Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Raw Food Diet: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?

This morning, I am reading through a book called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Raw Food Detox. I know, I know, why am I torturing myself with such stuff? I don't know. I find nutrition and the way people think about it interesting.

It does make me wonder what the point of a raw food diet is, however, when I read the section on the "Symptoms of Healing" that are a "cleansing reaction" to a diet of nutrient-dense raw foods. Common cleansing reactions include:
Body aches
A coated tongue
Itching or rashes
Slight fever

The author describes his reactions to a cleansing spa in Thailand where he was fatigued and ended up with the "shakes." He went to bed early with "a mild fever and chill" that kept him wrapped up in a blanket. He did say that he woke up feeling symptom-free but I am left wondering why substituting these symptoms for the symptoms of a non raw-food diet are any improvement.

It's not a ringing endorsement of the raw-food diet. I have enough trouble without going through all this to "feel better." Anyway, didn't they just find out a lot of this stuff is bunk--kind of like colon cleansing?



Blogger Ern said...

I've always figured that if God had wanted me to eat cauliflower, arugula, and carrots, he would have made them taste as good as Italian sausage.

10:49 AM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger cremes said...

The same list of symptoms could be made for folks (like me) who do a periodic (annual) water fast. The 2nd & 3rd day (when you shift from burning mostly carbs for energy to ketosis) is when the headache & other issues arise.

Several more days into the fast (6+ days) your tongue may develop a white coat. By day 8 it's all good.

A lot of people who do paleo-style diets have started dabbling with intermittent fasting (18-24 hours) as a way of increasing insulin sensitivity. I don't know if any of that work made it into Taubes tomes, but the paleo diet blogs I follow almost all pay at least some lip service to it.

So, my long winded point is that displaying a few minor symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that the raw food diet is not helping in some fashion. Think of an alcoholic going cold turkey; shakes, headaches and other similar issues show up. However, those symptoms are not a reason to keep drinking.

11:44 AM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger Joe said...

Good grief, Dr. Helen, you're a psychiatrist, you should know better. Psychosomatic Illness, confirmation bias, simple gullibility and plain lying is all barely psych 101.

12:15 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Sounds like the guy had food poisoning or something. You always feel better after recovering from a bout of botulism, but it doesn't mean it was good for you.

1:07 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

If God wanted me to eat carrots, he'd have made me a frikkin rabbit.

2:44 PM, August 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you feel the few days after you quit smoking? Is the cure than the disease?

No. Just so, the "detox" portion doesn't last all that long.

When one goes head first into the paleo thing, they even call it "paleo flu" - then everything gets better...joints, muscle soreness, allergies, skin tone.

6:27 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger James said...

I've always held the the whole raw food diet was on a par with the 18th and 19 century obsession with bleeding and purging. Is there any scientific evidence that "colon cleansing" is beneficial to humans?
Simple physiology demonstrates that humans do not have the dentition or gut to digest large amounts of raw vegetable matter. Our ancestors started using fire over one million years ago because various nutrients in vegetable foods are not available to us without cooking.
This strikes me as purely a religious belief, i.e., lore handed down from on high rather than hard evidence from repeatable trials.

6:39 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger maxx said...

My dentist's son went on a raw food diet as a lifestyle, the acid from the raw food destroyed his teeth. The father had to remove them all.

7:16 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger Doom said...

While I would never go all raw all the time, I often go on raw food kicks. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and if I ever get to fishing, trout sushi would be right up there. But if it made me feel like crap, yeah... no. I suppose after surviving draino, without a scratch, I can probably handle just about anything and often... like to taste new and awful stuff (at least once, sometimes twice, then I might get hooked!). Bleh.

9:06 PM, August 14, 2011  
Blogger Kim said...

If we weren't supposed to eat cooked food, then God wouldn't have let us discover fire.

All-raw is like all-cooked or all-bread or all-protein or all-carbs. You can ALWAYS have too much of a good thing.

Balance is everything. Now excuse me; I have a plate of barbecued pepper sausage, lettuce, tomato and mashed potato waiting for me.

1:03 AM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Stosh2 said...

Cooking, Fire and Human Evolution

Intriguing evidence shows that cooking may have been the spark that set human evolution blazing toward higher intelligence and civilization.

(Hamburgers all around!)

1:38 AM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

When I quit using caffeine (soda pop) I had a headache for three days, and on the third night went to bed with the shakes. When I woke up the next day all my symptoms were gone.

I've met others who have gone through the same thing, so there is something to the author's contention.

9:04 AM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

if i go without coffee for more than half a day or so, i get a headache.

if i go without breakfast, by around 11.00am i'm seeing spots in front of my eyes.

i can see how radical changes in one's diet could result in symptoms like the author suggests..the question is, is it worth the days of distress for some apparent benefit gained by eating raw vegetables?

10:10 AM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Doom said...


Especially when, right after the purge, one goes right back to what caused the supposed need for the purge? I have seen girlfriends do all sorts of weird temporary diets. It is sort of cute, and I do understand the reason for their efforts, I just... doubt the efficacy and logic behind the attempts. If you want to lose weight, I have always said, cut your food just a bit and increase your calorie output. All else will fail. Works with health and food balance too, if you buy that. (I think health is not ours to control, no matter, probably genetic to my mind.) But... what do I know!

2:12 PM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Alex said...

Wow... now eating chicken is akin to a drug addiction.


3:17 PM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Xiaoding said...

Why on Earth would anyone eat raw vegatables, when the juicer has been invented? It just sounds stupid.

I think humanity gave up the raw diet for a reason.

6:18 PM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

doom, i think you have hit the nail right on the head.

when i was on the "capital d" diet (divorce) i went from a strong fit 220lbs down to 175lbs in about 6 months simply by never sleeping, only eating coffee and oat bars and riding 30-40 km a day on my road bike.

in the psychotic state i was in most days i never noticed any loss of physical strength and stamina either.

the mond and body are remarkable devices that function extremely well unless we screw around with them with fad diets and medications.

9:51 PM, August 15, 2011  
Blogger Rizchelle said...

Dear Dr. Helen,

It’s a great pleasure to read your blog. I find your post very interesting. A lot of people are considering this kind of cleansing diet. This is a good wake up call, I'm not saying that this isn't advisable but it's always best to do it with the help of a doctor.

As a reader, I consider your writing to be a great example of a quality and globally competitive output. You tackled both sides of the coin without holding back.

It would be a great thrill and honor if you could share your genuine ideas and knowledge to our community, Physician Nexus. With this you can gain 1000 physician readers from over 62 countries on Nexus.

We would love for you to visit our community. It's free, takes seconds, and is designed for physicians only - completely free of industry bias and commercial interests.

Rizchelle Ventosa
On behalf of the Physician Nexus Team

8:18 AM, August 16, 2011  
Blogger Joe said...

Apparently, everything is better do to with the help of a doctor! We shouldn't masturbate without consulting a physician.

No wonder medical costs are going up; doctors decry common sense and want to medicalize (pathologize) everything.

1:59 PM, August 16, 2011  
Blogger JJW said...

@Joe - +1

In my reasonably extensive experience, any time you hear New Age nutrition types talking about "toxins" or "detox," your bullshit meter should be bumping the peg. These are people who wouldn't know what tissues to assay to determine chemical composition, which compounds are supposed "toxins" and which are necessary to metabolism, and couldn't be made to understand why their arguments don't hold water even in the face of a clear explanation.

Is it better for a person to eat a lot more plants than most of generally do? Probably. Will one's body appear to rebel in some ways when established regimens -- of any sort -- are interrupted? Sure. Does post hoc ergo propter hoc constitute sound reasoning or a remotely scientific explanation? No. Not now, not ever. But try telling that to New Agers. Waste of breath. That's because it's a religion.

Any doctor pushing this stuff as "science" should have his license yanked. Of course, I think the same of doctors who demonstrate the poor judgment to place Christian tracts in their waiting rooms.

Here's an experiment: Eat an all-raw or vegan diet, then hop in your Prius and report to a farm, a woodlot or a construction site where you will be expected to do the work of one man for one shift, day after day. That's no more than what's required of anybody in those industries. The experiment likely won't go well at all, other than as a demonstration of my point. Tofu won't get the trucks loaded.

12:33 PM, August 17, 2011  
Blogger Greg said...


2:09 PM, August 17, 2011  
Blogger quadrupole said...

OK... I'm a raw foodist, and have been 100% raw for 2.5 years.

First, I ascribe *zero* moral weight to whether you cook your food or not. Eat in a way that works for you.

Second, raw foodism may not be for everyone.

Though I did have some detox symptoms along the way, it is almost impossible to explain how *much* better I feel every day eating this way.

Physical strength, stamina, and endurance are all way up for me.

I do have some odd side effects though. I don't callous anymore, if I tear up my hands rowing, they just heal clean... so I have to wear hand protection. I don't get sore anymore, I get tired. So if I do a weekend workshop doing something very vigorous, on Monday when everyone is complaining they are sore, I'm complaining that I slept 13 hours Sunday night, but now feel *great* :)

Just thought a field report might be good here... I totally get that the plural of anecdote is not data, but that doesn't devalue the anecdote as long as it's kept in context :)

3:40 PM, August 21, 2011  

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