The Theranos founder claimed that her diet gave her energy and required her to sleep less. Experts say otherwise.
There’s a lot to dissect about Elizabeth Holmes. There’s her deep, presumably fake voice, her gigantic blue eyes that never blink in public, her insistence on dressing like Steve Jobs, her propensity for lying to innocent people without remorse — and then there’s her diet.
Yes, even the Theranos founder’s diet has come under scrutiny in recent months, and for good reason: Like the rest of her choices, it’s a little … odd. She eats a short list of very specific foods (all vegan) in the name of being able to work long hours on little sleep, but it’s hardly your traditional high-energy diet of protein and healthy fats supplemented with a cup of coffee here and there.
To learn more about Holmes’ diet — and whether or not it actually works in the way she thinks it does — we consulted nutritionists who know just a little more about this topic.
Green Juice, Dressing-Less Salads And Oil-Free Spaghetti
In Bad Blood, author John Carreyou details Holmes’ daily green juice (spinach, parsley, wheatgrass, celery and cucumber) and bland, dressing-less salad that was prepared for her by a private chef. Occasionally, she threw some oil-free spaghetti in the mix. Sounds pretty boring, right? It’s not that nutritious, either.
According to nutritionist Tamar Samuels, this diet is extremely limited and lacking in key nutrients. “While green juices contain lots of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, they seriously lack in three essential nutrients — fiber, protein and fat,” she explained. “Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that supports our digestive system and fuels our microbiome.”
Another thing it’s lacking in? Fat and protein. “A healthy diet should include a balance of all the essential macro and micronutrients — protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and this one doesn’t,” Samuels said.
No Coffee, But The Occasional Chocolate-Covered Espresso Bean
Surprisingly, Holmes never turns to coffee, America’s favorite source of energy, but she did swear by a chocolate-covered espresso bean once in a while when she’s running low on fuel, according to Bad Blood. “A chocolate-covered coffee bean definitely doesn’t qualify as energy-inducing or we would all be eating them by the handful,” said nutritionist Karina Heinrich.
Heinrich did say that Holmes may have been on to something with the no-coffee thing, though, especially because she only slept four hours a night. “She didn’t consume a lot of caffeine, which has been shown to support a deeper sleep and help you fall asleep much faster than your coffee-drinking friends.”
A Vegan Diet
Holmes claimed that the reason she ate a vegan diet was so that she could work 16-hour days and function on four hours of sleep. Apparently, it gave her energy.
According to Samuels, there’s little evidence to support this theory. “There are no documented sleep benefits associated with a vegan diet,” she said. “Nutrition can absolutely influence your sleep patterns, but most of the current research suggests that the Mediterranean diet and macronutrient composition is more important for sleep.”
She added that eating a vegan diet might help with sleep because it is a higher carbohydrate and lower fat diet, but you don’t have to completely eliminate animal foods and fats to get these benefits. “Eating plant-based is something I recommend, but I define a plant-based as a diet that consists mostly of plants, but can also include pasture-raised animal proteins and animal products such as grass fed dairy and eggs.”
A Few Notes For Improvement
Not that Holmes is taking feedback from us, but both Heinrich and Samuels agree that there are a lot of tweaks she could make for a healthier diet.
“I would start by recommending she have a green smoothie instead of juice for breakfast,” Samuels said. “Smoothies have more fiber than juice and you can add lots of ingredients to smoothies to make them even more nutritious — avocado for healthy fat, yogurt for protein and probiotics, chia or flax seeds for fiber and Omega-3s would all be great options.”
She would make a few tweaks to that salad and pasta dish, too. “I would optimize the salad by adding healthy fats like avocado and an olive oil-based salad dressing,” she said. “I would try to add as many different colorful vegetables as possible, and maybe some chickpeas or other legumes for additional fiber and protein. For the pasta, I would experiment with the different bean-based pastas for additional protein and fiber. I love adding peas and greens to pasta for additional veggies and some olive oil pesto for some healthy fat.”
Heinrich is in agreement with Samuels’ additions, but she also notes that she’s missing fruit. “If Holmes were my client, I’d have her add some fruit to her diet, specifically berries, apples and maybe a banana every now and again.”
Yep, in turns out that whole green juice, salad and espresso bean diet isn’t that energy-inducing after all. But hey, she certainly pulled it off for a while there.
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