Trouble in Raw Vegan Paradise?

Well, my Google alert for vitamin K2 — of all things — turned up this interesting blog post at The Fresh Network Blog.

Why the shift away from veganism in the raw world?

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…

Some interesting quotes from various luminaries in the raw vegan movement.

“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…."

"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 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…"

"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…"

"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…"

“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…"

And more from the post’s author.

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.

The comments are an interesting read, too, as by far most of them extoll how wonderful raw veganism is and that they have no problems at all and have been at it for decades and yada yada. There were a couple of admissions, however.

"we were animals long before we had ethics and its frustrating that our bodies don’t care much about the latter!"

"Somewhat disconcerted that ‘gurus’ could be returning to animal products…"

Well, lest we get too cocky, problems crop up in the "paleo" arena too. But, while I congratulate them on their honesty and willingness to air dirty laundry in public, I just think the enormity of the multi-faceted, long-term, getting-worse-and-worse problem leads to one thing: they are eating a highly un-nature-al diet. Ironic then, that the pursuit of veganism for so many is out of a respect for nature, misguided as it is — as exhaustively outlined by Lierre Keith in The vegetarian Myth. The takeaway for me if you read that whole linked post above is that the only way to do the diet healthfully is with some pretty intense and complex supplementation. And that’s not for optimal health, that’s for just-getting-by health. Explicitly, it is for the purpose of fixing a nutrient deficient diet! Why would anyone want to eat a nutrient deficient diet?

As for the paleo problems, most people fix those easy by adding back a bit of carbs via starch, and — in my case — upping my intake of fish and supplementing with iodine. Huge improvements for me in the space of a week. I think what happened is that in my zeal for the beef & lamb bone stocks I do, the red meat I cook, and my recent foray into grassfed meats resulted in my fish consumption going way down. In addition, I’ve somewhat gotten a bit tired of eggs and for a while was hardly eating them at all. So, it looks like what I did was create my own problems by not paying attention to what I was eating.

At any rate, that post is pretty damning when you consider that it’s the gurus themselves returning to animal products, combined with their admissions that a raw vegan approach requires great care and complex supplementation.

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  1. Organic Gabe on January 27, 2010 at 14:43

    This is what happens to invented manmade diets – they fail.

  2. Michael on January 27, 2010 at 15:13


    This has been true for years. I think it is Chet Day who has an article up about all the cheating vegan/raw food “gurus” over the last 100 years or so. I have noted for years on various groups that anyone who cheats, even just on an occasional basis is not a vegan, as the addition of animal food to the diet makes a huge qualitative difference, which can’t be achieved just on vegan fare alone. So any claims to health they make based just on vegan fare are bogus.

    It is also why I snicker when vegetarians attempt to ally themselves with vegans. They may think they are doing so ethically but in this world there are only two groups, people who eat animal products and people who don’t, and vegetarians (as opposed to vegans) are clearly amongst the former and not the latter.

  3. Melissa on January 27, 2010 at 16:56

    I actually used to be raw vegan. There is a big movement away from veganism in the raw community now, with the most prominent defectors being Daniel Vitalis and The Raw Model ( I used to be a member of some raw forums and there were arguments about this ALL the time. It used to be a rare subject when raw just started being poular, but as people have been on raw diets for a long time they started noticing problems more. The disturbing offshoot of this is that fruitarianism seems more popular, but it’s amazing what the adult human body can survive on…

    I like what I learned while raw, like about how delicious some raw meat and fish is and some good recipes using thai coconuts and nuts, but I like eating pork, so I guess I’m “cooked” as they say it.

  4. Richard Nikoley on January 27, 2010 at 17:04

    ” but it’s amazing what the adult human body can survive on…”

    Yea Melissa. We’re victims of our own astounding evolutionary generalism. We should never forget that. It’s a blessing more than a curse. About the only animal capable of eating a highly barrows diet is dogs. Of course, they evolved eating from our garbage.

  5. Richard Nikoley on January 27, 2010 at 17:07

    I meant highly varried diet.

    • Kurt G Harris MD on January 28, 2010 at 15:58

      Richard, are you using Macspeech Dictate by any chance?

      That looked like a speech recognition typo.

      I use Macspeech Dictate – it works amazingly well. Better than Dragon on Windows with less training.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 28, 2010 at 16:00

        No, it’s the iPhone. I published before reading.

  6. Sue on January 27, 2010 at 18:52

    Melissa, I checked out the raw model. A quote from him:

    “I limited myself to the raw vegan paradigm, and as long as
    I stuck my head in vegan-sand everything made sense.
    Sure, some person’s teeth were rotting and sure that person
    looked all ragged and stripped out, but damn,

    That is, until I was blessed enough to hear some other viewpoints
    and then make the unbiased decision for myself.
    I simply bring some other viewpoints and let people decide.
    This is one opinion, why trash it just because its not yours?
    Ive felt GREAT on low fat raw vegan but it didnt last forever.
    My teeth would start to hurt and I got some cavities.
    And of course, constant eating and always thinking about food
    and being so bipolar and judgmental towards nice people.
    What am I supposed to do, keep doing the same thing?”

    • Jennifer on January 30, 2010 at 02:34

      I’ve followed Anthony’s (raw model) blog for years and was happy to read that post you mentioned. But until he made that post, he never once mentioned many of those things, eg. constantly thinking about food, bipolar and being judgemental etc He raved about how raw foods gave him a blissful euphoric mental state, and much deeper love, kindness etc towards people. Guess hindsight is a wonderful thing :-) So many of these raw foodies preach in a way that makes you feel like you are doing something wrong by not living like them. Hope many more come out and speak the whole truth.

  7. Sue on January 27, 2010 at 18:54

    And this:

    “Here are some cornerstones that one can gravitiate

    1. Whole unprocessed foods. This is pretty much 90% of people’s problem.
    2. Fermented foods. This would take care of so much illness.
    3. Low Sugar. Low sugar. Low sugar. Play with stevia and use
    HQ sweeteners when needed and treat fruit as a treat not a staple.
    4. Highly mineralized sea veggies and leafy greens.
    5. If no longer vegan – grass fed and wild animal products.
    6. Make some exceptions for heaven’s sake. Its just one meal!

  8. Ned Kock on January 27, 2010 at 19:28

    If you will eat fish, I recommend eating small fish whole.

    I have a couple of simple recipes on my blog with smelts and sardines:

    The move will most likely do you well.

  9. D on January 27, 2010 at 19:38

    I’m starting to think that the only thing we need to do is Intermittent Fasting. Veg does not work. Low carb/ Paleo works if you have weight to lose, but do you need to stick to it after the weight is lost?

    Look at France, Spain, Japan etc, where the majority of the people are slim, trim and happy but seem to enjoy a variety of foods. But France and Spain both have in common that it is the norm to eat very small or none breakfast; very small lunch and a large dinner. This would fit into the IF mold.

    I used a low carb diet to shed pounds, but now I feel much more happy and socially accepted eating a mixed diet, and skipping breakfast and lunch every once in awhile.

    Life is too short to cut yourself off from others because of the way you eat. I think that countries such as the US and England we tend to base our diets way too heavily on carbs and that is bad. So a low carb thing for awhile to balance it out helps but after that I believe you can eat what you want as long as you keep the BALANCE and not be a carb glutton.

    • Hans Schrauwen on January 27, 2010 at 23:18

      Agreed, after 2,5y low carbing of which 1,5 paleo I found out that if I just stick to the basics:
      – include (some) fermented food every day
      – eat fish, clams every couple days
      – eat offal every week (heart, liver, brain, bone marrow)
      – include lot’s of fresh vegetables
      – completely avoid sugar (even in fruit)
      – avoid too much bread/alcohol
      – avoid the vegetable oils
      – skip breakfast and sometimes lunch
      and stay moderately active,

      I can eat pretty much eat/do whatever I want it does not seem to matter any more. High/low caloric, high/low volume, high/low fibre, lot’s of meat or none, I don’t gain or lose weight any more…

    • Melissa on January 28, 2010 at 09:10

      I don’t feel cut off from others and when traveling I ate mostly paleo and still enjoyed the local cuisines, but maybe it’s because I traveled in fat loving eastern Europe and live in fat trendy NYC. For me it’s about avoiding stomach problems, so I guess it’s different for people who just wanted to lose weight.

      When I do eat non-paleo food, I make sure it’s prepared traditionally. I think my priorities are
      1. paleo
      2. traditional (dosas, miso, soy sauce, etc.)

      Paleo is first, but I’m not going to miss out on kimchee or miso either. Besides, things like that are relatively harmless.

  10. Jim Purdy on January 27, 2010 at 19:49

    Since everybody is different, a little bit of Seth Roberts-type self-experimentation is probably the best way to find what works for each of us.

    The 50 Best Health Blogs

  11. zach on January 28, 2010 at 07:36

    I wish the raw vegans could explain to me what is so unethical about raw, pastured eggs and dairy. I would think one could be very healthy if you added those two. What would you be missing?

    • gallier2 on January 28, 2010 at 08:44

      Eggs aren’t unethical. As for the dairy one can construe the fact that calves and lambs are slaughtered so that the milk the cows and ewes give can be consumed by man instead of her offspring.

  12. alec on January 28, 2010 at 08:02

    This is great that you are publicizing this Richard.

    I went vegetarian for a year largely for philosophical and ethical reasons. The results were disastrous.

    * first I was a bit more chilled out and less intense (everyone happy)
    * then I lost interest in other women (girlfriend delighted)
    * then I lost interest in her (less happy)
    * then I lost interest in work (no one happy at this point)

    I then went back to a mixed meat diet (two or three portions of meat per week) and within a couple of weeks I was back to my normal high-energy self with very healthy appetites all round.

    When I did my research, I found out that many people with low energy are pushed by their doctors to eat more meat.

    Whether one likes the idea of eating flesh or not, some quantity of it is essential to good health. A lot less of it, in my opinion, than you Paleos eat, Richard, but at least two or three portions per week.

  13. Ross on January 28, 2010 at 14:36

    The community at that site is STRANGE. Sucrose fermenting in our bowel? Living off of fructose for millenia? They don’t understand the physiology of digestion at all, which seems particularly odd given how much emphasis they put on poop.

    Well, I guess we can be glad that some of them are coming around to healthier foods. I’ll bet they hate themselves for it, though.

  14. Alex on January 28, 2010 at 17:06

    The weirdest comment for me was Douglas Graham talking about natural laws when the diet he preaches isn’t the natural historical diet of any human society.

  15. Johannes on January 30, 2010 at 02:43

    My main problem on a paleo diet is diarrhea.

    Some things that helps me with diarrhea is cooked tubers, and after reintroducing (gasp!) potatoes now and then in my diet my stomach feels more stable. Potatoes are reallly not that high in carbs and its easy to still keep the daily amount of carbs under 60 gram. Another thing that helps is fiber from psyllium husk and eating gealtin now and then.

    Also eating alot of Raw vegetables can upset my digestion.

    Ray Peats has an interesting article on gelatin and intestinal health.

  16. donny on January 30, 2010 at 07:01

    A while back, I found some posts by Angela Stokes, a prominent British raw vegan advocate, from earlier on, on a vegetarian forum. She originally included raw tuna in her diet, (everyone said ew) so much of her earlier weight loss is really more of a testament to raw paleo than to raw veganism. She eventually dropped the tuna, and when CNN etc. did stories about her, it was all raw vegan, no mention of the tuna.

    I personally think the only think wrong with white potatoes, as long as you can handle the glucose, is that we don’t have a particular modern hunter gatherer group that uses them as a staple, or at least not one that’s entered into the collective paleo awareness.

    Not eating bread and sugar is socially unacceptable? Most of the people I know aren’t quite that strict. Mind you, I don’t actually know all that many people.:)

  17. AndrewS on January 31, 2010 at 10:58

    I can see that some vegans would be worse off than others. There are as many different vegan diets as there are paleo diets – ie, one for each practitioner. I think the vegans in worst health are those that eat a lot of seeds. When I run into someone with a really crappy complexion and ask them about their diet, they tend to be proud of all the seeds they eat, their cultural heritage of eating seeds, blah blah.

  18. Eric W. on May 30, 2010 at 23:50

    Though I don’t identify as a vegan, friends and family think of me as one because for most part for the past four years or so I’ve not eaten any animal products.

    Recently I’ve started eating small quantities of the flesh of animals I consider cannot be sentient — brainless mussels, oysters, scallops, clams, etc. I’m curious if any of you paleo meat lovers who know a bit about nutrition think these alone can provide adequate meat-sourced nutrition. Chicken, beef, etc is just not an option for me at the moment.

    • Hans Schrauwen on May 31, 2010 at 05:06

      I think they can. They are nutrient dense super-foods. Eating just a few serving per week is enough. Consider insects to (which, I predict will save the planet ). Pure meat is not very nutrient dense these days, with the notable exception of offal. In fact there are indications that hunter gatherers ate mostly the offal and left the flesh to their dogs.
      If you do it like this you do not need large volumes of meat. Few times per week/month is enough (with the exception when you are bodybuilding, pregnant/lactating or sick/recovering).

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