Debunking Fad Diets Part 2: The Raw Vegan Diet & Fruitarian

Debunking Fad Diets Part 2: The Raw Vegan Diet & Fruitarian

The second entry in our Debunking Fad Diets series and up this time we have the notoriously popular and dangerous raw vegan diets.

A raw vegan diet is generally typically based around fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other plant-based foods such as sprouts.

The main aspect of the raw vegan diet being that no cooked foods are to be consumed, due to the belief they contain mythical “toxins” or are bad for health.

However, there are also many more extreme “off-shoots” of the raw vegan diet such as fruitarian, which are individuals who try to live virtually exclusively from a diet of just fruit, which of course is even more dangerous and prone to nutritional deficiencies.

Some examples of raw vegan diets include fruitarian, fully raw vegan, 80/10/10, 30 bananas a day, high-fat raw and The Sproutarian diet.

The 100% raw vegan diet first came on the scene about a decade ago and became one of the most talked about fad diets on social media platforms at the time.

However, it wasn’t long before these raw vegan diets such as fruitarian and 80/10/10 ended up having disastrous negative health consequences for those who tried to diligently follow these fad diets.

I have witnessed a range of serious side effects from individuals following these raw vegan diets, from people having to be hospitalized due to malnutrition to individuals becoming emaciated despite consuming thousands of surplus calories from fruit.

I’ve seen individuals lose their hair, teeth, mental health and also develop a range of worrying blood tests such as high triglycerides and low HDL as a result of trying to follow dangerous raw vegan diets.

The popularity of raw vegan diets has largely dwindled to nothing in recent years thankfully, however I was saddened to see recently that there are many Youtubers who are trying to resurrect the raw vegan fad diet movement once again for personal gain.

So I figured what better pseudo-science fad diet to focus our second debunk on than arguably one of the dangerous fad diets of all time in the raw vegan diet ideology.

The raw vegan diet movement is rife with pseudo-scientific claims not only regarding the diet itself, but also in regards to basic human physiology, chemistry and other life/science related topics.

Lets take a look at some of the most common nutritional concerns regarding “The Raw Vegan Diet” and also debunk some of the popular claims that are used to market the diet in the process.



1. Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Raw Vegan Diets Fruitarian

One of the most immediate nutritional concerns with 100% raw vegan diets such as fruitarian is the lack of dietary intake of Vitamin B12.

Raw vegan diets typically contain no reliable dietary source of Vitamin B12 and as a consequence Vitamin B12 deficiency is inevitable.

Raw vegans are particularly prone to developing Vitamin B12 deficiency because in many cases they do not supplement with Vitamin B12 as vegans, due to various pseudo-scientific beliefs.

Many raw vegan diet “gurus” over the years have actively tried to discourage their vegan followers from supplementing with the likes of Vitamin B12, which is basic standard nutrition recommendations to keep vegans safe and healthy.

There is research there which has now found elevated plasma homocysteine levels and high rates of Vitamin B12 deficiency in raw vegan dieters.

Of raw food consumers, 38% were vitamin B-12 deficient, whereas 12% had an increased mean corpuscular volume (MCV).

Plasma tHcy concentrations were correlated with plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations (r = −0.450, P < 0.001), but not with plasma folate.

Plasma tHcy and MCV concentrations were higher in those in the lowest quintile of consumption of food of animal origin (Ptrend < 0.001).

This study indicates that consumption of a strict raw food diet lowers plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, but also lowers serum HDL cholesterol and increases tHcy concentrations due to vitamin B-12 deficiency.

In our study, the type of raw food diet was related to plasma vitamin B-12 and plasma tHcy levels, with the lowest vitamin B-12 and the highest tHcy concentrations present in the vegan raw food diet adherents.

Nearly half of all raw food diet followers had a functional vitamin B-12 deficiency defined as low plasma vitamin B-12 in combination with elevated plasma tHcy. [1]

2. A Lack Of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)

Raw Vegan Diets Essential Fatty Acids

Extreme low fat diets are extremely popular in the raw vegan diet movement such as 80/10/10 and as a result raw vegans can be especially prone to inadequate essential fatty acid intake.

Many of the raw vegan diet “gurus” even recommend to irrationally remove or restrict all healthy overt-fat rich plantfoods in the diet such as nuts, seeds(omega-3 rich flaxseeds/chia seeds etc), avocado, olive oil, coconut and so on.

For a vegan this is potentially extremely dangerous nutrition advice once again as vegan diets tend to be void of providing direct intake of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA as it is, so they rely entirely on adequate short-chain ALA intake for DHA production.

  • Most studies show that VGNs consume low to zero amounts of EPA and DHA, unless they take supplements.

  • Most studies indicate that plasma, serum, erythrocytes, adipose, and platelet levels of EPA and DHA are lower in VGNs than omnivores.

There is a significant amount of demonization when it comes to dietary fat in the raw vegan movement, even heart-healthy plant-based sources of essential fatty acids such as nuts and seeds are subjected to numerous incorrect claims.

The latest research on Alpha-Linolenic Acid requirements for vegan diets suggests:

  • VGNs may need an ALA increase of 2.2–4.4 g/day (or 1.1 g/day/1000 Kcals) depending on the amount of LA in the diet in order to achieve a 4:1 n-6:n-3 ratio, as well as a decrease of dietary LA if intake of LA is higher than recommended. [2]

Extreme low fat raw vegan diets such as fruitarian that tend to remove or restrict all overt-fat rich foods such as nuts and seeds would be lucky if they were able to provide 2.2g of ALA, let alone any optimal requirements.

3. Iodine Deficiency

Iodine Deficiency Raw Vegan Diets Fruitarian

Iodine deficiency and sub-optimal iodine levels are another common vegan related complaint according to the research.

Individuals following raw vegan and fruitarian fad diets are even more at risk of developing iodine deficiency due to the lack of iodine intake.

Most of the common dietary sources of iodine are animal based such as dairy, eggs and seafood.  Along with the likes of iodized salt, which again most raw vegans typically remove from their diet.

Sea vegetables are one of the best plant-based dietary sources of iodine, however many raw vegans especially the fruitarians do not believe seaweeds are healthy due to potential environmental contaminants.  So seaweeds are not a dietary iodine source typically utilized or benefitted from by many raw vegans.

Iodine deficiency and low thyroid function symptoms are commonly reported in the raw vegan/fruitarian community with the likes of dry straw like hair, thinning hair, dry skin, cold hands and feet, feeling cold all the time and inability to lose weight being commonly reported.

4. A Lack Of Sodium

Raw Vegan Diets Low Sodum Fruitarian

Something I touched on previously there was that many raw vegans remove all salt sources from their diet such as table salt, iodized salt, even unrefined salts such as himalayan salt and processed foods which would contain appreciable quantities of sodium.

A lack of sodium in raw vegan diets is another serious and potentially deadly concern, especially coupled with the fact that many raw vegan diets are exceptionally rich in potassium and also that many raw vegan dieters tend to be heavily into intense endurance based exercise such as marathon running.

As a result I know of several raw vegans who have clinically been diagnosed and end up hospitalized from hyponatremia (low blood sodium).

Sodium is another nutrient which is demonized in the raw vegan diet movement largely I believe because its synonymous with either salty cooked foods or highly processed foods.

High sodium intake is a proven risk factor for developing the likes of hypertension, however extremely low sodium levels can also be as problematic and deadly.

Raw vegans love to point out that the likes of celery are sources of organic sodium and they are correct in this claim, however most do not consume enough of the likes of celery day in and day out to maintain adequate sodium levels, especially if there are increased demands such as through exercise induced sodium loss.

Coupled with the fact that most raw vegan diets are very high and often excessively rich in potassium intake from all the fresh fruit and vegetables.  High potassium intake can further cause sodium loss through urine.

The rich intake of potassium from high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables would usually be a health benefit for maintaining blood pressure, however once again due to the extreme nature of raw vegan diets and the often very low sodium nature, you potentially lose out on these health benefits and put your health at risk concurrently.

5. Mineral Deficiencies

Raw Vegan Diets Mineral Deficiencies Fruitarian

The more extreme and restrictive versions of the raw vegan diets such as fruitarian typically provide inadequate intake of various minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and selenium for example.

Even with the inclusion of leafy greens and the likes of romaine lettuce, dietary intake of minerals such as iron and calcium can still be significantly lacking.

Raw vegans and fruitarians who don’t include the likes of brazil nuts will likely not be obtaining adequate intake of the mineral selenium.

Poor zinc intake is also common in the raw vegans and especially the fruitarians who often remove or purposely restrict the few actual decent plantbased dietary sources of zinc that there are such as beans/legumes, nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, and even the likes of grains such as oatmeal.

As such zinc deficiency symptoms are commonly reported by those on raw vegan and fruitarian fad diets.

6. Is There Any Logic To Eating A 100% Raw Diet?

Cooking food can reduce certain water soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients and enzymes, alters the structure and, thus, digestibility of food, and can potentially create byproducts that may be harmful.

However, many of these factors need to be addressed with context.

Whilst it is true that high temperature cooking can reduce levels of certain nutrients, they don’t destroy all the vitamin or nutrient content.

Some phyto-chemicals and nutrients bioavailability is actually significantly increased with cooking such as carotenoids like lycopene.

Many potentially harmful substances such as goitrogens can be largely inactivated with cooking and the likes of harmful microbes destroyed.

All the more reason to follow a healthy diet that provides good intake of fresh raw fruits and vegetables, but also balanced with adequate cooked foods, so that you are exposing yourself to a wide variety of different nutrients/phyto-chemicals and food-groups.

Common Reported Side Effects/Health Problems

Here are a list of the most common reported side effects and short-term health problems associated with The Raw Vegan Diet.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency & Elevated Plasma Homocysteine Levels

Hair Loss

Tooth Loss & An Increase In Tooth Decay/Caries/Dental Cavities

Emaciated Appearance & Muscle Loss, Inability To Maintain Healthy Bodyweight

Numerous Nutrient Deficiencies(Iron to Zinc)

Amenorrhea

Loss Of Libido & Sex Drive/Erectile Dysfunction

Abnormal Blood Test Results (High Triglycerides in the high-carb raw vegans/fruitarians), along with low HDL being common)

Feelings Of Malaise

Summary

The raw vegan diet poses numerous immediate nutritional risks such as being deficient and/or lacking in a number of basic essential nutrients including Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, essential fatty acids, iodine, iron, zinc, selenium and many more.

Generally the more restrictive and more food-groups that are removed from the diet, the risk of nutritional inadequacy and deficiency significantly increases.

Overall:

Overall in my opinion the raw vegan diets are some of the most dangerous fad diets of all time and are significantly prone to causing serious nutritional deficiencies.

You actually lose out on all the valuable health benefits that plant-based diet patterns should offer when you start removing several food-groups from the diet to the point of causing serious basic essential nutrient deficiencies from Vitamin B12 to minerals such as Zinc and Selenium.

Cooked plantbased foods such as beans/legumes and wholegrains for example are also consistently associated with either health benefits in the literature or beneficial health outcomes such as reduced risk of developing certain diseases or reduced mortality.

There is absolutely no logical or scientific reason to follow a diet which is excessively based around chasing the “rawness” of foods and excluding all healthy cooked plant-foods to the detriment and potentially provoking health integrity.

Any optimal balanced healthy diet pattern is going to utilize the health benefits of a variety of both raw and cooked foods most likely anyway, getting the best of both worlds.

If you value your health, then 100% raw vegan and fruitarian fad diets should once again be avoided like the plague.

All the health benefits associated with plant-based diets and plant-food groups such as fresh fruits/vegetables can be obtained by following evidence-based, healthy balanced and nutritionally complete diet patterns.

References

[1] Long-Term Consumption of a Raw Food Diet Is Associated with Favorable Serum LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides but Also with Elevated Plasma Homocysteine and Low Serum HDL Cholesterol in Humans

[2] Alpha-Linolenic and Linoleic Fatty Acids in the Vegan Diet: Do They Require Dietary Reference Intake/Adequate Intake Special Consideration?

[3] Iodine status in vegans consuming a living food diet

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any significant dietary or lifestyle changes including supplements and herbs.


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