Eating enough greens on a low-fat raw food diet can be challenging, especially for those transitioning to this lifestyle. I’ve seen more than a few report on 30BananasADay.com or tell me in person they don’t think they’re getting enough greens. A few of these people have told me how much better they feel—lighter and more energetic, with improved elimination, weight loss and feeling of well-being—once they step up their greens intake.
How much greens, chock-full of minerals to complement vitamin-rich fruit, is enough, though?
In The 80/10/10 Diet, author Dr. Doug Graham recommends “2 to 6 percent from tender leafy greens and celery.” In Vol. 20 of Vibrance magazine precursor, Living Nutrition, however, Graham calls for 2 to 4 percent but wrote, “If you only eat 1 percent or as much as 5 percent, you should still do well.”
Digestion expert Dr. David Klein, author of Self Healing Colitis & Crohn’s, uses a head or two of lettuce as a good rule of thumb for consuming enough greens, he shared in an e-mail to me. He recommends lettuce, kale, bok choy, celery and cucumber, the latter of which is a nonsweet fruit but similar to greens in nutrient composition. He suggests those striving to increase their greens intake eat greens with most fruit meals.
I consume about 4,000 calories a day and aim for about 4 percent of my daily calories, or 160 calories, to come from lettuce and celery. Considering a pound of romaine lettuce amounts to just 77 calories a day, this is more than 2 pounds of combined lettuce and celery a day. An additional 20-odd calories a day come from half a mineral-loaded cucumber—not to mention a few tomatoes and half a bell pepper—I enjoy in my salad most nights. I gravitate toward red leaf lettuce for salads and romaine lettuce for green smoothies as well as celery for chomping on with fruit meals. I occasionally consume spring mix lettuce and spinach, the latter mostly in green smoothies. I rarely consume greens such as kale, collard greens and Swiss chard, finding them hard to digest, despite blending them in ample quantities during my salad days as a raw fooder.
I feel at my best, as if there’s an ever-burning fire inside me, when I consume this amount of greens.
In a special interview with Graham published in Fruit-Powered Digest—Issue 11 (August 2013), he notes the telltale signs someone’s greens intake is low are: “weight gain, energy loss, muscular weakness, craving for salty foods.” Klein, in an e-mail, said the signs he’s recognized are “feeling unbalanced and tired from fruit sugar, becoming too thin and unhealthy looking.”
In Thailand, where I spent most of fall 2013, finding ample amounts of palatable lettuces and celery isn’t as easy as finding bananas and pineapple. I felt “off my game” in this country, and my greens consumption was down noticeably, to about one-half to two-thirds what I usually eat. Instances of elimination were almost halved, and my body felt heavier and, I, less energetic, less buoyant. I never enjoyed greens in Thailand as much as I do in the United States.
It’s safe to say this Irishman loves greens as much as nature photographers adore the gorgeous, as-far-as-the-eye-can-see fields in Ireland. Not all raw fooders feel this way, however. Anne Osborne, author of Fruitarianism: The Path To Paradise, who has led a wholly low-fat raw food diet since 1992, consumes “very little greens.” She eats purslane or dill, for example, only “occasionally” from her garden.
“During my time researching and reading about raw vegan diets, I have not found one vitamin or mineral that is in greens that cannot also be found in fruit,” Osborne wrote in an e-mail to me. “I can appreciate that greens often have a higher content of certain nutrients than fruits, but for me the most important factor in getting the nutrition we need from fresh produce is the quality of the food.”
Osborne writes: “… A fully tree-ripened and sun-warmed mamey sapote picked straight from the tree and grown organically in good soil with love and care will be nutritionally superior to greens that have been refrigerated for a few days, hydroponically grown and sprayed with chemicals. Likewise, homegrown or wild greens grown naturally in rich soil will be more nutritious than commercially grown fruits that have been grown in poor soil and picked underripe.”
Osborne said if one desires greens in their “whole, raw mono state” then greens are likely what this person’s body needs. Moreover, if one cannot obtain high-quality fruit grown in nutrient-rich soil, she said, greens might be critical in the diet. She also writes that if one enjoys high-quality, naturally grown ripe fruit that “it is possible to thrive without the addition of greens in the diet.”
Osborne presents a final argument for a mostly or wholly fruit diet: “I think it is also important to note that properly ripe fruit that is suitable for humans is the only human food that does not contain toxins. This is because the parent plant very much wants animals to distribute her seeds. All leaves will contain some amount of toxins because it is not in the plant’s best interests to have its leaves (its site of carbohydrate production) eaten. Animals that eat a diet high in leaves find strategies to deal with these toxins such as eating clay (tapirs) or eating charcoal (red colobus monkeys).”
Creating Healthy Children author Karen Ranzi said she experienced a “severe mineral deficiency” when she ate primarily fruit with little greens. “I had sores on the sides of my mouth that wouldn’t go away until I significantly increased the amount of leafy green and wild edible plants I was eating,” Ranzi said in an e-mail to me. “Then the sores went away and never returned. Clearly, it was a mineral deficiency.”
“With kids, it’s hard to say an amount because I see it vary so much,” Ranzi said. “I did use some Vitamineral Green for my kids, especially when my daughter interned in India and couldn’t get much greens where she was. She was the only student out of 18 on the program who didn’t get sick there.”
Ranzi said that Osborne is fortunate to enjoy mineral-rich fruit but that she wouldn’t recommend getting minerals from the imported fruit Americans buy.
It’s interesting to note that longtime raw fooders such as Klein, Don Bennett and Don Weaver—who enjoy almost 90 years of combined raw vegan experience—all include green powdered supplements in their diets. Klein said Purium barley green juice powder, his only supplement, which he adds to his morning sugarcane juice, helps provide him with trace minerals, missing from today’s compromised, deficient soils. Bennett said he rarely eats greens, instead opting for barley grass juice powder (not powdered barley grass). Bennett recommends Just Barley on his website, Health101.org. Purium is the parent company of Just Barley.
A spokesman at Pure Planet, which distributes Just Barley, said during a phone call that the company’s processing method “retains maximum nutritional potency as opposed to just chopping up [the grass].”
Bennett writes in a special interview published in Fruit-Powered Digest—Issue 15 (December 2013): “… In the case of getting enough minerals, we can’t get them from most fruit because of the way the fruit is grown and we also can’t necessarily get all we need from the greens for the same reason. We do, however, get more minerals from greens than from fruit grown in the same soil. And this accounts for our unnatural desire for so many greens.”
Bennett, author of The Raw Food Diet and Other Healthy Habits: Your Questions Answered, goes on to say he saves energy by not digesting much greens: “The advantage to the way I’m choosing to get my nutrients? Digesting bellyfuls of greens requires nerve energy, which I’d rather not spend unless it’s important to do so. I’d rather take up my valuable stomach real-estate with more of the foods I am adapted to eat, which are fruits. Plus, the greens you buy from the fruit store, like the fruit, are not grown for their nutritional content. However, a green powder, which is a nutritional supplement, is something that’s intended to provide nutrients.”
Weaver, author of Regenerate the Earth!, said that lately he’s experimented with green powders along with supplements for “nutrient insurance.” This is the case for Weaver because of an “abnormal year between gardens,” forcing him to eat mostly store-bought organic greens of “questionable freshness and nutrient content.”
“As we know, most organic growers have yet to understand the tremendous value of soil remineralization with rock powders for soil building and produce quality improvement, not to mention—though we should—its value in enabling growers to eschew the slaughterhouse and animal ‘husbandry’ systems and grow veganically,” Weaver wrote in an e-mail to me.
Weaver most recently has used Garden of Life’s Perfect Food Raw Organic Green Super Food and chlorella from Earth Circle Organics or Bright Earth Foods. He also occasionally consumes Vitamineral Green. Weaver said he adds a tablespoon or two of green powder to fresh vegetables and/or fruit juice one or two times a day, adding that he also chews up chlorella tablets with apple slices.
Until last year, Arnold Kauffman, owner of the raw vegan café Arnold’s Way in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and author of The Way of Arnold, said he “was obsessed” about eating enough greens. He would blend romaine lettuce in green smoothies and even chew through a head of red leaf lettuce while enjoying a stomach-filling watermelon.
“I used to focus on a lot of greens, but now my infinite wisdom says, ‘Don’t bother,'” he said. “This is as of today, but this could change tomorrow.”
Kauffman said that because he drinks little water—adhering to a 16-hour daily practice called dry fasting—and showers infrequently, he’s not depleting his mineral reserves as much as many might be.
Asked his thoughts on supplementing with green powders made from barley grass or barley grass juice, Kauffman said: “It’s not yummy to the tummy. We’re not designed to eat grains. It does have chlorophyll, but how much do we need? I never saw a human being walk through a field of barley, bend down and eat it. It’s not practical or feasible.
“I’m not saying I’m right,” he said. “Everyone has a theory, and everyone is right.”