Navigation bar--use text links at bottom of page.

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

What is Your Primary Calorie Source?

If you stop and think about what you eat every day, the calorie table presented earlier will give you an idea of what your primary calorie sources are. You may be eating a lot more fat (via avocados and nuts, or even the oil in salad dressing) than you expect. (Raw fat is not as bad as cooked fat, and may be healthy for many. Still, you might not want a very high-fat diet in the long-term.) Alternately, you might be getting most of your calories from sugar--fruit sugar. Another calorie source is cooked foods, especially cooked starches. Some may find cooked starches to be preferable to a diet in which raw fat (or fruit sugar) is the predominant calorie source.

Finally, some rawists try to follow an extreme, puritanical diet that provides inadequate calories (or nutrition), and then they actually get their calories via binge-eating or "exceptions" (cheating on the diet).

Why 100% raw vegans eat so much avocado and nuts, or overeat sugar (fruit)

Given the above, we can now say that raw vegans eat significant amounts of avocados and nuts for two primary reasons:

Your body knows it needs energy and essential fatty acids--even if the ego is deluded by dietary dogma that suggests you can live on just cucumbers or green juice or even sweet fruits. This is why many raw-fooders experience strong cravings for fat, usually in the form of avocado (or alternatively, nuts).

As for sugar, fruitarians must eat a large volume of fruit each day to satisfy their calorie requirements. In so doing, they ingest a large amount of sugar as well. Sugar is addictive and promotes cravings. Like a junkie who can't get enough drugs, it is hard to get "enough" sugar. Further, a significant amount of willpower is required to resist the frequent sugar cravings, which often leads to food (and self) obsessions (very common in fruitarianism).

The calorie paradox explains why prominent (raw) organizations endorse/allow cooked (starch) foods

The American Natural Hygiene Society (ANHS) and The Hippocrates Institute both suggest a maintenance diet that includes or allows for cooked foods. In both cases, (clean, basic) starch foods are included in the suggested cooked foods. I cannot and do not speak for the ANHS or Hippocrates; however, some reasons for their suggestions are as follows:

(References: The Natural Hygiene Handbook, p. 47; also Living Foods for Optimal Health, by Brian Clement.)

What raw vegans can do to partially mitigate the calorie paradox

There are a few things that raw vegans can do to reduce the impact of the calorie paradox. A partial list of these mitigations is as follows.

Ultimately, the solution to the calorie paradox can only come by consuming, in some manner, the calories required. Assuming one is a vegan, the majority of these calories will come from fat (avocados, nuts, tahini), sugar (fruit), or starch (cooked, or raw, perhaps as sprouts). Those who adopt 100% raw exclude, in theory, cooked starch as an option, but such people often end up eating cooked starch (and junk) anyway via binges. If that describes you, perhaps you should consider facing the situation, and deliberately include some cooked starch in your diet. After all, isn't it better to eat some cooked food and be honest about it, than to claim the "honor" of the ideal of 100% raw, while you binge-eat in secret?

Ranking the workability of various 100% raw vegan diets

Based on the calorie data here, plus extensive anecdotal evidence of individuals attempting 100% raw or predominantly raw diets in the real world, the following is an ordered list of 100% raw diets, from most likely to least likely to succeed.

100% raw diets that are most likely to be successful:

100% raw diets that are most likely to fail:

Readers should be aware that 100% raw vegan diets have a dismal record of failure in the long-term. Surprisingly, mixed diets (i.e., raw plus cooked) have a better record of success, in the long-term, than do 100% raw diets.

Please don't overeat!

Some extremists may attempt to (falsely) characterize this paper as promoting overeating. The whole point of this paper, however, is that if one tries to be 100% raw vegan, then one must eat some concentrated foods, or they will end up (by default) overeating the lower-calorie-density foods. This point follows from the existence of lower limits for calorie consumption and the density of calories in each food/type. Strategies for mitigating the impact of the paradox have been provided here, as well as information promoting the realistic attitude that one must consume some concentrated foods as part of a balanced, diverse diet to satisfy calorie requirements without overeating.

Postscript: Foods Not Mentioned

Protein: Protein certainly can provide calories, as your body will burn protein for fuel (energy) when appropriate, but protein is the body's least-preferred calorie source. However, when the more optimal fuels--carbohydrates (sugar, starch) and fats--are not available in adequate quantities, the body can and will increase its normally moderate use of protein as fuel. Also, the high-protein vegan foods are already discussed above (legume sprouts, nuts, seeds). As the protein content of these foods is a small part of their total calories, and the foods are already included in the analysis, it was not necessary to discuss protein separately.

Acid Fruits: The common acid fruits--grapefruit, pineapple, kiwi--are high enough in sugar that they can also be considered sweet fruits. The other acid fruits--lemons, limes, kumquats--are usually consumed in small quantities and can be ignored for our analysis here.

Oils: Oils are pure fat, 9 calories per gram. Many raw-fooders claim they avoid oils, so they were not included in the analysis. Despite this, oils can be used in moderation, as a part of a diverse raw diet, and are a high-calorie food.

Animal Foods: Though this article has been oriented toward raw vegan individuals, it is worth mentioning one of the reasons why the human metabolism requires a certain quota of concentrated foods. The evolutionary evidence from Paleolithic diet research suggests a primary reason is due to the adaptation of the human gut to increased percentages of denser animal food that occurred in the diet after the split from the common evolutionary ancestor that humans share with our primate cousins. While there are also similarities between human and ape guts, of course, this divergence represents one of the key differences between ours and theirs.

Given that vegans eschew animal foods, some type of concentrated food must be provided in the diet in place of the amounts of concentrated animal food that the human gut originally evolved to handle and became dependent on for efficient energy metabolism. (See the discussion Co-evolution of Increased Human Brain Size with Decreased Size of Digestive System in the postscript to Part 1 of the Paleolithic Diet vs. Vegetarianism interviews [about halfway down on the linked page] for more about this point.)

The suggestion here that raw vegans should consume some concentrated foods to get sufficient calories is confirmed by real-world experience from the traditional diet of one of the more well-known hunter-gatherer groups, the Australian Aborigines. In "Traditional diet and food preferences of Australian Aboriginal hunter-gatherers," by Kerin O'Dea (Phil Trans R Soc Lond B, 1991, vol. 334: pp. 233-241), O'Dea notes (p. 238): "Nevertheless, it is significant that in a diet that was generally characterized by its low energy density, the foods most actively sought and most highly prized were those that had a high energy density. Clearly this was an important survival strategy."

Finally, readers with an interest in animal foods might want to read the article, "Nature and variability of human food consumption," by D.A.T. Southgate (Phil Trans R Soc Lond B, 1991, vol. 334: pp. 281-288). Table 6 in Southgate, p. 286, is similar to the table in this article, but includes a wide array of animal foods as well. [Please note that this article was written (excluding, of course, this paragraph) some months before I saw the article by Southgate.]

In Closing: Advice to Readers

Please don't be afraid of raw vegetables, fruits, cucumbers, tomatoes, or legume sprouts because of this paper. Don't try to live on only nuts, avocados and/or wheat sprouts because of this paper. Instead, choose a DIVERSE diet that includes raw vegetables, fruits, sprouts, nuts, avocados, seeds, and if you are open to the possibility, other foods as well (e.g., cooked foods, raw dairy, raw honey, and even animal foods if you have no objections). The message of this paper is that diversity in diet is an important part of the solution to the calorie paradox, and that food phobias or food obsessions (common problems in raw) are to be avoided.

In closing, since so many rawists are deeply concerned about food issues, it seems appropriate to remind readers of some basic common sense, as follows:

Primary Calorie Sources for Raw Vegans--Summary

The following are generalizations based on the nature of raw vegan diets as commonly practiced. Diet varies by individual, so the list below should be considered as a general description, and not a prescription.

Details of Table and Calculations



--Tom Billings

Before writing to Beyond Veg contributors, please be aware of our
email policy about what types of email we can and cannot respond to.



Back to Frank Talk from Long-Time Insiders

   Beyond Veg home   |   Feedback   |   Links