In 2005, I became interested in the 80-10-10 Diet, designed and promoted by Dr. Douglas Graham. 80-10-10 is the proto diet that spawned many other versions on the same theme, such as 90-5-5 or Raw Till 4. It seemed at the time the answer to all of my failed attempts at eating a 100% raw vegan diet.
To summarize it without misrepresenting it, I can say that the 80-10-10 “RV” (raw vegan) diet stands for an intake of at least 80% carbohydrates, a maximum of 10% fat and a maximum of 10% protein by calories.
In more practical terms, it means eating only raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. To achieve those numbers, you have to eat fruit for lunch, fruit for breakfast, and you might have to eat your dinner in two parts: first fruit, and then vegetables.
The amount of fat you’d be allowed to eat each day would depend on how many calories you consume. But for most people, it would be roughly half an avocado or one ounce of nuts.
So the 80-10-10 Diet is a raw diet with a whole lot of fruit.
90-5-5 is a more extreme version where all the concentrated sources of fat, like nuts or avocados, are avoided.
Raw Till 4 is a diet where there’s a minimum number of calories to consume every day. Women are encouraged to eat at least 2500 hundred calories a day and men 3000. For most of the day, you eat roughly like in the 80-10-10 diet and for dinner you are allowed things like rice and pasta, with a similar ban on concentrated fats.
Raw Till 4 might be the only diet in the history of the world where eating an arbitrary minimum number of calories is essential to the success of this plan. Many followers up gaining tremendous amounts of weight on this diet, andYouTube is full of such warning stories.
Contrary to what the promoters of this diet believe, it’s entirely possible to gain weight eating any food — including fruit — if you go over the amounts of calories you consume.
I don’t consider Raw Till 4 a serious diet, so I’m not going to be discussing it in this article. I’m going to focus on the original 80-10-10 Diet by Dr. Doug Graham and why I no longer eat this way.
80-10-10 May Be Good for Some People
As pure raw vegan diets go, 80-10-10 is not a bad diet. Most of its followers are quite athletic so for the simple fact that they consume a lot of calories, nutrient needs are usually met.
Let me expand a little bit on this calorie question.
Let’s say that someone consumes 3000 calories of fruit per day. And to keep the example simple, let’s say the only fruit they ate were bananas.
Throw some veggies in the mix and that person would get about 40 grams of protein per day. If they added a variety of vegetables and some plant fats, they could get maybe 50 or 60 grams of protein, which is on the low side but could be sufficient.
However, if that person ate 2000 calories a day, she would only get 25 grams of protein a day, which is undoubtedly inadequate for anybody. The WHO states in a detailed research paper on protein, that: “The requirement indicated by the meta-analysis (6) (a median requirement of 105 mg nitrogen/kg per day or 0.66 g/kg per day of protein) can be accepted as the best estimate of a population average requirement for healthy adults.”
Translation: An average person weighing 145 pounds (65 kilos) would need, on average, about 43 grams of protein per day. Protein needs can vary from person to person, so they give a population average.
So as we can see, the 80-10-10 diet seems adequate in protein at higher caloric intakes but inadequate at more average caloric intakes.
And there we have a problem: it’s not realistic for a diet to require a very athletic lifestyle where the average woman would have to burn more than 1000 extra calories through physical activity daily just to get to eat enough food to be well-nourished.
While it’s unlikely that someone would get vitamin deficiencies on this diet, they could run low on calcium and essential fatty acids if they don’t consume a large volume of food daily.
Proponents of this diet claim that this diet leads one to an athletic lifestyle because they feel more energy. So if you can be active enough to consume enough calories, and supplement with vitamin B12, then 80-10-10 might be a proper diet for you, as long as you watch out for certain pitfalls.
However, this is not why I stopped eating this way. My reasons are personal, and I’m not claiming that they will apply to everybody. However, many followers of 80-10-10 eventually quit it, and some have shared their experiences and reported similar observations.
My Reasons for Quitting 80-10-10
The primary reason why I quit eating 80-10-10 is that I found that the benefit to cost ratio was not worth it for me. In other words, the level of energy and the number of sacrifices I had to made on this diet were not matched up by enough benefits.
Let’s go through some of the issues one by one.
At the time I started this diet, I was still quite young (end of my twenties) and reasonably active. But I had trouble eating enough fruit to get the calories I needed. So like many people on this diet, I found that I could not eat that many raw bananas in a row, even with a lot of “training.” So I turned to banana smoothies as an answer.
One day, after years of countless banana smoothies, the thought of drinking that sludge again made me incredibly depressed. I just could not do it anymore. It’s not that I did not like eating fruit. It’s just that I couldn’t stand eating so much fruit anymore.
While eating meal after meal of fruit, I felt I took care of my hunger but experienced a background feeling of dissatisfaction that did not go away. Fruit digests very quickly and gives you a surge of energy — but it does not lead to high levels of satiation.
I started giving 80-10-10 a fair try in December of 2004, although I had to eat a fruit-based diet for many years before that (just not entirely within the 80-10-10 guidelines). Roughly a year later I ate a meal of rice and beans and felt a level of satisfaction I had not experienced for a long time. It’s only when I stopped eating 80-10-10 that I realized how unsatisfied I had been on this diet for all this time.
In a video posted on YouTube, Dr. Doug Graham describes a typical day of eating as:
- No breakfast
- 18-20 bananas for lunch, with perhaps some lettuce
- 2-4 pounds of grapes for lunch
- Followed by a tomato/mango soup with shredded zucchini
Although Dr. Graham and his followers seem to enjoy eating this way, there are also many people who give up on the diet and switch instead to eating less fruit and adding back starches such as potatoes, beans, and rice.
By the way, this typical day of eating by Dr. Graham reveals the following breakdown (I included one pound of romaine lettuce):
- 3300 calories
- 92% carbohydrates, 3% fat, 4% protein
- 46 grams of protein
- Most RDAs are met.
As we can see, Doug’s diet is just above what the WHO claims is the average minimum daily protein intake. But if he ate only 2000 calories, his nutritional needs would likely not be met.
Although I love fruit, eating only fruit with meals of salads with blended dressings or tomato-mango soups is pretty low on the pleasure and enjoyment index.
You can get used to eating this way and love it. But you’re also missing out on so many delicious foods that raw vegan meals will never be able to replicate.
Nowadays, just the thought of eating a 10-20 banana meal or a mango-tomato soup now makes me cringe! (After you’ve had a few gallons of it, mango/tomato soup is no longer delicious).
My impression and experience are that an 800-calorie meal composed of potatoes, vegetables and beans will be infinitely more satisfying than the same number of calories from fruit. Many people find that they finally lose weight when they add back the starches in their diet, due to this feeling of satisfaction they could only achieve with difficulty eating fruit.
To feel any level of satisfaction after a meal, you have to eat a lot more food this is comfortable for most people. Because fruit is so water-rich, you get this huge stomach bulge after a meal that might last for an hour or two. Most followers of this diet, including its leaders, told me that they get up several times at night to go to the bathroom, to pee all that water. I would also get up at least twice at night to go pee. Now, in comparison, I almost never get up to go to the bathroom at night.
Any diet high in sugar and acid can damage enamel and fuel the bacteria that cause caries. Almost every meal on the 80-10-10 Diet is high in sugar and acidity, which makes it probably cariogenic for most people (meaning it may lead to more caries or cavities).
Another problem, unrelated to the diet, is that followers are encouraged to avoid toothpaste that contains fluoride — avoiding one of the only things that could prevent cavities from forming on a high sugar/acid diet.
The results are droves of people that quit the diet because their dental health is falling apart. Although no comparative studies have been done on this group, and due to it being a fringe diet, none will probably ever been done, you can quickly tell by the vast number of complaints people have on this issue, on YouTube, and in discussion forums. By comparison, you don’t see such complaints on other plant-based diets such as the McDougall program. Plus, there’s an easy explanation for it, as I’ve just laid out.
This is purely subjective, and I don’t have a good explanation for it, but on a diet of raw fruits and vegetables with almost no fat, my libido is unusually low. Add more nuts and seeds, and it comes back. Why? I’m not sure. What is certain is that I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Many followers have tried to give lengthy explanations, in the lines that a high libido is a sign of ill health (through irritation of the sexual organs), but I have a hard time believing that.
It’s worth observing that a high number of 80-10-10 diet followers move to Thailand or Costa Rica to live their dream of a healthier life in a warm country where they can eat “fresher” produce. But one important reason for such a move is that these developing countries are poor, by comparison to Western countries, and produce is cheap. You can get a great variety of fresh fruit in many other parts of the world if you’re willing to pay for it.
On an 80-10-10 diet, I was paying about $800 a month for groceries just for myself, on average. But in the last ten years, the cost of quality fruit has risen dramatically, and I would estimate today’s monthly budget for the same diet to be about $1300-1500 a month. That is definitely on the very high side.
Some people will say that I’m exaggerating and that it’s possible to spend a lot less money on an 80-10-10 diet if one bases their diet on bananas and is careful about how they shop. Perhaps. But the lifestyle sold by 80-10-10 diet promoters is one of abundance. The diet is already restricted enough that if one were only to eat a few inexpensive fruits, it would get incredibly boring quickly.
If I roughly calculate the sample menu given by Doug Graham, I arrive at the following costs:
- 20 organic bananas (3.7 kilos): $9-10 if purchased by the box
- 3-4 pounds of globe grapes (I presume organic): $9-12 by the box, or $6-8 if not organic
- 1 pound of organic tomatoes: $2-3
- 1 good quality mango: $2-3
- Greens: $1-2
Total cost for the day: $20-30
Total minimum cost for the month based on Doug’s sample menu: $600-900
However, this example assumes that you’d eat bananas for lunch every day and that there’d be no waste. In reality, when eating fruit, some is going to spoil, and you are going to have some waste. If we look at what people eat on this diet, we find that they enjoy a wider variety of fruits, including expensive fruits like lichees, organic peaches, and cherimoyas.
That’s how I think a more realistic budget for this diet would be at least $1000 a month. Add in a bit more variety, and you can easily spend $1300-1500 a month.
On the other hand, a starch-based plant-based diet with more fruit than is typically consumed will cost you no more than $500 a month (and that is on the high side). Many people can even do it for under $150 a month.
Social Life & Organization
When you eat an 80-10-10, you have to turn it into a complete lifestyle to make it work. Although you save some time by not cooking, you spend way more time buying and ripening the huge quantities of fruit that you need to survive.
On this diet, I felt I was on a “fruit leash” that restricted where I could go and for how long. A weekend trip for two required packing almost 60 pounds of food, and possibly cutting boards, a Vita-Mix, mixing bowls, and the entire trunk of the food — leaving no space for anything else.
In case you thought I was exaggerating again with my 60 pounds figure, let’s consider that someone needing 3000 calories will need to have at least 10 pounds of food every day (weight of fruit unpeeled). One banana weighs 180 grams with its peel. So even if you only eat bananas, you come pretty close to this 10-pound daily intake.
Which brings many questions about how you’ll organize your life. Do you want to travel? You better be sure that can go somewhere with unlimited ripe fruit!
On the other hand, a plant-based diet which includes a broader variety of foods is much easier to follow. You can walk into a Whole Foods and make yourself a meal of rice, beans, and vegetables at the buffet bar for under $10 and feel satisfied for 4-5 hours. You can never really “run out of food” as it’s so easy to cook a potato and open a can of beans — in case you didn’t have time to prepare your own.
I don’t doubt that some people feel better on this diet than they do on a regular cooked vegan diet. But it’s important to mention that no proof eating this way will lead to better health, longevity than a plant-based diet with a similar caloric breakdown that includes a lot more cooked food and a lot less fruit.
The proof is either anecdotal or unscientific.
What’s positive about this diet is all of the things that it leaves out. For example, you don’t consume any salt on 80-10-10 — whereas most vegan diets contain lots of sodium. This then raises the question: if someone following an 80-10-10 diet has lower blood pressure than a vegan, is it because of the food itself or merely the fact that the 80-10-10 dieter happens to avoid salt entirely?
You have to go with how you feel — so your subjective experience, rather than the “science” behind this diet, which is not solid. For example, there is no proof whatsoever that cooked foods are “toxic.”
Post-Raw: Giving it a Fair Try
One trap of strict raw vegan diets is that once the body is used to eating this way, or rather has temporarily lost its ability to digest cooked foods and the stomach is distended to accommodate large quantities of fruit, it takes a bit of training to get used to eating starches and beans.
Many people who eat an 80-10-10 will experience that when they eat an occasional cooked meal, they feel terrible. This reinforces the idea that cooked food is poison and that raw foods are the only way.
In reality, their body is so used to those fruit meals that the strong reaction the felt from eating cooked foods is not normal. It also works in reverse: someone eating a low-fiber diet will experience a lot of digestive discomforts when eating a plant-based diet at first, until the intestinal flora accommodates to the new fiber intake.
So if you want to try eating starches and beans when you’re used to eating only fruit meals, give it some time and go progressively. Within about a month, you will digest those meals without problems.
Let’s Be Honest
I’m not against the 80-10-10 Diet. I think it can be a valid choice for people. But I’m against hype and exaggeration. Let’s not pretend that a diet that requires 15 pounds of daily fruit intake is going to be easy to follow, cheap and eventually become mainstream. It’s a fringe diet that may have some benefits to athletes running ultra-marathons or people who find that a fruitarian style of eating relieves improves a particular health problem — but it’s not in any way a diet that can “work for anybody.” In fact, it won’t work for most people.
The fact is that most people are going to find it a lot easier, satisfying and rewarding to eat a plant-based diet that includes, in addition to fruits and raw vegetables, cooked starches, beans, and vegetables, as well as up to 25% of calories coming from whole, plant-fats such as avocados.
And the results are there to prove it. Thousands of people move to such a plant-based diet and improve their health that way, recovering from conditions ranging from metabolic syndrome to auto-immune diseases. It seems that most if not all of the benefits come from the avoidance of animal and processed foods and very few come from eating an all-raw diet or replacing all of your starches with fruit.
Plant-based dieters could take one right cue from the 80-10-10 camp and also avoid salt in their diet as well, achieving more health benefits that way.