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The Mistakes of Natural Hygiene, Part 2: Garlic, Onion, and Other Forbidden Foods

In my last article, I explained how Natural Hygiene developed in the United States, and also explained why some of its philosophy should be revisited in light of today’s science.

Let’s continue this exciting journey!

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Update from Frederic

I’m writing a new book! In fact, I’m writing a series of new books. In 1-2 weeks, I will be releasing a new book on my experiences trying to move to the tropics! Stay tuned, this will be pretty cool!

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Natural Hygiene as an Influential Movement

Most people don’t know what Natural Hygiene is, but many have been enjoying its benefits without realizing it.

Back in the 19th century, many doctors carried the medieval belief that bathing and fresh air were damaging to health. When patients had a fevers, many doctors thought they were doing the right thing by giving the poor sick person hard liquor, denying her any water, and closing the windows to prevent any fresh air from coming in the room.

Early Natural Hygienists of the past century fought hard to promote rationality in medicine and especially the importance of bathing. Now the medical community claims that they were the ones to promote the concepts of bathing and hygiene to the masses, when in fact this was done by rogue, outcast doctors who were ridiculed by the medical community at the time.

Let’s not forget than just 50-60 years ago, doctors recommended smoking as “healthy,” and that white bread was considered a health food.

Hygienists were way ahead of their time, and their influence is still felt today. If you can go today to a store like Whole Foods and purchase organic fruits and whole grain products, you can thank Silvester Graham and his friends for that. Unfortunately, these names have been forgotten from the history books, as we only want to teach about the heroic figures like Louis Pasteur.

So when I’m pointing out some of the mistakes of Natural Hygiene, I don’t want to sound overly negative. I just want to bring these great ideas to the forefront, shake them up a bit, and remove the few wrong concepts that just don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

It’s important to mention that Natural Hygiene is essentially a philosophy of health. Modern Hygienists have vastly different ideas on what is the best diet for health, but all agree on the methods for healing the sick.

Fasting

Fasting is an integral part of Natural Hygiene. Unfortunately, in spite of the amazing benefits that can be derived from supervised water fasting, most of the medical community is particularly clueless about it.

Although fasting had been practiced by humans throughout all recordable history, it really became a true method of healing with the Natural Hygiene movement in the 19th century. That’s why it was called “water cure” at the time.

Fasting is true physiological rest. It’s not just the act of not eating that works, but it’s also everything that accompanies a proper fast, such as complete rest in bed.

Fasting works because:

1) It removes the cause. Most diseases are caused by our lifestyle — mainly what we put in our mouth. By not eating for a while, you are certain to remove any dietary causes of disease.

2) Fasting is digestive rest. Digestion takes a huge energy toll on the body. Not eating redirects those energies towards healing.

3) Fasting itself is a physiological process that leads to healing and recovery. Most animals fast in times of stress and disease. This is no coincidence. After a few days of fasting, the body starts burning its fat reserves and goes through a complex set of physiological changes that enhance healing.

It’s a shame that water fasting has not gained yet the popularity it deserves. I’ve got nothing to criticize on the topic of Hygienic fasting, except that it has to be conducted by a competent doctor with extensive experience with it. (A good place for undertaking a water fast is the True North Health Center in California as they are year round and have access to medical monitoring systems).

The Appeal to Nature

One of the areas where Natural Hygienists got some of their philosophy wrong is what we could call the “appeal to nature.” This, by the way, is not just a mistake made by Hygienists, but also by raw foodists, environmentalists, paleo promoters and pretty much any person in natural health.

The appeal to nature is this concept that the wild state of nature, or perhaps the way humans were living thousands of years ago (presumably: in nature), should be a main guide for telling us how to live our lives today.

Let me give you some examples:

– Humans should not eat ANY foods other than fruits, greens and nuts, because those are our natural foods (why? look at our modern cousins, the chimpanzees, who live in “nature”).

– We should never take drugs, under any circumstances, because they are not natural.

– We should not eat foods that we can’t make a meal out of, because obviously, in nature, we wouldn’t be able to do that

– We should never process our foods in any way

– Human progress and civilization is wrong, because it takes us away from our natural state, where we would probably be healthier and happier

Let’s make it clear that the appeal to nature argument is not only used by natural hygienists. For example:

– Paleo diet promoters will claim that we should eat meat, fruits and vegetables, and avoid all grains because those foods have only been part of our natural diet for the past 10,000 years. On the other hand, meat and produce have always been part of our natural diet.

– People who refuse to eat fruit because it has been “hybridized” and therefore is not natural (because in nature, wild fruit would be different, presumably much better for us).

The Appeal to Nature is a subtle underlying philosophy that has actually been with us since the dawn of civilization.

Ever since humans started making progress to improve their lives, there have been people that have tried to halt that progress and claimed that life was better in the past.

The problem with the Appeal to Nature is that it’s fundamentally wrong.

Whether something is “natural” or not could be debated endlessly, but what actually matters are the results on human life, whether they are positive overall, or negative.

It’s wrong to assume that we used to live in a state of pristine nature, and that somehow everything got ruined as humans marched relentlessly towards civilization.

Although we could go into a big argument about this, for the sake of staying within topic, I will just say that one of the reasons the Appeal to Nature is wrong is that it can be taken in very contradicting ways.

Where do you draw the line between what is natural and positive, and unnatural and negative?

  • Obviously humans have eaten meat throughout their history. But does that fact mean that meat eating is automatically a positive thing for human health in our current circumstances?
  • Obviously wild foods are more nutrient dense than cultivated foods, but how can we forget the fact that most wild foods also contain toxic alkaloids and generally lack in calories, making them unsuitable to be staples in most human diets?
  • Obviously modern drugs are not natural and are dangerous to some degree, and many people abuse them, but can’t we deny the millions of lives that have been saved through the use of anesthetics and surgery, or antibiotics in some cases?
  • Obviously living in nature sounds great on paper, compared to life in an apartment building, but why don’t we mention the fact that many tribal people have bodies full of parasites (from eat “natural” foods), and rarely lived beyond the age of 45?
  • Obviously when we think of civilization, we can think about the millions of lives that have been lost through worldwide conflicts like WW1 and WW2, but can’t we overlook the frightening statistics that in tribal societies, that 30% of males died before the age of 35 due to tribal warfare? When we put that in perspective, our day and age seems relatively peaceful.

The Appeal to Nature is tempting, but wrong. Instead of arguing about what is “natural” versus what is not, we should try to evaluate the value of anything based on the results that it brings us. A food doesn’t have to be “natural” to be healthy. It just has to keep us healthy. If we have evidence to support that, we don’t care how natural it is.

Forbidden Foods: Mushrooms, Garlic, Onion, and Other Unnatural Items

Natural Hygiene forbids a lot of foods. Generally, animal products are off the table (that’s a good thing). Cooked foods are frowned upon. But so are all seasonings!

Shelton rejected all spices, garlic, onion, seaweed, and even mushrooms.

I must say that I followed that philosophy for a long time. By the way, this idea is not entirely original. Many Asian health philosophies eliminate garlic, onion and strong spices, finding them too “stimulating.”

The reasoning is quite simple. Garlic and onion are simply too strong. You could never make a meal out of them. They contain toxic mustard oil that irritates the digestive track.

Mushrooms are not human foods. They contain almost no nutrients, and are largely indigestible.

Seaweed is pond scum. Would you salivate in front a pile of seaweed? I didn’t think so. Makes sense because it’s not that natural to eat plants growing in the ocean.

This reasoning sounds good on paper, but the problem is that science is actually showing that some of these foods are good for us!

For example:

* Some evidence is mounting up concerning the possible anti-cancer properties of mushrooms. Although we’re not talking about a magical cure, there’s evidence to show that when people eat mushrooms on a regular basis, they may lower their risk of cancer. (link). Even the American Cancer Society, although not recommending them specifically, acknowledges their possible benefits (link)

– The National Cancer Institute, looking at the evidence, recognizes garlic as one of the vegetables with potential anti-cancer properties (link). In several studies, a higher intake of garlic were associated with lower mortality from cancer.

– Research is showing that onions (along with other vegetables of the same family, like shallots and garlic), are not only good for fighting cancer, but also for arthritis! (link)

I know, I know…

Natural Hygienists will say: “These foods are drugs! They act like drugs, and that’s why you see those results.” But not so fast.

We know about drug side effects. But is there even one piece of evidence showing that consumption of onions, garlic or mushrooms is bad for you in any demonstrable way?

The same cannot be said for true drugs.

In epidemiological studies, it could be that people who tend to eat a lot of garlic and onion also consume a lot of vegetables, which is healthier. But science is also now showing how specific compounds of these foods have positive effects for health.

At the very least, these foods are not the devil or toxic. You can probably eat them and be okay. Most likely, you’ll even enjoy some health benefits in the process.

So you can avoid these foods because they are unnatural, or you can eat them. So far, science says that if you eat them, you’ll get healthier. It may not fit with the Hygienic philosophy, but at least we don’t have any evidence that eating these foods would be bad for you. In fact, ALL the evidence we have points to the contrary.

That being said…

Although I avoided onions and mushrooms for a long time, I now eat them regularly. I must say, I’m not a big fan of some mushrooms. And I don’t really like most raw mushrooms. I just didn’t develop a taste for them.

Likewise, I don’t like raw garlic except in small quantities in hummus or guacamole. But I don’t mind cooked garlic or onion. I do like some red onion on my salads.

As for seaweed, I’m not a big fan either. That’s just my personal taste. I don’t mind nori in a recipe, but I don’t enjoy eating seaweed in general. I sometimes use seaweed to flavour some bean dishes.

In my next article, I will cover fruitarianism and food combining!

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.


Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.