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Could You Survive On Just One Food?

If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? That’s a question asked way too many times, whether that’s at your awkward icebreaker game on the first day of your new job or in a fun family gathering. Now, I admit I’ve overanalyzed this question – I don’t think my teachers and family really care about what the dire situation is that resulted in this unfortunate scenario or my will to live after being forced to eat kale for the rest of my life, but with many of my brain cells spent on this question, I’ve finally figured out the best answer to this question depending on the scenario.

This time, you have been cursed by a (nice) sorcerer, so you must choose one food to eat everyday.

You have been cursed by a sorcerer, and now you must eat a certain food everyday. You can eat other foods as well.

This situation might actually be good for your health, as eating a nutrient-packed superfood is a great way to improve your health, lose weight, and even reduce aging. But what are these superfoods? Some good options for superfoods include leafy greens, blueberries, nuts, and plain yogurt.

Leafy greens, which includes vegetables such as kale, arugula, collard greens, and spinach, are known for being nutrient-dense and packed with important minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. In fact, raw kale, despite its less-than-delicious taste in my opinion, contains 684% of the recommended daily value for vitamin K and 206% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A in just one cup.

Meanwhile, blueberries and other fruits are also great for your health, especially for preventing scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused by the lack of vitamin C resulting in severe symptoms, including bleeding gums, weakness, fatigue, and rash, eventually progressing to hemorrhaging, tooth decay, bruising, organ failure, and eventually death. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, as well as antioxidants and anthocyanin, which is a plant compound that has antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-obesity effects.

Nuts are also a good food to eat regularly, since they contain many healthy oils, proteins, and vitamin E. However, nuts do have a high calorie count, so they should only be eaten in moderation.

In addition, yogurt is a great way to boost your immune system and maintain bone health as it’s filled with healthy probiotics and calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin D, making it something that definitely won’t be a curse to eat everyday.

This time, you are a Medieval (or whatever time period you prefer, perhaps France late 1700s?) peasant, and you can choose only one food to produce.

You are a Medieval farmer, and you can only choose one food to produce. The food can be prepared with minimal seasoning and additional ingredients.

In this situation, it’s best to pick a versatile food that can be cooked into many different dishes. Luckily, potatoes are incredibly versatile and carbohydrate-rich food that has a surprising amount of protein for a starchy vegetable. A traditional white potato contains all of the essential amino acids, and by eating five potatoes a day, a 120 pound adult would be able to fulfill the recommended daily intake for all essential amino acids.

Potatoes are also a decent source of iron, and are a good source of vitamin C, B1, B3 and B6 and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and magnesium content. However, potatoes would quickly lead to deficiency in other vitamins and minerals, as it would require 84 white potatoes a day to prevent a calcium deficiency and 25 white potatoes a day for the recommended amount of protein.

Nevertheless, this type of diet has been tried before, as in 2016, an Australian man named Andrew Taylor ate potatoes for an entire year – and lost 117 pounds. His diet was all potatoes, seasoned with herbs, spices, and fat-free sauces, along with a Vitamin B12 supplement.

Yet, Andrew Taylor is far from the only person who had a potato-rich diet. In Ireland in the 19th century before the Irish Potato Famine, conflicts between the Irish and British caused farmers to rely on potatoes to feed themselves, since potatoes are capable of growing even in poor conditions. During this time, the Irish were living almost solely on potatoes with a bit of salt fish and oatmeal, and they were reported to have eaten 7 to 14 pounds of potatoes a day. With three potatoes a pound, 14 pounds of potatoes a day would be equivalent to around 42 potatoes a day. Despite the lack of variety in this diet, it was described by a historian that, “…the Irish in general and Irish women in particular were widely described as healthy and good-looking.”

This theory of eating only potatoes plus an additional milk to survive was actually tested by Cecil Adams, the columnist at the Chicago Reader advice column, when he ran numbers using a spreadsheet on the key nutrients needed to survive. It was found that while this diet fell a little short on iron, folate, and niacin fronts, a lot of vitamin E and had absolutely no molybdenum, a diet of just potatoes and milk would be a decent choice if you could only choose one or two foods to eat.

“If you have to choose one food, if you’re one of the people that’s getting sent to Mars, choose potatoes… I’m not trying to be evangelical about potatoes, but it was a really good experience for me.”

Andrew Taylor, ate only potatoes for a year
Imagine you’re stuck on an abandoned island and you can only eat one food on this island…

You are on an abandoned island with no food or water, and you must stick strictly to one food only that cannot be cooked or otherwise prepared.

Unfortunately, there is no food that will provide all the nutrients you need to survive. However, one food has been of interest – human milk. Babies rely on human milk for the first few months of their life to survive, and that’s because human milk provides all of the essential nutrients for the growth and development of the baby. Human milk is a great source of protein, fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates.

But could an adult survive on human milk? Human milk doesn’t contain any fiber, and a lack of fiber in your diet could cause an unhealthy digestive system, causing loose stools and stomach pain. A low-fiber diet is known to increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and diverticulosis.

In addition, human milk contains very little iron, and this is because infants have iron stored in their body for the first four months of their life. But since you’re likely not an infant and humans don’t produce iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, and this may cause iron deficiency anemia. It’s rare to die from this type of anemia, but in more severe cases, the anemia can cause hypoxia and exacerbate existing pulmonary and cardiovascular issues. Since the red blood cells aren’t able to carry as much oxygen, the heart needs to work harder to deliver oxygen to your organs, and this can cause a thickening of the heart wall, called left ventricular hypertrophy, which can be serious if left untreated.

As for the vitamins, human milk contains sufficient levels of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and pantothenic acid (B5), but this can vary depending on the health of the mother.

Nevertheless, on an island with no food or water, human milk is made up of 90% water and contains many fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and sugars that could theoretically give you enough calories and nutrients to survive, although eventually the lack of fiber, iron, and other nutrients may gradually lead to damage to your organs. So, in total, human milk would likely be your best bet when stuck on an island with no food or water, since meats don’t contain enough fiber or nutrients while fruits and vegetables don’t contain enough fats or proteins.

The question of where you’re finding this human milk and whether or not you still have the will to live after being forced to eat only human milk for the rest of your life is something I can’t help with. Maybe try negotiating with that pesky sorcerer?

**Disclaimer: This website is not meant to provide medical or nutrition advice! A diet consisting of only one food is not recommended by nutritionists, so please only take this advice if you happen to run into a sticky situation with a sorcerer who specializes in food…

Bibliography

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Airhart, E. (2017, September 18). Is there a single food that you can survive on forever? Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.popsci.com/nutrition-single-food-survival/

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Bilodeau, K. (2018, April 5). Eat these foods daily (or at least often). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eat-these-foods-daily-or-at-least-often-2018040513582

Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2020, September 21). Iron. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/iron.html

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Greenwood, V. (2017, February 27). Could you survive on just one food? Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170224-what-food-would-keep-you-alive-the-longest

Harper, J. L. (2020, September 30). What is the prognosis of chronic iron deficiency anemia? Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.medscape.com/answers/202333-153114/what-is-the-prognosis-of-chronic-iron-deficiency-anemia

The Health Benefits of Superfoods. (2019, March 18). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2019/march/the-health-benefits-of-superfoods

The Irish Potato Famine. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2007/benrud_jaco/index_files/Page585.htm

Kilroy, J. (2016, July 7). 4 Foods You Could (Almost) Exclusively Live Off Of. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.foodbeast.com/news/4-foods-you-could-almost-exclusively-live-off-of/

King, J. C., & Slavin, J. L. (2013). White potatoes, human health, and dietary guidance. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(3), 393S–401S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.003525

Leiva, C. (2019, June 13). 10 dangers of a low-fiber diet, from constipation to colon cancer. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.insider.com/dangers-of-a-low-fiber-diet-constipation-to-colon-cancer-2019-6

Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division of FAO. (2008). Potatoes, nutrition and diet [PDF]. Rome, Italy: International Year of the Potato Secretariat Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
White, J. (2020, February 02). How to Stay Hydrated When You Are Breastfeeding. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/does-drinking-more-water-affect-breastfeeding-284285

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