Let’s face it, because most people were born into and have come of age in a cooked food-eating society, changing to a diet that contains no cooked food is not exactly a walk in the park for most people. We are social creatures, and as such, we like being around like-minded people. And some of these people don’t like being around those whose actions are perceived as a condemnation of their way of living. And some people simply don’t like being around those who live very differently from the rest of the herd. But since the health of this herd is not nearly what it could be, there are people with the wisdom and foresight who care enough about their health — both present and future — who will do whatever it takes to have the best health their genetics will allow. And this may mean losing some friends, but as I say, as you go through life, you lose the friends you need losing and make new ones along the way. Are these new friends “better” than your former friends? Well, if they’re more like-minded and they’re better for you and your psyche, then yes.
But for some people, there are still those programs running under the hood (in their brains) that produce mental “tugs” to live as they’ve always lived, and to be like all of their friends and family, and this can create the biases and preferred beliefs that can color people’s otherwise good judgment. And this scenario — a gift from our evolutionary past — can work against our physiological health when living in an environment where unhealthy practices are the norm; it can make it difficult to do right by our bodies.
Now, fair warning: I’m going to be writing from a “tough love” perspective, and some of my comments might seem a bit “pointed” and critical, but I feel this is helpful when dealing with the mountains of inaccurate health information masquerading as truth. There have developed far too many incorrect, erroneous, potentially harmful, and even ridiculous memes on the Internet regarding a raw food diet, and there needs to be some perspective, and some rational, unbiased, truth-telling. Thank heavens for publications such as this one.
Before I go any further, let me respond to some heated comments from the critics of my colleagues and I, because this may help you get more out of this article.
What makes you think you’ve got all the answers!
No one health educator has all the answers, myself included, but all the answers a health educator has should be accurate, or at the very least, there should be an honest desire for, and a diligent effort toward, accuracy. While no one in their right mind would disagree with this self-evident statement, for some health educators this maxim of education is either not part of their thinking process, or they have convinced themselves that all their advice is 100% correct, even though in reality it isn’t, and they will not consider any information that refutes their claims, preferring instead to dig in their heels and attempt to discredit those who disagree with them.
But we’re not teaching pottery-making where a “fail” results in, at worst, an ugly vase; we’re talking about issues that affect people’s most valuable commodities: their health, quality of life and their longevity. This is why all health educators and practitioners take an oath of “First, do no harm,” and whether or not they raise their hands to this or not, the oath is implied when you’re dispensing health advice. So if you want to give out health information on a YouTube channel or blog, you certainly have the right to do so, but with rights come responsibilities. Old-school journalists were well aware of this, and they were careful to vet incoming information before passing it along to the public, but apparently today’s “new school” of online journalism is not taking this as seriously as they should, or they’re simply not aware of these responsibilities at all. And to make matters worse, the supplanting of that Hippocratic Oath by arrogant, ego-driven personalities is resulting in health “fails,” especially when it’s courtesy of some of the most popular health educators (because they have lots of people following them). So be aware: The most popular health information is not automatically the most accurate.
What makes you so right?!!!
In my case, I’ve been researching matters that relate to optimal health for 40-plus years … longer than some of today’s online health bloggers have been alive. And while this in and of itself does not mean that my information is more accurate than those who’ve been involved in the raw food diet arena for a relatively short period of time, being that, from Day One, the ethos of science has been one of my most favored research tools (open questioning, no authorities, no biases or personal preferences, honesty, transparency and reliance on evidence), and along with other tools such as logical and rational thought coupled with critical thinking and a passionate desire to discover the realities of health and how to be optimally healthy in today’s world, I’ve discovered a few truisms and maxims of health, and some irrefutable facts that, while open to discussion, are not open to debate. Whoa! Hold on there Don! Isn’t everything in science open to debate? Well, no. There once was fierce debate as to whether the sun revolved around the earth or vice versa, and some people still want to debate the age of the earth — whether it’s 10,000 or 4.5 billion years old — but some things that were once unknown and a mystery are now well understood and a well-settled issue, even though there remains those folks who would still insist that there is no definitive proof. Speaking of proof …
Where’s the proof that an all-raw diet will result in better health than a mostly raw diet?!!! I don’t see any!!! In fact, there has never been any proof that all humans are designed to eat one specific diet, or that a fruit-based diet is the best diet for everyone … we’re all individuals!!!
I mentioned above that our brains can make it difficult to accept notions that interfere with, not only the way we live our lives, but also with the way we’d prefer to live our lives. Humans are the only species that can deliberately choose to believe what we’d rather believe rather than accept reality. And conversely, we are the only species of animal that can disbelieve what we don’t want to believe. This “mechanism” can be said to reside in one part of our brain, but the wisdom to have the exact opposite approach to life (because it better serves our survival) is located elsewhere in our brain. Both approaches can affect our judgment, and the stronger of the two will dictate how you parse incoming information and how this information affects your behavior (and thus, your life).
Diving into the diet
So, now that we’ve laid the groundwork for how we think about things in general, let’s think about some specific things relating to diet. And it’s always best to start with looking at the things that we know are factual and inarguable and are not subject to interpretation or debate; things that are self-evident on their face.
Every animal on this planet has a “species-specific diet”; the primary diet to which that animal has evolved to eat that will allow thriving as long as they get enough to eat and don’t get eaten. A seeker of truth might then wonder — and rightly so — why would humans be any different? Or is it simply that we’re omnivores and can eat anything and have the same health outcome regardless of what we eat?
So the possible scenarios are:
1. We are all different and require different diets based on things like blood type, metabolism type, hair color or Zodiac sign.
2. We’re all the same and can eat anything and have the same health outcome.
3. We’re all the same and can’t eat just anything, and must eat the diet to which we are physiologically adapted to eat in order to thrive.
Are there any reasonable reasons to believe that humans require different diets?
The basic diet an animal is best suited to eat is dictated primarily by the organs and glands that process their food … their digestive system. If you get a roomful of experts on the giraffe, for example, they may have different opinions on whether giraffes should be kept in zoos or not, but they will all agree on what a giraffe is designed to eat. All of them. And it’s usually difficult to get a roomful of humans to agree on anything. But not so when it comes to the diet of hippos, ants, hummingbirds and of all the other animals on this planet, expect for one … humans. This is because of misinformed and miseducated people due to the tons of mis- and dis-information that abound, and this is because of either personal preference or the profit motive.
So, now it begs the question, “Do different humans have different digestive systems that would have some people surviving best on animals and some doing best on a plant-based diet?” And the answer is “no.” This is one of those well-settled issues I mentioned above. If you are disposed to argue this contention, then either you haven’t been privy to the mountains of evidence in support of humans not being suited to the consumption of animal products, or you have been and have dismissed it out-of-hand because it interferes with what you’d rather believe. So while I’ll discuss this issue with those who are truly seeking the truth, I will not debate it because of it being a well-settled issue. And FYI, just because there is still an ongoing debate about something doesn’t mean the issue isn’t well-settled; profit motive and personal preference will ensure that many well-understood issues will go on being debated, maybe forever, regardless of the available evidence. Seriously, you as a researcher of health issues must consider these two facets of human nature when vetting information, especially information that has the potential to dramatically affect your future health.
So it can be reasonably stated that humans are no different than all the thousands of other animal species on the planet who require a species-specific diet, and this is because we humans all have relatively the same digestive systems, dentition, digestive enzymes and anatomical features (even though these work better for some people and worse for others because of individual genetics and levels of health). At this point, we can now turn our attention to the specific nature of the human diet.
Are we Omnivorous?
It was mentioned above that maybe we’re omnivores because of the notion that this means we can eat many different foods (which we as a species certainly do). But this is not the actual definition of “omnivore.” A “univore” can eat only one type of food, and if that food isn’t available, a univorous animal will not survive because they can’t eat other foods. So a loose definition of “omnivore” could mean that an animal can eat diversely different foods to survive. But surviving isn’t the same as thriving. It is apparent that humans can eat all kinds of things, but some ways of eating will allow us to only survive and not to thrive; the difference can be getting or not getting a diagnosis of something serious at some point in your life.
If you go by the definition of omnivore that the creator of the term, Carl Linnaeus, gave it, we are not true omnivores. In fact, this man (who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature and was the founder of modern taxonomy, and who invented the classifications of carnivore, herbivore, frugivore, and omnivore to describe an animal’s dietary disposition) had this to say …
To say that humans have the anatomical structure of an omnivore is an egregiously inaccurate statement … . Man’s structure, internal and external compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables are his natural food … . Fruits are the most adequate food for man according to that demonstrated by the analogy of quadrupeds in the structure in his teeth and digestive apparatus.
By the way, Linnaeus also said, “To live by medicine is to live horribly.” Smart fellow.
Okay, so based on anatomical structure, we’ve got some clues that point to a frugivorous nature. But for some people, this is not enough; there also needs to be research from studies. I’m told that we need multiple, placebo-controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed studies of hundreds of thousands of people over many decades showing conclusively what is the best, most perfect diet for a human being or that all raw is superior to high raw, or mostly raw. Then and then only can we have a discussion, right? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of research is never going to happen; research like that requires massive funding and would have financially devastating conclusions. So if you’re waiting for that kind of research, you’ll need to rely on other forms of evidence, or keep the status quo, or form conclusions based on what you prefer to believe.
How about objective observation and empirical evidence? When it was discovered that animals held in captivity in zoos were healthier when fed their food uncooked instead of cooked, it was obvious that a change in diet was warranted. And the same holds true for pets; when dogs and cats are feed raw dog and cat food (a growing market), they regain lost health and stop developing diseases (many of the same ones that plague humans). I know pet owners who make sure to buy only raw pet food, but will not listen to anything I have to say about the benefits of raw human food. Such is the power of cognitive and emotional biases and of preferred beliefs. Do these affect your judgment at all?
And what about the empirical evidence that clearly shows that people do better, health-wise, when eating an all-raw, appropriate-fat diet? Do we dismiss this experience because there is no official “research”?
But wait! There has been some research! And it might provide some more clues …
- Raw Food Vegans Have Healthy Bones
Archives of Internal Medicine, March 28, 2005, Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D.
- Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and All-Cause, Cancer and CVD Mortality
Oyinlola Oyebode, Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu, Alice Walker, Jennifer S. Mindell Health and Social Surveys Research Group, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, UCL (University College London), London, UK.
- Antioxidant Status in Long-Term Adherents to a Strict Uncooked Vegan Diet
Rauma AL, Torronen R, Hanninen O, Verhagen H, Mykkanen H. Department of Clinical Nutrition, University of Kuopio, Finland.
- Divergent Changes in Serum Sterols During a Strict Uncooked Vegan Diet in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Agren JJ, Tvrzicka E, Nenonen MT, Helve T, Hanninen O. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, PO Box 1627, SF-70211 Kuopio, Finland.
- Effects of a Raw Food Diet on Hypertension and Obesity
Douglass JM, Rasgon IM, Fleiss PM, Schmidt RD, Peters SN, Abelmann EA.
- Shifting from a Conventional Diet to an Uncooked Vegan Diet Reversibly Alters Fecal Hydrolytic Activities in Humans
Ling WH, Hanninen O. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland.
- Uncooked, Lactobacilli-Rich, Vegan Food and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Nenonen MT, Helve TA, Rauma AL, Hanninen OO. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland.
- Raw Food Eaters: Health Habits and Nutrient Intake
C. Strassner, S. Doerries, K. Kwanbunjan, C. Leitzmann, 16th International Congress of Nutrition, 27.7-1.8.1997, Montreal, Canada.
As you can see, the United States isn’t fond of doing this type of research for reasons that I hope are obvious; it must come from the more progressive countries like Finland; places where the public really does care about their health and knows that health doesn’t come from a drug or a therapy. You can read the details of these studies here and here. And if that’s not enough, then there’s the empirical evidence from health educators who have come to understand the realities of the human diet and have been promoting them for decades, such as myself. It is self-evident that to have “optimal health” — the best health a person’s genetics will allow — the person must eat the diet to which they are anatomically and physiologically suited to eat. So, not a better diet than they were eating, and not a better diet than the average person, but the best diet, of which there can be only one by definition. Another way to put this is: If you’re a human being, and you want optimal health, you need to eat the optimal diet for a human being. If, however, you’re willing not to have the best health possible, and are okay with not having the best odds of never getting a diagnosis of a serious disease, you’ll have more dietary options.
It’s not rocket science
It is crystal clear to those who have made it their life’s work to study the field of optimal health, and have come to understand just what is needed to thrive and not just survive better than the gen pop, that humans are best suited to a plant-based diet, and one that is based on fruit. Now, if your knee-jerk reaction is not to believe this, ask yourself why you are having such an intense response? It can’t be because you know this isn’t true. You may believe it isn’t true, but to know something — unlike belief — requires that you are able to prove what you know. And it simply can’t be proven that humans are best suited to something other than a fruit-based diet, but it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they are … maybe not to some people’s satisfaction though. And maybe these folks are of the opinion that they will fare best eating something other than a fruit-based diet, and they are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. People may choose to dismiss out-of-hand the evidence that supports these facts because it’s not what they want to believe or because of misunderstood personal experience, but these methods of vetting information do not square with the ethos of science mentioned above: open questioning, no authorities, no biases or personal preferences, honesty, transparency, and reliance on evidence (and the evidence must be properly understood).
But there actually are, in a sense, different diets for different people; not based on different physiologies, but based on different psychologies. Think about it, if you don’t care at all about your health, your dietary options are many! You can eat any diet that humans have come up with, and eat as much of it as you like. True, if you don’t care about your health but you do care about the suffering of animals that are used for food, you can eat any one of a number of vegan diets; there are unhealthy ones all the way up to the healthiest one (raw food, fruit-based), but if you’re a vegan who smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol, you’ll likely gravitate to one of the less-healthy vegan diets. But if you’re at the other end of the spectrum, and you care as much as a human being is capable of caring about their health, your dietary options are limited to one … the one you’re designed to eat. And please don’t shoot the messenger. My purpose in conveying all this to you is because it’s disheartening to see people fooling themselves into thinking the diet they’re following will result in the best health possible when I know that it won’t … because it can’t … because it’s not the diet they are designed to eat. And this goes for Paleo, starch-based, macrobiotic, high-fat and high-raw. And to those who get judgy regarding what others eat, I’ll say that the diet a person eats is not a question of right or wrong, it’s a question of poor, fair, good, better or best.
Why is there so much “high raw” and “high fat raw” talk these days?
Let’s face it, especially in the beginning, for some people, an all-raw food diet can be challenging, so making it easier is tempting, for both the educatee and the educator. The fact is that it’s simply easier to eat a diet that contains some cooked food than it is to eat an all-raw diet, at least in the beginning, and this fact is not lost on those health educators who want to make it easier to adopt a vegan diet, and these folks fall into three basic categories.
Some health educators understand the immense health benefit of getting away from the typical Western diet, and realizing that the best diet is also the most difficult for some people to adopt, they portray what is in reality a second-best diet as the “best” diet, and they do this because they feel this will do “the most good for the most people”. And the diet they promote will contain some cooked food. While these educators are most likely well-intentioned, I feel this is an intellectually disingenuous approach, preferring to tell people about the best diet and how to have the best chance of being successful at it (which is just as important as knowing what the best diet is).
The second category is made up of health educators who are themselves ethical vegans, and their passion for this way of living can color their judgment to the point where they end up unintentionally misrepresenting the diet they teach, and following similar logic as those in the first category: the more “doable” the diet, the more vegans there will be, and subconsciously that’s their main goal. So ultimately these educators will promote a diet that contains cooked food.
The third category is made up of those “health educators” who run their practice, not as a people-before-profits model, but as a profits-before-people business … like 99.9% of all businesses in the world do. They will think of ways to carve out a niche for themselves in the community by convincing people that some cooked food is OK, and that some cooked food is even necessary. The latest bogus meme to circulate is that you can be just as healthy on a high-raw, or mostly raw diet, like the Raw Till 4 Diet, as you can on an all-raw diet. And let’s face it, if this were true, a person would be crazy to eat an all-raw diet. But in reality (which is where your body exists) this meme is not true. If you know even a little bit about a raw food diet, it shouldn’t even make sense that it could be true, yet it does to those who want it to be true. And for reasons that are totally understandable, there are plenty of people like that in the raw food and health-improvement communities, and the marketeering health educators take advantage of this fact, and in so doing, take advantage of those who buy into their sincere-sounding BS.
Am I being too harsh? Well, those people who adopt a high-raw diet thinking that they can have their cake and eat it too (optimal health and cooked food), will likely be in for some sort of a rude awakening at some point down the road. But since that doesn’t happen immediately, the irresponsible and uncaring health hucksters are safe in promoting their disinformation (incorrect information that is known to be incorrect by the person giving it yet is presented as factual).
The takeaway: If you truly care about your health, apply the ethos of science to any and all information you receive (including this article).
But I tried eating a fruit-based diet and my health got worse, so evidently this diet is not for me.
If a person is coming from a state of ill health when they transition to the healthiest of diets (properly consumed), certain considerations must be made:
1. This person may initially need more intake of certain nutrients than they would when those nutrient levels are “full” because of pre-existing insufficiencies/deficiencies.
2. Sufficient time must be allowed for complete healing so that incorrect conclusions aren’t drawn.
3. The person needs to understand the concept of detoxification and may need to control how quickly they detox so they don’t overburden their organs of detoxification and elimination like the liver.
4. The person would be wise to check for genetic polymorphisms that might prevent optimal health even when eating a “perfect diet,” especially if they don’t improve as expected.
5. All health educators promoting a raw vegan diet are not created equal; some teach (and make sure to teach) 100 percent accurate information, and some teach a lesser amount, meaning, they’re teaching some incorrect information, and it is this misinformation (and disinformation) that can prevent a person from healing and attaining optimal health. (By the way, the two basic reasons for this scenario are ignorance and/or egotism, and having a profits-before-people business model, which usually requires some level of arrogance and a heightened level of self-importance. And this is why it’s a good idea to vet not just a health educator’s info, but the health educator, too, because our personality traits tend to affect what we teach. A word to the wise: Eyes wide open.) So these are some of the reasons people fail to resolve existing issues after transitioning to the healthiest of the raw food diets.
But I tried eating a fruit-based diet and my health eventually went downhill, so obviously this diet doesn’t work.
When you stop eating a diet that contained foods fortified with certain nutrients that the gen pop would otherwise be lacking in, and you then switch to the diet that we’re best suited to eat, what if the foods of this diet are nutritionally sub-par because of the way they’re grown, and since they are not fortified with any nutrients (except potassium and phosphorous), it is possible that — over time — your health could fail due to nutritional insufficiencies. What makes this scenario difficult to believe is the popular meme by a popular raw food educator that says, “Once you start eating enough fruits and vegetables you don’t have to worry about nutrition.” And if you buy into this admittedly lovely sounding notion you can end up doing more harm than good in the long run due to the nutritionally sub-par fruits and greens most people are buying from the agri-based food industry that does not grow foods for their nutritional content. Plus, certain nutrients were never meant to come from food, but they were added to the foods that the gen pop eats to prevent deficiencies. So these nutrients — like D and B12 — are not going to come from the healthiest of diets, and if you don’t pay attention to getting enough of them, your health will (not may) go downhill at some point. There are two articles on my website that specifically address D and B12 issues.
So that is one of the main reasons people fail to thrive after adopting the healthiest of the raw food diets. But there are other issues like “not enough physical activity, leading to an essential fatty acid (EFA) insufficiency” (because the body doesn’t require percentages of fat, it requires amounts), and the issue of “all temperate-zone fruit and no tropical fruit” (which can also have a person bumping up against an omega-3 EFA insufficiency, but there are ways to compensate for this so that you can eat an all-raw diet), and things like living in a cold climate, and “I can’t seem to get enough calories from fruit.” And last but certainly not least, there’s the “Mind-Body Connection,” in which emotional issues can make it very difficult for some people to eat an all-raw diet, but this, too, has answers that allow a person to break through and flourish both psychologically and physiologically.
So, the adage of “where there’s a will, there’s a way” definitely applies to the all-raw diet because there’s a treasure trove of helpful and inspiring people and information available to you, but you have to want it. And to want it, it helps to have a deep appreciation of what the healthiest of the human diets offers you. And this is where wisdom comes into play.
Important note: Keep in mind that when a person switches to the healthiest of diets from a relatively unhealthy diet, there will usually be initial health improvement (the “honeymoon phase”), but improvement in the short term does not automatically correlate with long-term thriving or success. Anyone who states that they are thriving after eating a raw food diet for anything less than 10 years may be making an inaccurate statement. A thorough understanding of the word “thrive” and what it truly represents is important.
Is the raw food diet for me?
The healthiest of the raw food diets is for those who truly care about their future health; it’s for those who realize that every day they are alive they will have a level of health, and they possess the foresight to want to have the best health and quality of life for each and every one of those days. They place a high value on lifelong optimal health. They have high levels of wisdom, can think for themselves, have the ability to do skeptical interrogation, and they have an intolerance for misrepresentation and misinformation; these traits are necessary because of all the inaccurate information out there regarding the raw food diets, courtesy of those who allow their personal biases and philosophies to color their otherwise good judgment, and courtesy of those folks who care more about their making money than they do about your health.
There are also people who will embrace the healthiest of the raw food diets to deal with a serious diagnosis, but when they resolve their malady and are cured, some go back to their normal lifestyle, seeing a raw food diet in much the same way as the gen pop sees their medico/pharma-based cures. The folks in this category who do not see their illness as a wake-up call for change lack the wisdom to make prudent investments in their future health. So although they follow a better approach for dealing with ill health, they don’t follow the best approach for obtaining optimal health.
It should be added that a raw food diet is also embraced by those wanting increased athletic performance. This relatively small subset of raw foodists are often willing to sacrifice optimal health for high levels of athletic achievement whether they realize they’re doing this or not; they don’t have the same priorities as health-oriented raw foodists, or if they do, they have, for the time being, fooled themselves into believing that they can have both maximal performance and optimal health … at least until they experience the payback for overworking their body, but this can take decades, and due to endorphins, they feel great during this time, and this can color their otherwise good judgment. This is why I am not only an advocate for appropriate diets, but also for appropriate physical activity (and sunshine, sleep, hydration and nutrition).
Why all the anti-all raw sentiment and all-raw pushback?
- Miseducation, misinformation and misleading assertions
- Opinions masquerading as facts either unintentionally or intentionally
- Misinterpreted symptoms
- Uncalled-for judgmentalism
- The evolutionary inherited desire not to be different
- Personal preferences stemming from the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain
- Well-intentioned but misguided advice due to enthusiasm and lack of info-vetting
- Well-intentioned but misguided advice due to a judgment-coloring passionate philosophy
- The unfortunate but very human desire for popularity and/or profit
Notice the absence of “Some people do better health-wise when eating cooked food” and “No compelling evidence to justify an all-raw diet.” And this is because these statements are not born out by the facts. And the sooner we can deal with this and understand why these notions exist, and the sooner we as a community stop being mislead and start dealing with the realities of health, the better off we’ll all be.
“Make truth your authority, not authority your truth.”
— Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
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, books, and counseling services, available on Health101.org.