For years, five servings of fruits and vegetables seemed to be the benchmark of a healthy diet. No one was eating enough of them. Then, last year, a study by Imperial College London found that doubling the amount to ten was way healthier and could prevent up to 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide every year. Still, experts are pretty sure no one is eating enough.
The study's lead author, Dagfinn Aune, notes that fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system. Aune posited that this may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold, suggesting that antioxidants—which may reduce DNA damage—can lead to a reduction in cancer risk.
If ten servings of fruits and vegetables is demonstrably better than five, we might wonder if a diet made up exclusively of them would be even better. So for those considering a raw food diet, or just thinking of about going HAM with fruits and veggies to make up for the thoughtfully curated trash they’ve been consuming (a friendly reminder: It doesn’t work this way), here’s what would most likely happen.
You’d have an imbalance of macronutrients
Fruits and veggies are good places to find fiber and carbohydrates, but you don't want to count on them to provide enough of the fat and protein—macronutrients, two of the primary building blocks of your diet—that you need. Fat is necessary for healthy mental function, energy, nutrient metabolism, and effective twerking, while you need protein for strong muscles and a robust immune system.
A loss of muscle mass and strength is on the cards if you lived by fruits and vegetables alone, says New York-based nutritionist Amy Shapiro. “You can get the protein you need from a plant-based diet, but without grains it would be hard to accomplish getting complete proteins on the regular.”
You’ll reduce inflammation in your body
If you’re making a switch from eating meat, cheese, and processed foods, you’re likely going to see a dip in inflammation—which is a negative side effect of your body's attempt to heal itself after an injury; defend itself against foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria; and repair damaged tissue. This 2013 study found that all of these foods are associated with elevated levels of inflammation. Worse, chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
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By way of contrast, plant-based diets are naturally anti-inflammatory because they’re high in fiber and antioxidants and much lower in inflammatory triggers like saturated fat and endotoxins (toxins released from bacteria commonly found in animal foods). Studies have shown that people who adopt plant-based diets can dramatically lower their level of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation in the body.
Your energy level will likely drop
If you’re an active man, you could expect to burn between 2,400 and 2,800 calories per day. If you’re a woman, that number is more like 1,800 to 2,200 calories. Absent of grains, seeds, nuts, and oils, it’s devilishly tricky to hit these kinds of numbers. By way of a visual, 2200 calories is around 100 cups of shredded cabbage, 23 apples, or a literal shit ton of prunes.
Those aren’t your only options, of course, and an avocado will certainly give you a caloric boost. But even if you spread your energy requirements out across every produce item you could think of, it’s still a daunting amount of vegetation, and lacking in the types of carbs that help us focus and power through vigorous activities.
You won’t get important vitamins and minerals
“A diet with fruits and vegetables alone as the sole source of fuel sustenance would be lacking in several key nutrients, as well as total calorie volume,” says New York-based nutritionist Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck. She explains that while many popular dietary plans—such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and Mediterranean diet—have fruits and vegetables at their core, they also incorporate balanced meal planning with all food groups represented.
Notable by their absence would be vitamin B12 and vitamin D. You could also run the risk of an iron deficiency. And while spinach and other leafy, dark green vegetables are rich in iron, they also contain chemicals called phytates that are believed to block absorption of the mineral and could potentially result in anemia—when blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Isn’t that ironic?
You’d lose weight
While lacking in certain key areas, vegetables and fruits offer a lower satiating source of energy, thanks to their high fiber and water contents. “Most would agree that feeling full helps them to eat less, potentially leading to weight loss,” Di Figlia-Peck says, adding that simply seeing a full plate also has a similar fork-dropping effect, as it tricks our brain into thinking we have eaten a lot and should therefore be full. And with a diet of only fruits and vegetables you’d be pooping like a coked-up Clydesdale, which would certainly have you feeling lighter than before.
And you may feel less bloated
Shapiro says that you’d likely feel better after eliminating items like dairy and grains but that it would depend on your body and microbiome, the collection of microorganisms living in our bodies. Shapiro says that some people have a hard time digesting the carbohydrate/sugar molecules in certain fruits and veggies which could cause bloating.
Your blood cholesterol levels will probably plummet
Studies show that when people go plant-based, their blood cholesterol levels drop by up to 35 percent. In many cases, the drop-off is equal to that seen with drug treatment, which can be monumental for people looking to lower their cholesterol and not have to take meds to do it. “Plants have tons of fiber, which is key in reducing cholesterol levels,” Shapiro says, adding that they are also void of fat and lower in sugars—important ingredients to minimize when trying to decrease cholesterol levels.
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