veganismGreetings, all!

Glad you liked my cabbage cups. I love having readers who appreciate the joys of simple food as much as I do.

A few days ago, blog reader Lisa sent me a link to this article, which details ongoing controversy about whether or not a 100% raw, vegan lifestyle is optimal. A few notable raw figures have recently announced that they’re adding small amounts of animal proteins back into their diets in response to poor bloodwork, or as a concession to personal preferences. As a result, various experts on raw and vegan nutrition have offered their opinions on whether or not the raw vegan lifestyle is sustainable, optimal, or even feasible.

I found most of the responses, with the exception of Doug Graham’s unintelligable rant, interesting. What strikes me as noteworthy about these revelations is the fact that the impulse in all cases has been to move away from veganism, rather than away from raw. The response to certain perceived flaws in the raw vegan diet has been (in most cases) to eat raw dairy. This seems relatively common: in my own personal navigations through the raw community, I’ve known many men and women who ultimately felt that a 100% raw vegan diet was far too limiting, and chose to add either goat milk products or eggs back into their routines.

These are personal choices, occasioned by unique circumstances. I’m not familiar with the full range of health and psychological factors that prompted the decision to eat animal products again. I do, however, wish to offer an alternative course of action to anyone who’s been trying an all raw vegan approach, and is encountering either deficiencies or a sense of limitation.

The alternative? Rather than adding animal products to your routine try adding a wider variety of cooked vegan foods to your diet. Many new raw foodists become unbelievably zealous about being as raw as possible, and in the process they eschew grains, legumes, root vegetables, minimally processed soy, and other mainstays of veganism. This, in conjunction with giving up all animal products, certainly can lead to feelings of deprivation, and it can, especially when paired with undereating, lead to nutritional deficiencies. (Note that I say “can,” not “will”–I know scores of vegans who are 90-100% raw at all times and feel incredible.)

One of the reasons often cited for rejecting raw veganism is low levels of vitamins D or B-12. While it’s true that vegans can be susceptible to deficiencies in both of these, it is also true that simple supplementation can easily prevent them. If you’re low in B-12 or Vitamin D, you needn’t feel pressured to abandon veganism! Seek out a high quality vegan or raw vegan supplement or multivitamin (I’m currently loving Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code line). This route is, in my opinion, a better first alternative to abandoning veganism, and I encourage you to consider it if you’ve been told that you’re low in either vitamin.

But as I mention above, another common reason for giving up on the raw, vegan lifestyle is the feeling that one’s diet is simply too restricted and narrow. And it’s this concern that I really want to talk about today.

As you guys can imagine, I’m often asked whether or not I am, or think others should be, 100% raw vegan. The answer is no. Do I believe that there are some people who can thrive on a 90-100% raw vegan diet in the long term? Absolutely. Do I believe that most people–women especially–are well suited to eat a completely raw and vegan diet forever? No. But is omnivorism the answer?

It’s interesting: people who are interested in raw veganism tend to fall into two camps. Some were preexisting vegans who became gradually intrigued by eating more raw food. And some are are former omnivores who were interested in the idea of raw food itself.  I would say that most raw vegans I’ve met–and that’s most, not all–fall into the latter category. They were generally healthy eaters, though not necessarily vegans, who were attracted to the idea of “raw” more than the idea of veganism.

Not me. Veganism was an important part of my life long before I got interested in raw foods. When I started eating more raw, my goal was to boost alkalinity and digestion with more raw food, not to switch to an entirely uncooked diet. To this day, raw foods are only a partof my vegan lifestyle. Eating them has made a world of difference in my life–my skin, my energy, my digestion, my mental clarity, my moods, and my overall well being. I love preparing them and sharing them with you all. But they’re only one component–albeit a major component–of my well-rounded vegan diet, which also includes non-raw foods.

beansWhat are these? Cooked grains, legumes, root vegetables, sprouted breads. Some raw foodists choose to sprout these instead; I don’t. (I actually find grains and legumes easier to digest cooked.) I believe that these foods–along with a combination of raw and cooked vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, sea vegetables, and fruits–is the key to a balanced vegan diet. They’re important sources of protein, minerals and nutrients for most aspiring vegans, and they lend a sense of variety and wholeness to a plant-based diet.

If a client who was trying to maintaing a 100% raw, vegan diet came to me with the complaint that he or she felt undernourished or limited, I would first ask a bunch of questions:

  • Are you eating enough? New raw foodists often overdo it with fasting regimes and abstinence–long before their bodies are ready for such measures. If you’re feeling tired or weak on a raw protocol, it may well be because you’re not taking in adequate portions of food.
  • Are you eating enough healthy fats and protein? While I certainly believe that many new raw foodists overdose on fats in the form of nuts and seeds, I maintain that fats are important for energy and overall health. Avocados, coconuts, healthy oils, and nuts/seeds are all important components of brain function, immunity, hormonal balance, and reproductive health. Protein, meanwhile, isn’t as hard to get as some new vegans assume it will be, but all vegans do nevertheless need to be vigilant.
  • Are you eating enough variety? This is usually the crucial question. As dearly as I love giant salads–and boy, do I love them dearly!–man was not made to live on greens alone. Eating a variety of vegetables (in addition to grains, nuts/seeds, fruits, sea vegetables, and legumes) is important.

Oftentimes, a client who has been complaining of being stuck in a rut with raw foods will agree to eating a few more cooked meals weekly, with legumes and grains. The result is an immediate increase in energy and mood–if only because said client feels grateful to have more food options. And if she can maintain a sense of balance by eating raw and cooked, she’s far more likely to thrive on a vegan diet in the longterm.

Every body is different. Some people who hit a rut with the 100% raw vegan diet  really do believe that they’re in need of animal protein. But to those who find themselves in this situation and wondering which course of action to take, I’d say this: expand your veganism before you turn to animal products again. Try eating a wider variety of vegan foods, even if this means eating some that are cooked. It may be the key to sustaining a mostly raw, all vegan diet in the long run, and it will save you the ethical and nutritional ambiguities of eating animal products once again. Your body, the planet, and animals will thank you.

And to any of you who have been diving whole hog into raw veganism, remember: you’re aiming to create a lifestyle for yourself that’s sustainable not just for a month or a year, but for the rest of your life. Think carefully about how narrowly you want to set your parameters. There can be huge pressure, as one enters a mostly raw or all raw lifestyle, to give up a huge number of previously cherished foods. Always be smart about maintaining a diet that’s feasible and, most of all, pleasurable for you! If this means maintaining some variety, please do. Be gentle and realistic with yourself; you’ll be grateful later.

Happy weekend, friends!