Raw vegan diets such as 80/10/10, Raw Till 4 and High Carb, Low Fat have become very popular in the last five to ten years.
But as quick as these fad raw food diets have risen to popularity, they have come crashing back down with a bang, with many individuals encountering serious health problems, as a result of following strict raw vegan diets.
I have seen countless fad diets come and go, during my time in the health and fitness industry over the past ten years. But rarely have I seen a diet, which has such a destructive impact on an individual’s health, as I’ve witnessed with strict raw vegan diets.
In my opinion at this point in time, it’s not even semantic or ethical to refer to a raw vegan diet, as a diet because of the many potential dangers. For any diet to be healthy, it must naturally provide all the basic essential nutrients that we need to stay healthy.
It is well verified by scientific research at this point, that vegan diets are not capable of providing all the nutrients that we need to stay healthy. The studies suggest that vegans should include multiple synthetic supplements and/or fortified synthetic nutrition, to compensate for the lack of dietary intake of many nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and D for example.
In this article I will try to outline, what I believe to be some of the most serious nutritional concerns that can arise from following strict raw and vegan diets.
1. Low Fat Raw Vegan Diets & A Lack Of Essential Fatty Acids
Severely restricting fat intake to below 10% of calories or removing overt fat containing foods completely from the diet, leaves the individual at significant risk of developing essential fatty acid deficiencies such as the omega-3 fatty acid(DHA) for example.
Many vegan diet “experts” often recommend avoiding foods that contain healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados, with the recommendation to load up on refined sugar and excessive quantities of carbohydrates instead, which is the polar opposite of standard heart-healthy dietary advice.
Healthy fat-containing foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados are definitely not foods to be feared when consumed in sensible quantities. Scientific research has found that individuals who consume nuts regularly to have a significantly decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Vegans are already significantly prone to developing a deficiency in the omega-3 long-chain fatty acid DHA(Docosahexaenoic acid), due to unreliable and restricted conversion from the short-chain precursor ALA(alpha linolenic acid). ALA is the form of Omega-3 fatty acids predominately found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
Of course as discussed above, this is all exacerbated by the fact that low-fat raw vegan diets often don’t typically provide enough dietary intake of precursor alpha linolenic acid in the first place, to convert to sufficient DHA.
Many raw food diet guru’s promote fear mongering when it comes to healthy fats and often use weight gain as their reasoning for avoiding these moderately high calorie foods such as nuts and seeds. However, multiple studies have now found that individuals who consume a few portions of nuts weekly to have lower BMI levels and there is no evidence at this point that consuming nuts results in weight gain, according to the current scientific research.
It certainly makes no sense to excessively avoid consuming healthy fats, only to then consume thousands of excess calories from simple sugars or even refined sugar to compensate for the calories. This is also why many raw vegan diet proponents tend to recommend exercising excessively, in order to burn off all the excess calories and simple sugars that are really not needing to be consumed in the first place.
2. Vitamin B12 Deficiency, Hyperhomocysteinemia & Raw Vegan Diets
An abundance of scientific research has now found that the majority of vegans suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency, due to sub-optimal dietary intake.
A serious consequence of Vitamin B12 deficiency is developing a condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia, which is a proven heart disease risk factor.
Multiple high-quality studies have now found that vegans suffer from significantly higher levels of homocysteine, than both their lacto-ovo vegetarian and omnivore counterparts.
Learn more about the 6 Common Vegan Diet Deficiencies
Some of the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency can include fatigue, shortness of breath, pins and needles(paraesthesia), peripheral neuropathy, a sore red tongue, disturbed vision and if left untreated, eventually irreparable nervous system damage and spinal cord degeneration.
It is worth noting that serum Vitamin B12 blood tests are extremely inaccurate and not a reliable method for determining true Vitamin B12 status. To determine true Vitamin B12 status, Homocysteine and methylmalonic acid should be tested, which are markers of Vitamin B12 metabolism.
There is some scientific research, which has found that certain algae such as Chlorella and seaweeds may provide a bio-available vegan dietary source of Vitamin B12. However the research is still in its early stages and often with mixed results. Some studies have found algae and seaweeds to contain pseudo-vitamin b12 analogs and not true Vitamin B12. Many vegans also choose not to consume supplemental foods such as algaes or seaweeds.
There are several raw vegan “guru’s” such as Doug Graham, who promote very reckless dietary advice, when it comes to the Vitamin B12 topic. Doug Graham’s recommendation as a strict vegan is not to supplement with Vitamin B12, until you develop deficiency symptoms.
Now this is a very careless and dangerous dietary recommendation, as by the time Vitamin B12 deficiency causes symptoms, irrepable nervous system damage and spinal cord degeneration can have already set in.
You can’t just expect to waive daily intake of basic essential nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and expect to remain healthy in the long-term. For any diet to be healthy, it needs to firstly be nutritionally complete and balanced.
This is exactly why the most common complaint from individuals following strict raw vegan diets is of course developing severe Vitamin b12 deficiency.
The scientific research has concluded that taking synthetic supplementation/fortified foods of Vitamin B12 is essential for individuals following vegan diets.
In my opinion, any diet that cannot reliably provide all the basic essential nutrients that we need to stay healthy, without having to resort to synthetic supplements, shouldn’t even be considered a diet in the first place.
Relying on synthetic supplements to provide full dietary intake of nutrients can be very problematic also. As the research has found, the recommendation to supplement with Vitamin B12 is obviously not being implemented well by vegans, as the studies are still consistently finding that the majority of vegans to suffer from sub-optimal Vitamin B12 status.
3. Excessively High or Low Calorie Recommendations
Calorie recommendations for raw vegan fruit based diets can typically range anywhere from 3000-5000+ calories as standard.
The reason why raw vegan proponents tend to recommend individuals to consume thousands upon thousands of excess calories from fruit, is because at a standard 2000-2500 calories these raw vegan diets don’t provide anywhere near enough nutrition.
Even 3000 calories of a fruit based raw vegan diet only typically provides around 30-40g of protein maximum, which is nowhere near enough protein for most active adults.
From a weight loss perspective, you can imagine if you are only burning around 2500 calories a day, but consuming a whopping 5000 calories from fruit, that it is very likely you will eventually end up gaining weight in the long-term.
This is complete nonsensical dietary advice once again, you can not physically get away with eating unlimited calories from any food and not expect to eventually gain weight.
The reason why individuals like durianrider remain lean, whilst consuming high calorie diets is because these people tend to exercise most days. It’s really not that difficult to remain lean on any diet, when you are intensely exercising daily and still likely expending more calories than you are consuming or at the very least significantly burning off a large portion of the excess calories consumed.
At the other end of the dietary spectrum, there are also many raw food advocates, who recommend extremely low calorie diets, which of course are also unsustainable and potentially very dangerous.
It’s one thing to slightly under-eat on a diet, which is composed of a variety of nutritionally dense foods. But to under-eat on a diet composed of just a selected handful of fruits and low calorie vegetables, is an absolute recipe for disaster, as most raw vegans end up finding out the hard way.
4. Extremely Low In Sodium
Another very problematic issue with strict raw vegan diets is that they are often extremely low in sodium, whilst being irrationally high in potassium, due to the high intake of fruits and vegetables.
Now whilst the average individual following a standard American diet, may consume too much sodium, via consuming excessive quantities of processed foods.
Individuals following a strict raw vegan and/or any extremely clean diet may not be obtaining enough sodium to maintain proper electrolyte balance and cardiovascular function.
Whilst high sodium has proven to be a factor in high blood pressure and thus heart disease, extremely low sodium diets have also been found to be very bad for heart health.
With current research finding that individuals without high blood pressure, who don’t consume enough sodium, may actually have an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke, compared to those who consume moderate quantities of salt in their diet.
Anecdotally i can’t count how many individuals on raw vegan diets, that i have witnessed developing cardiovascular, low blood pressure, adrenal/orthostatic hypotension and heart rhythm issues when trying a fully raw food diet.
A possible explanation for this i offer, is that most of these raw vegan diets are often extremely low in sodium. The excessive potassium intake, also acts as a natural diuretic by displacing sodium and of course further lowering levels.
Raw vegans will often turn around and say what about celery, its a great dietary source of organic sodium and they are correct, celery is a great source of sodium. But are these individuals consuming enough celery day in and day out, to obtain enough sodium ?
Having seen the nutritional composition and diet plans of most raw vegan diets, i can say that most raw vegans i have come across are not eating enough sodium rich vegetables to achieve adequate sodium intake, especially to balance the often very high potassium intake as mentioned previously.
When you are consuming in the upwards of 30 banana’s for a single meal and no sodium rich foods over the whole day, it has the potential to imbalance electrolyte levels, especially in certain individuals such as those with poor adrenal gland function.
I believe if you are eating a clean diet that is majority based around plant-foods, that salting food with an unrefined, trace element rich salt such as himalayan salt or celtic sea salt to be healthy.
Maintaining sodium levels is even more important for individuals with “adrenal fatigue” and sub-optimal adrenal gland function. Given that chronic fatigue is one of the main health issues that drives people to trying extreme measures such as raw vegan diets in the first place, you can often see why raw food diets don’t achieve positive results for most who try them.
5. Impractical & Unsustainable Raw Vegan Diets
Raw vegan diets can range anywhere from extremely difficult to follow, to outright nonsensical, with certain fully raw diet “guru’s” needing eight fridges in their household just to follow the diet.
Following a fully raw vegan diet can be a full-time job in many ways, you will likely spend the majority of your day either eating food, preparing food, growing food or shopping for more food. Keeping a consistent, daily stock of 3000 calories worth of fresh, ripe fruit is actually more difficult than it sounds.
This is before we even get to how financially impractical most of these raw vegan diets tend to be, especially for those in countries where fruit is expensive or families on welfare and limited budgets. Some raw vegans spend more on food daily, than some families do in a whole week.
As a result, we consistently see that very few individuals, ever manage to sustain these strict raw vegan diets in the long-term. This is exactly why so many former raw vegan promoter’s such as Durianrider, Freelee The Banana Girl, Swazye(Unnatural Vegan) and others, have ended up reverting back to including more nutritionally dense, cooked foods into the diet.
The only truth about strict fully raw vegan diets is that they have a 100% failure rate in the long-term.
6. Iodine Deficiency & Raw Vegan Diets
If you are not consuming sea vegetables as a vegan, then there is a huge chance that your diet will likely not be providing adequate iodine intake.
Sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp, wakame and nori for example, are some of the few dense iodine dietary sources that is available to vegans. There are few other reliable plant-food vegan sources of iodine.
Its worth noting that many raw vegan diet authors such as Doug Graham don’t believe consuming seaweed is healthy, which is completely fair, Doug is entitled to his opinion on sea vegetables.
However the 100% raw vegan 80/10/10 diet that Doug Graham promotes, also doesn’t provide any alternative dietary iodine source for strict vegans and the land plant-based foods that his 80/10/10 diet is based around, aren’t capable of providing sufficient iodine intake.
Scientific research has speculated that up to 80% of vegans may be deficient in the mineral iodine. Most common dietary sources of iodine are animal based such as seafood, eggs and dairy. Other than sea vegetables of course, which are an excellent, plant-based bioavailable source of iodine.
7. Raw Vegan Diet Guru’s & Their Academic Background
Many of these so-called raw food guru’s can charge anywhere in the upwards of hundreds of dollars, to tens of thousands for their “expertise” and unlicensed health coaching sessions.
Raw food diet guru’s often make wild boasts about the unproven health benefits of a fully raw food diet, claiming they are easily able to cure incurable diseases, often providing no scientific evidence or using pseudo-science to back up their claims.
Many raw vegan authors also promote lots of incorrect and pseudo-scientific information, often even claiming that healthy foods such as vegetables, onions, garlic, nuts, seeds, sprouts, fresh herbs, spices, wholegrains, healthy oils such as olive oil, green tea, beans, legumes and so on, are bad or “toxic” foods for health.
Which of course is incorrect, as there is an absolute wealth of scientific research now at this point, which has proven that the above foods are not only healthy, but also offer a wide range of health benefits, nutrition and protection from developing serious degenerative diseases.
Often you will find, that the so-called degrees in nutrition that these raw food guru’s claim to have, are diploma’s bought from companies on the internet and not from accredited Universities.
8. Detox, detox.. and then detox some more !
You would have thought that, eliminating all those so-called “toxic” cooked foods from the diet and eating nothing but pure, fresh raw vegan foods everyday, would mean that you didn’t need any further detoxification.
However, many raw vegan proponents tend to excessively recommend unproven and often dangerous detoxification regimes such as juice feasting and long-term water fasts.
Expensive fasting retreats and juice feasting coaching sessions, are often the bread and butter of a raw vegan charlatan “guru”. Some raw food guru’s can demand anywhere in the upwards of $10,000+ for the opportunity to water fast at one of their retreats, hosted in exotic countries such as Costa Rica and usually without medical supervision.
Individuals following strict raw vegan diets already tend to be prone to nutritional deficiency, so you can imagine what happens when people start water only fasting for 30+ days, several times a year, in the supposed hope of “detoxing”.
In reality, during those 30+ days when these individuals are consuming nothing but water, they are actually impairing the actual real detoxification processes in the body such as methylation and the liver’s phase 1/2, glutathione and so on.
All of these real detoxification processes are heavily dependent on dietary intake of nutrients such as Vitamin B12, zinc, sulfur bonded amino acids, b-complex vitamins, minerals such as selenium and many others. All nutrients which already tend to be deficient or poorly supplied by strict raw vegan diets.
This is exactly why strict raw vegan diets are completely over-rated nonsense, when it comes to their supposed incredible and unproven “detoxification” benefits.
The real truth is that the low intake of many basic essential nutrients on a raw vegan diet, actually significantly impairs or slows down various detoxification processes such as methylation, due to the poor intake of nutrients such as Vitamin B12, Zinc and others.
Health is rarely ever achieved by putting the body through immense stress and undertaking extreme “detox” regimes. Many raw vegan “guru’s” often recommend long-term water fasting, for individuals with contraindicated health conditions such as diabetes and adrenal insufficiency, which is potentially very dangerous advice.
I have seen people lose their teeth and hair, nearly die, become emaciated, exacerbate mental health disorders, require hospitalization and IV fluids because of under-taking dangerous and unproven detoxification regimes such as long-term water fasting, under the recommendation and guidance of unqualified raw food coaches.
9. Elevated Triglycerides & High Carbohydrate, Low Fat Raw Vegan Diets
Elevated levels of triglycerides are another proven independent cardiovascular disease risk factor.
Scientific research has found that diets which derive more than 60% of total calories from carbohydrates, to cause high triglycerides or hypertriglyceridemia as it is known.
“Evidence from a statement released by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, panel on Detection, Evaluation, and treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (ATP III), suggests that very high intakes of carbohydrates (CHO) (greater than 60 percent of total calories) are accompanied by a rise in triglycerides.”
“The recommendation by ATP III regarding dietary “Carbohydrate intakes should be limited to 60 percent of total calories. Lower intakes (e.g., 50 percent of calories) should be considered for persons with metabolic syndrome who have elevated triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
Raw vegan diets such as Doug Graham’s 80/10/10, often derive more than a whopping 80% of total calories from carbohydrates and simple sugars.
Anecdotally there have been numerous cases of raw vegans developing high triglycerides on raw vegan diets such as 80/10/10, raw till 4 and 30 banana’s a day for example. All of which are excessively high carbohydrate, low fat and low protein raw vegan diets.
Below is an example of a popular fully raw vegan guru’s multiple abnormal blood test results(high triglycerides, low HDL, high VLDL, iron markers flagged and more) from following a fully raw vegan diet for 9+ years…(results may be indicative of increased heart disease risk and/or current metabolic health problems such as insulin resistance.)
10. Removing Too Many Food-Groups = Multiple Nutrient Deficiencies
We have covered some of the serious nutritional deficiencies above, which are associated with following strict raw vegan diets such as Vitamin B12, Omega-3 fatty acids(DHA), iodine and a lack of sodium.
However, these are not the only nutrient deficiencies that raw vegan diets are prone to causing.
Some other nutrients that are either not supplied at all on a raw vegan diet or provided in low quantities include Vitamin D, Zinc, Calcium, Iron, Selenium, Co-Enzyme Q10 and conditional essential amino acids such as taurine and carnitine.
As if eating a strict raw vegan diet wasn’t already restrictive, many raw foodists take the extremity a step further and start removing many healthy food-groups from the diet such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, legumes, herbs and obviously animal foods.
The excessive removal of many healthy food-groups, only tends to further result in more nutritional deficiencies. A raw vegan diet which is composed of just a handful of selected fruit and vegetables, would not be capable of providing all the basic essential nutrients that we need to stay healthy.
This is exactly why many raw vegans are completely dependent on using multiple synthetic supplements to “paper over the cracks” in their raw vegan diets.
It is worth noting that studies have found that amenorrhea, which is an abnormal absence of menstruation, to be a common finding in women following raw vegan diets. This is most likely the result of multiple nutrient deficiencies and often under-eating.
The study concluded that the consumption of a raw food diet is associated with a high loss of body weight. Since many raw food dieters exhibited underweight and amenorrhea, a very strict raw food diet cannot be recommended on a long-term basis. 
 Consequences of a long-term raw food diet on body weight and menstruation: results of a questionnaire survey.
The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.