Help Animals With Healthful and Practical Vegan Diets

I take some flak for my stance on raw foods and low-fat-vegan diets. But that’s okay; I stand by my opinion that neither is a good idea. I’m bothered as a dietitian because I don’t think these diets are the most healthful way to eat. But it bugs me way more as an activist since I don’t think either approach helps animals. In fact, I think it hurts them.

If our goal is to put an end to the inhumane treatment on factory farms, we need to encourage as many people as possible to embrace vegan diets. To do that, we need to show them that this way of eating is healthful and practical and appealing. Promoting additional restrictions that have no known health advantage—like eating all raw or eating very-low-fat—simply creates an image of vegan diets that makes them look more difficult and less appealing.

Studies of consumer behavior show that time, convenience and taste are huge factors in people’s food choices. As activists, we need to define vegan diets in ways that address those concerns. Both raw foods diets and very-low-fat diets embrace certain all-or-nothing food concepts that simply do not resonate with most Americans. Trust me on this: After 20-plus years of nutrition counseling, I can promise that it is easier to attract people to a vegan diet if we assure them that they can use some convenience foods at home and have the occasional meal at Taco Bell. And, we need to let them know that they aren’t going to make or break their health if they eat an Oreo cookie.

Benefits of very-low-fat vegan diets are based on some good research from the early 1990s. But more recent research has shed light on the fact that restricting all fats is not necessary for good health and probably not advisable. Choosing healthful fats like olive and canola oil is just as good—and most likely better—than shunning all fats.

Raw foods are based on a few scientific principles that are shaky at best. There is no reason to believe they are any more healthful than a plain old vegan diet, consisting of both cooked and raw foods. And in some ways they are less healthful.

I am downright depressed when I see the amount of attention that both raw foods and fat-restricted diets receive these days. Especially when I see vegan activists embracing or promoting them. Needlessly restrictive diets like these are not a part of the all-important effort to create an image for vegan diets that is positive and mainstream. And that’s why promoting these practices hurts farm animals.

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5 Responses to Help Animals With Healthful and Practical Vegan Diets

  1. Daryl E October 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    On the face of it, without investigating it, the comment about raw veganism makes veganism "…look more difficult and less appealing…" appears sensible. However, eating raw is simpler than eating cooked food. Also, cooking food kills some of the nutrients, which increases demand for nutrients, which can cause overeating and weight gain and it wastes energy–according to John Mackey, it wastes 1/3 of all energy used in food production to heat food in the final stage. The nutrient killing issue due to cooking, I believe, was the primary reason why I was overweight as a cooked food vegan. I lost over 40 pounds when I went raw. It is my view after 7 years of being 100% raw vegan (backslid to cooked vegan for two relatively short periods during that time) and 23 years before that of eating a cooked vegan diet, that raw is more healthful and not more difficult.

    • Ginny Messina October 15, 2010 at 8:34 am #

      I think for the average family, dealing with real world situations–school, busy schedules, social events, etc–a raw foods diet is much more difficult and limiting than a vegan diet. You can go vegan and immediately replace favorite foods with soymilk, veggie burgers, etc. Or open a can of beans and make quick burritos. There is a big learning curve with veganism, of course–learning to prepare foods and meet nutrient needs–but it is far bigger with raw foods. So yes, I think a raw foods diet is much more difficult.

      And while cooking reduces some nutrient content, it also improves absorption of other nutrients and phytochemicals. I think overall that it is far easier to get enough nutrients by eating cooked foods. There is no evidence whatsoever that people overeat because they aren't getting enough nutrients. People lose weight on raw foods diets simply because it's harder to get enough calories!

  2. cyrell October 25, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    Sorry Ginny, your comment that it is harder to get enough calories with a raw diet than with a cooked, is showing me that you are as uninformed as a person who believes that a vegan diet is per se unhealthy.
     
    Sure you loose weight when you eat only raw vegetables ..but where is the calorie content different between sprouted raw bread and baked bread?
     
    Is a sprouted chickpea different in calories to a cooked one…or is a non-oil roasted nut higher in calories than a raw nut?
     
    Something you should think about..and maybe search some more information what a raw vegan diet is instead of spreading wrong information.
     
    Sure, with a raw vegan diet it is easier to eat less calories, but if you want, you can also gain weight while beeing raw vegan..and no..that is not hard.
     
    The only argument for me against eating raw is what you said..with school and everything.
    It is hard enough as it is in my area with beeing vegan..maybe i could eat a raw vegan diet but than i had to cook 3 different things and well..you know what i mean, don´t you?
    And i do not want to eat salad when i go out..except if it is really good..but unfortunately most are not so good and also not filling.
    Grocery is not as near as i would like and to get fresh stuff once a week is not enough for going raw..i tried it one month, maybe later again when my kid is older..who knows.
    Eating raw is not much more difficult when you think about preparing your meals.
    Sprouting instead of cooking..i also have a juicer and a good mixer. You do not need much for 'cooking' raw
    I would say you need less time in the kitchen then with cooking your meal ….and sprouting seeds, nuts and grains makes them much more nutritious then cooked goods are and as easy to digest.
     
    Eating raw gets harder when you want to fake pizza, hot dogs, hot pots…when you need to pulse and drain..but in the end it is not more difficult then cooking from scratch.
    And you need something to dehydrate your pizza and everything..this is the real problem for me, to get such a thing…expensive.
     
    Cooking gets you more beta carotin and lycopin, but destroys other carotinoides and stuff in your food..so i would not say that eating cooked food is better than eating raw.
     
    People make faults with their diet, no matter if raw or cooked..people think vegan means eating only salad…vegans think eating raw means only salad…
    The problem starts when people change their diet and still think such things.
     
    Limiting…is raw limiting? People make a choice, does it feel to them as if it is limiting?
    Is vegan limiting? For a meat eater it is, at mc donalds or burger king it is..
     
    The question is…is beeing vegan limiting for you?
     
    That is important.

    • Ginny Messina October 25, 2010 at 8:30 am #

      Number of calories in one cup of cooked mung beans: 212

      Number of calories in one cup of raw sprouted mung beans: 31.

      That's a pretty significant difference to me! Sure, roasted versus raw nuts might have the same calories, but overall–unless a raw diet is very high in high-fat foods like nuts and seeds–you have to eat a greater volume of food to meet calorie needs on a raw foods diet. So it's great for weight loss, but not for children and others who may not meet calorie needs easily.

      And while it may not take any more time to prepare raw foods than it does to prepare a cooked-food diet from scratch, the fact is that most people don't cook from scratch. They don't cook much at all according to numerous surveys of eating habits. If we want more people to go vegan–that is, if we care about factory farmed animals–then we need to portray vegan diets in ways that make it easy for people nutrient needs and feed their families. A raw foods diet isn't the answer to that. And since it has no demonstrated health advantages, (other than weight loss–which can, of course be achieved on other kinds of diets), why would we want to promote it?

  3. Kristl June 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Just wanted to put in my two cents: As a cooked vegan, I have nevertheless done some research on raw veganism and what followers of this diet generally eat and advise others to eat. I have found that one of the foremost causes of people quitting a raw vegan diet is because they are not aware of how much they have to eat to get enough calories in, day in and day out. A raw vegan will have to eat A LOT more than s/he is used to, allowing the stomach to expand over time, thus spending more time than ever before just sitting and eating. Imagine eating a recommended mono-meal of 10 bananas or 16 oranges! Who wants to have to do that in order to get adequate calorie intake? What’s more, many of the well-known raw vegans on the web are WAY TOO SKINNY, particularly FullyRawKristina.

    Secondly, raw vegans often use, and say they couldn’t get by without, expensive blenders like the Vita-Mix, juicers that cost hundreds of dollars, and food processors and dehydrators that some people just cannot afford–not to mention the cost of all the fruit and veggies! It is an expensive lifestyle that can turn people off if they are on a budget.

    For these reasons and more, I agree that raw veganism does much less (and even harms them) for the animals who are at the center–or should be!–of veganism.

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