Clinical nutrtionist Dr Fred Bisci has been following a raw food diet for over 40 years. At 80 years of age, he is in peak health. During his long career he has helped over 35,000 people through lifestyle transformations and, in many cases, serious diseases. Here he talks to Sarah Best about his approach to optimum wellness - and offers advice for avoiding the pitfalls commonly encountered by those who go raw. This is an extended excerpt of the interview which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Get Fresh! magazine.
Although you’ve personally been eating 100% raw for over 40 years, you believe that many people will do better eating high raw rather than all raw. Could you explain why?
People really have to know what they’re doing when they’re 100% raw long term. I’ve been observing this scene for 60 years and I’ve seen many people get into the raw diet where it turned out to be a disaster. A lot of the people who come to me are people who tried
certain approaches to the raw diet and ran into serious problems.
Many people who go all raw start out feeling very well the first five or six years, but don’t do well long term. When people come to see me the first thing I ask is what can they realistically commit to on the raw food lifestyle and whether they have had a recent blood test. If not, I recommend that they get a complete blood test, including nutrient profile, from their doctor.
I have seen as the years go on with a vegan diet you have to watch out for vitamin B12 deficiency, and if you live in a cold climate, you could run into a vitamin D deficiency. Being 100% raw in a cold climate is very different from being 100% raw in a tropical climate. It’s also quite common for long-term raw vegans to be deficient in trace minerals.
There are a lot of vulnerable people out there, and some of those who are advising others are not factoring in emotional-psychological health. For example, I recently saw a young person with thyroid and adrenal problems and serious emotional issues. That person had been following someone else’s raw food programme but shouldn’t have been eating all raw.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me. The raw vegan diet – for those who do it correctly, and long term – can produce optimal results. There are no two ways about it. But changing your diet and lifestyle so you leave out all processed food is fantastic, too. You don’t need to eat 100% raw vegan to live a long, healthy life. Most of my clients follow my “Intermediate Level lifestyle” which is 80% raw.
So you’re not in the “cooked food is poison” camp…
Many of the people I’ve helped got their health back while eating a moderate amount of cooked food. As long as it’s clean, they do very well. The biggest positive of the raw food diet is that you’re leaving out everything that should be left out. That’s the key. But if you’re eating 50% raw, no processed food and everything in its highest quality, you’ll have a tremendous recovery in your health. I’ve seen so many people do it this way, but you have to look at each individual. If someone wants to go 100% raw, that’s fantastic. If they want to go 50%, 80% or 90% raw and eat some clean cooked food, that’s great too.
A lot of people come to me while they’re doing chemotherapy. I can’t tell them to stop – that’s between them and their doctor. Being that I am not a medical doctor, I cannot legally diagnose or prescribe any treatment. With that being said, I have seen many miraculous
recoveries. I’ve had many people come to see me at the last stage of everything. My goal is to reach the people who never want to get to that place!
Please tell us more about your “Intermediate Level Lifestyle”.
This programme takes everything into consideration, including what works for you psychologically, practically and socially. It’s approximately 80% raw and 100% whole foods. It can be varied according to people’s preferences: for example, vegan or a moderate amount of non vegan foods – I give people many, many options. I encourage people to go vegan if they can, but some people don’t want to be vegan. In many cases, that’s fine as long as they eat only “clean” animal protein, and they eat it in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle. Do they need the animal protein? No – people would be better off supplementing any missing nutrients that are indicated than eating animal protein.
My approach is not dogmatic. I make it doable so that it works. I have to meet people where they’re at, and no two people are the same. There are so many variables – that’s the whole key. It’s not just about the food. That’s very important but there are so many other factors. You can’t look at two people and treat them as if they’re the same, but many teachers seem to think their experience is the same as everyone else’s.
A persistent concern in the raw food arena is that there is so little consensus among experts about what a healthy raw diet looks like. On top of that, there is the concern that some of those promoting their particular version of the raw diet may not in fact be eating that diet themselves.
I joke that I’d like to take a polygraph machine to the next raw conference I go to! There are people telling others how to do this when they’ve never done it themselves. They might be 90% raw but saying they’re 100% raw and telling others to be this way – 90% raw and 100% raw are two very different things.
There are also 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. I don’t want to put anyone down but I wish they wouldn’t do it. In my opinion, some people are even creating polarity just so they can differentiate themselves in the market.
Because of the interest in raw food we also have people with no clinical experience who’ve only been experimenting with this lifestyle for a short time who have developed an internet presence, and others are listening to them.
So people shouldn’t just follow blindly. We need to get away from abstract science and focus on real science. We have to approach this with as much real science as we have available.
Buy the Spring issue to read the rest of the interview and find out Dr Bisci's views on high-fruit diets and fasting, his top 11 tips for a long and healthy life, and more.
Dr Bisci is available for consultations, both at his Staten Island practice and by telephone. For more information visit fredbisci4health.com or ring (001) 914-619-5397.