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(The Calorie Paradox of Raw Veganism--continued, Part D)

Legumes--sprouted and/or cooked

The calorie table shows that 4.5 pounds (2 kg) of sprouted legumes per day will supply calorie requirements. However, note that the most popular sprouted legume, the long mung bean sprouts one finds in supermarkets, supply a mere 30 calories per 100 gm, which works out to 14.7 pounds (6.7 kg) to satisfy daily calorie requirements. Sprouted legumes, other than the long mung bean sprouts one finds in supermarkets, tend to be chewy, fibrous, and they produce satiety (i.e., satisfaction, or feeling "full") quickly. This makes eating 4.5 pounds (2 kg) per day a very difficult task indeed. The requirement to eat 14.7 pounds (6.7 kg) of mung bean sprouts brings one back to the gorilla diet discussed earlier. So, while sprouted legumes appear to be a solution to the calorie paradox, in reality they are not a total solution.

Cooked legumes are much easier to eat, and cooking legumes disables more of the antinutrient factors present in legumes than does sprouting. (Hence cooked legumes may be more readily digested than raw sprouted ones.) The table shows that "only" 3.4 pounds (1.6 kg) of cooked legumes are required to satisfy calorie requirements. Again, the satiety-producing properties of high-protein foods may make it a challenge to consume even this amount of cooked legumes.

Sprouted grains and starch foods

Is sprouted wheat an answer to the calorie paradox? The calorie table shows that one needs to eat a "mere" 2.23 pounds (1.01 kg) of sprouted wheat each day to satisfy calorie requirements. On the surface, that appears to be a possible solution to the calorie paradox. However, a closer look at the numbers raises some concerns about bulk. The USDA handbook (8-20, p. 101) reports that 1 cup of wheat sprouts weighs 108 gm. That works out to a volume of 2.34 quarts (2.21 liters) of wheat sprouts required to supply 2,000 calories. That's a lot of sprouts to eat in one day!

Major hurdles: bulk and/or cloying super-sweetness. Further, the USDA handbook does not specify how old the sprouts are. Wheat sprouts that are 1 day old are very chewy, especially if the wheat is high-gluten. Wheat sprouts that are a little more than 2 days old are usually super-sweet. In fact, 2+ day-old wheat sprouts could be described as "sickeningly sweet," and it is extremely difficult to eat more than a small amount of such sprouts. The bottom line here is that, despite the lesser weight of wheat sprouts required to supply 2,000 calories, the characteristics of the sprouts (chewy and/or super-sweet) make it very difficult to eat the amount required to satisfy daily calorie requirements.

Options that one can use to increase consumption of grain sprouts are: make raw sprout breads and/or milk analogues. However, the milk analogues aggravate the bulk/volume problem, and sprouted breads tend to be very heavy foods and require considerable effort to make. It would be difficult to make and eat a large amount of sprouted grain bread each and every day.

Gluten and other problems with wheat. Additionally, wheat (and many other grains) contain gluten, a protein that is one of the more common allergens, for certain individuals. Wheat and other grains were not part of humanity's evolutionary diet, as they have been available in significant quantities only since the inception of agriculture 10,000 years ago; thus, it should not be surprising that they may be allergenic for some subpopulations or individuals. Wheat also contains significant amounts of other antinutrients (e.g., alpha-amylase inhibitors, for example). While cooking may neutralize some antinutrients in grains, these concerns do raise the issue of whether certain individuals have adapted to diets that are grain-centered.

To summarize: sprouted wheat is not the answer to the calorie paradox because it presents bulk problems, and for some, allergy problems. For those individuals who can digest wheat, it can be part of the solution. However, by itself it is not a viable long-term solution to the paradox.

Note: the analysis here is limited to sprouted wheat because that is the only sprouted grain for which nutritional data are provided in the USDA handbook.

Cooked starch is generally more digestible than raw starch. The raw starch of sprouted grains/legumes is not digested as effectively as cooked starch. Starch is a polymer made up of glucose molecules. The heat of cooking makes starch more digestible; the process is called gelatinization. When starch is heated to the range 55-75°C (131-167°F) in the presence of water, the starch granules swell and the crystalline structure degrades (starch granules are estimated as 20-50% crystalline per x-ray diffraction studies). Amylose is released during gelatinization. With sufficient heat, the granule structure is broken down. This increases surface area and makes the starch more accessible to digestive acid and enzymes, i.e., more readily digested.

Starch foods are one of the foods that are more sensible to eat cooked rather than raw. Those raw-fooders who claim that cooked starch (or cooked food, in general) is poison are disseminating false information. Sprouting may reduce the levels of certain antinutrient factors (e.g., phytates), but that does not completely solve the underlying problem of the lower digestibility of raw starch.

(References for the preceding: starch entry, McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology; also Bornet et al. (1989) "Insulin and glycemic responses in healthy humans to native starches processed in different ways: correlation with in vitro alpha-amylase hydrolysis," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 50, pp. 315-323.)

Cooked starches

The calorie table shows one can obtain daily calorie requirements from a mere 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of (cooked) starch. Many raw starch foods are unappetizing, and are hard (or impossible) to eat raw, hence cooking is sensible. In contrast, many cooked starch foods are soft and easy to eat. Given that starch foods are so common and cheap, is it any wonder, then, that most of the people in the world (e.g., lesser-developed countries) have a diet centered around cooked starch? This reality, plus the limitations of sprouted grains, shows that those extremists who claim the world can go 100% raw RIGHT NOW are suffering from delusions.

It should also be mentioned here that, like any other food, some of the cooked starches present problems if one tries to live on them exclusively. Grains and legumes are not part of humanity's original (evolutionary) diet, and consequently they often contain elements that present challenges when consumed--e.g., gluten and phytates in grain, and/or other antinutrients in legumes. Grains and tubers are primarily energy (starch) sources--if one tries to live exclusively on them, one will likely develop nutritional deficiencies (pellagra, scurvy, etc.). Cooking reduces, but does not eliminate, phytates--a limitation on diets that become too heavily centered around grains as the staple. (See The Late Role of Grains and Legumes in the Human Diet, and Biochemical Evidence of their Evolutionary Discordance for more on this issue.)

To summarize, cooked starches/grains are a significant option for resolving the calorie paradox. The main caveat here is not to overcompensate or center the diet too heavily around them.

Fats--avocados and nuts

Only 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) of avocado meets daily calorie needs, and ~1.6 pounds (0.7 kg) of soaked/sprouted nuts, or 0.8 pounds (0.36 kg) of dry nuts meets calorie needs. Despite the "party line" that avocados and nuts are heavy foods and should be consumed sparingly, they are a major staple for many raw-fooders, and the primary calorie source for many.

In his book Long Life Now, Lee Hitchcox reports that the old Hippocrates diet (per the book, The Hippocrates Diet, by Ann Wigmore) is 26% fat by calories--due to avocados and nuts. Readers should note that the current Hippocrates Diet (see Living Foods for Optimal Health, by Brian Clement, for details) is different from the old, and the Ann Wigmore Institute in Puerto Rico promotes a different diet as well (see the book Rebuild Your Health, by Ann Wigmore, for details).

Side note: The current Hippocrates Diet is two large glasses of green juice per day, plus sprouts, salads, and up to 25% cooked food. Hippocrates suggests ~100% raw for healing. In Rebuild Your Health, Ann Wigmore advocates a diet centered on blended foods (energy soup, smoothies), fermented foods (raw sauerkraut, rejuvelac), and wheatgrass juice.

Is a diet of sweet fruit and avocados the answer to the calorie paradox?

Presumably, some fruitarians may claim that the answer to the calorie paradox is to consume a diet that consists primarily of sweet fruit and avocados. This may even be presented as the "middle path," and anecdotal evidence may be cited to claim that such a diet is common among fruitarians. However, there are potential risks in such a diet. It turns out that avocados are the richest known source of a unique sugar, d-manna-sorbitol, that has a very unusual property: the sugar can inhibit the body's production of insulin and produce a temporary diabetes-like condition. See the section on combining sweet fruit and avocados in Fruit is Not Like Mother's Milk (about two-thirds the way down the linked page) for additional information and references on this topic.

Thus, a diet of sweet fruit and avocados is a diet in which the two major calorie sources are (a) fruit sugar, which requires insulin for digestion, and (b) fat from avocados, which may inhibit your body's ability to produce insulin. This suggests that one should be careful about the timing of eating avocados vis-a-vis sweet fruit. Further, it may partially explain the incidence of diabetes-like symptoms (particularly excessive urination) reported by fruitarians. (My personal experience as a former fruitarian was that excessive urination can occur on sweet fruit alone, as well as on sweet fruit plus avocados.)

Is mono-eating the answer? Of course, some fruitarian advocates might claim that the problem of timing the consumption of avocados versus sweet fruit is easily solved by mono-eating. Unfortunately, the reality of a diet high in sweet fruit is that sugar (and fat) cravings are quite common, as one can easily get habituated to sugar (sugar may be eaten for psychological reasons, even if there is no physical addiction), and sweet fruits are generally very low in fat and essential fatty acids.

What can happen on such a diet (and this is written from direct personal experience with such a diet, including experimenting with mono-meals of avocado) is that one eats a mono-meal of avocados and feels temporarily full. Then about an hour or so later, one starts to feel hungry again, only this time for sweet/sugar rather than fat. So, you eat sugar in the form of sweet fruit--precisely at the time your body is digesting the avocado, and your ability to produce insulin (needed to metabolize the fruit sugar) may be impaired/inhibited. (In the short run, or as an occasional event, metabolic dysfunction in this respect might not be a problem; however as a long-term habit, it may be risky.) Additionally, the lack of credible success stories of individuals who strictly follow a 100% raw vegan, mono-eating regime on a long-term basis is yet another reality check against mono-eating (of avocados and sweet fruit) as a possible solution to the paradox.

An alternative is a diet of nuts (fats) and sweet fruit (sugar). Such a diet may work better than a diet of avocados and sweet fruits. However, such a diet violates the strict form of the raw "party line" that one should sharply limit nut consumption.

Stomach Capacity vs. Food Required

If you are, or want to be, a 100% raw vegan who avoids the concentrated-calorie foods per the "party line," then you must get your daily 2,000 calories by some combination taken from the following categories. (Amounts given are the total of each category BY ITSELF that would be required to equal 2,000 calories.)

Eating a blend of the above, for example an equal percentage from each of the 6 foods listed, would involve eating--daily--approximately 15.3 pounds (7.0 kg) of food. Needless to say, that's a lot of food!

Some readers would of course opt for mostly sweet fruit, which is a lower weight (8 lbs, or 3.6 kg net, average per day). To get an idea of how challenging (some might say unrealistic) eating such large amounts of raw vegan food/fruit is per day, do the following exercise:

Compare: size of stomach vs. volume of food required. Bring your hands together to form a loose cup--little fingers and sides of the hands (below the little fingers) touching. Have the other fingertips touching as well. The volume that would fit in your hands is related to your frame size, and your stomach size is related to your frame size as well. The (average) volume of your stomach (unstretched) is approximately twice the volume of your cupped hands.

Now think about the volume of the food mass you expect to eat: the 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of fruit (or 20 lbs/9.1 kg of vegetables, or 33.9 lbs/15.4 kg of cucumbers..., etc.), each and every day while on the "perfect" raw vegan diet. Finally, compare the two volumes--see if you can get an idea how many (unstretched) stomach-fulls the "party line" 100% raw vegan diet will require. Even if you have a larger than average stomach, and/or your stomach can stretch by a factor of two or three, the food mass above still represents a lot of meals (or else much-longer-drawn-out meals, if fewer in number). Think how many times you must eat each day to ingest that volume, and the time involved in chewing and digesting such an amount of food. Remember to allow at least 1-2 hours between meals for the food to (start to) digest. Or conversely, if one eats gargantuan-sized meals to keep the number of meals down, generally one's stomach will have to stretch considerably and be trained into accepting such large volumes.

Effect on one's daily experience and mental outlook. Also note here, that, while it is not unheard of to eat such volumes of raw food if one is determined enough--at least with fruit-heavy raw diets--one has to question the resulting obsession with food and eating that tends to result. The few examples of such people who have truthfully come forward with their actual daily personal habits on this score, in my experience, confirm the repercussions of the calorie paradox:

By now, if you are like most people, you will probably concur that eating such a large amount of food each day is unrealistic, and you will eat some concentrated foods because you can't, or don't want, to spend so much of your day eating or obsessing over it!

Excreting the Food Mass

What goes in must come out. Think of the food mass mentioned in reality check #1. So you ate it all--and it must come out as well, as urine and feces. How many bowel movements would that be? Depending on the person, perhaps as much as one per meal, both due to the large food volume, and because raw vegans rarely suffer from constipation. The amount of urination is also usually inconvenient--I remember when I was on 100% fruit (and eating quite a lot of avocados as well as sweet fruit) that frequent urination was a real hassle and inconvenience. (The fact that many sweet fruits are both high-water-content and diuretic makes the situation problematic.) Pardon the extremists for not telling you about this--reality makes it harder to sell idealistic dietary dogma. :-) A 100% raw friend on a vegetable-based diet (very large volumes) said the diet disabled her and made her a shut-in--she needed to urinate every five minutes or so.


(Is Your Raw-Food Guru Credible? Apply the "Calorie Paradox" Test)


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