Is just a diet of fruits and vegetables sufficient?

You have heard me say it time and time again. Fruits and vegetables should be one of the most important parts of our overall diet. They contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals which are important to our overall health. However, they generally do not contain enough of important nutrients to meet all of our estimated nutrition needs.

Protein is an example of a nutrient that is generally insufficient in fruits and vegetables alone. Protein is essential for building new cells and for the growth and repair of damaged tissues. Meat from animals is an excellent source of protein. Non-meat sources of protein include legumes, lentils, meat substitutes, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables do contain some protein, but it is in small amounts and one would need to consume a whole lot of fruits and vegetables to meet her protein needs. Let’s say, for example, that someone needed to consume around 60 grams of protein a day. One medium apple contains only 0.5 grams of protein and one cup of broccoli provides 2.6 grams. You could throw in a cup of spinach for another three grams for a total of 6.1 grams. As you can see, it is going to take one a ways to reach the 60 gram per day protein goal. The addition of ¼ cup peanut butter (~7 grams) and 1.2 cup lima beans (7.3 grams) and ½ cup lentils (9 grams) totaling 23.3 grams would certainly help one to reach goals faster (and it would not be as assaulting on the digestive system.)

Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that would be difficult to obtain enough of if one only consumed fruits and vegetables. This vitamin helps your body produce red blood cells, helps support your immune system, and encourages healthy nerve function. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal sources. So, one consuming only fruits and vegetables and skipping meat and dairy can have trouble reaching the daily recommended 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 (2.6 mcg if you’re pregnant and 2.8 mcg if you’re breastfeeding).

Calcium is a very important nutrient in our body. It is essential for keeping our bones strong. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, sources of well-absorbed calcium includes: milk and dairy products, fish with bones, calcium-fortified soy milk and juice, calcium-set tofu, soybeans and soynuts, bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and okra . Grains, beans (other than soybeans), fruits, and vegetables (other than those listed) can contribute to calcium intake but cannot replace these key foods. I counsel my patients to try to consume vegetables that are high in calcium but in order to meet one’s calcium goals, one would need to also consume a variety of soy products, grains and beans.

The benefits of fruits and vegetables are many. If you want to become a vegetarian or vegan (exclude all animal products), you would need to consume beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, in addition to fruits and vegetables, in order to obtain all of the necessary nutrients to support your health.

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