One of the easiest areas of our life should be how to feed ourselves. After all, every single animal in nature knows what to eat, when to eat, and how much to keep a perfect body weight and health. The problems we see with weight and disease are virtually unknown to animals in the wild. Yet, for us (and the animals in our care) the story is completely different. What to eat and how to feed ourselves is today one of the most daunting tasks, cloaked in confusion and misinformation.
For several decades now, as people have continued to awaken to a more nature-aligned lifestyle, we have seen the surge of popularity in the vegan and raw diets. In many ways this way of eating is seen as simpler, more natural and easy. Yet even within this area of eating, there has surfaced a good share of confusion and misinformation. How much raw is the best way to go? What should one really be eating? How much fruit? How much protein? How much fat? How to get enough calories? These, and many other questions are asked by all at some point in their journey into the vegan and/or raw food lifestyle.
However, amidst all of these questions two areas seem to stand out as the most common and not just in the raw-vegan diet, but in our mainstream overall. These being our fear of sugar (fruit) and fat. In the following article I hope to educate and empower you to see these two nutrients with clarity when it comes to how you should be incorporating them as part of your everyday diet.
The Fruit Dilemma
To date, the mainstream health and nutrition organizations recommend anywhere from 5 – 10 fruits and vegetables per day, or a minimum of 1/3rd of one’s diet to come from these sources. However, despite these common recommendations, we know that we have some serious nutrition problems in the population. On the one hand, we still have the majority of the population not getting enough of these vital food sources, while on the other hand we have an increasingly large number of people fearing the consumption of fruits.
From my research thus far, I have found that the main fruit dilemma has come from two areas. The first is our society’s serious deviation from the natural balance of life, while the other is from our obsession with and abuse of sugar. It always saddens me when I hear people limiting their fruit intake (unless for some temporary treatment) because fruit is the MOST natural, wholesome and nutritious food source for us. In fact, as many debate the role of plant or animal foods in the human diet, with the plant eaters chiding the animal eaters, and the animal eaters chiding the plant eaters, there is no debate when it comes to fruit. Fruits are the clearest sign from nature that they are meant to be eaten. Aside from taste and color, a basic plant biology lesson proves this further outright.
So why the fear, confusion and problems? For starters as mentioned, our society today has a very hard time understanding what is natural. Normal is not natural. It is normal for people today to fill themselves on processed junk food, yet fear the sugar from fruits, or the fat from nuts, but this is far from natural. Yes, some experts will claim that all fat is fat and all sugar is sugar, but this is such a gross oversimplification that leads to much of the fear and confusion we have prevalent today.
Fruit sugar should NEVER be compared to fruit juice sugar, or any kind of refined sugar, or refined sugar based food. Yes, at the end of the day we are talking about molecules of glucose and fructose, but what matters is what “form” that sugar is coming into your body in. Is it coming as part of a refined and nutrient stripped food product, or is it coming in as part of a fiber and nutrient rich food product? How fast the sugar will be digested and how it will be used will be very different depending on its source. A whole food, like an apple, comes into our bodies with all of the necessary information and benefits for the body to utilize it for health, healing and prevention. A refined food, like a doughnut, comes into our bodies as a foreign substance, which the body has to figure out how to deal with, and have it cause as little damage as possible. The differences are as vast as comparing a puddle of water to an ocean. It is not all “just water” at the end of the day.
So yes, we have a major sugar problem in our society today, with the majority of people abusing sugar just like any other addictive drug. But we cannot let this steer us away from one of the best, most nutritious and healthy foods for us. Secondly, we need to get back into balance – balance with nature, balance with ourselves – and listen to our bodies. The excess weight or diabetes type 2 is never because of whole, raw fruit. We need to seriously clean up our diet, before we start eliminating or attacking, whole, real food.
Having said all this, my personal recommendations to people to date have still been on the somewhat conservative side, where I recommend about 2 to 4 fruits (fruit servings) per day. But naturally, this will vary for people depending on their body and health needs. I definitely think that people can safely eat and enjoy more fruits than that per day, and many people prove this by thriving on high, raw fruit diets. However, to take into consideration the majority of people’s needs, and to leave room for other nutrients, those have been my general recommendations. Please do not let that prevent you from eating more fruit if you feel called to do so.
The best advice is be in alignment with nature and listen to your body. But not “listen to your body” while under the influence of this or that expert out there, or from some state of fear. Simply tune in and stay aware of what natural foods are calling to you, when and how much. But never, ever deny yourself the most nutritious food sources that nature intended for your health and well-being.
The Fat Dilemma
A similar fear as the fruit dilemma has revolved around the amount and type of fat in the raw, vegan diet. Like with the sugar above, I have found this to come from two main areas. First, our mainstream society has had a love-hate relationship with fat, and for decades we have been told to steer on the side of “low fat” in our diets, while other experts have promoted high fat diets. Again, this has not been implemented to our benefit either way, as the majority of the population continues to eat too much fat, and of the unhealthiest kinds. Secondly, many in the raw-vegan communities have been influenced by the 80-10-10 diet created by Dr. Douglas M. Graham. It is known as the low fat, raw, vegan diet, where 80% of your food comes from fruits and vegetables, 10% from protein and 10% from fat. While I will not dissect the pros and cons of this dietary approach in this article, let us turn to the fat dilemma alone to empower ourselves and properly understand the fat in our diet.
For starters, fat is not only a healthy component, but a necessary component of our diet. Your brain, all cells and proper nutrient absorption, among other things depend on it. The problem therefore is not fat itself, but its source and amount. When it comes to the source, since we are focusing on a raw-vegan diet, we can easily eliminate all animal products. As an aside, these are grossly over-consumed in our society and some of the unhealthiest sources of fat for the majority. That leaves us with oils, nuts & seeds, as well as something like the avocado fruit. Let us not miss however, that almost ALL plant foods have some fatty acid composition, just because it is ultra low, does not mean that they are 100% fat free. This is where the 80-10-10 approach can work for us in the sense that all plant foods have some protein and some fat, and when eaten as part of a rich variety can provide all of these nutrients for us easily, without us counting a thing.
When it comes to oils, this is normally where the main problem lies (as with most refined foods). Oils like olive oil, flax, hemp, coconut oil, are extracts of the whole food itself. Therefore they will be controversial depending on the nutrition expert’s position. Some experts believe they can be a very healthy part of our diet, while others shun their very existence as unnatural. Think about it, no species in nature eats extracted oils or fats. They always eat fat as part of the whole food itself. However, I personally believe that as long as one is not dealing with some chronic disease, unrefined, virgin oils like coconut, hemp, flax or olive oil can be a very healthy addition to one’s diet, especially for those who eat raw-vegan. But as always whole food, natural sources should always be our first choice. This is where seeds and nuts, and the avocado make excellent additions to easily meet our dietary fat needs.
When it comes to how much fat, the question is a very hard one to answer accurately across the board. It really all depends on your age, where you live and what your metabolic needs are. Take this example to drive the point home. A polar bear living in the arctic will eat a predominantly high fat, high protein diet, where as a polar bear living in a California zoo will eat a 95% low fat, low protein, vegan diet. So what does this mean for us? Well, it does not necessarily mean that people living in colder climates need more fat than those living in warmer climates. Yes, centuries ago this would be very true, but not today with our modern heating and cooling systems, and sedentary lifestyles. Regardless, when we balance and align ourselves with nature, we will naturally find ourselves eating more fat in the colder months, and very little in the warmer months. Speaking of balance, unless it is in its refined form, such a fried, salted or seasoned, it is rather hard to overeat fat. When we come into alignment with our bodies, it is one of the easiest nutrients to regulate yourself on naturally. I have yet to see someone regularly overeat a whole food, pure or high fat source. Our internal regulation mechanisms give us feedback that do not make us feel good if we eat too many raw nuts or avocados. Now naturally the more processed they are as part of other foods, the harder it may be to decipher what a healthy balance is for the novice raw-vegan. But the more we tune into our bodies, the better we get at knowing what our bodies need, when and how much.
And What About Those Calories
Finally, many who follow or start a vegan, or especially a raw-vegan diet, usually run into the dilemma of getting “enough calories”. To understand and address this properly we first have to understand where the notion of “enough” calories came from. Unfortunately as with many things in our society, half-truths and misinformation spreads like wildfire. In nature animals never worry about getting enough calories. They know how to moderate themselves in terms of how much food they need. Of course it would be nice to say that “enough” is eating to satisfy your hunger, or “enough” is when your body tells you so, but again most people today are so out of tune with their bodies that the natural hunger or thirst cues are in no way adequate at meeting our health needs. We know we have a big problem with majority of people eating when they are not hungry, or drinking when they are not thirsty, or the opposite as well. In essence however, one thing is clear – we eat too much food in our society today for our own good. As the saying goes, “we are overfed and undernourished.”
Longevity experts have found through numerous studies that calorie restricted diets are directly related to better health and longevity. This is where I agree wholeheartedly and will say it again – we eat too much today, almost regardless of what we eat. Of course your intake will vary at different stages of your life, whether you are pregnant or an athlete, and from day to today. But in general, as a society we do not realize how much more we eat than we actually need. This brings us to the most important part about understanding calories. All calories are in no way equal. 100 calories of fruit is not equal to 100 calories of chips. There are vast differences in how your body will process these, and what it will do with them. The 100 calories of fruit are fully usable as they contain all the macro and micro nutrients your body needs to build itself. The 100 calories of chips are gravely nutrient deficient and good for one main thing, storing the excess energy that is of little use in the short run, and may never be used in the long run.
So when raw-vegan foodists hear that on average adult humans should be eating 2,000 calories a day, the question should always be, calories of what? Because the truth is that most people who eat 1,500 calories of whole, natural, raw, plant food will fare much better, have better satiety and energy levels, than someone eating 2,500 or more calories of processed food. In general, as long as one is eating a diverse, whole foods, natural diet, there should not be a problem with getting enough calories. Whether it works for you to eat your 3 main meals and 2 snacks, or 4 to 6 small meals spread throughout the day, just eat enough not to go hungry and from a wide variety of whole, natural plant foods, with leafy greens and vegetables being most predominant. This will not necessarily apply to fruititarians of course. However I trust anyone choosing that path will make it work just as well as any committed and well educated vegan, or raw-vegan will theirs.
Raw-vegans also need to remember that raw does not mean we cannot heat process anything. Your nutrients and calories can easily come from sauteed mushrooms, low-heat cooked soups, or steamed vegetables. As I share in many of my resources, I advocate for people to eat a diverse, whole food, natural plant diet that consists of vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, beans and grains. Each of these can be eaten in their fully raw, or slightly cooked form to maintain its nutritional integrity and provide a wide variety of nutrients for us each day. However, I do not give any numbers for each of these foods because only your body can tell you how much of each food is best for you daily. Some days you will be more called to fruits, other days to beans. Be flexible and listen to what your body needs, aiming for a wide variety of plant foods daily.
At the end of the day simply ask yourself, how do I feel? I cannot emphasize enough to focus on aligning your life to be most in balance with nature and yourself, so that you can listen to and actually trust your body. You will know best if today you need 4 fruits and tomorrow 6 fruits, or if today you need two handfuls of nuts where as tomorrow you don’t need any. No one out there, no matter what expert will ever know what is best for you as much as you will for yourself, when you learn to work with your body’s natural state of balance. The healthiest foundation has already been set by you choosing a vegan and mainly raw food lifestyle. The rest, in terms of how to best utilize this is up to you.
Most importantly do not get hung up on what is right for someone else. Find what works and feels most right for you, and be flexible with it as your personal needs and health dictate. It is my complete faith and belief that anyone consciously consuming a diverse, whole food, plant based diet cannot go wrong. Notice I said “consciously”, for anything done out of fear, ignorance or imbalance is set to fail at some point.
For further reading on this topic, I recommend two resources. One is an article I wrote previously to help vegans or vegetarians transition in the most healthful way to this way of eating, knowing where their food and calories should come from. The second is the book Conscious Eating by Dr. Gabriel Cousens. This is an outstanding and incredibly thorough resource that speaks for itself in how it helps us become most in alignment with the raw, vegan or vegetarian way of life, as one that can be the healthiest way to feed ourselves – not just for our body, but our mind and spirit as well.
Trust and have faith in the wisdom and intelligence of your body. It may have become temporarily concealed, but it is always there for you when you are ready to tap into its innate and infinite potential.
On October 28, 2012, Ariel wrote in to share the following about this topic:
As someone who was struck into perplexity long and hard by these two specific topics, I very much enjoyed this article .
I wish to add two points drawn from my perspective and experience with raw/vegan/fruit diets; first one being that I feel our society is just way too hung up and generally occupied with themes of distress and danger (than is realistic to). Reflecting on the past, I noticed that in other times, I may have been pursuing dietary regimes that are far more harmful and dangerous to the body (high protein, high animal product intake etc) but I wasn’t even thinking about that for a second. (Also applies to endeavors which has nothing to do with dieting…)
We are programmed into these self defeating and simply irrelevant feelings towards reality. e.g. We may actually be scared, feel FEAR substantially by thinking of eating (or not eating) the top of the tomato (because we’re not used to it) while it is green, natural and probably extremely healthy to eat along with the red part, while at the same time we could eat a quarter pound of cookies without giving the subject any thought (which is a mixture of chemicals and preservatives and what not.. ) see my point ? We are not responding emotionally to reality, we are responding to a self generated projection of it. I feel we need to supervise our emotions and feelings and make sure they support a healthy, sane, fine with uncertainty, balanced view of reality. That’s all. Being safe and healthy is easy and straightforward . Dying is what should be hard. And like the great Tom Campbell puts it:
Truth and love will never drive you crazy. Only fear and ignorance can do that.
Second point has to do with something I experienced following raw vegan high fruit periods mainly. During those times, I noticed that my physical body’s intuition skyrocketed in its conspicuousness. I feel these diets just make our bodies more basic – which is entirely different than just fit or healthy. And so suddenly I feel all these intuitive things about my food. Like this fruit is better for me than that one. This water is really bad. This right here is enough green matter for this meal. etc etc. And for me the most important thing, the most liberating insight, is remembering to just relax and enjoy the process. if you think again about making our bodies more basic, then that could actually bring unresolved emotional content to the foreground and stuff like that and so might be ‘dangerous’ but even if that does occur, so what ? So what if you binge a little.
Who’s to say that relapse isn’t a natural part of this learning curve. One of the most detrimental fallacies of todays way of living, I believe, is how we stopped playing in our lives. This trying to pin down the exact right way without finding it ourselves is fueled by a fear which was injected into us, and more importantly, it fuels an unsatisfying life that is lacking and could not but be saturated with fear, doubt, and so on. Playing on the other hand, taking the courage and resources to play without being too insistent on establishing facts and instead striving to have more experiences is a surefire way to reach insights, get what you want, become smarter, more aware, more knowledgable and more confident in what you are doing. Example: One resource which may be worth mentioning is Dr. Bass (drbass.com) who is a smart hygienist (natural hygiene is (a field) what started this whole raw food movement really) . He for example generally does not recommend fruit eating but says it can be done etc. What he does say is that in any case, problems from living on fruits could arise after a minimum of 2-3 months , so if you have that as a safety net, and you realize that you are perfectly safe for at least 2-3 months, and that’s even not taking into account greens, some complex carbs you may be eating, beans, superfoods, etc, it really can give you the confidence to go with what you want to do for some time. Usually, 2-3 weeks will be more than enough to reach new levels of understanding and by then everything has already changed… So again, perspective. Just be vigilant to not collapse under irrational fear. Trust what’s happening and enjoy it. I like to say, instead of the usual no pain no gain, ‘if it’s not fun, it won’t get done.’
Sadly, I feel that many people in this raw food and natural health movement are being unpurposefully drawn to feel they are not healthy, something which supports further malfunction. I know I’ve certainly been a victim of this. You start thinking that the 80-10-10 is health and all else as not, when it’s obvious that some people are very healthy having nothing to do with or already surpassing 80-10-10. (obviously this is a massive generalization and could be applied to a million other things than 80-10-10) It’s important to remember, and I’m speaking from my perspective, as a generally healthy young man, that even if we experience some not-optimal conditions, like fatigue, confusion, indigestion, or some deviation from the norm on our blood tests, and so on, that we are healthy and safe and that everything is fine and dandy. When I look at the way I eat as a tool, thinking to myself, ok, this is how I feel, how can I, most assuredly and drastically , assist my body to improve my condition with this next meal, things are bound to fall right ! And what a great tool this is ! wholesome foods are things you can never overeat it, and even if you try, you will lose weight trying ! In fact, I’ll spend two minutes right now manufacturing gratitude for the so useful knowledge that I already have like, me, in my left brained pursuit for health, even if I didn’t have the raw piece of the puzzle, my brain would still be hammering away at the situation. So if we take it outside for a sec, and just look at it as a TOOL, and keep thinking about other, general aspects of health, perhaps we are bound to unravel some mysteries.
Good luck & good fun to every one :)