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Is Low Fat Always Where It’s At?

Quite often I get people asking me questions about how much fat they should be eating in their diet, or what is a healthy amount of fat to eat.

Someone asked me recently what are some differences between my approach and other types of low-fat diets, a low fat raw vegan style diet, for example.

The low fat raw vegan diet is a diet where  the focal point of the diet is raw fruits, like bananas, dates, figs, cherries, melons, papayas, mangos, etc., followed by raw vegetables, like lettuce, celery, and tomatoes.

Although I’ve been aware of the dangers of high-fat raw food diets since 2002 when I wrote my book “The Raw Secrets,” it was not until 2005 that I really gave the low fat raw vegan approach a try.

I’ve learned a lot since 2005, and I have noticed that most people thrive on lower-fat, higher-fruit raw diets more than any other type of raw diet. Most other programs are just way too high in fat and don’t allow for near enough fruit to really be a healthy, long-term program. Short-term cleanse, possibly yes, but certainly not a way to eat for life.

Because I do not follow a strict low fat raw vegan diet as espoused by others, many people have been asking me what I think of it and what I would do differently.

I’ve found that most people who experiment with the raw food diet eventually either give up or find their own approach that works for them. In my experience, a low-fat raw food diet with a LOT of fruit and a LOT of greens works for the greatest number of people, but isn’t necessarily best for everyone.

My teachings are still very close to low fat raw vegans diets in many key areas, such as:

– The importance of the low fat diet

– Eating enough fruit, and not being afraid to do it

– Eating plenty of greens

– Fitness being just as important as nutrition for overall health.

Here are the few areas where our viewpoints differ:

1- No obsession about being 100% raw. I’m certainly a big fan of fruits and vegetables, and both still make up much of my diet, but I’m not strict about being raw like I had been in the past. I’ve found that healthy cooked foods like potatoes, vegetables, and whole grains are actually far healthier than the overabundance of fats and oils found in many raw food recipes. Plus I’ve found that some people just feel better including choice cooked foods in their diet.

2- Fat. I allow more than 10% fat, over the course of a month. Although I have done the “less than 10%” thing for a while, I prefer to stay in the 12-18% range, with 15% being a good target for most people.

Many low fat raw vegans have such a fear of fat that they’ll avoid all nuts and seeds. Thus they end up eating only fruit, or only fruit and little greens. However, there are important nutrients in nuts and seeds, such as essential fatty acids and minerals that are hard to get from just fruits and vegetables. So if your fat is coming from healthy sources, especially certain high-omega 3 seeds such as hemp, chia or flax then it’s fine to go above 10%.

3- Supplements. I am no supplement whore. In fact, I’m one of the few raw food promoters to never have launched a line of supplements. That’s because I find that 99% of what’s on the market is useless in comparison to fresh foods.

But, certain supplements can be intelligently used, and it would be hard to argue that they don’t have their place.

I’ve explained in the past why most raw foodists and vegans should consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement to avoid any possible deficiencies that could lead to disastrous results. Vitamin D can also be an issue for some people, and intelligent use of a supplement is often advisable when you live in a northern climate year round.

4- Condiments. Although in theory I agree with the idea that a condiment-free diet is best, most people, myself included, find such a diet too boring and ascetic.

In practice, I have found that using some fresh herbs, spices, and even some raw hot peppers can make food much more enjoyable.

I also don’t mind using some “non-raw” condiments sometimes, such as salsa in a jar, as I find it to be a more suitable way to add zing to a salad rather than using a fatty dressing.

The most important thing is to eat a lot of greens and vegetables. If you find it easy to eat them plain, then by all means go for it. But if you’re like me and find your salads and raw soups more palatable and enjoyable with a bit of spice, then don’t feel guilty for not being “perfect.” It’s far better to eat salads and soups more frequently with a little seasoning than rarely and stay 100% natural hygiene. Eating more fruits and vegetables is really what matters.

Some people can take these to extremes and even formulate “low-low-fat” diets, where no overtly fatty foods like nuts, seeds, or avocados are eaten, resulting in less than 10% of total calories coming from fat.

Even though nuts and seeds should be limited, let’s not forget that they contain important nutrients that cannot easily be found in fruits and vegetables, and I personally don’t recommend following any of these ultra-low-fat diets for any considerable period of time, outside of short-term cleanses.

It’s also noteworthy to consider that the  low fat raw vegan diet is rather new, and almost no one in the history of mankind has actually eaten that way for more than a couple of decades.

Therefore, it’s quite obvious that not *all* answers have been found and that although I think that the low fat raw vegan diet has much to offer, there’s still room for improvements, such as food quality/variety and individualization.

Ultimately there are a lot of overlaps between what I promote and many of the principles found in other low-fat raw and vegan regimes, I’ve just modified it over the years to allow for more individualization and long-term health.

So the best thing you can do to find out what works best for you is to experiment with different approaches and giving yourself permission to do so. Ultimately what matters is how you feel and the conclusions that you’ve reached for yourself.

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.