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Brainstorming session

What is the cheapest possible way of feeding yourself while still providing the body with ALL the essential nutrients?

Image credit: Karolina Grabowska

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 18, 2020
The goal of this brainstorming session is to contribute a meal recipe which takes into consideration all three requirements:
  1. The cheapest possible way of feeding oneself while still providing the body with ALL the essential nutrients in optimal quantities
  2. The least amount of excess nutrients once the essentials have been met. In this case, the excess is seen as a necessary evil which should be reduced as much as possible
  3. Adequate taste/experience of the meal is desirable but not crucial
For the sake of simplicity and to standardize the recipes let's take an imaginary average 30 y/o male. Also, let's bundle all the amino acids into the "protein" group. The list below is based on this calculator of the daily nutrient requirements.

Nutrient and daily requirements for a 30 y/o male

  • Protein 64 g/day
  • Fluids (Including plain water, milk, and other drinks) 2.3 L/day
  • Fibre 30 g/day
  • Vitamin A 900 μg/day of retinol equivalents
  • Thiamin 1.2 mg/day
  • Riboflavin 1.3 mg/day
  • Niacin 16 mg/day of niacin equivalents
  • Vitamin B6 1.3 mg/day
  • Vitamin B12 2.4 μg/day
  • Folate 400 μg/day as dietary folate equivalents
  • Vitamin C 45 mg/day
  • Calcium 1000 mg/day
  • Iodine 150 μg/day
  • Iron 8 mg/day
  • Magnesium 400 mg/day
  • Potassium 3800 mg/day
  • Sodium 460-920 mg/day
  • Zinc 14 mg/day

I imagine a recipe list like this would be useful to people who don't want to or can't afford to waste any resources over what is absolutely necessary to meet their basic sustenance needs. This would be also useful to people who don't want to damage their bodies with excess nutrients. This will be especially necessary for future space travel.

Consider that food refrigeration adds to the overall cost and is thus not desirable.

Your recipe ingredients might be available locally but not be everywhere. That's ok. Make sure you note it in your contribution. Others can point out substitutes that are available elsewhere in the world.

Please give it your best shot below. Create one such recipe which meets the above 3 requirements.
Creative contributions

Wild edible plants, mushrooms, and algae

Povilas S
Povilas S May 09, 2021
I always wanted to test whether wild plants alone could be enough for a wholesome diet. This session was a perfect opportunity to (at least theoretically) do it. The short answer is - yes, they can.

I gathered the data about nutritional composition of various common wild edible plants, mushrooms, and algae and composed this data table (you might need to download it to be able to access full information in each separate cell). For each essential nutrient listed in this session I named two or more wild edibles that are rich in that nutrient enough so that one would need to consume low to moderate amounts of the plant to reach the daily norm of that nutrient. Exact amounts of the nutrients per 100 g of each plant/mushroom are given in the table along with the links to the data sources providing that information. I also added total energy value (kcal), carbohydrates, and fat to the initial list according to this online calculator (assuming the "average" 30 y.o. male with a height of 180 cm and weight of 70 kg).

All the plants, mushrooms, and algae in the table have a wide distribution area either in Eurasia or North America, or both. However, each specific geographic area where certain individual lives would require separate desk research to cover the nutritional spectrum with local wild edibles. This attempt was just to prove that it's relatively easy to find common wild plants that would fill all the nutritional needs.

Such a table could further be expanded including more and more plant, mushroom, and algae species making it an evergrowing database and then connected to wild plant utilization app. Such technology would let any person residing in any natural environment know which plants to collect to provide themselves with a wholesome wild (and free) diet.

Naturally - the warmer and more humid the climate, the easiest is to depend on wild plants. Places with some evergreen flora available all year round are the best for this. It is nevertheless possible in regions with expressed winter season, but it would require much more planning and relying on the preservation of foraged goods.

Proteins and essential amino acids

In the table I placed special emphasis on proteins because they are often considered difficult to obtain from a plant-based diet let alone a plant-based wild diet. Therefore I provided more wild edible plant (and a couple of mushroom) species for protein category than for any other nutrient category. Concerning essential amino acids, the same rule that is valid for general plant-based diet is valid for wild plant-based diet - you have to have two or more different plant protein sources, so if you are eating nuts, you should also eat nutritious stems or underground parts of other plant or/and grains of another.

Judging from a few articles that did provide data about the exact composition of amino acids of certain wild plants, those plants that have high protein content usually have good amino acid content as well and if few are below the norm in a certain species they can be obtained from other wild plant sources. Mushrooms are a good option for non-animal proteins, differently than plants, the same species tend to contain full spectrum of all the essential amino acids. That's one of the reasons I included them in the table.

B12 and Iodine

Vitamin B12 is the toughest nut to crack when it comes to plant-based diet. The only truly reliable natural food source of it seems to be sea algae. Different articles tend to emphasize different algae species, but one genus that is generally agreed to have sufficient amounts of B12 is Porphyra. Porphyra spp. are distributed worldwide. Sushi sheets are made from algae of this genus. Consuming few grams of dried Porphyra algae should be enough to meet the daily norm of vitamin B12. However, if you live far from the sea, wild foraging of sea algae is not an option.

Alternatively, some mushrooms, namely shiitake mushrooms, golden chanterelles, and black chanterelles have been reported to contain considerable amounts of B12. But to obtain sufficient amounts of this vitamin from them alone a person would have to consume 50 -200 g of dried mushrooms per day, which is practically infeasible. However, they could serve as a partial supplement for someone who loves mushrooms.

Seaweeds are also an excellent source of iodine, some containing few or even tens of times the daily norm in one gram of their dried mass! For those who are not fortunate to live close enough to the sea, it's best to get both iodine and B12 from supplements. Iodine is easily obtained by eating iodized salt and for B12 you'd have to buy commercial supplements, but even then this sort of wild plant food-based diet would still be super cheap moneywise.

Other things to note:

Wild edibles are not the easiest way to feed yourself, but it's definitely the cheapest (free) and the most off-grid one. It takes just as much (or arguably even less) knowledge and skills as hunting and fishing and doesn't require killing wild animals.

In addition, wild edible plants often contain bioactive compounds that are beneficial for health - flavonoids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, etc. Plants growing in the wild tend to have higher concentrations of these compounds, because they are exposed to harsher environmental conditions, than garden plants. Plant food that is bought in mass supermarkets has the least, if any, of such compounds, because the growth conditions for crop plants are made as favorable as possible in order to maximize nutritional value and attractive product appearance.
Generally all well-known (enough information about plant edibility from various sources should be available) wild edible plants and mushrooms are safe to eat, but one should study the details about consumption of each particular plant/mushroom. It's often safer to eat thermally processed wild plants since toxic compounds are usually broken by heat, but many wild plants, especially leaf vegetables such as ground elders, lamb's quarters, and sorrels can be eaten raw without any danger. Sometimes only specific parts of the plant might be edible, while others toxic (e.g. bird cherry) or a plant might require specific processing to be edible (e.g. stinging nettles). However, with some dedication and practice the necessary knowledge and skills can be gained.

When picking wild plants it's also important not to devastate wild resources, a good rule of thumb is not to use more than 1/10 of a population of specific plant species. If there are 10 plants you can pick one, if ~ 100, you can pick ~10, etc.




Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 days ago
I propose a youtube video documenting someone's journey while living on wild plants alone for 30 days. Basically the opposite extreme to the Supersize me documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9__23-zjhM where a guy spent 30 days eating only junk food
Povilas S
Povilas S3 days ago
Darko Savic Yes, that's the next step. Maybe not necessarily so extreme at first, cause it would take plenty of time to get good at it, but I was thinking about starting a youtube channel on wild plant use - to travel with a van and try different possibilities of wild plant utilization at different places and film the process. Most likely someone is already doing something similar, but nevertheless would be cool
Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 days ago
Povilas S I remember watching this a long time ago https://youtu.be/H4mlcr1RRfc on tv. It might have been a longer version

Four simple instructions

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 21, 2020
While chatting with a couple of nutritionists, this issue came up. What is the cheapest way - without taking, health supplements or expensive exotic foodstuffs that have been highly researched and advertised - to consume a wholesome meal (that covers all the necessary nutrients)? The simplest and the common points dictated by the nutritionists were: 1. Eat fresh - The lesser the time from the harvest to consumption, the better is the quality and the quantity of the nutrients. 2. Eat seasonal - Seasonal fruits and vegetables grow in a particular season for a reason. They should not be avoided. 3. Prefer local - Your diet has been shaped by your previous generations. Try to follow that. Moreover, exotic foodstuffs may or may not be suitable for the weather you live in. 4. Get diverse - Do not stick to a type of diet. As a general rule, your plate should look colorful. The colors of foodstuffs are due to their contents (nutrients).


Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce Nov 04, 2020
It's really hard to fit all these nutrients in every meal. To solve the problem I went for supplements. Personally, I use the Formula 1 from Herbalife, so I'm gonna tell you my pros for that :
  • cheap: 1.5 euros per meal
  • time-saving or not: there are many recipes you can get creative with, but if you are in a rush you just throw it in any very basic smoothies, and you are done
  • I do find the taste great and flexible
  • the nutrients are exactly what OMS suggests (but calories are less, so in case you want to pair them too you can add something else)
  • ingredients are high quality

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General comments

Spook Louw
Spook Louw4 days ago
This is an interesting one, to decide on a healthy diet, we'd need to reach a conclusion on what is considered "healthy". I bring this up because I know of many people here in Africa, and I'm sure this is common all over, who don't get a fraction of the "recommended daily intake" but I would still classify them as healthy.
Many people around here live off mainly meat and rice or porridge and maize meal. While the lack of certain nutrients is apparent, a lot of them are physically strong and live long lives, so would that not be considered healthy?
I realize that in your session you specified "cheapest possible way of feeding oneself while still providing the body with ALL the essential nutrients in optimal quantities". But what I'm trying to say is that our idea of "essential" might be mistaken.
Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 days ago
Spook Louw agreed. Are they thriving or surviving though? Their quality of life might be sub-optimal if they are missing some nutrients. If we are designing a diet, we might as well go for optimal:) I agree we might not know what optimal is. We can take our best educated guess based on existing research.