your HDL will be too low.
Having too much LDL is not a bad thing, only if it's LDL of the dense, compact type.
Big fluffy LDL is good for you.

Your immune system needs both HDL and big fluffly LDL to stay healthy and efficiently fight infections.

High cholesterol is very good for you, as long as it comes from HDL and fluffy LDL, not triglycerides and dense LDL.

"Cholesterol production inside the body is influenced by diet, but there is no *need* to ingest cholesterol, nor has there ever been shown to be any health benefit to doing so"

There are plenty of old and new studies that show health benefits of consuming cholesterol.
Studies that demonetize dietary cholesterol weren't actually done with healthy diets: in those studies, people consume plenty of bread, wheat, processed/packaged foods, sugar, processed meats (hot dogs, deli meat, nitrate-cured meats) rather than fresh sources of cholesterol-rich meat.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 2:36 PM on February 18, 2012

Without consuming saturated fats and cholesterol, your HDL will be too low.

No, that is entirely incorrect. You absolutely do not need to consume either cholesterol or saturated fat to raise your HDL levels. For example, HDL can be raised through exercise, or raising the proportion of protein (which absolutely need not contain either cholesterol or saturated fat) and lowering the proportion of carbohydrates in the diet (even moderate alcohol consumption raises HDL levels).

This is just one of several entirely wrong, or misleading statements in that post. But this is not the place to discuss this, so I shall not address this any further.

The only relevant issue to the question the OP posed is whether the proposed diet would be missing any essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are a very specific class of nutrients, without which a human being cannot survive long term. Those include vitamins, certain minerals, certain essential fatty acids (which do NOT include saturated), and amino-acids. Note, that cholesterol is NOT on that list. This, is nutrition science 101 - please consult any nutritional textbook. You do NOT need to consume cholesterol for reasons of either survival or health. Cholesterol is not an essential nutrient that needs to be obtained through diet.

Furthermore, there are NO studies showing the health status of human beings being enhanced by the consumption of cholesterol. There is still some controversy about the exact impact of saturated fat consumption on health, but NO studies that I am aware of showing beneficial effects of cholesterol consumption. You are welcome to cite any. Anything in PubMed is fine (I just performed a search, showing zilch).
posted by VikingSword at 6:18 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm replying for the OPs benefit because in his update, he is curious if a diet consisting mainly of beans and apples would be "bad" for him.

I didn't see him ask about "essential nutrients" in the opening post, he only asked if a man could survive. A man could still survive without essential nutrients. I survived many years without many essential minerals and vitamins in my diet. I became terribly ill, and it took much willpower not to commit suicide everyday, yes, but I survived.

Cats are pure carnivorous, yet many people feed them grain- and vegetable-based dry and canned food. These cats still survive many years despite eating a diet incorrect to their nature. But they are not as healthy as cats eating the food they were meant to eat.

The OP didn't state to what degree he wants to know if he "will survive", so here I go. If this is too much information, simply refer back to my more simple response in the 2nd paragraph.

If the OP likes beans and apples that much, I say go ahead and eat them for days in a row, but try to make up for it in other days. It happens to all of us, some days we really crave some foods, other days we want something different.
It's fine.

But I wonder if by "other sinful choices" the OP thinks of beef or other meat/fish? Sardines? Whole milk? Butter? Full-fat coconut milk? If so, I'd like to tell him to go ahead and enjoy it. It's good for you, don't think of those foods as sinful.

More information in case the OP is interested:
There is a difference in available nutrients in beans soaked and cooked in the old fashioned way, vs canned beans, vs pressure-cooked beans, and so forth.

There is a difference in nutritional content of home-grown apples in well-cared for soil, vs mass-produced apples in soil just good enough to get the apples to the supermarket in one piece.

There is a difference in how well your body will absorb certain (and I repeat, certain) nutrients in apples and beans depending if you eat them alone or with fats.

It's well known beans and rice makes a complete protein, so eating beans vs beans + rice also makes a huge difference.

I'm simply putting it out there for the OP to consider.
- - -

Just because you can raise HDL by other methods, doesn't mean the most effective (in the long term) may not be by eating dietary cholesterol and saturated fats (saturated fats which may also come from palm oil and coconut oil if you have ethical reasons for not consuming animals, but you'll still be missing cholesterol)

Dietary cholesterol is most important for women of child-bearing age, growing children, and the elderly, but that doesn't mean it's not beneficial for others to consume it as well.

We don't know everything there is to know about human nutrition yet, something to keep in mind.

I can cite studies, you can cite studies, and we can be up all night having fun contradicting each other. Thing is, just because a study says something doesn't mean it's relevant. There are so many poorly done studies out there! Read it all the way through, look at what makes and doesn't make sense, make up your own conclusions.

And yes... the OP will survive without saturated fats and cholesterol, but he didn't specify if he was concerned for his health.

Most cholesterol studies cite the lipid hypothesis which I'm sure you're familiar with, except that study was done on cholesterol-lowering drugs... not dietary cholesterol.

If I had a penny for every time I've read "a diet rich in fat / beef / coconut oil / high fat milk / cholesterol-rich eggs / etc have shown to improve A B C X Y Z [...]" but then in the end of the study, they will say we should limit those same foods like the USDA tells us to!

But anyway, you say there are no studies showing that dietary cholesterol is beneficial, so here you go:
- - -
Rethinking Dietary Cholesterol
- - -
Dietary cholesterol is important for intestinal wall health (leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders, which in turn may cause other problems, mental and physical, due to poor nutrient absorption)
Alfin-Slater, R B, and L Aftergood, "Lipids," Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 6th ed, R S Goodhart and M E Shils, eds, Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia 1980, 134
Here's a peek, but do read on:
"A Medical Research Council survey showed that men eating butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those using margarine."
I'd say that's a "health status of human beings being enhanced by the consumption of cholesterol"! :-)

In the end, it's up to the OP to eat however he wants to eat. Even just beans and apples :-) I promise him he will survive. But when I replied, I wasn't sure if he meant "just survive" or "survive in good health", hence I took the benefit of doubt and replied to "survive in good health".
posted by midnightmoonlight at 10:19 PM on February 18, 2012

But anyway, you say there are no studies showing that dietary cholesterol is beneficial, so here you go:

Rethinking Dietary Cholesterol

That review does not show that dietary cholesterol is beneficial. It posits that restrictions may not be justified in the view of the author. Purported absence of harm (even if we were to agree with that conclusion) does not equal positive benefit.

To cite the summary of that review:

The lines of evidence coming from current epidemiological studies and from clinical interventions utilizing different types of cholesterol challenges support the notion that the recommendations limiting dietary cholesterol should be reconsidered.

Nothing about cholesterol consumption being beneficial. Foods, such as eggs, may have benefits, but that's not the same thing as showing that a single isolated element is responsible for the benefits, even partially. To establish that, you'd have to conduct a study where you have outcomes for a group that consumes eggs with all cholesterol removed and ones with it present and show that the latter have some benefits not shown with the former. This review shows nothing of the kind.


Oh boy. Here we go. Weston Price. Infamous quack. I expected this misinformation to be based on the nonsense from some famous quack like Price, Mercola or Ravnskov. For those with superhuman curiosity, you can take a quick trip to quackwatch.org and read on about Price (1870-1948), a dentist who first gained notoriety in his own field with bizarre assertions backed by hopeless speculation. Subsequently, his ideas were promulgated by various quack organizations such as the The Weston A. Price Foundation branching out from dentistry into all sorts of areas.

Any assertion coming out of those sources is worth exactly nothing. As such, I'd look carefully into any cite that comes from them, as does this apparently:

Dietary cholesterol is important for intestinal wall health (leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders, which in turn may cause other problems, mental and physical, due to poor nutrient absorption)
Alfin-Slater, R B, and L Aftergood, "Lipids," Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 6th ed, R S Goodhart and M E Shils, eds, Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia 1980, 134

I don't have access to the above-mentioned book at the moment to examine the context of that statement, and I absolutely do trust the Price people to either accurately report on the reference or to provide appropriate context.

So none of the supposed "studies" shows any health benefit to consuming cholesterol in the diet in healthy human beings.

But if there is a question about health and longevity vs cholesterol consumption as addressed in your post, there's an extremely simple way of deciding the question of cholesterol and longevity: vegans. Vegans are as low on the scale of cholesterol consumption as any human cohort has ever been shown to be. And there are numerous studies comparing health of vegans to vegetarians, meat-eaters etc. Vegans consistently score at the upper levels of longevity and health, depending on the study, sometimes slightly below vegetarians or pescetarians. They don't seem to suffer from shorter lives or ill health as a cohort compared to other diets - indeed, most studies show better longevity outcomes than consistent meat-eaters. And whatever health/dietary challenges vegans may have, the studies consistently single out things like complete protein or vitamin B12 status as problem areas: not a single study that I'm aware of, cites lack of consumption of cholesterol as a health challenge for vegans. So, we have the health and longevity outcomes wrt. cholesterol consumption right there. There is zero evidence of lack of cholesterol consumption being deleterious to health/longevity, nor any evidence that the consumption thereof enhances health/longevity.

However, again, this is getting far afield of the OP's post. And since the OP apparently has made their decision about what they find of value, there is no further need for me to post in this thread.
posted by VikingSword at 12:07 PM on February 19, 2012

[Yeah, definitely time to let the debate die, thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2012

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