Assessing Claims and Credibility
in the Realm of Raw & Alternative Diets
Who Should You Believe?
by Tom Billings
including material suggested by Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 1999 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.
A TABLE OF CONTENTS linked to all portions of the article can be found at the bottom of this first page of introduction.
The purpose of this paper is to address the relevant questions:
Gaining a sense of the issues involved in such concerns about credibility, and what to believe, is important, as anyone will know who has ever been faced with what can be a bewildering array of choices about what dietary approach to follow in their own life.
- What criteria can be used to evaluate individuals ("experts" or "diet gurus") making dietary and health claims--particularly when attempting to assess the credibility of information that:
- either lacks scientific documentation,
- has not yet been well-researched,
- or remains controversial supposing that it has been investigated to some degree?
- Also, why should you assign any more credibility to the information provided on this site than to information provided by those we characterize as dietary extremists?
An immediate but not fully satisfying answer to the question of this site's approach is to describe it as: an attempt to be realistic; frank and honest about shortcomings and difficulties of alternative diets; moderate, common-sense, sane; and open to new information (even when it contradicts established beliefs of the past). These are the qualities frequently lacking in the approach of dietary extremists.
|The context: When science doesn't
have the answer to every question
The role of scientific information
Before delving deeper into the question of credibility in the alternative dietary world in general, it is appropriate to examine the context in which the question arises. For some issues in the raw and vegan world, there is ample, relevant, scientific research that addresses the issue(s), and which provides an answer. Sample issues of this type are:
Some of the material on this site addresses the specific questions above, among others. (By the way, the answer to all the questions listed immediately above is "no," although the answer to the third question may vary depending on your definition of the word "natural.") The above issues, and other issues for which there is adequate scientific research, are important because they provide an effective gauge for determining if an "expert," in general, accepts reality or is in denial of reality.
- Is the diet of the great apes completely fruitarian and/or vegan?
- Are humans natural vegans and/or did humans evolve as vegans or fruitarians?
- Is modern cultivated fruit "natural"?
- Does fruit have a nutritional composition similar to mother's milk?
The role of anecdotal information
However, many important issues in the raw and vegan world have not been the subject of peer-reviewed, published, quality scientific research. Sample issues in this category are:
For such issues, most evidence is anecdotal: personal experience and the experience of others. Hence the question of primary interest here is--when adequate science is not available--whose anecdotal evidence to consider seriously: the evidence presented on this site, or the idealistic views promoted by dietary extremists? That is the central issue addressed in this article.
- How well does the diet work in the long-term?
- For which health conditions are (specific) raw diets a good short-term therapy, and for which conditions would it be better to avoid raw diets?
- What does it mean that so very few succeed long-term on 100% raw vegan diets? And which is the better alternative: a steady 50-75% raw diet, or an on/off pattern, i.e., switching from 100% raw to much less than 100%?
- As behavioral problems appear to be common on 100% raw diets, what are the mental-health effects of long-term, 100% raw vegan diets?
Structure of this article
The information and evaluative approaches we'll cover are presented in several major sections:
Most of the material is presented in summary form to minimize redundancy with other articles on this site. Site articles that provide related information include Idealism vs. Realism in Raw Foods and Selected Myths of Raw Foods.
- The first section provides a contrast between the views found on this site and some of the extreme views one may encounter in the raw and/or vegan movements. The objective of the contrast is to help in assessing the credibility and usefulness of information offered by the various diet gurus or advocates one might encounter.
- The next major section discusses a tool that can be useful in analyzing whether a promoted diet is credible, or incredible.
- Then a section deals with the often irrational, hostile behavior of dietary extremists, and discusses the implications such behavior has regarding credibility.
- Finally, the closing sections discuss how discarding dietary dogma can be not simply of practical benefit on the road to better health, but just as importantly can be a personally liberating experience as well.
T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S
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(Extremist Attitudes and Dogma in Raw Veganism, Issue by Issue)
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