Looking for a healthy diet? In today’s post, as I continue with a ten-part series, “Why Diets Suck”, I analyze The Raw Food Vegan (or, Raw Vegan) Diet.
This diet has gotten more and more press lately, as it gains more and more adherents to its radical lifestyle. It’s almost a sort of cult, with Raw Vegan gurus promising health, longevity, and even a higher spirituality to anyone who would join it.
The diet consists of exactly what it says: uncooked vegan—or, exclusively plant—food. What makes a food raw is its living enzymes. If a food has been heated past 118 degrees Fahrenheit, the enzymes in the food are killed, and it is no longer raw.
Technically, you can call yourself a Raw Foodist if at least 75% of your diet consists of raw food. You can call yourself a Raw Food Vegan if none of the food you eat comes from animals. Although many (if not most) Raw Foodists eat some cooked food, such as steamed vegetables or herbal tea, others believe any cooked food to be toxic to the body and won’t touch it with a ten foot pole.
I bought into that not too long ago. For an entire year, I was a 100% Raw Food Vegan. After a friend told me that she and her husband experienced extraordinary weight loss and energy when they tried the diet, I started to read up on it.
It sounded like the perfect diet. Everything made sense, from the enzymes as a life-giving force, to green smoothies as the best way to get minerals into your body. So off I went, learning how to prepare raw gourmet dishes, and just knowing that I was going to live longer than everyone I knew who refused to see the Raw Vegan light.
Six months into the diet, I started experiencing symptoms. And began digging a little deeper. And began to find out
How the Raw Food Vegan Diet fails
1. A strict vegan diet is devoid of Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal foods. The typical argument is that, well, our guts manufacture that vitamin, therefore we don’t need to get it from food sources.
That’s all well and good—if your digestive system is one of the rare ones found on the planet (especially the USA where processed foods and drugs have messed us up since birth) that is functioning perfectly. But the fact is, you can’t know for sure how efficiently any of your organs are working, and the chances are better than not that you need a food source containing B12 in order to have the amount your body needs.
2. A vegan diet can lead to mineral deficiencies. I was doing everything right as a Raw Vegan, including eating at least a pound of greens every day, and a good bit of that in green smoothies. But six months into the diet, I noticed my hair getting thinner, and my fingernails were brittle and full of white spots. More frightening, my mind was beginning to act as though it were in the early stages of Alzheimers.
I began to research, and learned that my symptoms were signs of mineral deficiencies. I dug further, and found that the body absorbs iron and certain other minerals much more easily from meat sources than from plant sources.
3. Raw food vegans can be more prone tooth decay. According to Ramie Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, dental caries are caused not by sweet stuff stuck to our teeth, but by our body chemistry and blood sugar levels. Since raw vegans need to eat a lot of fruit to get the calories they need not to feel starving, they consume a lot of sugar. Too much sugar in the system causes calcium depletion. The body must take it from the bones in order to neutralize the acidic effects of the sugar in the blood.
Not every raw vegan experiences dental problems; however, they take a risk when they fill up on fruit. This is especially problematic for children, whose growing bodies need a lot of calcium and iron in order to develop correctly.
4. The Raw Vegan Diet ignores the fact that different people have different nutritional requirements. I know of a few people who seem to have excellent health (at least so far—it can take years for a B12 deficiency to develop) on the raw vegan diet. However, if you lurk on any of the Raw Food Vegan forums, in no time at all you will find threads where people are complaining that they can’t lose weight, or that they’re losing too much weight, or that they’re lethargic, or constipated, etc. after having been on the diet for some time.
On the other hand, I have heard people complain that they couldn’t lose any weight on this so-called “healthy” diet.
My brain functions much better, and I have more energy, when I am consuming animal products on a regular basis.
5. Eliminating animal products from your diet reduces your sex drive. Never mind how I know that. If you want further information, look up “John Kellogg” on wikipedia.com. You will never eat Corn Flakes again.
6. Raw food veganism has its roots in religion and animal activism rather than science. The vegetarian diet sprang up originally from such religions as Buddhism, which has as its first principle “I will be mindful and reverential with all life, I will not be violent nor will I kill,” and Hinduism, which also holds to non-violence as one of its primary principles.
Strict veganism arose, in part, out of the additional belief that the cholesterol and saturated fat found in eggs and milk are “bad.” Some vegan Christians add that because the original diet in the book of Genesis was solely plant-based, that is how we are to eat today.
Here are the facts about how humans have eaten for most of history:
• In the Bible, God gives humankind permission to eat meat after the Flood. Whether that was because our fallen bodies could no longer absorb the nutrients in plant food properly, or because people were about to inhabit parts of the earth where cold and snow excluded the possibility of eating fruits and vegetables year round, the story remains in black and white.
• People groups whose traditional diet is high in protein, thus saturated fat and cholesterol, but who do not consume any processed foods, have normal cholesterol levels and little to no heart disease among them. How do you tell them that they do not consume a healthy diet?
• The design of human teeth indicates that we were intended to eat both plant and animal food.
• There is no traditional society today that is strictly vegan. Even in the tropics, where fruit is the mainstay, insects are consumed either accidentally or even on purpose, as a gourmet treat.
• In areas of the world where there are groups or tribes that consume a mostly vegetarian diet, they are generally sicker and weaker than their meat-eating neighbors.
7. Certain plant foods are best used by the body when they are cooked. For example, plants from the Brassica family—broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.–contain a substance called goitrogens that may suppress thyroid function (depending on the person and the quantity eaten). Also, the phytochemical called lycopene in tomatoes is much more easily absorbed when they are cooked.
8. The Raw Food Vegan Diet is severely lacking in saturated fat. Some Raw Foodists recognize the importance of saturated fat, and so include raw coconut oil as part of their daily diet. When I was on the diet, however, I never saw—in either the raw food books or on raw food forums—any particular emphasis on the need for saturated fat.
Based on what I read on Raw Vegan forums, the vast majority of fats in most people’s diets came from nuts and avocados. While the fats in those foods provide their own health benefits, they don’t support the immune system and cellular and bone health to the extent that saturated fats do. In addition, saturated fats are necessary for optimum absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.
It also greatly helps with weight loss.
As many problems as exist with the Raw Food Vegan Diet, it is not all bad. In fact, several facets of the diet make it one of the healthiest ones around—if only some raw or low-and-slowly cooked animal products were added to it.
Where the Raw Food Vegan Diet triumphs
• Raw Vegan followers emphasize the consumption of organic produce over conventional produce.
• Raw foods contain enzymes (a kind of protein), which are destroyed in cooking. Although there is some controversy as to whether the enzymes in our food are necessary to help with the digestive process, they certainly provide an aid which can improve not only digestive function, but also perhaps with other human body organ functions.
• Raw vegans recognize and fight against the inhumane treatment of factory-farmed animals.
• Raw vegans recognize the health risks incurred by consuming factory-farmed animals products.
• Most versions of the raw vegan diet (there are several) include a good amount of greens on a daily basis, which makes it a more healthy diet.
• Green smoothies rock! (From what I understand, green smoothies became popular as a result of the Raw Vegan movement.) Even though we’re no longer vegan, my family still often has green smoothies for breakfast.)
• Following a raw vegan diet for a couple of weeks will give you a burst of energy and help do some body detoxing.
• The Raw Vegan Diet HAS NO ROOM FOR ANY PROCESSED FOODS!
• Thanks to the Raw Food revolution, you can find tons of recipes for easy-to-make healthy sweets, made primarily from raw nuts and dried fruit.
Eating a high amount of raw foods definitely helps make for a healthy diet; but to go raw food vegan for more than a couple of months may not only sabotage your weight loss goals, but your general health.