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.