Vegetable deficiency and a safe level of intake for solving it
March 2, 2008 10:42 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is looking to get back into eating healthier and asked me to pose this question to the hive mind: after about 15 years of very low vegetable intake, how safe is this switch to his health when he is already experiencing some health difficulties? His full explanation and

"I'm currently 21 years old, and have never had any serious health problems until this year. I've grappled with heart trouble, anxiety issues, and UTIs & other infections all at once in the last nine months or so.

As a result, I am looking to improve my overall health, and one sticking point is my diet. Primarily, I have had a very low vegetable intake since I was about six years old - getting rare servings of it only through sauces and incidental carrots and such in rice or stew. I'm interested in fixing this, and I'm wondering what a safe level of intake would be after such a long period of deprivation? I am concerned that changing my diet too substantially will just add to my health troubles."

I'll continue to relate his replies to anything you guys suggest. Thanks for your help!
posted by idleminded to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless he has food allergies, adding more vegetables will likely not cause any problems. MAYBE if he eats a crapload of vegetables all at once things will, um, move faster down there for a while because of the increased fiber intake.

Vegetables and fruits are a lot more forgiving to the system than eating lots of meat, fat, or sugars. Start out with very dark green, leafy stuff--collards, spinach, broccoli, kale, etc. I have heard people being allergic apples, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables, but never to green, leafy stuff (though I could be very wrong here). Steam it or eat it raw (well, don't eat broccoli raw, it's not very good). Drizzle a little olive oil on top. You should be good to go. Your body is made to eat these things. It can handle it.
posted by schroedinger at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2008

Coming from an illness that made the fiber in vegetables irritating, I would start with delicious vegetable soups then move on to those with high sugar content and then to the more bitter/fiber-ful veggies. Actually, the food made by Hare Krishnas was the best for me because it didn't have onions/garlic/or stomach irritating spices. A lot of them have dinners and such in cities and on college campuses.

Also, he might want to take a page from the raw foodists and try out green smoothies. Google them and there are a lot of tips for making them. I started out with mostly fruit and added greens in gradually, so now I'm drinking 50% greens 50% fruit with very little sweetener. I'm a supertaster, so in the past I've had issues with how bitter vegetables are, but the gradual nature of the smoothies has helped. The easiest greens to get used to are spinach. Kale and collards can come later. My current blend is banana + coconut + a few walnuts + a dash of kale + watercress + lots of spinach.
posted by melissam at 10:55 AM on March 2, 2008

Well, if he starts eating all these veggies while also cutting processed foods out of his diet he will have some withdrawal/detox symptoms: headache, crankiness, peeing all the freaking time, tiredness, being very hungry. But this is ok. He should just make sure to get the calories he needs, get a good amount of fat and protein, drink lots of water, etc. No one ever died from eating too many veggies (I don't think!).

f he's really nervous he could go to a nutritionist/naturopath and get an eating plan.
posted by lunasol at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2008

He'll be perfectly fine. He's 21, not 81. He's not going to get junk food withdrawl, nor does he need to start with a few basic veggies and work his way up.

As long as he's not allergic to anything, he should be good to go. Anxiety, UTIs, and other infections should not have anything to do with diet. Heart trouble is very non-specific (specific diagnosis?), but extremely unlikely to be caused by diet (at 21y), and changing to a high veggie diet very likely will be beneficial. Consult a doctor if he has a history of GI problems.
posted by ruwan at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2008

I disagree with ruwan's assertion that anxiety, UTIs, and infections have nothing to do with diet. The relationship is not easily documented, but from personal experience--and the experience of many, many others--I can assert that one's mood can be VERY closely aligned with the quality of food one eats. I have a history of UTIs and kidney issues, and when I'm eating better (lots of vegetables, few carbs coming from refined grains and sugars) and drinking plenty of water, the problems virtually disappear.

It won't be a miracle cure, but a healthier diet can help A LOT.
posted by schroedinger at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2008

He might get the shits but other than that theres no real risk in a rapid increase in fruit + veg intake. Some things are worse than others (he'll probably want to steer clear of plums and prune related foods until he's used to the fibre increase)

If he's worried he should mention it to his doctor - presumably all these health problems = lots of Drs appointments.
posted by missmagenta at 11:24 AM on March 2, 2008

Anxiety...should not have anything to do with diet.

Ask someone with hypoglycemia or diabetes, or even someone who hasn't eaten all day, if anxiety has nothing to do with diet. If his anxiety is related to blood-sugar issues, then trading simple carbs for complex carbs like vegetables may help stabilize his blood sugar and therefore his mood.

At any rate, I imagine that adding in more vegetables all of a sudden might result in some temporary digestive discomfort. But I think a more likely drawback to such a sudden and drastic diet change would be that it might not last very long. Maybe take some time to transition, slowly adding in new things, so that three days after the novelty has worn off he won't look at his plate of steamed broccoli and go "what the hell is this?" and pour himself a bowl of Lucky Charms instead.
posted by granted at 2:07 PM on March 2, 2008

An easy way to up his vegetable intake without adding too much fiber too fast would be to drink V8 -- low sodium version isn't as tasty but it's healthier for you.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:53 PM on March 2, 2008

Eat the vegetables already. Jeez. People worry too much.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:30 PM on March 2, 2008

...If being able to take a crap is such a concern, eat some rice crackers as well?

You don't eat veges so you weren't to know - but no meal makes you feel more revitalized and content than something healthy, nutritious and wholesome. It actually makes you feel good! Real good!! I have a neat Chicken and Vege 'Soup' recipie if you want it. You'll feel like popeye :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:45 AM on March 3, 2008

Do not withhold the recipe, sir.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:16 PM on March 8, 2008

Sorry I haven't responded in a bit, but I can happily say that my friend has taken the advice to heart and he's been eating a lot better. Thanks everyone!
posted by idleminded at 8:25 PM on March 28, 2008

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