Monday, April 06, 2009

Raw Food Diet—Is It Enough?

I promised everyone that I would post my research on whether or not you can really get all the nutrition you need from a raw food diet. After reviewing my first detailed posting, my daughter immediately slipped into a deep coma. She begged me to “lighten this up” or I would lose everyone’s interest. I told her she didn’t understand my raw food friends and how SERIOUS these guys are about health. They eat durian for goodness sake. They do liver cleanses. They blend green weeds into their smoothies. They sprout, dehydrate, blend and soak all to achieve phenomenal health. Surely they would read 113 pages of data on raw food nutrition. OK, maybe not. Perhaps she’s right. So I’d better summarize this important albeit mind-numbing information.

People need certain essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids to live. I took each one of these nutrients and evaluated whether or not it was even possible to get enough of them by eating a raw food vegan diet. I developed a scoring system and scored each nutrient. They were either, “adequate”, “moderate” or “inadequate”.

How do you score the adequacy of a nutrient you may ask? I looked at several things but the most important two were:

1. The number of commonly available raw foods “concentrated” in this nutrient, containing at least 1/6 the daily requirement per serving

2. The number of servings it takes to meet the RDA or AI.

And the answer is………

“Adequate” nutrients
—An “adequate” nutrient is one:

• Where there are more than 10 commonly eaten raw foods available that contain 1/6 of the daily requirement
• Which can be obtained in four or less servings a day
The following is a list of “adequate” nutrients and the EASIEST to obtain from a raw food diet!

• Vitamins: A, C, K, B1 (thiamin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), and folic acid
• Minerals: Copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium
ALL essential amino acids except methionine
Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids

The good news is there are MANY nutrients that are plentiful in raw food vegan diets!

“Moderate” nutrients
—A “moderate” nutrient is harder to get. You have to carefully plan your diet to make sure you eat the foods that contain these. A moderate nutrient is one:

• Where there are only 5 to 10 commonly eaten raw foods that contain 1/6 of the daily requirement
• Which may require up to 6 servings a day of these nutrient dense foods The following are “moderate” nutrients which are more difficult to obtain in a raw food diet:
• Vitamins: E and B2 (riboflavin)
• Minerals: Calcium, iodine, iron, sodium, and zinc Amino acid: Methionine

“Not Adequate” nutrients—
A nutrient that is “not adequate” is one:

Where there are less than 5 commonly eaten raw foods that contain 1/6 of the daily requirement
• Which requires more than 6 servings a day of nutrient dense foods

These essential nutrients CANNOT be adequately obtained from a raw food vegan diet:

• Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

As I post raw recipes, I will point out the ones that help us get the more difficult, “moderate” nutrients. For example, the April 3rd recipe, “spicy not-tuna roll”, is a very good source of Vitamin E and iodine. But let’s talk a minute about Vitamins D and B12.

Vitamin D—Why it’s important and how to get it
Vitamin D is important in calcium metabolism and is required for healthy bones and teeth. Lately, there’s been a lot of press linking this vitamin to fighting MS, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression and even the big C. Even doctors, who generally trash talk anything “holistic” are even ordering blood tests to monitor vitamin D levels and prescribing it when they show to be insufficient. The RDA is 400 IU’s but many are now recommending 1,000 per day. What’s a raw foodist to do???

Vitamin D is produced by the body when you are exposed to the UV rays of the sun. (OMG, the sun?? Aren’t we covering our bodies in SPF 15 or more to prevent cancer? Now they are saying vitamin D can protect us from cancer?) But even if we weren’t afraid of the sun, few of us have the luxury of laying naked on the beaches of Hawaii every day. But those of you who are lucky enough to live in sunny places should make a point of getting out for 15 to 30 minutes a day. If the sun isn’t getting your vitamin D stores high enough, you might consider taking a supplement, drinking a fortified juice or soymilk or adding a bit of seafood to your diet. A single teaspoon of cod liver oil gives you 450 IU, more than the current RDA. You can get over 500 IU from a dozen raw oysters (to me, quite a bit more appetizing than downing cod liver oil!).

The Controversial Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 cannot be synthesized by plants or animals. It’s produced by bacteria, algae and fungi. The reason you find it in meat is because animals ingest these microorganisms. Plants contaminated with B12 producing bacteria can be a source, but that’s not likely in developed countries.

It was once thought, by the raw food community, that the bacteria in our intestines could produce enough B12 to maintain our health but that is no longer believed. Nor is it still believed that you can prevent deficiency from eating algae, miso, shitake mushrooms, spirulina, etc. It turns out that these foods contain vitamin B12 “analogs” which don’t count. (An analog is not biologically active and can actually block the absorption of vitamin B12). So famous raw foodists, like Gabriel Cousens, are now saying that EVERY vegan will eventually show B12 symptoms. Symptoms range from fatigue and confusion to serious issues like depression, psychosis, heart attack, and stroke.

The problem is you may not notice this until it’s too late! First of all, the body can store B12 for a number of years so that will delay symptoms. Also, folate can mask B12 deficiency and raw food is full of this B vitamin.

Bottom line, get your vitamin B12 from supplements or a teaspoon a day of Red Star nutritional yeast. Traditional sources of B12 are clams, organ meats, trout, and salmon.

Let’s sum it up……
A raw food vegan diet can be a very healthy and cleansing diet. Although it easily provides most vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and all essential fatty acids, it will take careful planning to get enough vitamin E and B2, calcium, iodine, iron, sodium, zinc and the amino acid, methionine. A raw food diet cannot provide adequate vitamin B12 or vitamin D. So if you take care to get vitamin B12 and D through other sources mentioned above, we can work on the other nutrients through good planning and delicious recipes!

1 comment:

poser said...

wow - great info, and a very useful breakdown of necessary nutrients. I'd love to see this same breakdown for other diets: non-raw vegan, vegetarian, vegaquarium, and the standard American "corn/beef/wheat/dairy/potatoes and little else" diet. I think it would be interesting to see how each diet falls short in it's own particular way.

Loving your "raw diet" posts; and I need to point out to everyone else reading here something that I (surprisingly) haven't read you mention once yet - and that is that raw food is delicious! Good raw food recipes are just the most mind bogglingly good eating.

Keep'em coming!