After all this, is there a perfect five-a-day? I set about doing what should have been done before any of this started. I went back to the USDA nutrition database and tried to get the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) from just five foods. This can be achieved with 100 grams of liver, 200 grams of sardines, 200 grams of whole milk, 100 grams of sunflower seeds and 200 grams of broccoli (1,300 calories). There will be infinite combinations of real foods that can provide the RDAs, but I started from the ones known to be highly nutritious.
For interest, I repeated the experiment for a vegetarian diet and the biggest challenge became vitamin D. The RDAs could be met with five foods: 500 grams of whole milk, 450 grams of eggs (10 medium eggs), 300 grams of spinach, 250 grams of raw mushrooms grown in sunshine and 50 grams of sunflower seeds (1,360 calories). Dietary advisors applaud people for choosing a vegetarian diet, but then tell them to avoid eggs and to consume low-fat milk. It then becomes practically impossible for a vegetarian to meet even minimal nutritional requirements. I had returned to eating meat and fish before the research for this part of the book, but, this exercise gave me great concern about what lasting damage I may have done to my health during years of not eating meat and fish. Gwyneth Paltrow may also be re-evaluating her diet after sharing her medical experience on her health website (June 2010). Paltrow’s vitamin D levels were tested by doctors in New York, following a “pretty severe” bone fracture and they “turned out to be the lowest they had ever seen.”[viii]
Vegans can’t get B12 naturally and they would need to eat 2.25 kilograms of (raw sunshine grown) mushrooms in a fat delivery mechanism (e.g. vegetable oil) to get the ‘adequate intake’ for vitamin D and an unusual food like oriental dried radishes to get their calcium – and to repeat this daily. For completeness, the five vegan foods would be 2.25 kilograms of mushrooms, 175 grams of porridge oats, 25 grams of sunflower seeds, 100 grams of oriental dried radishes and 300 grams of spinach (in more vegetable oil) and a vitamin B12 supplement. Without the calories in the vegetable oil, the vegan basket adds up to 1,644 calories – the highest of all three sample ways of getting our nutritional requirement.