Is Your Raw Food Diet Actually Bad For You?

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Written by: Shannon Wintheiser

Raw food diets are nothing new. They’ve been growing in popularity over the last 15 years and some health “gurus”, celebrities and even elite athletes swear by by them. Recently, a client called my attention to a particular raw foods diet: the Low-Fat Raw Vegan Diet, or as it’s better known, the 80/10/10 Diet.

The 80/10/10 Diet was first popularized by raw foodist Dr. Doug Graham and, beginning in 2012-2013, it picked up steam and spawned many new “food celebrities” on Instagram, filling their feeds with selfies set atop mounds of fruit, the mainstay of the diet.  

80/10/10 refers to the proportion of macronutrients you consume in the diet – 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein and 10% fat. To get enough calories (especially if you are an elite athlete, as many of Dr. Graham’s clients are), 80/10/10 advises eating about 90-95% calories from fruit, 2-6% from leafy greens and vegetables and 0-8% from nuts and seeds.1

As you might expect, there are many benefits and positive aspects to a diet like this (in comparison to some others). Coming from the Standard American Diet, it offers a huge uptick in nutrients, a reduction in bad fats (and good fats) and it eliminates processed foods and refined sugars.

However, upon further investigation and evaluation of the diet as an actual permanent lifestyle as opposed to a cleanse or temporary diet, the 80/10/10 Diet comes up frighteningly short in many regards.  

High In Sugar

To get enough calories in a raw diet reliant on basically carbohydrates, you have to consume immense amounts of fruit. A typical lunch on the 80/10/10 Diet might consist of 6 mangoes. That’s 180 grams of fructose (a form of sugar) in one meal!

It has been argued that this is “okay” by proponents of high fruit diets, because there is some evidence that fructose doesn’t cause insulin resistance, unlike other forms of sugar. But the research supporting this was done based on diets of fructose consumption up to only 90 or 100g per day2.  Other studies3 have shown that fructose levels in excess of this amount can lead to metabolic syndrome, including insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, inflammation, fatty liver and other health problems. And the 80/10/10 Diet protocol results in consuming fructose levels well in excess of 100g/day.

Extremely Low In Fat

For so long, we were told that fat was the enemy and the 90’s saw a proliferation of “low-fat” and “fat-free” products (remember Snackwell cookies?). We thought we were being good by cutting back on fat (and unknowingly, adding zillions of grams of sugar to our diets). What a joke!

More recently, the truth that fat really does not make you fat is starting to make headlines. The 80/10/10 Diet sees only 10% of calories coming from fat, while the CDC recommends an intake of 20-35% fat for women.

Inadequate consumption of fat in women can have detrimental effects. For everyone, fat is essential for the body to be able to absorb certain vitamins and to maintain healthy skin, hair and brain function (did you know your brain is 60% fat?).

Women naturally have more fat in their bodies and need to consume more healthy fats to have adequate levels of DHA (a type of omega-3 fat) to grow and support a healthy fetus. Diets very low in fat will often result in a loss of menstruation in women, meaning that their body doesn’t have the right nutrient makeup to reproduce and thus is temporarily infertile.

Missing Key Nutrients

On their FAQ webpage, the 80/10/10 Diet states that “There is no need for supplements if you are eating an adequate raw diet and engaging in frequent vigorous activity.” However, there are certain nutrients you cannot get adequate amounts of just from fruits and veggies, such as B12, an essential B vitamin that is only found in animal products.

B12 is crucial for our nervous system to function and many vegans (not just raw vegans) over time experience a B12 deficiency, which can lead to extreme fatigue and more serious conditions such as blindness, deafness and dementia.

What About Practicality?

I am all about holistic, healthy eating and sustainable, nutritionally-packed food routines. In that regard, for me at least, the 80/10/10 diet just isn’t practical! Even its biggest supporters say that it is difficult to be social (I mean, you can’t really walk into a restaurant, even a healthy one, and ask for 3 mangoes and 4 bananas). That also makes it extremely hard to travel.  

Further, the FAQs on the diet’s webpage talk about the need to expand your stomach. Your stomach naturally doesn’t have enough room in it to consume a high enough volume of raw fruits to get adequate calories. They state that “the stomach is very accommodating in this regard and will stretch quickly… If you practice eating a meal of just fruit, only fruit and nothing but fruit, it will get easier and easier to consume appropriate volumes.” That just seems unnatural and I kind of like my stomach the size that it is, thanks!

All of this aside, if your body responds well to raw diets, the 80/10/10 Diet may be something to try just for a limited period of time (up to a week), especially if you are looking for a way to reset from a diet high in processed foods and unhealthy fats that doesn’t involve any cooking!

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Shannon Wintheiser

Shannon Wintheiser

Certified Holistic Health Coach at Radiant by Nature
Shannon is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Modo Hot Yoga RYT and founder of Radiant By Nature.She is passionate about sharing the benefits of a balanced, gluten-free lifestyle and enjoys showing others how best to transition to this way of living. She currently lives and loves in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband.
Shannon Wintheiser

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