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The Calorie Paradox of Raw Veganism (1999) (beyondveg.com)
32 points by skilled 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

I think the most important info is in the second chapter: Humans and mountain gorillas (say) do not have the same digestive system. We are not herbivores, and we do not have the capacity to extract nutrients only from raw vegetables and leafs. Instead, our digestive system can be classified either as omnivore or faunavore with adaptation to eating plants. Even the apes who east mostly plants will eat meat and insects if they can.

For that reason, I do not see veganism as something that fits to human nature as such. It may be, however, possible to do this in a healthy manner, and the motivation may instead be that it is better for the environment.

But I think the argument can not be, that we are somehow meant to be vegans.

Humans are physically much closer to herbivores than true omnivores and, of course, carnivores. If anything we're opportunistic primates that evolved to take advantage of calories where we found them.

But I'm not sure these arguments are really that relevant to the present. We have radically reshaped nature to suit our needs and that includes everything we eat, both animal and vegetable. These appeals to nature generally ignore the fact that the things we ate over the millennia don't exist now.

>Humans are physically much closer to herbivores than true omnivores and, of course, carnivores.

Where can I read more about this?

>If anything we're opportunistic primates that evolved to take advantage of calories where we found them.

That sure sounds like "omnivore" to me.

>These appeals to nature generally ignore the fact that the things we ate over the millennia don't exist now.

They also fail the other way: for example, humans have evolved new metabolic pathways for adult consumption of lactose at least twice in the last 100,000 years, and they're different pathways! (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048992/)

homestasis doesn't mean "everything is constant", it means "everything's moving all the time, and the set point doesn't change a lot if things are going well because we're always compensating"

I think we agree that what humans ate as we evolved doesn’t really dictate what we should eat now, particularly when the plants and animals we ate along the way are so different from what we eat now.

As for humans being closer to herbivores, our dentition, stomach acid and saliva composition, and digestive tract are much more like those of herbivores than carnivores.


After reading that article, that doesn't seem to be what they're claiming (despite the title / URL). It says that we were opportunistic, and what opportunities presented changed over the years (and our guts with them).

I disagree that our teeth and guts are more akin to herbivores, and so does the article you link. Hell, if you google image search for "omnivore teeth" the first result is literally a human mouth. Do some omnivores mouths look different? Sure, some have evolved to eat more live prey than others- some canines are bigger than others because of this. But the same teeth are present; most herbivores literally do not have canines. The ones that do, such as elephants, aren't used for eating but instead for defense or manipulating their environment so I don't think that counts.

Most people have small or even non existent canines. Not much use for the jobs real carnivores need them for.

Again I’m not claiming that humans are pure herbivores. Just that we’re closer to that side of the omnivore spectrum.

>Most people have small or even non existent canines. Not much use for the jobs real carnivores need them for

And smaller jaws generations by generations... I believe anthropology concluded this adaptation was caused by cooking. Certainly, gorillas who are almost obligate herbivores have proportionally bigger fangs than us.

Incidentally, human guts don't ferment plants at all, so I'd argue we are closer to the carnivore half of the omnivore spectrum.

Or perhaps we outsource the fermentation to our tools and storages, which is actually a valid animal feeding tactics..

[0] https://ucdintegrativemedicine.com/2016/03/youre-not-cow-gor...

Incidentally, humans don't need meat, so I'd argue we are closer to the frugi/graminivore half of the omnivore spectrum, like chimpanzees, our closest relatives.

Hm, the article in the op states the opposite - we are much closer to omnivores than herbivores. Who is right?

Well how many herbivores have a set of canine teeth meant for ripping? All homo sapiens do. Most herbivores that have incisors tend to have small ones (deer only have incisors on the bottom and press them against the hard upper palate to rip vegetation). Virtually no herbivore has sharp incisors (compared to a lion or homo sapien). Many herbivores have overdeveloped incisors that are used for defense such as an elephant's tusks

Herbivores tend to use premolars and molars to grind and crush vegetation. Carnivores use sharp incisors to cut food and canines to tear food (like flesh from bones). There is no need for a herbivore to ever have canines. Homo Sapiens have both, but our premolars and molars are less pronounced than herbivores.

It is logical and seems to be scientifically accurate to deduce Homo Sapiens are evolved to be Omnivores.

There's at least the Gelada:

"Why These Vegetarian Monkeys Have Sharp Predator Teeth" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC6iYj_EBjY)

"Geladas are the only primates that are primarily graminivores and grazers – grass blades make up to 90% of their diet. They eat both the blades and the seeds of grasses. When both blades and seeds are available, geladas prefer the seeds. They eat flowers, rhizomes and roots when available,[12][13] using their hands to dig for the latter two. They consume herbs, small plants, fruits, creepers, bushes and thistles.[12][13] Insects can be eaten, but only rarely and only if they can easily be obtained." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gelada#Range_and_ecology)

edit: and hippos

edit: and flying foxes (frugivores)

Obviously humans can and do eat so I don’t think we can claim that humans are pure herbivores. But omnivorism is a spectrum and, like our primate cousins, we’re much more geared to lie on the plant eating side of that spectrum.

One of the more reasonable theories about why Neanderthals went extinct was due to Homo Erectus and then Homo Sapiens having much more plentiful and common access to protein. The book Born to Run mentions Endurance Hunting[1] where tribes literally run down game animals such as elk or gazelles until they overheat as proof of this. There are tribes that . Virtually no other mammal on the planet can sweat while on the move. Big dogs and cats have to stop and pant or find shade to sweat and cool down. If they don't, they'll overheat and die. There are evil still tribes[2] that do this today.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=826HMLoiE_o

I think the "raw" requirement is the real gotcha here.

You can get plenty of calories from rice and beans. For millenia, the bulk of humanity has lived on really plain foods with little meat (though in some places like europe, north africa, and the middle east, quite a bit of cheese).

Extracting nutrients from uncooked foods is a lot less biochemically efficient for our digestive system, though, and it's going to be the rate-limiting step. If you rule out rice, oatmeal, porridges, bread, tofu, etc... you are likely to be in a mode of basically permanent caloric defect.

A great example is maize. Raw corn is not going to keep you alive for very long. Masa, though, sustains entire civilizations, and it only works because you cook off the meal in high-pH water.

The raw foodies don't rule out grains and pulses. They make them more bioavailable by sprouting them, which uses the enzymes found in the plant itself to convert starches to something more digestible. (Which the plant does anyway in the process of converting its stores to something it can use.) It also makes them softer, so they don't spend quite as much time and effort chewing.

It's still going to be a lot of effort spent eating, and it does seem like they're going for calorie-restricted life extension. But it's not quite as impossible as it sounds, and with a bunch of effort it's actually quite delicious. (And involves at least as much time as cooking.)

It's definitely not my thing, especially since there's so much woo-woo associated with it, but I've had some raw vegan meals and quite enjoyed them. (Omnivory means getting to try everything, which I really like.)

Homo erectus's ability to use cooking to liberate more nutrients from their food was probably a critical factor in the evolution of the huge brains we homo sapiens are able to support.

You can get plenty of calories from raw animal fats. Cooking does help a lot with plants though. Also helps with infectious agents in meat and plants.

Calories is not the most important. Vitamins, macronutrients are. You can eat 3kg of sugar, that will count as calories, but 0 macronutrients, 0 vitamins.

> avocados, nuts, dried fruit, and sweet fruit juices

I know many on a vegan diet and many on raw food. High nut consumption is definitely a thing. What is this "party line" being talked about here? Feels like a straw man kind of.

> An alternative is a diet of nuts (fats) and sweet fruit (sugar). Such a diet may work better than a diet of avocados and sweet fruits. However, such a diet violates the strict form of the raw "party line" that one should sharply limit nut consumption.

Is there a source for that this is considered a violation by many?

Anecdotally, I know a guy who sustains pretty much exclusively on nuts and fruits grown where he lives (commune in Spain, they have nut trees) for 6 months a year (he's traveling the rest) and claims he never felt better and aims at keeping at it.

Yeah, I don't know much about raw food veganism, but I thought fruit and nuts were rather important parts of it. Also because you can eat them without killing the plant.

The main reason to limit fruit and nuts is because they might be too high in calories. Obviously that limiting is not something you should take too far. Maybe the author misunderstood and cut fruits and nuts out completely?

The author lets their bias against veganism show with statements like this:

"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)."

Did I miss the study where it was found that fruitarians are often self-obsessed? I would venture a guess that most _people_ are self-obsessed, regardless of their diet.

I have a hard time believing that fruititarianism could be healthy in any way. It seems like getting almost all of your energy from fructose and hardly any fat and protein (two of the 3 core macronutrients) could not possibly work. It makes me think of an article I read in the past 6 months about how zoo animals are having metabolic damage because the fruit we grow commercially is so high in sugar it's no longer healthy.

And this is purely anecdotal, but I watched a youtube video about a guy who went raw fruititarian for a few months, and his before and after photos were not inspiring. He lost some weight, but his skin and hair seemed fragile, and he seemed kind of lethargic and spacey in his after video.

Oh I don't doubt that fruitarianism is a less than optimal diet, but I don't know that it's fair to claim that fruitarians are generally self-obsessed (at least compared to practioners of other diets and fitness regimes).

It's not that it's "less than optimal", it kills you. It's what killed Steve Jobs for instance.

I was going to reply and complain that it was pancreatic cancer. But after fact-checking a bit, I see that fruits and fruit juices seem to have been linked to pancreatic cancer[1], and there may be some truth in your claim. TIL.

[1] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/5/1495/4754408

Exactly. Eating only sugar and some Vitamin C and some fiber you cannot digest is not a good diet. Most of the fruitarians you see on Internet are aging and dropping like flies. The lack of proper macronutrients drive them crazy, since their brain cannot function. Just do a search on Youtube "I'm ex vegan" you will hear the stories of the people who escaped different types of veganism, specially the fruitarian one.

Well by definition, something that kills you is less than optimal (unless death is your goal).

Less than optimal has the connotation of being sufficient, but requiring more resources than strictly necessary.

My original post was about the author's bias, not about fruitarianism. My "less than optimal" comment was a gentle, intentionally non-confrontational effort to return the focus on bias rather than the specific diet. Clearly my effort failed.

That and not using proven treatments for cancer.

is less than optimal, it is not optimal at all.

...and shows bias by using the term "the party line" so frequently.

Need to point out something no one in the comments has: this is a 20 year old article.

In one week, I can eat more than 20 kg of raw fruits (currently peaches, apricots, tomatoes; in other seasons: clementines, persimmons, ..), and another 5-6 kg of steamed vegetables (leafy onions, carrots, round eggplant, peppers). Sometimes, I add some full-grain rice or fish or honey.

The result is a lot of energy (except sometimes 1-2 hrs of digestion), no cold or other common illness, and a low BMI (body-mass index) indeed (I'm around 18), because it's not only low-calorie, but the fibers give a feeling of satiety for a long time

This may be your subjective experience, but you have a single data point (you) and no control so you can't make assertions about your diet's effectiveness like you have.

The things I would challenge are: - Lots of Energy (compared to what? Measured how?) - No cold or other common illness (a huge claim that requires substantial evidence to support it).

At about 20-40 you reach peak immune system. Colds and illness does happen, but your immune system has already seen most of them and so can fight them off before you get sick. Combined with modern vaccines normal people feel like they don't get sick often.

Which is to say I believe his claim without evidence because it is probably true. However it isn't his diet.

and a low BMI (body-mass index) indeed (I'm around 18)

A BMI that low is not a good thing. It is evidence against your diet being optimal. Mortality rates are actually higher when BMI is below 20 (https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2156 https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/353/bmj.i2156/F3.large.jpg -- although causality is not established). And from a common sense or aesthetic perspective, such a low BMI almost certainly means you lack ideal muscle mass.

> Mortality rates are actually higher when BMI is below 20

When you see the typical Japanese centenarian, who have a BMI around 19 (mean: 19.3±0.4, median: 18.9 (11.9, 30.2), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5107392/), it contradicts this statement. I'm not Asian, and I'm taller (BMI is usually lower for taller ppl)

in conclusion, people have very different morphologies, so BMI isn't so significant

Thanks for the warning, I'm around 60kg, 1.82m high. I do a lot of bike, and I'm sort of thin, for example I can join my thumb and any other finger around my wrist. You could consider someone like Hicham El Guerrouj (58/1.762 == 18.7), that 18.5 limit is not really one for some morphologies

Super-star athletes aren't really good examples to learn from. They often have to do unhealthy and extreme things to their body in order to achieve absolute peak performance at one specific task. NFL linemen and sumo wrestlers are unhealthily overweight. Boxers and wrestlers have unhealthy levels of body fat and hydration in order to squeeze into the lowest possible weight class. And long distance runners avoid developing any upper body muscle, because every pound of additional weight costs seconds on their time. That's not something a normal person should do.

60kg at 1.82m strikes me as really fricking thin. I'm your height, and have considered myself a lean, athletic guy, but at 13% bodyfat I weigh 80kg.

Yes, but I'm a developer, why would I need more upper body muscles?

My daily activity doesn't require some more particular strength (although I wouldn't consider myself weak either), it's more about endurance. I've enough core strength to not have any back problem too (I avoid sitting on a chair though, but rather lie down/stretch out in front of my laptop)

Yes that is excess sugar consumption which the article talks about.

Part of me thinks it surprising that nutrition is still based on things like total sugar content. It's pretty obvious that the mechanism of delivery must be quite important. This is even the case in simple science experiments, consider for example the fact that flour can be explosive under certain conditions.

I seems obvious that eating an apple vs eating a mars bar is quite different, though the total sugar is more or less the same.

An apple has around 9,3g of sugar, a mars bar around 30g. I wouldn't call that 'more or less the same'

The USDA[1] gives 23g sugar for a large apple. And 34 grams of total carbohydrates minus 5g fiber yields 29g net carbs, which are nutritionally not all that different from sugar.

So they're not identical, but I'd say that "more or less the same" is sufficiently accurate. (The apple, however, does have fiber and some other vitamins and minerals, so it's definitely a better choice. It's just best not to devote too much of your diet to it.)

[1] https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices...

The link you provide gives 13g of sugar per serving (125g). A typical apple weighs between 70g and 100g. A regular Marsbar is 51g, of which 60% is sugar. I'm really sorry, but I can not accept a 300% difference as 'more or less the same'.

Ok, but would you agree that if you eat an equivalent quantity of sugar in the form of apples or mars bars, the health effects will be more or less the same?

Not an expert. I do notice that the glycemic load per g of marsbars is 6x higher than that of apples, so I would be extremely surprised if it is 'the same'.

So I will risk verging into the pedantic here, but the point I was trying to make is to argue against the parent comment in this thread, which argues that the sugar in an apple is somehow different than the sugar in a mars bar.

I think we sometimes place too much importance on the origin of things, and convince ourselves that "apple sugar" is more healthy than "candy sugar". The thing which makes an apple more healthy is that the sugar is suspended in a lot more fiber, so it takes longer to reach your blood stream. The sugar itself is more or less the same as far as your metabolism is concerned.

If you refined the sugar out of apples and put it in a mars bar in a green wrapper which said it was made from "all natural ingredients", it would not be healthier than any other mars bar.

A quick google gave me 19g and 20g respectively. I'm not particularly attached to those figures. I don't think it actually makes much difference to my general point. The sugars in an apple must be tougher for your body to extract than those in a mars bar.

say 3 apples if you prefer. The important there is how they differ, by the nutrients (other than sugar), and the fiber that acts like a sponge to release them slowly

The apple might seem a lot healthier, but once it gets into your blood stream sugar is sugar (ok that happens a little bit slower with fruit because it's high in fiber).

In fact, modern fruit is so sweet it's been deemed unsafe for zoo animals:


I haven't seen any proof that this is the case. Can you link me some papers?

I'm sure it must have been studied but I was more postulating than asserting that is is true.

I'm not disagreeing with you, and there's probably a lot more to learn about sugars and their effects, but it's worth noting that all sugars are not equal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHEJE6I-Yl4

I know a lot of vegans who indulge in sugary fruits and dishes. Most of my vegan peers, in fact. At the same time it is quite possible to keep high-fat, low-sugar vegan diet (or even plain vegan keto). It boils down to any above-ground plant, no fruits, various nuts, and a lot of oil - olive, avocado, coconut oil. And soy products of course. It is much healthier than consuming tons of fruits, destroying your metabolism and teeth.

A lot of vegetable oils is not good. Not nutritionally dense as real foods, pretty much almost empty calories and very bad omega3/6 ratio. That partially applies to nuts too. Small amount of nuts is probably ok, especcially walnuts.

personally I would classify this as malpractice. The inflammatory effect of polyunsaturated oils is common knowledge at this point.

Are you sure? I thought it is basically consensus that unsaturated fats are the more healthy ones. Another source: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-s...

I've been having this thought, however strange it may seem, it seems to me that the vegan movement, rightly justified by the cruelty that industrialization brings towards animals, is probably achieving the opposite effect of its original goal, that is, to stop killing animals for food.

The ideal solution, in my opinion, would be to brew tissue in a factory, sans brains, just the muscular system of animals. Seems plausible, right?

The problem is to reach that state, we require research. Research needs funding, and the only ones with an incentive to do that are companies that deal with meat. I imagine it is way more expensive to take care of animals than it would be to just grow muscles. But now that veganism is eating the world, that creates an impediment to that incentive, as the demand is now reduced and so the companies can just sustain their current production levels instead of finding ways to optimize them and therefore funding the research necessary.

So, in effect, veganism is causing more animals to die in the macro-process of us reaching the technological state of growing tissue in the lab.

What do you think?

Your argument reads a lot like the "millenials are killing X" meme -- you're blaming people who've stopped engaging with a system for the continuing of that system. Factory farming is not vegans' responsibility, just as fossil fuel extraction is not bike-commuters' responsibility.

I agree with you that cultured meat is a much better food solution than factory farming, and I will absolutely advocate for that. But veganism isn't causing more animals to die by reducing demand for meat -- that logically doesn't follow.

(Also, "veganism is eating the world" is false -- it is on the rise, but less than one per cent of Americans are vegan, at least as of 2015. As a vegan, I still get a lot of looks and comments that prove that my lifestyle is not the norm.)

> veganism is eating the world

I don’t think veganism is eating the world. https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/is-the-percentage-o... “2017 saw the highest per capita egg consumption in the U.S. in over 20 years.5 Per capita red meat and poultry consumption in the U.S. has been increasing as well, and is expected to reach a record high in 2018.”

Although there may be some larger % of vegetarians or vegans than a few decades ago, I don’t think that anywhere near a majority of the population will ever convert to that movement. They’ll happily continue eating meat rather than switch what they eat for moral/ideological reasons.

Even if veganism caused diminishing meat demand around the world (it does not, see other comment), I see no reason why artificial meat research would be impeded. The meat industry will try to optimize their production cost, no matter what.

Your line of thought would make sense if meat production was artificially limited and exponentially more expensive (because of environmental restrictions or farmland price, for example). Instead the opposite is happening. Meat's never been cheaper.

> The ideal solution, in my opinion, would be to brew tissue in a factory, sans brains, just the muscular system of animals. Seems plausible, right?

It doesn't seem plausible to me at all. Why not just eat plants and cut out all the inefficient processing (either via animals or lab grown tissue)? It seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Anyone interested in good dietary book, please read Nutitrion and Physical Degeneration, Weston Price. Good information about the health benefits of eating properly.

It appears the author avoids the simple solution of bringing more monosaturated oils into the diet. If raw vegetarianism forbids it, then it is likely a failed diet plan. Leaning more and more towards "keto vegetarian", I consume more olive oil to get those calories, and I am loosing weight still. Eating raw walnuts is supposed to be one of the highest sources of alpha linolenic acid, however upon visual analysis of stools you can see a large amount of walnut remains passing through without much apparent digestion.

On the other hand, the strict keto dieters are eating meat which has excessive cholesterol, artery clogging saturated fats and red meat has high loadings of free iron (toxic).

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