By Sarah Best.
As you may already have noticed, a big change has taken place in the raw food world, and this change is ongoing. More and more raw food authors, coaches and speakers are coming forward either to say they're not vegan anymore, to publicly promote the health benefits of certain animal products, or to warn that the vegan diet does not provide all necessary nutrients so vegans must supplement.
Taking into account those raw leaders who have never been completely vegan anyway, we can now count very few raw food promoters who are 100% vegan themselves and who also say that a 100% raw vegan diet provides us with everything we need (i.e. that there is no need to supplement). We decided a while ago that this phenomenon deserved a closer look, so we have been busy discussing this shift with our contacts and also investigating what may be causing it.
Before going any further, we wish to acknowledge the gigantic ethical and environmental justifications for avoiding animal products, and the fact that for many, eating these foods is not an option, regardless of any alleged or real health benefits. And indeed this is why
there are passionate vegans who do not believe the vegan diet is our natural diet, but who choose to stay vegan and supplement rather than consume animal products.
Today we bring you the opinions of five people who are well-known in the raw food community. This is a small cross section of the comments we've collected, and it is representative of the answers we've been hearing in response to our question, "Why has there been a shift away from veganism in the raw movement?"
Fred Bisci is a nutritionist and food scientist. He has been following a raw diet for over 40 years. He is vegan and believes a raw vegan diet can be the healthiest way to eat if people do it correctly, which means monitoring their nutrient levels and supplementing where necessary.
“What has come out is only the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of whether raw promoters are really doing what they're saying or comprehending what they're doing, people shouldn’t just follow blindly. There are many out there telling others their philosophy and their anecdotal stories about how to be raw vegan without understanding all the variables that apply to the physiology and chemistry of the human body. There are no two ways about it – a raw vegan lifestyle done correctly is fantastic. But we have to approach this with as much science as we have available. People really have to know what they’re doing when they’re 100% raw vegan long term.
As the years go by, those on a vegan lifestyle have to watch out for B12 deficiency, and if they live in a cold climate, for vitamin D deficiency. People can also run short of trace minerals. When people come to see me, the first thing I ask is whether they have had a recent blood work and if not I tell them to go get a complete blood test, including nutrient profile. In some cases people may have to take some B12 and vitamin D and mineral supplements. If they do this, animal protein is not necessary. This is how I live. For those who want to eat animal protein, it must be clean, in moderation, and in the context of a high-raw, plant-based approach.
If someone has been eating raw vegan for 10 or 20 years or longer and they go back to animal protein the possibility does exist that they can develop a serious disease. I have seen it happen more times than I like to remember. If a person has truly been eating 100% raw, the longer they do it the more risk they take by going back. You don't need to eat 100% raw vegan to live a long, healthy life. However, this lifestyle, for those who do it correctly, can produce optimal results.”
Elaine Bruce is the founder and director of the UK Centre for Living Foods and has been following Dr Ann Wigmore’s living foods programme for over two decades. She is no longer vegan since being diagnosed with an essential fatty acid deficiency, despite taking a daily dose of flax oil.
“I recently went back to using a little dairy, specifically cottage cheese mixed with my daily dose of flax oil, in order to assimilate this oil supplement which is so essential to a balanced intake of essential fatty acids (EFAs). There is good research to support this move, for example Joanna Budwig's work on flax oil, which underpins the more recent work of writers on oils and EFAs, notably Udo Erasmus, who acknowledges her work. My experience, though I was very reluctant to take this step, is feeling better balanced, and noticing that a state of occasional brain-fog lifts very soon after eating a little cottage cheese with flax oil.
It is difficult to take on board that our ideal of veganism, while ethically admirable, may in fact be injurious to health in the long term. It's worth considering that we have only been experimenting with versions of the vegan diet for a few decades; not long enough to know what the long-term effects are for most people. Another variable is our genetic type. Not all of us thrive on the same diet, and this research also is in its infancy."
Raw food author and speaker Dr Douglas Graham has been following a raw vegan diet for 30 years, and teaches that our natural and optimal diet is an unsupplemented, high-fruit, low-fat, 100% raw vegan diet.
“Human beings operate under a comprehensive set of natural laws that can only be proven, never broken. When we make short-term lifestyle or food style deviations outside of those laws, there is always a price to pay, and the body will always let us know, via the creation and ongoing generation of signs and symptoms, that something is amiss. Typically, when we follow a diet that is not taking us where we hope and expect to go, we intuitively know it is time to change our diet. Incremental dietary improvements will result in proportional health improvements, but ideal health can only be achieved when we practice and follow an ideal health and dietary regimen.
It comes as no surprise to me that many leaders of the raw food movement are now openly admitting that they have been eating non-vegan foods. The writing has been on the wall for years. All one needs to do is look at the lack of results these leaders are showing in their own personal health, notice how they go from program to program, or add up the nutritional and calorie numbers and see that that they do not add up to healthy results.
When I heard raw food leaders saying such things as, “calories are a dead issue,” “don't crunch the numbers, just eat raw food,” “fruits and vegetables are a waste of time nutritionally,” “you can learn to live without eating fruit,” “each person has to find what works for them,” and giving other scientifically unsound and unsustainable advice, I knew it was only a matter of time till they would have to admit that the program they were following was not working for them. The truth always wins out, and nature's laws cannot be ignored.”
Holly Paige, author of the upcoming book Food for Consciousness, was previously raw vegan and now follows and promotes a non-vegan raw diet.
“In my view, the simple explanation is that an increasing number of people are finding out that raw veganism does not work long term. Contrary to what people hear when they first get involved, the raw movement is littered with nutritional casualties. It was only a few years ago that substantial numbers of people started to go raw vegan and it can take years for the symptoms of deficiency to show up. As there has been little information available about the potential pitfalls of raw diets, it has taken a lot of time to find out and share the information about how to avoid them – and they can be avoided for sure.
Ironically many of the people who have spoken out have done so after experience of many years being or trying to be raw vegan. They were in favour of the ideal as much as anyone – they just found it didn't work in practice. In fact it was in dedication to the ideal that the pitfalls were discovered. The issues seem to be particularly acute in temperate climates and with children – there are too many to detail here but a couple of the major ones are lack of fat-soluble vitamins and B12. We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The ethical production of raw dairy products, for example, is easily possible, especially if we are willing to engage in honest economics.”
Shazzie has been vegan for 25 years and raw for 10 but teaches that in order to be healthy on a vegan diet, it is essential to take the right supplements. In her 2008 book, Evie’s Kitchen, she lays out the nutrients which are either absent on vegan diets, or hard to get enough of.
“Of course we want to be compassionate to all beings, yet we can’t ignore the fact that our species hasn’t evolved to be 100% vegan. This means that if we choose to be vegan without supplementing (and especially raw, eschewing all fortified cooked products), we miss out on vital nutrients such as B12, choline, vitamin K2 and vitamin D (in some countries) and we may be low in all B vitamins, DHA, minerals and other nutrients. I spent four years researching how to have a 100% vegan diet that would work long term (ensuring no deficiencies) for both adults and developing children alike, and put the detailed findings in my book Evie’s Kitchen.
I did this because I want to remain vegan and I want the raw food culture to have every chance of raising healthy children – vegan or not. If you aren’t prepared to supplement yourself or your child, then you shouldn’t be vegan because the risk of deficiencies is too high. We are talking about more than vitamin B12 and it’s about time all vegan promoters acknowledged this for the sake of our future generations of vegan children.
I have spoken to many of the raw foodists who are turning to animal products, and the general consensus is they never had vegan ethics before going into raw food, it’s just that some people were shouting so loud about raw veganism that it appealed to their ideals of purification and detoxification at the time. Yet now they are aware there are other, non-vegan ways of eating raw food, they’re giving it a go. Quite often they haven’t been supplementing in the way I recommend, so the addition of animal products makes them feel better than being an unsupplemented vegan. Neither way is wrong, I just want people to be healthy and happy.”
We haven’t only been speaking to well-known raw food experts about this issue. We’ve also been asking our friends, readers and customers. A surprising phenomenon we’ve uncovered is that many raw food enthusiasts who identify themselves as vegans are in fact not totally vegan. Whether it’s a free range organic egg or a little raw goat’s cheese once a week or some fish once a month, these people think of themselves as vegan and will tell you they’re vegan – no doubt because, unlike the average eater, most of what they eat is completely free of anything animal-based and they wish to keep it that way. This makes us wonder how many more who identify themselves as vegans are doing the same but not admitting to it.
We have been collecting a vast amount of information, both scientific and anecdotal, on the topic of raw vegan diets and we’ll be back with more of that information soon – next time with the focus on the scientific. For now we’re interested in what you think, so please leave a comment on this post and let us, and other readers, know, and also be sure to include any questions you’d like answered on this topic.