Why I’m Not Going Raw, Vegan or Paleo – A Naturopath Explains

Some years ago, I used to be on a crusade. Fresh out of studying 4 years of nutrition, I was on a mission to find the one perfect diet. You know, the one that miraculously heals all ills, magically dissolves fat and gives you that sparkly glow.

The trouble is, the deeper you go into nutrition, the more confusing it becomes. I’ve seen countless fads burst onto the alternative health scene and then fizzle out without a trace. I’ve witnessed more than a few evangelical ‘wellness gurus’ preach “it’s my way or the highway” and then years later, sheepishly admit to their followers that they have actually found something better. Or worse still are those that doggedly stick to their regime (despite new evidence) because they have built up a name and fame around it.

The internet is filled with so many judgemental and shaming comments towards those who don’t follow their one, righteous path – since when did food become a religion? Some vegans are screaming all meat is poison, The Paleo tribe screams all grains are poison, and the raw foodies say all cooked food is poison… So what is it then that we are supposed to eat?

Thankfully as I began clinical practice in naturopathy and started working with hundreds of clients from different walks of life, with different symptoms and genetics, in different stages of their lives and with different nutritional needs,

I quickly learned that there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach to diet.

Instead of searching for the one ultimate way of eating to rule them all, I became more flexible in my thinking and started observing the common threads between diets that healed people as well as the common types of chronic diseases so prevalent in our modern world, and how we can prevent these through proper nutrition.

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I like to think I have more of a common-sense approach to nutrition now, and I will share some of my guidelines in a moment. But first, let’s look at the benefits and potential issues with the 3 current big fads in the wellness world at the moment: Raw food, Paleo & Veganism.

RAW FOODISM 101:

raw food diet

Raw food diet overview

Raw foodies believe that our body has not adapted to eating cooked food, due to the lack of enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed in the cooking process, and many believe that all cooked food is actually toxic. Most would identify as raw vegans and so do not include any animal products in their diets. Unfortunately there is a great divide within the raw food world as to whether one should get most of their calories from mainly fruit and little fat, or from large quantities of nuts, seeds and oils for easy calories, but with less sugary fruits.

Raw food diet health benefits

It’s true, raw food is very alkalizing and high in phytochemicals, antioxidants, water and fibre. So it is no surprise that many who follow a raw food diet plan have healed chronic conditions and lost weight with raw food; as well as have a lovely glow about them. Also, being a raw vegan means you are cutting out all of the processed junk in the standard Western diet which is always going to improve your health! This can be a very good short-term “healing” diet for cleansing and detoxification, but there can be some issues with eating all-raw as a “maintenance” diet long-term.

Potential issues with a raw food diet

A common potential issue with eating an exclusively raw diet is being able to get enough calories. The danger of a raw food diet is that raw fruit and vegetables are really low caloric foods and you need to eat a ton just to meet your daily requirements. Vegans in general are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. The high-fruit eating raw foodies consume a lot of natural sugars and over time can have issues with candida overgrowth and dental caries. The fat-eating ones can over do it on the nuts – I know of a case of a woman who actually developed fatty liver disease from eating so many raw nuts. The most common issues with long-term raw foodists are a lack of lean muscle mass (a very important health marker), low energy and feeling spacey and ungrounded. Psychologically, it is an extreme diet, which can cause issues with perfectionism and difficulty socialising with others.

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VEGANISM 101:

vegan diet

Overview of a vegan diet

Vegans choose not to eat any products at all that are derived from animals, such as meat, eggs, dairy and even things like honey and seaweed. Reasons for eating this way include ethics (wanting to sustain the environment and reduce cruelty towards animals) and some vegans also believe that this diet is the healthiest way to eat and that humans are not genetically adapted to eating animal foods. And can I just say, I totally respect food choices made for ethical and religious reasons, I am looking at diet from a purely nutritional point of view here.

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Veganism health benefits

We all know veggies are the healthiest type of food, so one of the benefits of going vegan (if done in a nutritious way) is the large quantity of plant-foods you’d eat. This is extremely beneficial for health – for preventing cancer and heart disease, protecting colon health, reducing cholesterol and in some cases it can help with weight loss. Vegan protein is sourced from high fibre legumes and grains which are very cheap to produce and go a long way towards creating a more sustainable planet. Again, Vegans in general are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Potential issues with going Vegan

Just because a food can be classed as vegan, doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy – after all, sugar, toxic seed oils and gluten-containing grains can all be classed as vegan but can be very destructive to health. Some vegans also eat a lot of overly- processed, soy-based and chemical laden “faux – meats”. And even “healthy” vegans who eat very clean still rely on a lot of legumes and grains which contain anti-nutrients that can damage the gut lining and cause leaky gut syndrome which has been linked to many chronic health conditions. A lack of dietary iron and vitamin B12 can also be an issue, especially for women. Vegan diet restrictions are vast for those who’ve eaten animal products all their life.

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 THE PALEO DIET 101:

paleo diet

Overview of a Paleo diet

Perhaps the newest trend in the wellness scene (particularly in Australia with Celebrity Paleo Chef, Pete Evans), the Paleo diet is based primarily on the work of Dr Loren Cordain; whose research set out to show that humans thrive better on more of a “cave-man” ancestral diet, featuring a lot of meat (including organ meats and other tissues besides the muscle flesh most commonly eaten these days), good-quality fats and vegetables, with no dairy (some think butter is ok), no grains or legumes and very little fruit.

Benefits of a Paleo diet

Due to the lack of gluten, grains, legumes, sugars and fruits, this is a very good diet if you have issues with candida or leaky gut syndrome and auto-immune conditions.  Also, due to the high protein and low starch content, it could be very useful in losing weight and maintaining or building lean muscle mass. It also has the potential to provide a wide variety of nutrients.

Potential issues of eating the Paleo way

I don’t know how much a modern Paleo diet really has in common with what people ate 10,000 years ago, and I do think some Paleo eaters see it as a free-pass to chow down on as much steak and bacon as they can eat. Portion control is important with meat, particularly if you suffer from kidney or liver issues. So a healthy Paleo diet would ideally be comprised of predominantly greens and non-starchy veggies, some nuts, seeds and good fats, and smaller palm-sized portions of animal protein. Also, although the current Paleo paradigm eschews all grains as gut-destroying demons, I would like to point out that eggs and nuts – both Paleo staples – also contain anti-nutrients. I do think small amounts of soaked gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat can be beneficial for some people if they do not have leaky gut or candida.

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SO WHAT SHOULD YOU EAT?

So as you can see from above, there are benefits and drawbacks to all three diets. But there are some common denominators. All three diets, in their healthiest ideals, place a large emphasis on eating foods in their natural, unprocessed forms and all agree that non-starchy vegetables are super-important and should be the mainstay of a wellness diet. That is common sense nutrition demystified.

I think other important factors in eating a healthy diet these days is to drink lots of filtered water; avoid gluten, toxic seed oils (eg sunflower and canola oils) and high GI foods (eg starchy or processed carbohydrates, sugars and excessive sweet fruits) and to eat a high amount of raw and fermented foods – but not all-raw.

As I said, there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach. If you feel like your current diet needs work and isn’t leaving you feeling as nourished and fuelled as you should be, consider working with a qualified Nutritionist or Naturopath to guide you finding what works for you and your body.

RELATED: 3 Exquisite & Easy Breakfast Chia Seed Pudding Recipes

Oh… And stress is the worst thing of all for health – so try not to take it all so seriously. And if you’re still feeling stressed about it all, try to de-stress with this article or this podcast.

WHY I'M NOT GOING RAW, VEGAN OR PALEO - A NATUROPATH EXPLAINS

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Do you follow a raw, vegan or Paleo diet, or have you in the past? In the comment section below, tell me what you’ve found that does and doesn’t work for you and why. I can’t wait to hear from you. 

P.S. Have you got your copy of NOURISHMENT, the (free) Plant-Based Recipe eBook exclusive to the CDK tribe? It’s filled with 24 nourishing recipes including 3 smoothie recipes from yours truly. Join here to receive your copy as soon as you confirm your email (and let me know what you think!).

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14 Discussions on
“Why I’m Not Going Raw, Vegan or Paleo – A Naturopath Explains”
  • Thanks for sharing the pros and cons of each Sharee – love that. The concept of anti-nutrients is super interesting too! Carly x

  • A very interesting (and honest) article. Food advice and diet trends can be so overwhelming and I often find it difficult knowing which one to stick to. I think the most important thing is to find what is right for you and as you say, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Keep the articles flowing – thank you!!! X X X

  • As a Raw Vegan I want to share my opinion & personal experience.. Nobody should ever go from being on a meat and dairy based diet to a Raw Vegan lifestyle in a short period of time, it’s such a big change and commonly deemed unhealthy and this is why. People who take on this lifestyle usually watch a few documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Hungry for Change, Cowspiracy, Earthlings, etc. (which are not all based on Raw Veganism). Obviously these documentaries are full of extremely relevant, factual and quality information which makes people realise how terrible it is to eat meat and dairy for health, ethical and entironmental reasons, then usually people try to change their entire lifestyle in a short period of time not giving themselves a chance to learn what they need to know about eating entirely Raw and how unhealthy it can be if it’s not done properly.. For people interested in the Raw lifestyle, I highly recommend adapting a balanced Vegan diet first, incorporating cooked Vegan food, in our day and age it is very easy to live as a Vegan and personally I wont accept any excuse not to be able to do this, it is better for anybody in any situation, nobody on earth needs animals in their diet to be healthy, in fact being a Vegan (as long as it’s done properly) will improve everybody’s health, it will help prevent heart disease, it lowers the chance of getting cancer, because you feel so good all the time you actually feel less depressed if you suffer depression (I am living proof of this), my hair and skin are clear and healthy, I never get sick (three years strong without getting any kind of sickness). I don’t know how anybody could argue this when I am living proof that this lifestyle really is the best way to live, in fact the only people that would argue against it are people who are extremely uneducated on the lifestyle or people who are opposed to giving up meat and dairy because they love the taste of it so much, unfortunately for those people it’s going to be a long road of getting sick regularly, opening themselves up to a large number of diseases that could be completely prevented, feeling fatigued, unhealthy and not living life at the maximum amount of happiness.

    when it comes to B12, it is not hard to get B12 in a regular Vegan diet as a lot of products are now Fortified with B12, however on a Raw Vegan diet it is very hard to stay on top of B12.. Fortunately, there are many many ways around this with B12 injections, chewable tablets, nasal sprays etc.. I personally give myself B12 injections once a month (which I believe is the best way/it doesn’t hurt) and every time I have a blood test now, everything comes back perfect, I eat 3000-4000 calories per day on a high carb, low fat, raw vegan diet eating 90% fruit… and I am living proof that it works perfectly! my sugar levels are not too high, my pottasium levels are not too high and my weight doesnt get lower or higher ever. I maintain a weight of 70kg all the time (6 foot male). Other than B12, I don’t ever take any suppliments for anything, everything about me (according to a number of blood tests over the last few years) is at the exact level it needs to be, I am a firm believer that taking suppliments or medication for any reason should be a last resort and that you’re food intake/exercise literally makes you who you are mentally and physically, you don’t need to medicate yourself to improve you’re health.

    Being a Raw Vegan is not an extreme diet, it is just not what people are use to, I maintain this diet very easily without even thinking about it, I have retrained my brain to understand exactly how to work this lifestyle into my everyday activities.. It is easy to live this way, I don’t spend hundreds of dollars on fruit every week, I spend on average about the same or sometimes maybe 10% more than I did on a meat/dairy diet, some people think it’s more expensive, it’s really not if you shop at the right places and personally even if it cost me more to do this lifestyle, my health comes before anything else in life and that is the same with everybody, I would gladly spend a lot more on my personal health than save a bit of money and be open to so many problems later in life living on a meat based diet.

    When it comes to socialising with others, my experience is, I have never had that issue because I base myself around people who are like minded, I still associate with people who choose to eat meat and dairy because I am so adaptable in social situations, for example, if my friends wanted to go out and have some alcoholic bevarages, I choose not to drink alcohol, but I can still have a good time without poisoning my body, I feel so good from my food intake that I don’t need alcohol to enjoy myself.. also going out for dinner, in my opinion it’s not about what you eat, it’s about the people you are around and enjoying yourself, I can go out and eat at 80% of places all I have to do is make sure I am well fed before leaving the house and asking the chef to prepare me a raw salad without toppings that will include animal products, I have had some great meals amongst my friends who all eat meat and dairy. So, it’s all about who you are as a person, nobody can blame social anxiety or other common problems related on a Raw Vegan lifestyle, that is a personal issue, people will ask lots of questions, especially in the workplace where you eat in front of them regularly, I use to hate this, but I have come to enjoy it, after learning what I needed to know about the lifestyle I became super confident explaining why I live this way and everybody gets why I do it and respects that, I don’t have a problem with anybody at all to be honest.

    I am not going to go into what I think the pro’s and cons of each diet is, all I need to say is, eating meat and dairy is a con for everybody, eating a vegan diet has pro’s and con’s, but the pro’s shine and the con’s are literally nothing compaired to the con’s you’ll face now/later in life living on a meat and dairy lifestyle.

    • Hi Aaron,
      Thanks for your in-depth account of your raw vegan lifestyle, you seem to be avoiding the most common pitfalls of not eating enough or getting enough B12, I am glad that you feel amazing and are living by your ethical convictions. Shine on!

  • Thank you for this article. It will help me to attempt to find the beneficial foods to include with my on going auto-immune disease.
    I am having a very good look at the Autoimmune Protocol right at the moment. I am trying to put myself on this diet in a little while. I will set a date and attempt to not include certain things and hopefully I will work out which foods are causing a lot of inflammation in my body. I will slowly reintroduce certain foods after a while with the recommendations given.

  • I choose the best of the 3. Trying to aim mostly for the least inflammatory diet there is. Having an autoimmune disease, vegetarian paleo works perfectly for me. I dont eat any dairy but do eat eggs and seafood, raw and cermented foods.

    • I don’t like labels so much, but follow a similar approach to you Kellie (blending the best of various concepts to do what feels best for my body – particularly avoiding dairy and meat, but occasionally enjoying seafood and eggs). I really thank you for sharing what works for you, it’s great to see the diversity and remember that everyone is different. It’s important to do what feels right for you. Carly x

    • That sounds like a great eating plan Kellie, hope it’s working for you! Try to eat lots of sardines, they are so high in omega 3 and calcium and very low in heavy metals, plus they’re sustainable. I’ve got an awesome recipe (non-fishy), if you just put ‘Sicilian Sardine Pate’ into Youtube you will find it.. It’s seriously yum!!

  • I also suffer from severe inflammation which causes me no end of discomfort with mobility. I appreciate that this article was written honestly, with pros and cons for each eating lifestyle. I would be interested to read an article on correct portion size. I understand that the portions would be individual.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you too are suffering from an autoimmune condition Cherylyn, they are becoming awfully prevalent these days. Thats an excellent point regarding portion size…as a rough guide, on your plate I recommend a small, palm-sized portion of protein, 3 large handfuls of non-starchy veggies and no more than a handful of starchy carbs/grains in a day. Hope that helps

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