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I am posting this as I think the diet I am following might be suited to perhaps at least a few other EAs, especially those that are looking for a somewhat “optimized” diet while being hesitant about Huel. My diet aims to be vegan, affordable, evidence-based, time-efficient and is quite ascetic. The intersection of these criteria seems close to EA and also different from how most people think about their diet. Therefore, I thought perhaps posting this might be helpful for some EAs who have thought very little about this but would like to learn about more optimal diets.

Moreover, I am interested in feedback from others who have done other or more research and come to other/supplemental findings - what am I missing? I have no expertise in dietary sciences and also have not done deep research as explained in the section on methodology. 

This post/diet might not be for you if you:

  • Require novelty in your food (i.e. not eating the same handful of different items week after week)
  • Derive a lot of well-being from eating good-tasting food (my diet is not unappetizing but it does require the consumer not to derive much life satisfaction from frequently eating good-tasting food)

To keep this post short I will describe the diet briefly so please ask clarifying questions in the comments.

A reason to be skeptical of Huel is that the evidence is lacking. As far as I understand, the only diet with considerable evidence is the Mediterranean diet as a whole. This is why, as I explain below, I am trying to make my diet as conformant as possible with the Mediterranean diet.

The diet itself

Please note that I am above average in terms of physical activity and seem to have a pretty high metabolism. I think the diet below comes out to more than 3000 calories per day. However, I think one can fine tune the diet below to drastically lower the calories, especially by cutting down on olive oil and perhaps also peanuts (and perhaps compensating with other legumes). In fact, I suggest for anyone looking to adopt this diet to start with my diet below in cronometer.com and then fine tune based on individual needs and preferences.

The diet consists of the following items and quantities. Note that this is a daily average, I do not consume all items every day. Instead, I aim to consume them all over a week such that the daily average ends up close to the following:

Then some notes on how to make this more time-efficient/ascetic:

  • Once a week I lightly (5-7 minutes) steam 4-5 crowns of broccoli, blend with olive oil and keep in the fridge to be eaten over 5 days (2 days a week are without vegetables due to my concerns about extended fridge life of this puree) during a week. I find high-powered blenders required to properly cut the stems.
  • The legumes are just the canned type and I just drain, rinse and eat out of the box.
  • Based on whether I think I need more carbs or more proteins, I change the proportions of the following and eat as much as possible after having consumed the other items:
    • The legumes
    • Oats, wheat/spelt and rice. I pick whatever is most convenient in terms of “form factor” such as pasta, bread or just plain cooked rice. I usually just dip bread in olive oil, or sprinkle olive oil on top of the rice). Sometimes I sprinkle some chili, squeeze some lemon and sprinkle some soy sauce and olive oil on top of rice or pasta - I guess I am not a complete ascetic haha
  • My analysis indicates I might be short on vitamin D and B12 from the above, so I take these daily as supplements. I also take algal omega 3 in the form of DHA and EPA as the diet lacks in this (I think it only contains  the ALA form that is much less bioavailable and the Mediterranean diet includes a lot of fish) and this is somewhat likely to be important for both short-term and long-term well-being
  • I also consume some fruit (perhaps equivalent to 5 oranges a week). Nutritionally, this is perhaps not strictly needed according to the calcs below, but as I am inspired by the Mediterranean diet and I am sure most people in those studies ate some fruit, I eat whatever and whenever convenient.

Please note that the choice of items above is based on analysis as explained below. There is a reason for not eating cashews as part of the nuts and seeds portion, and for not including peas as part of the legumes part of the diet.

I should also note that I from time to time “rescue” meat and dairy products. This would either be leftover meat from my family that is about to get thrown out or I might find about-to-expire meat on discount when in the grocery store. So my well-being on this diet might derive partially from this small addition of animal products although according to science the above diet is highly likely to cover all nutritional needs. More on this in the section below on methodology and how the diet practically integrates in my life.

Methodology for developing the diet

The diet was mostly developed around 2010 using a tool from the now defunct website whfoods.org. I never really formally investigated the non-profit behind the website, the George Mateljan Foundation. However, during my ~5 years of reading their research summaries and using their information, I never really came across anything that seemed unscientific. Moreover, the other people using the information seemed all to have the same impression as me: The information is comprehensive, evidence-backed and trustworthy. 

More specifically, the website had some sort of diet calculator which is what I used to calculate my budget. It seemed to work on a principle of grouping food into nutritional groups (e.g. cauliflower and broccoli ended up in the same group, but so did crimini mushrooms!) and then one could indicate how much one ate of each food group during a week. The final outcome was a probabilistic assessment of likelihood of deficiency in different nutrients.

Here is roughly what I remember using as input:

  • Gender: Male
  • Race/ethnicity: White (I think for especially D vitamin calcs but not sure as I do not remember them asking for skin tone)
  • Where I live: Northern Europe (again, I think for D vitamin calcs)
  • Weight: 75kg
  • Height: 190cm
  • Age: 35 (I am not sure which nutrient requirements change with age unless for children or >60 year olds so I am not planning on changing anything soon)

I then input different quantities in different food groups, seeking to find the smallest quantity of vegan food that as well as possible with high likelihood satisfied nutritional requirements. That resulted in the diet above although I was not able to remove the non-zero likelihood of being deficient in B12 and vitamin D without including dairy and/or meat.

I then recently discovered cronometer.com that does the same as the calculator above, but for each specific food item. I then inputted this diet, realized both that certain items were unnecessary (like tahini which I no longer consume) and that I was likely lacking in other nutrients (like vitamin A, hence the addition of carrot juice).

I also made some choices beyond the above:

  • I mostly consume broccoli as a vegetable. The reason is that this to me seems like one of the most researched vegetables and it seems quite high ranging in terms of positive health effects. It is also easily available year round and it is relatively easy to cook in a healthy manner.
  • I have added “convenient variety” by eating a wide range of legumes. I do not think this is strictly necessary but I understand that variety is a factor making a diet more healthy. And it is super easy to include different legumes in the diet as I simply open cans of beans.
  • Certain things are impacted by living in a family with 2 small kids. I would have liked to eat brown rice, but we always forget to put it on in time (it takes forever to cook!).
  • There are certain items I have included not because of strict nutritional needs. Examples are:
    • Green tea - to stay focused throughout the day
    • Raisins - I am working out quite a bit and have a goal of building muscle in my core as I do desk bound work and have a small back injury
    • Olive oil - I include a bit of this to try to approximate the Mediterranean diet given my vegan and time-efficiency concerns
  • I also encourage people to try to make the diet more appetizing and varied if possible. For example, I used to sprinkle turmeric, cumin, chili and some other spices on top of the beans with some olive oil. I also used to sprinkle cinnamon on top of my porridge. I do not have time for that right now but might do so again in the future - spices do contain a lot of nutrients and seem to confer quite a bit of benefits compared to their quantity, e.g. like turmeric.

After 10 years on the diet - how am I doing?

I feel pretty good and all metrics I have evaluated (blood tests and other medical check-ups, though not for diets specifically) shows that I am super healthy. I do exercise according to common advice (e.g. 150 minutes vigorous exercise per week) so my health is not only down to diet. I also have very low levels of stress - this could possibly be partially explained by the diet e.g. through superb gut health. Yeah, on that, gut health does mean slightly elevated levels of gas production - you’ve been warned, haha!

I did try something very close to this diet for about 5 years. I then tried eating “rescued” meat a couple of times and suddenly I was consistently waking up 30-60 minutes before the alarm clock. I do not know what happened there but I have since eaten rescued meat a couple of times per week in order to increase my waking hours (I value being awake more than asleep!). If I remember correctly, I was then taking B12 supplements so it was something more than that I think.

I have also had one episode where I got this slight tension in my head for a couple of months. The doctor said maybe it was zinc deficiency but taking supplements did not help. I did not change my diet and it went away. 

Lately, and after COVID, I have had the return of these slight tensions in my head but I do not think it is down to the diet. COVID for me also coincided with having 2 small kids and the doctor told me many dads (!) came to him complaining that they didn’t feel that good after having kids.

Just sharing the above as there is some possibility these challenges could be at least partially due to my diet.

I live with my partner and our 2 small kids. The diet is actually a good thing in this context as they eat much more meat than I do. This has the following benefits:

  1. Whatever they eat, we need to prepare much less of it as there is 1 adult less to consider (much less chopping of onions!) - saving time
  2. It is cheaper for the family overall
  3. The kids are occasionally curious and seem to think tofu for example, is not that bad (even uncooked straight out of the packaging as I consume it!)
  4. The diet lets me eat pretty vegan while my family eat a more typical carnivorous diet without the need for time and hassle of preparing 2 different meals every time.

Uncertainties/further investigations

I am a bit uncertain about creatine. Is that what might have caused my energy boost from eating meat? Or should I take extra anyways?

With the diet I am kind of hoping for both increased energy levels in the short-term and longevity/extended productive life in the long-term. Is any subset of Bryan Johnson’s supplement regime likely to be low-cost and uncontroversially likely to help me out? I have heard that caffeine is not that great and I consume a lot of green tea. Apart from sleeping more, is there more I can do? I also consume a bit of nicotine for productivity, probably offsetting some of the benefits of my diet. My nicotine consumption is probably on average about 1mg/day so still pretty low (13mg in a cigarette!).

A last thought I have had is that what might have made the Mediterranean diet impactful was that the food was good tasting (perhaps the nutrients in the food somehow interacts with endorphins released during eating?) and also eaten in a social, slow context. While I eat with my family, it is often done quickly and it is definitely nowhere as tasty as what I think most people on the Mediterranean diet eat.

Thanks to @Arepo for quickly reading through (mistakes are my own) and coming with suggestions for improvements, especially pointing me to the cronometer.com website which let me fine-tune my diet and not just this post!

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:34 AM

Super interesting, and it seems like a good alternative to food in a bottle for sure. Unfortunately I don't think I could live on this, because I derive so much joy from cooking and eating :D 


For anyone else considering this diet, but wants more variety/tastiness easily, I have some suggestions: 
 

  • add frozen berries to the porridge, they have amazing nutritional value 
  • use smoked tofu instead of plain, it adds so much taste 
  • rotate the green veggies in winter: kale and brussel sprouts are in season, and more nutritionally valuable than out-of-season broccoli

Yeah, I tried to emphasize the ascetic part haha! Oh and the tofu I eat is straight out of the packaging, I just give it a rinse. So pretty bare-bones!

Hehe, it certainly is ascetic! 
I actually eat smoked tofu the same way, no need to fry it, it's super tasty that way :)

You might want to consider iron supplements or eating in ways that increases iron intake (e.g. consume vitamin c-rich food with the leafy greens.) It stood out to me that you didn't mention iron and it might have been the energy-boosting factor when you were eating meat. 

Thanks Anam - I will try that right away actually as it is so easy to do. That said, my blood tests showed more than appropriate iron levels when I last checked. Also, according to cronometer I seem to be getting plenty of iron (tofu, oats, peanuts) but vitamin C can probably be boosted - it is only broccoli that provides this currently and I am "only" at ~140% of RDA for vit C. Maybe I'll try both iron and vit C supplements - can't hurt as long as I am not risking going over the safe upper limit. Super helpful tip!

My diet is very similar to this one. I'm curious what other knowledgeable people think about the lack of variety in vegetables/fruits. I'm also curious about other people's takes on the lack of probiotics.

My not very informed take on probiotics is that if you eat similar quantities of fiber like me, and lots of green leafy greens and legumes, this is what is best known to support a healthy bacterial environment in the gut. I also have in periods eaten miso and kimchi in order to get more live bacteria into my gut but have stopped and not noticed much difference. 

Oh and on variety in fruits/veggies - I supplement opportunistically. So if I am hungry, have time and there is an orange in front of me, I'll eat it. But I won't go out of my way to do this. I also have some fresh pressed juice every morning (orange, apple, pineapple and some smaller quantities of ginger etc). But variety in vegetables is something I am currently not getting. For the first 5 years I varied between broccoli, cauliflower and crimini mushroom (when I had time - before kids!) but not sure that covered the nutritional needs as well as my current diet. But maybe variety is more important than exactly hitting all RDAs - I think science is not clear here. Would be interesting to see e.g. in blue zones how many people hit the RDA on all nutrients. If they don't that is strong evidence that it is not super important, at least not for all nutrients.

The lack of variety of vegetable and almost no fruits looks kinda worrying to me, I've always been told that this is crucial for a healthy diet, but I'm not sure if it's true.  

Yes I think this is a weakness of this diet too. I asked GPT to list the veggies most commonly seen in blue zones, and if I recollect correctly one might want to consider adding garlic, onions and perhaps sweet potatoes and tomatoes too (I think there were a couple of others). Also, kale and brussels sprouts have a similar nutritional profile to broccoli and could work well in this diet too. For me it is not possible due to time constraints (unless my kids suddenly one day go "dad I want to live healthily and long, please make me veggies!") but I am likely to diversify once I get a bit more time back. But I think as it stands it is a vast improvement over Huel, I am guessing like 80% of improvement with 20% of effort type of situation. Also, I do advise to opportunistically eat fruits (or different vegetables) whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

Curious about the "rescue meat" thing.

My take is that buying "about-to-expire meat on discount when in the grocery store" incentivizes meat production less than buying expensive super-fresh premium meat.

On the other hand, stores that visibly see meat rotting on the shelves may be (emotionally?) inclined to reduce their meat orders in the future.

Yeah I might definitely be using some motivated reasoning here. Happy to take feedback here especially backed up by evidence.

What does raisins have to do with "building muscle in my core"?

It's not super well thought through but my understanding is that you need lots of carbs to bulk up, not just protein. And I'm the skinny type so that seems extra fitting in my circumstances. I then thought what is a high carb food that would further diversify my diet and raisins seemed easy and cheap.

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