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(The Psychology of Idealistic Diets--continued, Part H)

P O S T S C R I P T :   S I G N I F I C A N T   U P D A T E S   ( c o n t .)

The fallacy of fruitarianism: word games
vs. the real world of practice and results

The following material on fruitarianism had to be cut from the original print interview due to space restrictions, but is included here on the web in expanded and rewritten form, since fruitarianism has proven to be a seductive philosophical and behavioral trap that those who are particularly prone to idealism or extremism within the vegetarian movement sometimes fall prey to. It can and often does lead to serious and long-lasting health consequences. (One unfortunate member of the Natural Hygiene Many-to-Many, for example, lost all their teeth as a result of a high-fruit diet; although the potential problems of high-fruit diets extend considerably beyond just loss of teeth.)

H&B: Let's hear more about the fruitarianism question--with regard to humans and apes both. I know you have plenty of opinions on the thinking and behavior of those subscribing to this particular system of diet.

W.N.: Well, first there is the problem of defining just what you mean by the words "fruit" and "fruitarian." There is a lot of gamesmanship, sleight-of-hand, and word redefinition that goes on among fruitarian advocates to redefine "fruit" away from the common definition (soft, pulpy, sweet, juicy fruits from tree or vine) so that it includes the so-called "vegetable fruits" like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and the like, or "nut-fruits" and so on, so as to broaden what is considered "fruitarian." In a botanical sense, these foods can be considered fruits, and thus--if we stretch things a bit--perhaps "technically" permissible in what might be called a "fruitarian" diet.

The problem, however, is that most fruitarians don't even stop there either. Most go further and allow or even specifically recommend "greens" and/or "green-leafed vegetables" as essential, and of course neither of these qualify as fruit even in the botanical sense. Once you get this far, any sense of integrity about what "fruit" really means has been sacrificed to the realm of fast-talking slipperiness.

Word games over what qualifies as "fruit" usually expand the definition so far that the distinction means little. But you have to look at the fact that most people don't normally think of these other items as fruits unless they are trying to wiggle out of the straightjacket the normal definition creates when you really start to think about being able to survive on nothing but fruits alone. So if one wants to play games and define a fruit as almost anything under the sun that is a "seed-bearing mesocarp" or whatever, well, fine, but in my view that's losing touch with the reality of what people mean in common parlance and mutual understanding of the language. Certainly if you define fruit broadly enough as a botanist might, you may be able to make it as what I call a "technical fruitarian" (meaning extremely technically defined).

We should recognize that this is just a game, though, because it's a moving target that people trying to be fruitarians use so it won't bother their conscience to use the label. Frankly, the way fruit is sometimes defined by fruitarians (to include nuts, seeds, greens, and/or green vegetables) doesn't really distinguish the diet much, if any, from an all-raw version of a Natural Hygiene diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Were our evolutionary primate predecessors really true "fruitarians"? If you are defining fruit the way it is commonly defined as relatively high-sugar-content, juicy tree fruits plus things like melons, berries, and so forth, then we have something more concrete to talk about. As far as the normally defined fruits go, there is a partial grain of truth to apes as fruitarians, and for the ancestor common to us both, but only if you remember we are talking what the greatest percentage of the diet was. While over half may have been fruit at one time (perhaps with the gracile Australopithecines 3-4 million years ago, although I don't know of any data to confirm this with any surety or not), there were also significant portions of other foods. To really make a case for anything approaching fruitarianism as ancestral to humans, you would have to go back to at least the common ape-like ancestor ancestral to both chimps and humans approximately 7 million years ago, and even this would not have been total fruitarianism.

The closest approximation to fruitarianism (and not completely so, at that) in an ape-like species might have been in the time period of around 40 million years ago, but you have to realize these creatures were apes and not human. Humans themselves (the genus Homo, beginning with Homo habilis over 2 million years ago) have never been fruitarian. Even chimps, who are the nearest modern ape species to fruitarianism, do not eat above 2/3 fruit or so in the case of the common chimp, or perhaps as high as 80% in the case of the bonobo chimp--in either case still a significant amount short of 100%, especially when you consider they both also eat leaves, pith, insects, and a bit of meat too.

Simply put: Humans are not apes. As a number of Natural Hygiene practitioners have noted, however, few humans can eat even 2/3 fruit over long periods of time without getting into serious difficulties. We had several M2M folks try near-fruitarian diets, and no one had any lasting success with it, although some have done fine for several months at first, perhaps even a year or two. In fact, those that we knew of in the M2M reported getting into trouble trying to do so and later regretted their naivete in attempting it, due to the problems that eventually followed. The two most common repercussions of long-term attempts at fruitarianism are usually that the teeth are the first to go, then people's blood-sugar processing abilities, along with deficiencies.

People may do well at first, but this is because they are living off of past nutritional reserves, and when the stored reserves run out, the game's over. This is a theme we've probably beaten to death here, but it warrants repetition, especially with regard to fruitarian diets: It is not enough for a diet to be "clean"--it must also be a sufficient diet. Fruitarianism and near-fruitarianism are the worst possible case, because in addition to progressive long-term deficiencies, the body's insulin-production capabilities are being simultaneously overwhelmed with the high carbohydrate load in the form of higher glycemic-index foods containing simpler sugars like glucose, sucrose, and fructose.

Advocates of "fruitarianism" frequently change their definition of it over time. Most people who initially promote a total fruitarian diet are forced to back off and begin allowing the use of some nuts, seeds, and green vegetables from experience. This may extend the period over which a "fruitarian" can maintain their regimen, but it doesn't remove the underlying problem of the long-term consequences of excessive sugar consumption and/or hyperinsulinism, not to mention low intake of B-vitamins, certain minerals, etc., that are likely to result if the diet is continued long enough.

(Although the following is just speculation, and there may certainly have been other potentially causative factors, it is worth considering that the relatively early death of near-fruitarian advocate T.C. Fry at age 70 recently--from atherosclerotic plaques in his legs that led to a coronary embolism--might possibly have been due at least in part to hyperinsulinism, which can promote atherosclerosis and heart disease. See Chet Day's investigative article, "The Life & Times of T.C. Fry" at the Health & Beyond website for more on Fry's life and the events leading up to his death. Caveat: You will need the helper app Adobe Acrobat Reader for your web browser to read the PDF file that you'll be served up while online.)

Noteworthy 1970s-era exposé of numerous alleged fruitarians found no successes, and widespread misrepresentation of diets actually eaten.

4-Part "Fruit for Thought" article series, by the American Vegan Society's Jay Dinshah. An interesting little piece of Hygienic history here that most are probably unaware of is that Jay Dinshah, a long-time vegan who was previously a staffer with ANHS (the American Natural Hygiene Society) many years ago, published an extensive article series on fruitarianism in the late 1970s, titled "Fruit for Thought," in his own newsletter Ahimsa--the most in-depth piece of journalism on the subject I have ever seen. [Dinshah 1976-77]

Fruitarian gurus weren't actually practicing what they preached, but followers who did ran aground. As part of the series (ordering information), Dinshah told of his investigations, ranging over many years, of all the fruitarian advocates he knew of at the time claiming to live on fruitarian diets. He originally thought himself that fruitarianism seemed theoretically possible. But over the years, what he discovered was that none of them--and this included famed fruitarian advocates like Johnny Lovewisdom, Walter Siegmeister (pen name Raymond Bernard), and Viktoras Kulvinskas--were actually living on fruitarian diets, even as they defined the diet for themselves. Yet there were many others Dinshah met who had taken the advice of these people quite seriously and had gotten themselves into very serious health troubles.

Excuses, excuses. Lovewisdom was eating plenty of vegetables but made the excuse his orchards and gardens in the Ecuadorian tropics were not in the right place to enable the fruit to be of the quality to support him in good health. Breatharian advocate Siegmeister was living not even as a fruitarian but as a vegan. And Kulvinskas was basically eating as a garden-variety raw-foodist vegetarian with periodic lapses back to cooked food--while he had previously championed liquitarianism (juices only), fruitarianism, and even breatharianism. [I am not aware of what Kulvinskas' living-food-type recommendations and practices are these days, many years later.]

Through another route, I've seen reporting on Wiley Brooks [Mapes 1993] a reputed, so-called "breatharian," who readily admits to eating Big Macs and Twinkies now and then, but claims those are not what actually sustain him--it is really the air sustaining him in spite of what he is eating! (Now there is some truly creative, totally untestable, idealistic logic for you!)

Failures the rule, no successes ever came to light. Of the people who had lived on truly restrictive (soft/sweet, tree-fruit-type) fruitarian diets, Dinshah's article series brought to light that their practices had put them in a bad way health-wise. Also included in Dinshah's article series was the substance of a conversation he had once had with Dr. Gerald Benesh [who has been previously interviewed in Health & Beyond] who reported that "in all his years of practice, in fasting, rebuilding, and advising people in even that wonderful climate [near Escondido, CA in the 1960s] and with the fine fruits available in the area and from below the Mexican border, he had nonetheless never been able to bring even one of his people to the point where they could live in good health on just fruits." [Dinshah 1976-77, Part 1, p. 7]

Little change in fruitarian movement between now and then. As well, Dinshah took a long, hard look in his series at the rationale and reasoning behind fruitarianism as published in books on the subject at the time--echoing claims and propositions very similar if not identical to what we hear today--and found the literature of the time rife with logical as well as outright factual errors and assumptions. (For a look here on Beyond Veg at these types of errors, see the material available in Selected Myths of Raw Foods, and in our Waking Up from the Fruitarian Dreamtime section.)

Notable Natural Hygiene practitioner at the time related specific problems seen in numerous fruitarian patients. Printed in tandem with the article series was also a separate reprint of an article by Benesh himself [Benesh 1971] that had previously been published in Herbert Shelton's Hygienic Review, detailing a few of the serious problems he had seen develop in people he had cared for who attempted a fruitarian diet--even on high-quality fruits available in season--for more than a few to several months. Benesh listed the following symptoms of people on long-term fruitarian diets that he had seen in his own Natural Hygiene practice, which we should note are not so very different from those mentioned earlier in this interview for the majority of other total-raw-foodists who experience long-term troubles:

[R]idged nails, gingivitis, dental caries, dry skin and brittle hair, lowered red blood cell count and low hemoglobin percentage. Over a long period of time (at least one year or more) the blood serum level drops to a point of an impending pathological state if not corrected.

Many of them display serious signs of neurological disorders, while some experience emotional upsets and extreme nervousness and often complain of insomnia. When their nutritional program is corrected these signs disappear and the patient finds himself in a much improved state of health.

I recently spoke with a health-minded medical doctor, who embarked on this lopsided program and did very well, experiencing a high state health for about a year, when almost suddenly a loss of weight was experienced and neurological signs were evident. This doctor took a series of blood and serum tests plus other pertinent tests, which verified what I have observed in fruitarians and excessive fruit-eaters, and corroborates my findings.

Another cardinal lack that occurs quite often is a distinct lack of vitamin B-12. This lack of B-12 gives rise to the neurological signs that indicate a serious deprivation of this vital element needed to keep the nervous system operating at a so-called normal level.

Potential explanation for digestive difficulties in long-term fruitarians. Long-term attempts at fruitarianism can also lead to other problems. According to Benesh, the excessive amounts of organic acids from a fruitarian diet are unable to be adequately buffered by the digestive system, with the result that these acids end up in the large colon where they interfere with proper balance and/or amount of intestinal flora. The ultimate result can be compromised bowel function, which in a few cases can result in serious health problems such as colitis, if the person continues to persist on the diet.

Benesh theorizes that the excessive acids cause salts to be drawn from the cells of the colon resulting in flaccidity and interference with peristalsis. (Note that if a similar process occurred in the small intestine as well, this might be a possible explanation for why extended attempts at fruitarianism sometimes result in the apparent inability to digest so-called "heavier" foods [nuts, cooked potatoes or rice, etc.], which may pass through the digestive tract relatively little digested, as reported by some fruitarians. See Tom Billings' bio on this site for a brief mention of his experiences in this regard as a former fruitarian.) Benesh also notes that hemorrhoids are not uncommon, and that fecal analysis may reveal occult blood as a result of minute petechial hemorrhages of the small blood vessels in the mucosal lining of the intestine.

Beyond the myth of fruitarianism is the empowerment that freedom from fantasy brings.

Fruitarianism is a myth that dies hard, but the price of the illusion is having to learn the hard way. If the reality seems disillusioning, consider what is gained instead: freedom from a deceptive, if well-intentioned, fantasy that ends up hurting people. Freedom from fibs that people tell themselves and others that only compromise the capacity for self-honesty and the ability to more objectively assess how their health is actually being affected.

When evaluating claims, look beyond the word games. What you should do when you encounter those advocating fruitarianism is to look at what they actually eat. To find out the truth, look at what they do, not what they say. So far, what has inevitably been found is that such fruitarians are either in poor health if they have truly been eating solely sweet and succulent fruits for any length of time; or if in seemingly good health, they invariably include other foods that the rest of us would consider vegetables or "greens"; and most often also nuts and avocados as well (which are hard to do without and still obtain sufficient fat and protein on this kind of diet). In some cases the game-playing can reach rather absurd levels to where even things like sea vegetables and dulse, steamed potatoes or rice on occasion (eggs have even been called "hen-fruit" before) are somehow defined as fruits or technically "permissible" in a fruitarian diet.

So when you find fruitarians splitting hairs over what technically qualifies as a fruit, you should be honest enough to recognize fruitarianism for the word game it actually is, instead of getting carried away by idealistic fantasies. There is no empirical support for successful fruitarianism (as it would be commonly thought of) either in hominid evolution and just as importantly in the real world of results for people who have tried it. If you run across people who do claim to be successful, you should be very skeptical, since fibbing, prevaricating, and word-gamesmanship have proven upon investigation to constitute a necessary pillar of support in the lore and history of fruitarianism.

A more "evolved" path, or only more extreme? So if it is true that the "successful" fruitarians are so only because they define fruit very broadly as any "seed-bearing mesocarp," what real difference does it make? Why are they so concerned to define themselves as one? In the end, it usually comes down to an ideal that fruitarianism is somehow more physically "pure" or more spiritually "evolved" than garden-variety vegetarianism. People want to think of themselves as special (which in itself is natural and understandable, of course), and fruitarianism is painted as being the "next step" in dietary evolution. What it really is, however, is a next step toward extremism, philosophical dishonesty, and ultimately failure of health.

Judge the diet, not yourself--by bottom-line results, not high-sounding philosophy. Think very seriously before giving credit to those who claim the mantle of fruitarianism or other extremist/idealist dietary programs, and especially before putting your health at risk based on their advice. Instead, put the power of reality-based thinking and knowledge to work in opening up workable avenues for dietary experimentation based on honesty. Rather than judging yourself and your behavior by a dietary philosophy, turn the equation around and evaluate the worth of a diet by the concrete results it gives.


Note: After four years of running the Natural Hygiene Many-to-Many, Ward passed on the Coordinatorship of the N.H. M2M to long-time member and raw-foodist Bob Avery, who took over publication with the February 1997 issue. To learn more about the N.H. M2M (now called the Natural Health M2M), or for information about getting a sample copy, you can find out more here.

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GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Back to Frank Talk by Long-Time Insiders

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