Here are some things that have been on my mind lately:
But he/she/they have done so much good for the vegan/raw vegan movement. Can’t we overlook their failings?
I often hear from people who, whether they realize it or not, are apologists for some popular health educator who has come under fire for one thing or another. To defend someone’s bad behavior or irresponsible actions by pointing out all the good they’ve done isn’t looking at the issue on balance, all things considered.
If there were two surgeons, both with a high degree of saving people’s lives, and both with some “fails” where people died on the operating table, but the fails of one surgeon were due to negligence, ego or a faulty education, and the other surgeon’s fails were through no fault of his/her own, would we focus on both surgeons’ positive outcomes, giving a pass to that first surgeon because of them? I think not. There are enough truly good surgeons that we can do without the bad ones. And the same can be said for the raw food health-creation arena, especially considering that the most popular educators aren’t necessarily the ones with the most correct information (and when it comes to health as opposed to pottery-making, correct information is vital). And let’s consider that there are truly sincere, well-intentioned, honest, caring health educators who are toiling in obscurity because they aren’t into marketing, and they base their teachings on the ethos of science: open questioning, no authorities, honesty, transparency and reliance on evidence, and the requisites for their inquiry are respect for rational and honest discussion, and an intolerance of distortion and misrepresentation. These are the folks who should be popular, but there are reasons that they’re not.
No one health educator has all the answers, but all the answers a health educator has should be correct because we’re talking about impacting people’s health here. And accordingly, those answers should pass the “First, do no harm” test. When, in the past, I’ve attempted to mention, on some popular educator’s website, some inaccuracies in the information being promulgated there, I was admonished not to say such things or I’d be banned, and my post would be summarily deleted, or I’d simply be banned with no discussion at all. Something billed as a “forum” or “discussion group” that censors free speech (the respectful, dispassionate, critical-thinking kind) is nothing more than a comment section run by people with a biased worldview. So a website that exists essentially to promote opinions masquerading as facts as decreed by someone who will not tolerate anyone disagreeing with their teachings, well, let’s just say that this behavior doesn’t square with a well-intentioned, sincere health educator, and in a perfect world it wouldn’t be tolerated once discovered (but then again, in a perfect world you’d never come across it).
So how about promoting educators who do fit this description? We do a disservice to the health creation community to give passes to educators who won’t revisit their teachings even in the face of acknowledged fails because of their “good works.” Would we speak highly of McDonald’s for the good works of Ronald McDonald House? Let’s call a spade a spade, and let’s see folks like those who have a profits-before-people business model for who they really are, and not for who they appear to be or who we believe them to be, and treat them accordingly. Let’s also consider the unnecessary fails of those folks who follow their advice — both past and future — whose fails result from teachings that contain egregious misinformation. Am I being too harsh here? Keep in mind how many fails I’ve seen of people who diligently followed a popular program because the advice they followed contained incorrect information, that the program’s authors would not address (either because of ego or because the misinfo was deliberate in order to garner more market share). The raw food diet is now an industry, and as such, there will be some who — behind the scenes — treat it as a revenue-generating opportunity. And there are also some educators who are well-intentioned but nevertheless miseducated. We need to be mindful of both if we want information that will allow us to live to our health and longevity potentials. In my opinion.
But the child is so thin — the raw vegan diet can’t be healthy for him! And what about those kids I’ve read about who were raised raw vegan and lost their health?
The fact that there are children born who are raised as a raw vegan, and they thrive just fine, means that there is more to the story, and unbalanced news reporting doesn’t help this issue. Raising a child as a raw vegan can be a case of “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” especially when that knowledge is incorrect (such as, “if we simply eat an all-raw fruit-’n’-greens diet, we needn’t worry about nutrition”). These types of articles cite things such as the child’s diet didn’t provide enough vitamin D, and it was a vitamin D deficiency that caused the child’s health to degrade. Let’s deal with some reality for a moment. Vitamin D does not come from food, so eating a fruit-based diet will not supply a growing child with sufficient D. And even if he/she gets some strong enough sunshine, vitamin D (like almost all nutrients) has certain “companion nutrients” that must be present in sufficient amounts so that the D can be made/utilized properly. Problematic D co-factor nutrients could be magnesium, zinc and boron if the fruits ’n’ greens were grown in nutritionally sub-par soil (which is said to be impossible by some raw food educators, but this is also not true). Why do kids eating a typical Western diet not have vitamin D deficiencies? Simple. Many of the foods in their diet are fortified with D (and other essential nutrients). But that diet, on balance, is not a health-enhancing one, but it will prevent the conditions associated with certain deficiencies that were once popular.
B12 is another issue, as it is another non-food-provided nutrient (but this is usually not an issue for kids as long as they are not fed garlic and other irritants, which some well-meaning raw foodist parents do). And then there are the food-provided nutrients that are supposed to come from food in adequate amounts (via breast milk and solid baby/child food) but don’t. Say what you will about eating a diet full of fortified foods, but certain deficiencies — the kind that make headlines such as the ones in those anti-raw food articles — don’t happen (of course, diets of those foods are unhealthy in other ways).
I’m an advocate of the best of both worlds. But I have a hard time convincing some educators who specialize in raising healthy babies of the importance of, for example, iodine supplementation (pre-conception and post delivery). Why? Because of popular teachings that demonize the “S” word. So to raise very healthy children, feeding them the diet to which all humans are designed to eat, requires an acceptance of the fact that we are no longer living in our biological “eco-niche,” and that our modern-day fruits we buy may not supply enough of all the nutrients adults, and especially, growing children, require for optimal health. But if a person wants to be dogmatic about it and insist that it’s impossible to healthfully raise a child as a raw vegan, that just means that the person has chosen not to deal with reality, and since that’s where we all live, this is not a sound approach to health, in my opinion.
And by the way, raw food kids are not “underweight,” nor are they “too short.” They are what is “normal” for a kid who doesn’t consume animal growth hormones. Try this article on for size. If you want to talk about abnormal, let’s look at women who are 5 feet, 8 inches and men who are 6 foot tall. This is way taller than humans are meant to be, but no one bats an eye when we see people who are technically abnormally tall. And since we’re on the subject of what happens when humans consume hormones as part of their diet, we can’t go without mentioning abnormally large breasts. But these are actually seen as wonderful by both men and women. But since they are correlated with an increased risk of breast cancer, this is obviously not a wonderful thing. (And by the way, the medical industry reports this correlation but stops short of saying why it is … they actually have the nerve to say, “we simply don’t know.” They just can’t come out and say that it’s dietary hormones, as this would be bad for business for many powerful industries, including Organized Medicine. And how do I know they know? If I know, they surely know.)
So if you choose to raise a child on the diet they’re designed to eat, please make sure they also get the amounts of nutrients they’re designed to require. Food matters, but nutrition matters, too, and it’s not a given that they will automatically get enough of all the nutrients they need when eating a raw food plant-based diet.
This way of eating is so anti-social. I want to eat this way for my physical health, but I care about my mental health, too. How do you cope?
There’s a good analogy that can be made between dealing with getting from Point A to Point B by walking, and dealing with getting from Point A to Point B emotionally (improving how you deal with life in general). Technically, walking is a series of catastrophes narrowly avoided; to walk, you tilt your body forward a bit, gravity grabs hold of you and tries to bring you down, but you will not let this happen for obvious reasons, so you extend a leg out so that you end up pivoting on it so you don’t fall. And then you keep doing this, over and over. And that’s walking. Think about what would happen if, while walking, you gave up on this process. You’d fall flat on your face, literally. So just as we learned how not to fall on our faces when walking — diligence, persistence and a desire to feel good while walking — we can apply the same approach to feeling good while living our lives: constantly putting one foot in front of the other, figuratively speaking, and realizing how doing so makes the difference between walking like a champ and not being able to move forward. So the analogy: It’s all about getting where you want to be. (And by the way, just as with walking, it’s the direction that’s important and not so much how fast you get there.)
We can then also talk about setting realistic goals for ourselves, and no longer caring about what other people think of you (you’re the only person whose opinion matters). And it’s also important to keep in the forefront of your mind why you’re making these adjustments to your lifestyle; you’ve come to recognize that you are going to have a level of health every day of your life, so you realize that you are going to have “future health,” and that it’s a really good idea to start investing in your future health today and not wait until you get a diagnosis of something serious to get serious about your health.
Let’s also factor in the Body-Mind Connection. Its counterpart — the Mind-Body Connection — has gotten a lot of press, and we know that your emotional state can affect your physical health, but the health of your body can have a profound affect on your state of mind. So the healthier you get physically, the better able you will be to stick to those lifestyle choices you’ve made.
And no discussion of how to cope when making lifestyle changes would be complete without talking about emotional support. The good news is that part of this is automatic in that you will naturally make new friends; friends who are like-minded and share the new mindset you’ve adopted. And you may lose some friends, but you’ll find that these were the friends you needed losing. And I’m not saying that your new friends are better than your previous friends, but they’re better for you.
How do I choose which version of the raw food diet to pursue?
Before making any changes, before making any decisions, you should first decide how important your health is to you. If your future health is not the most important priority, and you value SIPSB (Self-Indulgent Pleasure-Seeking Behavior) more than you value robust health, you will have a lot more dietary choices for sure. But if your future health is of the utmost importance to you, you’ll resonate with those diets and programs that offer optimal health. But just because a program says you can be optimally healthy by following its teachings doesn’t necessarily mean that this is true. Because these programs exist in a marketplace, you’re now in the unenviable position of having to vet the information, and the programs’ creators. If you don’t want to do this (and I’d certainly understand if you didn’t), you can roll the dice and hope that the seemingly knowledgeable educator who appears to be sincere, honest and well-intentioned, is. But since there are some who aren’t (fact), do you want to rely on keeping your fingers crossed? If you care enough about your future health to want the best information, you should also care enough to verify as best you can that this information is accurate, and be able to distinguish the correct info from the incorrect info. And since there is no program currently in existence that has 100% correct info, taking in the information as a researcher and not as a student is crucial if you want optimal health and the best odds of not succumbing to a degenerative illness. The resources for helping you choose wisely are out there, and the Fruit-Powered website has much to offer.
Is it true that I can be just as healthy eating a 75% raw/25% cooked diet as I can be eating a 100% raw diet?
It’s been said, “One man’s fact is another man’s fiction.” So I guess you could say that for some people, the answer to the above questions is “Sure!” And there are raw food educators who will say this is true as if it were a fact. But this perspective doesn’t square with the body’s perspective. If your body could have a conversation with you, it would say: “Of course not. That doesn’t even make sense.” Why would the body say this? Let’s examine some facts (real ones). When people transition from a typical Western diet that contains a good deal of cooked food, to an uncooked, plant-based diet, they tend to improve their health over time, detox and/or healing “crises” notwithstanding, and assuming they live in such a way where they will get enough of all the nutrients their body requires for optimal functioning, including the non-food-provided nutrients. Even going from a vegan diet that contains cooked non-human foods to a raw vegan diet comprising only the foods humans are biologically adapted to eat will result in improvement if done correctly. So if we discount — as we should — the notion that cooking makes certain nutrients more bioavailable, and we accept the notion that whatever damage cooking does to foods is not a good thing on balance, we’ll realize that less of a bad thing is usually better.
But let’s be generous for a moment and pretend that cooked food is not bad at all, it’s just not as good as uncooked food. Wouldn’t this mean that a meal of cooked food takes the place of a meal of something that could be more beneficial to eat? Most, if not all, of the people reading this have something going on in their body that their body is working on to keep it from becoming something serious down the road. Why would an intelligent person want to hamper their body in its effort to be successful at doing this? So doesn’t it just make sense to eat the best, most beneficial diet? And doesn’t it make sense that if alternative health educators say it’s a good idea to go from a diet of 80 percent cooked food to a diet of much less than that, then logic dictates that if less is better, none is best. And as I’ve said, the empirical evidence supports this.
Now, if you’re a raw food educator who runs his/her health practice as a profits-before-people business, you are likely to promote a diet plan that will be as inclusive as possible, so as to garner as big a market share as possible. So I’ll ask you, which is a bigger market: people who would do an all raw diet, or people who wouldn’t do an all raw diet but would do a “high raw” diet? This simple marketing fact can influence what some people teach.
Fortunately, there are also raw food educators who run their practice as a “people first” business, and they would never knowingly dispense less-than-accurate information. The key word there is knowingly. If they’ve been trained by someone who is like the educators described in the above paragraph, even truly sincere, honest, well-meaning people can unwittingly be purveyors of incorrect information; information that will only allow a person to improve and then survive better than 95% of the world’s population, but will not allow a person to thrive, to be as healthy as their genetics will allow, to live to their health and longevity potentials.
So this goes back to the earlier question: how good do you want your future health to be? If your answer is “the best,” then it will make no sense to you that you can get the amounts of calories you require from a diet of both cooked and uncooked food. Yes, because of your upbringing, there may be a part of “you” that would love it if you could eat this way (and this is a “button” that marketeers push), but rational and critical thinking will see this way of eating for what it truly is: one of a number of transition tactics to help you get from where you are to where you want to be, and not a program in and of itself complete with T-shirts, books and events. But, if the answer to the earlier question of how healthy do you want to be is, “healthier than the general population, but not so healthy that I’d have to deprive myself of some of the glorious, scrumptious foods and lifestyle habits I’ve come to know and love,” then a diet of both cooked and raw food is for you.
So, in a nutshell, dietary choices are all about:
1. How good do you want your future health to be? How important is robust health and maximal vitality to you?
2. How truthful are the claims for the diets you’re investigating?
3. How truly honest and sincere are the educators you’re considering learning from?
4. Can you look at the issue with wisdom, foresight and rationality, using independent and critical thinking? A project for sure, but the prize is worth the effort.
I hope I’ve given you some different perspectives, and some food for thought.
Don Bennett is an insightful, reality-based author and health creation counselor who uses the tools in his toolbox — like logic, common sense, critical thinking and independent thought — to figure out how to live so you can be optimally healthy. Don shares his enlightening and empowering information through his articles and books, available on Health101.org.