Misconceptions about Food

Submitted on May 26, 2010 - 3:14pm
Dietary facts can help simplify your life.
Many people have difficulty sticking with their diets because they are not getting enough to eat!


At the recent ANHS International Conference, many questions were asked about food.  Since many were prompted by common misconceptions about the Hygienic diet, we asked Dr. Alan Goldhamer to comment and describe a realistic starting point from which they can begin to design a diet that meets their individual needs. Dr. Goldhamer is president of the International Association of Hygienic Physicians (IAHP) and director of the TrueNorth  Health Center in California.

Newcomers to NHA conferences often ask about getting all the nutrients they need from a whole-food, plant-based diet. Many people have a specific concern about getting enough protein. Should they be concerned?

 A diet derived exclusively of whole, natural foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and the variable addition of whole grains, nuts, and legumes, provides us with the quantity and quality of nutrients needed for optimum health. These nutrients include protein (for its essential amino acid components), fat (for its essential fatty acid components), complex carbohydrates (as a clean-burning source of fuel), vitamins (for their role as catalysts and cofactors), minerals (that serve as structural components), fiber (as a necessary source of roughage), water (the universal solvent), and phytochemicals (for the possible role they play in supporting and protecting the body).  On the specific issue of protein - a healthful, calorie-sufficient, whole-food, plant-based diet will supply between 50 to 80 grams of high quality protein per day.

Many people say that they do not feel "full" or "satisfied" when they go for more than a few days or weeks on raw foods, and then they tend to go off their diet and binge.

There are numerous psychological and physiological factors that may contribute to why a person may binge on food. One reason may be that the person is not getting enough to eat and simply may crave more food! They might not be getting enough available energy from the foods they are eating.

Uncooked vegetables, ripe fruits, and nuts are healthful, extremely nutritious, and easy to prepare.

Some people argue that a raw-food diet is the natural and ideal diet of humans. This may be more of a romantic notion than a practical reality for most people.

If you decide to eat a diet made up of raw foods only (i.e., fruits, vegetables, and nuts), you will need to eat a very large volume of food in order to get sufficient calories to maintain your weight and energy levels. On average, raw vegetables contain 100 calories per pound; fruit contains approximately 300 calories per pound. Because most people need about 2,000 calories per day, you would need to eat at least 12 to 15 pounds of fruits and vegetables each day.

A diet of only fruit over a prolonged period of time can present serious problems for many individuals. Modern, hybridized fruit is high in sugar and relatively low in mineral concentration. Contrary to the unsubstantiated claims by some that we are natural "fruitarians," a diet of only fruit often leads to a compromise in health.

The inclusion of raw nuts increases the caloric and mineral density of the diet, but also increases the percentage of calories from fat, yielding a high-sugar, high-fat diet that is far from ideal for most individuals. The inclusion of large volumes of raw vegetables helps increase the mineral and fiber content, but salad only provides approximately 100 calories per pound, most of which is used in its digestion and elimination.

Starches such as potatoes, yams, hard squashes, etc., are a good source of calories, without the excess fat and protein. Grains and legumes are, too, but some people are intolerant of the gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, etc. Rice, quinoa, millet, lentils, and soybeans are preferable, but even these foods can present a problem for some people.

Is the raw food diet the "ideal diet"?

The argument that raw food is "natural" because most other animals obtain their food in the uncooked and unprocessed state is not a strong one, since those who champion this proposition do not recommend, at the same time, the other lifestyle necessities that accompany it-specifically, that animals do little else than eat, sleep, and mate during their relatively short lives.

Many people find it difficult to eat the quantity of raw food necessary to get sufficient calories. They may be much better off eating some steamed vegetables because lightly steaming vegetables does not substantially decrease the nutrients and makes it physically easier to eat and digest more food.

Can you recommend a starting point for people who want to design a healthful diet that meets their individual needs?

I recommend to most of my patients that they eat large volumes of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables (three to five pounds per day, yielding 600 to 1,100 calories) and get enough cooked, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, yams, and hard squashes) and whole grains and legumes (such as brown rice, millet, quinoa, corn, lentils, and other beans) so that they can maintain good strength and energy levels and not get too skinny. If vegetable foods naturally high in fat and protein are used, I recommend limiting them to half of an avocado, or one to two ounces of raw nuts, or three to four ounces of soy products per day.

By volume, the diet is mostly raw; however, as a percentage of calories, cooked foods make up a significant part of the diet. The use of heat helps to break down some of the otherwise indigestible fiber, increasing the potential available energy from these cooked foods. Starchy root vegetables are an excellent source of calories, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, as well as an abundant source of phytochemicals.

When general advice is not enough to resolve your concerns, consult an IAHP doctor and allow him or her to review your history, perform a physical examination, order necessary laboratory testing, and design an individualized diet and lifestyle recommendations.