February 29

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

Filed under Natural Hygiene by Frederic Patenaude

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!


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!


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 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!

30 Responses to “The Mistakes of Natural Hygiene, Part 2: Garlic, Onion, and Other Forbidden Foods”

  1. Jiri Novotny says:

    Great article Frederic! I think you should link to the previous part in the beginning – as I haven’t read it, I would certainly like to read it.

    After reading Super Immunity that you’ve recommended on your blog, I’m trying to introduce these foods to my diet as well. But I am having a bit of a challenge with mushrooms. I just can’t stand the taste. I never could. But I will keep trying 🙂

  2. Lisa Sture says:

    Hi Frederic, thankyou for some good commonsense information. From my experience of using my own body as my personal chemistry experiment I agree. You have put it very well. I look forward to your book! ;o)

  3. Len says:


    This article is excellent. And I wanted to give you a big high-five when I read this part of it:

    “…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.”

    This is the essence of the lesson that many well-intentioned health promoters would do well to absorb.

  4. Carol says:

    Great article, Frederic. Thank you.

  5. Danny says:

    Hi and thanks for the article. I admire and greatly respect the Natural Hygiene movement, but I have always found it hard to accept the rejection of spices, garlic and onions. Obviously they should be used in moderation (and in any case it would be difficult to take a lot), but many of them have health benefits (turmeric, cinnamon, oregano etc.) which it seems to me a shame to pass up. And, in addition, they “add spice to life”, and definitely to food.

  6. Nancy Watson says:

    Great article. I eat and check in with my body to see how it is responding to particular foods. Initially in my raw food journey, I was eating the typical high fat diet and after 3 weeks found that I felt better with green smoothies, a big salad, and whatever I made for my family for dinner. Later I found 811 and your site and have been happily ever after. You have always provided great information.

    Recently, I find that garlic and brewers yeast, two items included in your wonderful savory cookbook, are not for me at this time. Funny though, I was feeling bloated and had lots of discomfort intestinally and found that I was overeating bananas and switched to more high water content fruits. Feeling much better now.

    One recipe I love with mushrooms is “chimp burgers”, a raw recipe book I got from somewhere in the past. It is my favorite, especially in the summer.

  7. Veggie Eddie says:

    Yesterday a Nutritionist on the Dr. Oz show recommended eating 2 Raw Garlic cloves every day. It is a great preventative for all cancers. Onions & mushrooms also have good health benefits. I include Garlic & Onions in ALL of my Stews & vegetable dishes.

  8. Mariano says:

    Human beings are naturally artificial. That is, it is natural that human beings are resourceful, creative, inventor, and so on. It is natural to love the computer, internet, airplanes, blenders, automatic washing machines. It is not natural today to be naked in the jungle fighting the tigers and offering human sacrifices.

  9. “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.”

    I agree with the first two statements, but the third has not been my experience. For instance, scallions make my nose run every time I eat them. It’s not a huge deal, but definitely unpleasant and a sign to me that I’d do best to avoid them.

    Garlic is even worse (just 1 clove) and sometimes I even get a headache.


  10. Henrietta says:

    I love Frederics articles. They always seem to touch in on my own personal controversies and paradoxes with the raw food diet and my personal preference for natural hygiene. I stopped eating all onions and garlic for 2 years following a 3 week fast, and enjoyed the digestive ease and unstimulation it gave me, and then decided to have some occasionally, for variety of flavors. Mushrooms, I used to love them cooked, but not raw, and they give me a rash these days if i have any at all so I have to go without. I don’t know how to clear the rash, the doc sais its ringworm, and i don’t know how to clear it without the cream he wants to prescribe me, except my doing another long fast, but my iron levels aren’t really high enough for a fast at the moment. any advice appreciated.


  11. Diane kemppainen says:

    Thank you for the balanced response to natural hygiene. I have enjoyed their
    info on fasting. What about Mannatech ambertose? I know someone
    who was about to die if he didn’t do a kidney transplant or dialysis. Instead
    of high raw he does a lot of mannatech and some raw. It worked to
    reverse the kidney disease, but is exspensive-$160 or more / month.
    Diane kemppainen

    PS- what do you think of kombucha?

  12. Ulises says:

    Nice article, thank you very much for bring some light to the issue. Personally i don,t eat garlic, onions and other onios like plants because the energetic effects in our whole body.For example in ancient traditions this food was not recomended, it said that garlic dificult to stay in deep meditation.
    In other hand I love mushroom and seaweed, you must try “monkey wood head”, o smell some fresh Shitakes.

  13. Frederic Patenaude says:

    No idea what mannatech is.

    We have kombucha occasionally, more as a treat though. Sometimes the alcohol content in them seems a bit high and can cause you to feel a little intoxicated.

  14. Kamalla says:

    I do remember reading about garlic actually temporarily lowering the IQ for some time after eating it.

  15. Joe says:

    Interesting article there, Fred. Mushroom is in fact used in many Asian cooking. The Thais have raw Thai mushroom salad. I tend to avoid spices particularly non-fresh ones because they seem to be addictive. But nonetheless, I have fresh spices occasionally.

  16. I think these are good points Frederic. For me personally, it seems like most of the Hygienic principles combined with a little bit of modern common sense is for the best.

    It’s really hard to argue that eating only foods that you can make an entire meal out of, no processing whatsoever, and eaten one at a time is the ideal way to live. That being said, I don’t think it’s the end all deciding factor by any means.

    If I fall out of a coconut tree and shatter my ankle in eight places, under those unique circumstances I would be willing to take the drugs to do surgery, but that still wouldn’t make those drugs any less harmful.

    You won’t die from eating garlic, onions, or spices, but they are most definitely not the ideal food. Your body reeks of them after consumption (your body trying to expel them ASAP) and I get severe headaches and stimulation from consuming them. Not that they have to be off the menu forever, just be willing to deal with the consequences!

    So I think 9 times out of 10, natural hygiene does a good job of pointing out what is the BEST way to live, and I believe it’s hard to argue that. A mix of natural hygiene principles and modern real-world common sense I believe is the best you can do in today’s modern world though! 🙂


  17. Joelle says:

    I am very thankful for this post. I am not familiar with Natural Hygeine, but it is great to hear your thoughts on this coming from being NH and raw. I struggle with all raw, I crave cooked foods, and frankly my digestive system likes some foods better that way. My stomach definitely does not like bananas…makes me mad. Whenever someone has been sick in my house, which is very rare (and next to never for me…I avoid sugar, others in my house do not), I feed them onion honey syrup, and one of my kids had an ear infection many years ago, and we used garlic oil. These have great healing properties.

  18. Marco says:

    First comment from a great fan. I’m agree with you, there is no evidence that these foods are bad for humans. May be we should be careful to don’t use it too much and only in some recipes, but I think it’s very personal and we should follow our instinct.

    Thanks Frederic.

  19. Lindsay says:

    Hi Fred,

    Been loving this series on raw food myths and controversies.

    You might be interested to know I recently wrote a little article about onions and garlic on my own site – fruitnyoga.blogspot.com.

    You don’t mention it in this article, but there are a few reasons why onions and garlic can cause problems in the diet, one of them being that onions can encourage iron deficiency anemia.

    Obviously onions are, like most potent substances, best in moderation.

    Can’t wait for your next article!

  20. Lindsay says:

    Hi Fred,

    Been loving this series on raw food myths and controversies.

    You might be interested to know I recently wrote a little article about onions and garlic on my own site.

    You don’t mention it in this article, but there are a few reasons why onions and garlic can cause problems in the diet, one of them being that onions can encourage iron deficiency anemia.

    Obviously onions are, like most potent substances, best in moderation.

    Can’t wait for your next article!

  21. Paul Palmer says:

    Hi Frederic. Enjoyed your article. I have read that raw mushrooms have a carcinogen (hydrazine) which is neutralised through cooking. I love the taste of nutritional yeast flakes but the yeast appears to be high in purines, which is not good for someone with gout or tendency to it. Too bad, nutritional yeast is rich in many nutrients, including nucleic acids.

  22. Frederic Patenaude says:

    Obviously, I don’t recommend lots of RAW onion and garlic. I personally can handle very small amounts raw, for example a tiny quantity of garlic in a guacamole eaten occasionally. I can handle some very thin slices of red onion on my salads. However cooked is the way most cultures eat these foods, and cooking does eliminate much of the strong oil in it. I never had had problems with cooked onions or garlic.

  23. Marina says:

    Fred, this is great. Love your articles.

    I mostly stopped with onions and garlic, but I do like to have red onions in a salad.
    However, it is said that onions and garlic have:

    – antiparasitic effect
    – antibacteria effect
    – antiviral effect

    Charlotte Gerson says that garlic destroys over kandida.

    And it is said that onions have quercetin which is a powerful antioxidant, but this phytochemical is also found in fruits and other veggies.

    I guess they are medicines and should be taken in moderation.

    I agree that we are not to eat to eat grass from the ocean, that is insane!

    All the best!

  24. Lindsay says:


    The distinction between cooked and raw onions is a good one, as it does effect some toxic substances that can cause people problems. However, in the case of Heinz Body anemia, it doesn’t matter if the onion is cooked or raw. This is why you should never feed your pet onion, in any form.

  25. Michael says:


    Very positiv and and uplifting article about this whole natural hygiene topic.
    Thanks for that!

  26. Karen says:

    Once again, Fred, you are the voice of reason in a field that is so often populated by people who hold natural-hygiene-as-religion (or raw-food-as-religion) views. You are my hero :-).

  27. Selina says:

    I find it is important to listen to your body or find a good naturopath that can test for intolerances. Or learn how to do it yourself. I don’t tolerate beans, raw or cooked , but many do.My daughter can’t use echinacea, but it works great for me ,especially as I travel a lot. Even though I know nutritional yeast is healthy , I and a close friend don’t tolerate it well. I think it is important not to take foods that dont work for you, and persisting with foods just don’t work taste wise or digestively because you believe they are healthy.

  28. Frank Musulinaro says:

    Hi Fred. Great article (as per usual). I just had a concern about fasting in regards to weight loss. I’m 5-5 and weight a whopping 120 pounds. I’m a vegan and eat a lot of raw. Problem is, I have problems keeping my weight steady and am worried that any fast will bring my weight down to unhealthy levels (I used to be 100% raw but kept losing weight. Note: I ate as much as my body and appetite would allow). I would love to fast whenever I get sick but cannot due to a scare that I will lose more weight (weird that most people worry about the opposite)
    Anyhow, thanks again for your articles.
    God Bless

  29. Cheers, I really adore the way you wrote the subject… maybe you could look at my internet page and make some tipps. Thanks in advance 🙂

  30. Jerome says:

    I like the idea of the article but most of the arguments you’re giving do not sound convincing at all to me, especially the ones referring to looking at nature as a guide.
    I believe it’s a feature of modern man to think that they are better / higher than nature and can understand or know better. Very interesting concept to me. I do not believe in following any philosophy such as natural hygiene blindly and believe we should always question what we do, how and why we do it but the more I look, the more natural hygiene points me in the right direction.
    People who think they know better than nature or that man is “above” it should probably think again.

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