On January 1st I’ll begin my 30-day trial of eating 100% raw foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds). I wasn’t sure how most readers would react to the idea, but after yesterday’s post there’s been a great deal of support to blog about it along the way, including dozens of forum posts and even more emails. So I’ll definitely blog this experiment as I go.
Most likely I’ll do something similar to what I did with the polyphasic sleep experiment from 2005, posting new entries as long as I have something meaningful to share. That might take the form of daily entries for the first week or so and less frequent updates through the rest of the 30 days.
I’ve also received lots of questions about this diet, so perhaps I can intersperse some Q&A. I did a polyphasic sleep Q&A post like that at the end of the first week to address some of the top questions I received, and that was well received. Today this blog is a lot more popular than it was back then though, so please forgive me in advance if I can’t answer everyone’s questions. If you send me a question via email or in the forums and I don’t reply personally, rest assured I received it and will consider addressing it in the blog at some point.
For now I’ll address several items that are already in my queue.
What will I actually eat?
Lots and lots of fresh fruit — many pounds of it every day. My goal is for 80-90% of my daily calories to come from sweet fruit during this experiment (by “sweet” I just mean that it’s a fruit that tastes sweet; I’m not referring to sweet, acid, and sub-acid classifications). The rest of my calories will come from raw veggies, non-sweet fruits like tomatoes, and fatty raw foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut. I’ll also include raw vegetables with a focus on greens. I’ll probably eat a lot of romaine lettuce and celery too.
I’ll include a reasonable variety of fruit, but there isn’t as much variety at this time of year as there is during the summer. It will probably take some trial and error for me to figure out how to buy the right quantities of various fruits. My schedule is flexible, so I can go shopping whenever it’s necessary, but ideally I’d prefer to go to the store no more than once or twice a week.
I’ll avoid vegetables that aren’t very edible raw, such as potatoes. I’ll also avoid or minimize cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Many raw foodists eat cruciferous vegetables, but I’ve read it’s hard to extract the nutrients from them because they’re so fibrous. They don’t really hurt you, but they just pass through you. Some people use that as an argument for saying those veggies should be cooked, while others say it means they shouldn’t be eaten in the first place. They aren’t necessary, so I’ll probably just avoid them except maybe in small quantities.
I’ll probably include some daily food logs with a few photos, so you can see the actual foods I’m eating.
The basic biological reason people feel so energetic on a raw foods diet is that sweet fruit is the easiest type of food for your body to digest. If you eat a meal of nothing but raw fruit on an empty stomach, it will normally pass through the stomach within a matter of minutes, since fruit is largely digested in the intestines. That assumes it’s all sweet fruit and not something fatty like avocado or coconut, which would greatly slow digestion.
The cells of your body run on sugar, so if you eat foods high in protein, fat, or complex carbs, those macronutrients have to be broken down into sugar (glucose). That process requires lots of energy and produces toxic substances as a side effect, which also have to be dealt with by the body. But the simple sugars in fruit can be assimilated and used by the body with minimal energy expenditure and minimal waste. Fruit is also naturally high in vitamins.
You can argue that humans evolved to be able to eat and digest other foods, including animal products. I completely agree — we can assimilate a variety of foods. However, physiologically speaking it’s pretty clear that fresh fruit is the most optimal class of foods in terms of digestion efficiency, residual waste, nutritional value, and especially energy. The biological efficiency of this diet is likely why people report feeling so extraordinary on this diet. All the energy that would have otherwise been devoted to digestion and toxic clean-up becomes available for the muscles, brain, and other organs.
At least this is the theory. To verify that this theory works for me personally, I’m committing to a personal test. Theories are great but I put my faith in real-world results. I’m especially curious to see what effect this diet has on my mental focus and concentration.
When switching to a raw foods diet, detox symptoms can occur. I went through about a week of detox when I went from vegetarian to vegan. I had cold-like symptoms and went to the bathroom a lot as all the dairy mucus clog came pouring out. Erin had a similar experience. We both lost 7 pounds during the first week, but we weren’t reducing calories at all. After the initial detox, we felt great.
A period of detox or withdrawal can occur with many dietary changes, such as giving up caffeine. It can take a while for the body to adapt. I may very well feel worse during the first week of this trial. In my previous raw trials the detox period usually lasted about 5 days, after which I started feeling much better.
If my intestines were coated with dairy clog or gummed up with slow-digesting animal products, then I could expect many pounds of gunk to get released within the first few days. But I’ve been vegan for about 11 years now, so hopefully the detox period, if any, will be mild.
I’ll continue my normal exercise routine during this experiment. I vary the kinds of exercise I do throughout the year based on the weather. During the summer in Vegas, it tops 110 degrees F, but currently it’s been dipping below freezing with daily highs in the 40s. So right now I’m staying indoors and hitting the gym six mornings per week. I do 30-minute aerobic workouts 3 days of the week and 30-45 minute weight training workouts the other 3 days, alternating back and forth. I’m no bodybuilder or Olympic athlete, but if there’s a significant change in my strength, aerobic fitness, or endurance, I’ll surely notice it.
I plan to continue my normal sleep routine, which means getting up at 5am. Some raw foodists report needing much less sleep, so I’m curious to see if my sleep needs are reduced on this diet too. If I have a rough detox period, I may get some extra sleep as my body dictates, but otherwise I’m not intending to mess with my normal sleep patterns during this trial.
This diet can certainly cost more than other ways of eating, mainly because it requires significant quantities of food to get enough calories.
Personally the cost isn’t a big deal to me. My family normally buys whatever food we want regardless of cost, since quality is more important to us. Of course I’m in the fortunate position that basically everything I write for this blog becomes an income generator, so financially this experiment will likely generate a profit whether it succeeds or fails. That’s a positive side effect of making a career out of personal development.
Nevertheless, I’m sensitive to the fact that the cost of such a diet could make it prohibitive for many people. There are ways to reduce the cost though. Some of them are a bit elaborate, such as forming a co-op to buy produce in bulk at a discount. Others buy raw food directly from distributors or farms at a substantial discount. For me the simplest approach is to buy a lot of produce in bulk at Costco. Most of their produce is of decent quality (with some notable exceptions like bananas), and some of it is organic too. The rest of my produce I buy at Whole Foods. I live less than 5 minutes from Costco and about 10 minutes from Whole Foods.
To give you an idea of current prices, yesterday I went to Costco and bought the following items (all fresh, nothing frozen):
- Blackberries, 18 oz, $4.99, qty 2
- Blueberries, 18 oz, $6.99, qty 2
- Strawberries, 2 lbs, $5.99, qty 1
- Mango (sliced), 2 lbs, $8.99, qty 2
- Mango (whole), 8 total, $7.49, qty 1
- Romaine lettuce, 6 heads, $2.99, qty 1
- Clementines, 5 lbs, $5.99, qty 1
- Mixed greens, 1 lb, $3.79, qty 1
- Grape tomatoes, 2 lbs, $4.99, qty 1
Total bill = $73.18. When we went through the Costco checkout line, the clerk said to us, “Boy, you guys are really starting the new year healthy.”
Obviously I could reduce the bill by buying higher quantities of less expensive foods, but I especially like blackberries and blueberries. When I was a little kid, my hands and teeth were often stained blue from eating frozen blueberries.
I also have a good bit of produce I bought earlier in the week, including about 40-50 organic bananas, a dozen Fuji apples, globe grapes, avocados, celery, and a few other items. So I’m well-stocked and ready to chow down.
Bananas and mangos will likely be my main dietary staples, since they have a higher caloric density than most other fruits. Bananas are cheap too. Costco sells 4 lbs of bananas for $1.30, but I prefer to get them at Whole Foods ($.69 per pound for regular, $.89 per pound for organic).
I don’t know what produce prices are like in other cities, but this is what I pay in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the farmer’s market offerings in Vegas are pretty dismal. It’s been said that the only crop that grows in Vegas is houses.
Vitamin B12 has also been a controversial topic among vegans (including raw foodists) because it can’t be gotten directly from plant foods. Your body needs very little B12 (measured in micrograms per day, i.e. millionths of a gram), and apparently it can take years for your internal stores to run dry. Some say you should take B12 supplements, consume B12-fortified foods, or eat items high in B12 like nutritional yeast. Others say that your intestinal microorganisms will manufacture enough B12 for you when your body is in good health and that you actually have no dietary need for it unless your physiology is messed up.
For more on this topic, you can read What Every Vegan Should Know About Vitamin B12. Pretty much every vegetarian and vegan web site will have their own articles about B12, but many of them don’t agree with each other.
Raw foodists also seem to disagree on whether a B12 supplement is necessary. My current plan is not to supplement during my 30-day trial. If I decide to continue beyond that point, I’ll look into the issue more closely. But it’s unlikely I’ll have any B12 deficiency issues during this time because I’ve been consuming B12-fortified foods for years.
What I’ve read about sprouts and sprouting has been mixed. Some people practically worship them as the greatest health food ever. Others say sprouts are high in natural toxins (to discourage animals from eating the young plants) and should be avoided because they actually do more harm than good. I don’t intend to eat sprouts during this trial, although I can’t say I won’t change my mind on this as I study it more. If I do eat some sprouts they certainly wouldn’t be a significant amount of calories.
Too much sugar?
Won’t all that fruit spike my blood sugar and then send me crashing afterwards? Not likely. My experience has always been that fruit gives a nice energy burn without a huge spike or crash. Other raw foodists report the same. On the other hand, if you eat fruit with other foods (or while you’re still digesting a previous meal), it can get stuck in the stomach for too long and ferment. Fruit is best eaten on an empty stomach, so it can pass through to the intestines quickly (within minutes).
I’ve never been diabetic, but Erin and I own a blood sugar testing machine, so I can actually test my blood sugar levels at various times to see where I stand. I’ve run a few tests already during the past week. Apparently a normal fasting (i.e. pre-breakfast) reading is 90-130 on this machine (I don’t know what the units are). A person with diabetes may see much higher readings. My highest reading after 3 different tests has been 87, including one reading taken an hour after eating a few pounds of sweet fruit. I’m not sure if I’ll use this machine much during the trial, but it’s a resource I have available. I’ll probably only use it if I feel like my blood sugar levels are getting screwed up, but that seems unlikely.
Most fruit actually has a very low glycemic index. You can find the charts via Google to verify this for yourself. Watermelon is the main exception, and it just barely squeaks into the high category with a glycemic index of 72. Even though both contain sugars, eating fruit doesn’t amount to eating candy.
Some people say that glycemic index isn’t particularly helpful anyway, since the practical reality (different pieces of fruit, different people, different physiological conditions) varies too much from the standardized chart numbers.
One of the strangest reports I’ve seen is that long-term raw foodists can experience a significant drop in body temperature — to something like 94 degrees (vs. the standard of 98.6 F). Supposedly their bodies run cooler and don’t put out as much heat. I have no idea if that’s really true or just a myth. I’ve seen no personal evidence of those claims, and I never thought to check my temps during my previous raw trials. I’ll keep an eye on it this time though.
Changes in heat/cold sensitivity were also reported by some raw foodists. I experienced an acute sensitivity to cold during the initial adaptation period of my polyphasic sleep experiment.
I’ve also seen reports of significant health improvements, such as people regenerating tooth enamel and healing cavities as well as eyesight improvements. Again, I don’t know if that’s legit, but if the fillings I got as a teenager suddenly pop out (none contain mercury), that would be interesting indeed.
Erin and I also own a blood pressure monitor, so I can see if this diet affects my blood pressure too. Although high blood pressure runs in my family, I’m currently not afflicted by it.
In my opinion metabolic typing is bunk. OK, I’ll back up and say it’s half bunk. It’s well intentioned, but the logic behind it is quite flawed. I think if any mathematically inclined readers look into it, you should be able to see that metabolic typing will at best lead you to a local maximum. You climb to the top of the highest hill you’ve already climbed, but you never reach for the unexplored mountains. Also, if your physiology is messed up from eating the wrong foods for so long, that doesn’t mean you should keep eating the same wrong foods just because they produce fewer overt symptoms than other foods.
Metabolic typing is like looking to all the previous jobs you’ve had in your life, figuring out which one you liked best, and selecting that one as your permanent career. For some people this may actually produce good results. For others the outcome is pretty bleak.
FYI the dentist who concocted metabolic typing in the 1960s was convicted of practicing medicine without a license. He encountered more success as a marketer.
Is there a single correct diet for everyone?
I suspect that as a species, there probably is a fairly uniform diet that will produce optimal health for most people. That certainly seems to be the case for other animal species. You don’t see other animals debating what they should eat. Human beings, however, have strayed quite a bit from a natural diet. Other species don’t cook their food; add salt, sugar, and spices; artificially enhance the flavors; take drugs and supplements; and follow it up with caffeinated beverages just to stay awake. These changes affect our physiology and taste buds. Human beings aren’t evolving to thrive on harmful substances just because we consume a lot of them; at best we merely adapt to tolerate them more easily. Our bodies do the best they can before finally succumbing to heart disease, cancer, etc.
It seems unlikely to me that some human beings were evolved to thrive on certain foods while some weren’t. I don’t doubt that we vary in our ability to ingest a wide variety of edible matter. But I’m more interested in what fundamental diet we can all thrive on, not merely survive on. Just because we can tolerate a food doesn’t mean we should. We can drink large quantities of alcohol. We can eat cooked food. We can eat goat’s testicles if we want. But just because we can eat something doesn’t mean we should.
It seems reasonable we’re more likely to discover (or should I say rediscover) our ideal diet by looking to nature rather than to health-in-a-bottle marketers. And from what I’ve seen, the evidence strongly indicates that human beings were meant to thrive on a diet of raw fruit, some vegetables (especially greens), and possibly some nuts and seeds, and that’s all. For many years I’ve suspected this to be true.
Despite the benefits I’ve gained from my current vegan diet, I don’t consider a diet of cooked vegan food to be the ideal human diet. If everyone ate this way, it would be a major improvement to be sure, health-wise, energy-wise, and certainly environmentally. But such a diet still isn’t 100% truth. It’s an interesting stop-over, but even when I first went vegan, I didn’t consider it a final destination. When it comes to personal growth, there are no final destinations.
I’ve definitely received a lot of support for this raw trial — way more than I expected. That’s very encouraging. However, a few people seem threatened by the very notion of this experiment, as if it were some kind of personal attack on their lifestyle. In case you haven’t noticed, exploring alternative ideas is part of my job, and that often involves running afoul of what is socially popular.
I don’t do these sorts of things just to be different, to upset you, or to drive web traffic. Some of my undertakings obviously stray from the social norm, but I’ve been this way pretty much my whole life. Even as a young child, I had to cope with the fact that I couldn’t use right-handed scissors or discern the colors of crayons without reading the labels. I’m a bastion of recessive genes.
It isn’t a need to be different or to stir people up that drives me. It’s a desire to discover what is true. Sometimes truth is popular; sometimes it isn’t. My approach to discovering truth is hands-on, first-person exploration combined with intuition and open-minded, holistic thinking. Often I end up agreeing with everyone else. Sometimes I don’t. Diet happens to be one of the areas where I don’t agree with what is currently popular. Personally I think the most popular dietary information being promoted in the USA is downright dreadful, including what’s being taught in mainstream university nutrition courses.
I believe going vegetarian was a step in the right direction. That step rang true for me. Veganism was another positive change. But there are more steps to take. Even if I go 100% raw and the change sticks, I can assure you that won’t be the last step either. If I hit a dead end down the road, I’ll turn around and go back. I did that with other dietary tests, such as macrobiotics, which I found interesting but wholly ineffective.
Here’s a quote from How to Build a High Traffic Website, which I posted two years ago:
My goal isn’t to convince anyone of anything in particular. I’m not an animal rights activist, and I don’t have a religion to promote. My goal is to awaken people to living more consciously. This requires raising people’s awareness across all facets of their lives, so they can make the big decisions for themselves. It requires breaking social conditioning and replacing it with conscious awareness and intention.
Whatever happens during this trial, I’m going to be 100% honest with you. I’ll share what I’m experiencing and include details about the theory behind this diet that I’ve learned elsewhere. How you react to that information is your choice. My goal isn’t to convince you of anything. I’m simply sharing what’s true for me. If you consider my actions to be a personal threat to your lifestyle, then to me that indicates you have some internal incongruencies to resolve. My job is to make you aware of those issues and encourage you to face them consciously. I care about your well-being and intend for you to live a life of awareness, joy, and self-determination, whether you end up agreeing with me or not. I’d much rather live in a world filled with highly conscious people who disagree with me than in one populated by unconscious drones. The former would be a world of infinite opportunities for growth, which is my greatest joy.
As my high school history teacher used to say, “You have the right to be wrong.” Like it or not, I have that right too. It’s up to you to decide if I’m currently exercising it.