In college, I vaguely recall my instructor mentioning it was possible to live on beans and rice alone. When put together, all the essential amino acids can be obtained. I've also heard that it is possible to live on brown rice alone though I'm not sure.

From a Buddhist perspective, regarding choice of ingredients what is the minimum number of ingredients that one can get by and still be nutritionally complete, preferring plant and dairy sources, if possible. Recently a soy drink called Soylent[1] has been available which claims to be nutritionally complete but I was hoping to find a natural, fresh alternative. It's also discussed on SE Skeptics [2].

I do understand that eating the same dish every day can become bland, but it seems like the right thing to do from a Buddhism perspective, valuing simplicity.

There is a research article on pubmed which used the Campbells Wellness plan but seems to take include non-vegetarian ingredients.

An article on NPR [4] takes on the issue but still leaves the reader guessing.

[1] http://www.soylent.me/

[2] https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/17347/is-soylent-a-nutritionally-complete-shake

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10491676

[4] http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/05/03/151932410/man-cannot-live-on-rice-and-beans-alone-but-many-do

  • I know about Soylent. It is made with fish oil. I abstain from eating animal products so Soylent is not a viable source for me keeping to the precepts.
    – Thien
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 14:09
  • I agree with ChrisW's opening sentence (even though he went on to answer!). Adding "From a Buddhist perspective" doesn't actually give this question a Buddhist perspective. It's a question about diet, and Soylent in particular. Voting to close.
    – tkp
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 19:01
  • yes i too agree. his reminder about ascetism was really great. I thought about it several times today especially when I added some sour cream to my beans and rice during lunch.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 19:23
  • @tkp I answered it because some people may become vegetarian when they become Buddhist, without having previous (cultural) experience with being vegetarian. For example, All that said, about half of US Buddhist I know are vegetarian. That is 25 times higher than the national rate.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 22:29
  • Another (more specifically Buddhist) topic about diet is What dietary practices are most helpful for reaching enlightenment?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 22:33

1 Answer 1


I interpret this as a modern science question about nutritional completeness (so I don't see how adding "from a Buddhism perspective" changes the the nature of the question).

Some lay Buddhists prefer to be vegetarian, in which case I could recommend Wikipedia's Vegetarian nutrition article as an introduction to the nutritional aspects of that choice.

In summary, some of the nutrients which a naive vegetarian/vegan diet can eventually lack include protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and calcium.

You may find that you must deliberately include, in your diet, substances which the average person is warned they have too much of: for example (iodized) salt, and oil.

Conventional scientific advice includes that you should have a varied diet (even if that diet is vegetarian).

IMO, beware that the diet which sustains you for a week or month or year might not be adequate to sustain you for decades. Vitamin/mineral pills might help. If your doctor knows you're vegetarian, he/she may help to monitor your health (e.g. measuring serum ferritin and whatnot occasionally).

The dietary rules for monks might be different (e.g. perhaps they eat whatever they're given).

I suppose there are other aspects of diet that are important:

  • How much?
  • When?
  • For what purpose?
  • With whom?

You presumably know that the Middle Way suggests you don't get too heavily into asceticism.

On the subject of "rice and beans" here's a recipe I use:

  • cooked (optionally canned) of beans, well rinced (or iirc lentils have more iron than other beans)
  • cooked rice (quantity depends on your caloric need)
  • tinned sweet corn, well rinced (ditto)
  • plenty of chopped raw vegetables: red or green pepper, onion, apple, celery
  • oil (e.g. olive oil), lemon juice, and salt

The vegetables in this dish are robust (adding e.g. sliced cucumber would make it more perishable) so IMO you can keep it in the refrigerator for 2 days (and thus prep it once and eat it for 3 days in a row).

What you were saying about amino acids is called the "complementary protein" theory. Here is a claim about that:

While the idea that we need to combine proteins from different plant sources at every single meal has been refuted, it is still important to stress that in order to get proper nutrition one needs to eat variety of different plant foods every day, so that in each 24-hour period one gets all the essential amino acids.

  • Yeah I didnt think of the ascetic aspect of a plain diet; I'm glad you pointed it out.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 16:46
  • That podcast you had me listen to yesterday included his saying something like, "Being in good health is the slowest way to die." :-)
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 16:51

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