What is the Optimal Diet for Humans?
Vegan Raw Food Diet or The Omnivorous Diet?
Douglas Graham vs Thomas Billings
Is 100% Raw Vegan The Optimal Human Diet?
YES says Dr. Douglas Graham who represents the Raw Vegan Diet.
NO says: Thomas Billings who represents the Omnivorous, Meat Eaters point
Doctor Graham will present his case first.
Dr. Graham: Dr. Michael Klaper, M.D author of The Vegan Doctor, says: neither
meat nor dairy provides essential nutrients while the vegan diet is nutritionally
Renowned as one of the most respected of all nutrition researchers in the
world, T. Colin Campbell concludes in his book The China Study that fruits
and vegetables are the best foods for humans, and that raw foods are the
most nutritious while also providing the fewest harmful agents.
The China Study also brought to light a profound relationship between
increases in animal protein consumption and increases in various diseases.
Many people touting animal protein point to specific nutrients which animal
protein contains substantially more of than plants. Simply having more of
something does not make it more nutritious however.
Nine out of every ten nutrients known to be supplied by plants are completely
absent in meat. Sure, meat is high in certain nutrients, but it is completely
lacking in almost one million others.
Let us not cloud the nutritional issue, either, by suggesting that 1 or 2% of the
total diet should be meat, dairy or insect based; that this would somehow
provide the nutritional “missing links” that vegans so desperately need. The
math simply does not support such a claim.
A healthy raw vegan regimen does not result in dietary insufficiency or
excess. The macronutrients and micronutrients in a varied, low-fat, raw vegan
diet are balanced perfectly for us.
Minerals, vitamins, enzymes, coenzymes, water, fibre, antioxidants, and all
phytonutrients are present in quantities matching yet not exceeding our
Meat and dairy eating, however, have been associated with a huge variety of
nutritional excesses known to result in compromised health, from cholesterol,
to saturated fats, to various fat-soluble vitamins, specific minerals, an ongoing
list of growth hormones, stimulating “emergency” hormones, and a wide
variety of environmental toxins known to concentrate in animal tissues.
Meanwhile, the complete absence of fibre, vitamin C, carbohydrates, and a
huge number of other nutrients only further the nutrient imbalances caused by
eating animal protein.
"Everyone needs to find what works for them."
In spite of these scientific facts, the above phrase is one you will often hear
from raw food promoters, more and more of whom are leaving veganism
behind as they experiment with vegetarian or even omnivorous diets.
One of the trademark qualities of a successful diet is the ability of people to
follow that diet for an extended period of time. If the dietary approach you are
following is not satisfactory, you will eventually look elsewhere.
To end up back where you started, eating cooked food or non-vegan food,
only shows that the program you were following wasn’t working. Raw vegan
works, but only when we follow our species-specific, low-fat raw vegan diet.
Just eating “raw” is not enough. The idea is to thrive, and not just to survive.
For more than 30 years I have been going against the current with my
assertion that our anatomy and our physiology determine and dictate how we
must live in order to experience a lifetime of health.
When I mention that all species eat a diet that is specific unto themselves, I am
often chided that such limited thinking does not apply to humans.
I am told that I must have gone to school in the Dark Ages, or that I am being
idealistic rather than realistic.
The main rationale against the species-specific diet is that there are potentially
more than one million anatomical and physiological differences between one
human and the next.
I openly admit to these differences, but point out that between all humans
there are also trillions of similarities, meaning there are literally millions of
similarities for each and every difference.
All other creatures eat according to their similarities, as they too show multiple
in-species differences. I propose that we too must, by natural law, eat
according to our similarities if we are to thrive.
Of course, those raw food promoters who disagree with my suggestion that
the human species-specific diet is fruits and vegetables, saying that we do not
have a specific diet, then go on to promote a specific diet of their own.
Usually, this diet is one predominated by fat and grass, or a diet lacking
adequate quantities of fresh food, being heavily composed of dehydrated
foods, superfoods, condiments and supplements.
These various leaders are the very ones that now say they didn’t succeed with
vegan, and are going back to eating animal products. How sad that they put
the blame upon the diet, rather than the way in which they practiced and
promoted the diet.
Our anatomy is that of a frugivore. We are built like all of the other frugivorous
anthropoids that consume the majority of their calories from fruit. We have no
claws, no fangs. Unlike all carnivorous mammals, we don’t produce litters of
We move slowly, injure ourselves easily, have thin, fragile skin that is prone to
infections from scratches and bites, produce no venom, and without tools
would have a difficult time catching a squirrel, let alone an animal large
enough to feed a family.
When we see a flock of birds, a herd of gazelle, or a school of fish, no mouth-
watering reactions occur. This alone should tell us enough about who we
are. Put us in a field of strawberries, however, and we become like merry
schoolchildren, happily picking our way to satiation.
Cows eat grass as their preferred food. Grass makes up the totality of their
species-specific diet. Yet there are big cows and small cows, active cows and
passive cows, cows with a large variety of blood types, and a host of other
differences that exist from cow to cow.
Yet they all eat grass. The same can be said for all species of animals, we are
told; they eat their species-specific diet. Just go to the zoo, and see how the
animals are fed. Each species gets specific foods.
The largest, most active, hungriest of any species eats the exact same food as
those in the group that eat the least. They all have a species-specific diet, we
are told, yet still we want to believe that the only exceptions are people.
I wonder how babies survive the womb if each baby has unique nutritional
requirements. I wonder also how it could be possible for a mother to
breastfeed each of her children according to their unique nutritional
We are told that a mother's milk offers her babies exactly what is needed for
that baby to thrive. So how could the milk of another species, from a mother
that never even met the eventual consumer of her milk, possibly offer the
missing nutritional links lacking in a vegan diet for specific adult humans?
If it actually could be so, why did we lose our milk teeth, and why do many
adults no longer produce lactase, the enzyme that allows us to digest milk's
The consumption of dairy from our own species was supposed to stop in
childhood. There is no valid rationale for the consumption of the milk of
another species, other than perhaps threat of starvation itself.
Thomas Billings responds:
Is 100% Raw Vegan our Optimal Diet? NO
A 100% raw vegan diet – done intelligently – can work well for some people,
but that does not mean it is optimal for everyone.
Those attempting strict vegan diets are advised to pay close attention to their
nutrition, as there are a number of nutrients which are either not present in
plant foods, or difficult to obtain at the levels necessary for optimal health.
A vegan diet needs a reliable source of vitamin B-12. Plant foods alone are not
a reliable source. A group of vegan nutritionists recommends that vegans
take B-12 supplements or consume (processed) foods fortified with B-12.
It can be difficult to get adequate amounts of essential fatty acids (EFAs) on
vegan diets. The EFAs vegans and vegetarians need to be most concerned
about are the long-chain metabolites EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA
A large body of research shows that EPA and DHA are extremely important for
health, and that vegans and vegetarians typically have lower levels of these
than non-vegetarians (Davis & Kris-Etherton 2003).
These long-chain fatty acids are available directly in many animal foods,
especially cold-water fish, but generally not in plant foods (though seaweed
and some algaes may contain small quantities).
The essential fatty acids alpha linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid
(omega-6) are available on a vegan diet and the body can make EPA and DHA
from these, but how much it can make depends on many factors, including the
omega-6, omega-3 ratio in the diet.
Because the conversion is at best inefficient, some researchers suggest
vegetarians and vegans need twice as much omega-3 as omnivores.
Genetics may be an obstacle for some individuals in the conversion to EPA
and DHA. Individuals descended from populations that consumed significant
quantities of fish (fresh and/or salt-water) over a long evolutionary period of
time might not produce adequate levels of the enzymes required for
conversion (Simopolous 1999).
This may be relevant to, for example, some people from: Ireland (McQuade &
Those who cannot convert adequate amounts of plant-based EFAs into EPA,
DHA must get a direct source.
This is still possible on a vegan diet, but requires supplementation (with vegan
forms of EPA and DHA derived from algae).
That low-fat vegan diets may fail to provide adequate EFA intakes is
demonstrated in Doug Graham’s book The 80/10/10 Diet; on page 118 he
gives a sample day’s menu that fails to meet a man’s Adequate Intake for
omega-3 and barely meets a woman’s.
If we follow the recommendation to double the Adequate Intake for omega-3
for vegetarians, Graham’s sample menu provides a mere 41% of
recommended omega-3 levels for men and 59% for women.
One wonders what risks are implied in insufficient omega-3 intake over the
long term, especially in those who have poor conversion to EPA/DHA.
Unfortunately, the current anti-fat phobia in the raw vegan community
discourages some raw fooders from consuming adequate essential fats.
There is a very large body of research demonstrating that EPA and DHA
promote and support health – for example, they provide cardiovascular
protection and triglyceride regulation, and are necessary for optimal nervous
system, brain and visual health.
Given that preformed DHA and EPA are not provided in a vegan diet, vegans
must decide: supplement to promote optimal health, or rely on your own
synthesis (the effectiveness of which is not easy to ascertain).
Other supplementation may be appropriate for optimal health:
Choline is important for certain brain functions and lipid transport
metabolism. Most fruits and vegetables are low in choline (Zeisel & Niculescu
2006) and strict vegans should consume choline-rich vegan foods (legumes,
grains) or consider supplements.
Vitamin D: Modern lifestyles make it difficult to get adequate vitamin D from
sunshine-based synthesis, and this is less likely to be possible the further
from the equator one lives.
From a purely dietary perspective, raw vegans are at the highest risk for
vitamin D deficiency as the only plant foods, which are a good source of
vitamin D, are fortified vegan foods/drinks, which are invariably processed.
The likelihood that the Adequate Intake for vitamin D is too low is currently a
“hot topic” in nutrition research, as are the numerous essential roles this
nutrient plays in our physical and mental health. Vegan vitamin D
supplements are available.
Calcium is present but has low bioavailability in many green vegetables and
Zinc and iron may be concerns on restricted diets.
Vegan advocacy: rhetoric vs. reality
Model diets cited by vegan advocates are almost invariably non-vegan. The
traditional diet of Okinawa is sometimes cited by vegetarians and vegans as a
diet that promotes health and longevity.
But the Okinawa diet is non-vegetarian and includes fish and meat. The diets
of Abkhasia, Vilcabamba and the Hunza Valley are also cited as model diets by
vegan advocates but they are not vegan either; they are whole foods diets
based mainly on plant foods but containing some animal foods.
Vegan advocates often cite research studies, which show that
vegans/vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians. However, just as there
are many different vegan diets, so too there are many different omnivorous
Results of research on people following the standard Western diet (SWD) are
often interpreted as a proxy for all omnivorous diets. This is misleading and
inaccurate; it is well-known that the SWD is unhealthy and too high in calories,
fat, sugar and salt.
An omnivorous diet with a low level of animal products can be based primarily
on unprocessed or minimally processed foods and be a healthy diet.
Can you see the contradiction and irony here: based on studies that looked at
the standard Western diet, some vegan advocates condemn all omnivorous
diets (an obvious logical fallacy), while at the same time presenting the healthy
omnivorous diets of Okinawa, Abkhasia (and other locales) as model “vegan”
Results from biomedical research studies on self-identified vegetarians also
can be misleading. Individuals who eat limited amounts of fish and meat often
self-identify as vegetarians. This means that many studies that compare the
SWD to self-identified vegetarians are actually comparing a higher-meat group
to a lower-meat group!
Vegan naturalism: realistic or idealistic?
Raw vegan diets are often promoted as the “most natural” diet. Such claims
are based on a view of nature that is naive, idealistic and inaccurate, such as
that humans don't need tools to acquire or consume their natural diet.
A more realistic view is to observe that the range of our natural diet is defined
by evolution, which for humans includes tool use. The natural human diet is a
hybrid between the hunter-gatherer diet archaeological records show was
consumed by humans and their ancestors for over four million years and the
more plant-based diets that replaced this with the dawn of the Agricultural
Revolution around 10,000 years ago.
Where each individual falls in that range will vary according to genetics and
An important reminder: the fact that some of your genes were inherited from
hunter-gatherers does not justify a diet based on modern feedlot meats. We
are alive here and now; the relevant question is: what sustainable diet(s) can
work well for us? A false, endemic view of nature is not helpful in answering
this important question.
If 100% raw vegan does not work for you, options available include
supplementation, increasing consumption of cooked foods, and/or including
non-vegan foods in your diet.
Remember that your diet should serve you, and not the other way around.
Dr. Douglas Graham Responds:
I do not see where in Thomas Billings’s argument he demonstrates that the
raw vegan diet is not our optimal diet. In my supporting article, I openly
demonstrated that it is, and believe the burden of proof lies on him to show us
otherwise. He failed to do so, in my estimation.
Billings asserts that certain nutrients are not present in vegan fare. His
inference that “more is better” underscores his denial of the facts when it
comes to nutrition.
Optimum nutrition comes from hitting the middle of the ideal nutrient range for
each nutrient, not getting the most, nor the least, of any specific nutrient
I found nothing substantive in the remainder of Billings’s essay, but will briefly
include my comments.
Neither plants nor animals produce B-12. There are 21 different genera of
bacteria that produce B-12. These bacteria are found in the human gut, in our
nasal and throat passages, and on the surfaces of almost all organically
grown plants. B-12 deficiency is as common in meat eaters as it is in vegans.
Do I really need to respond to allegations of fat deficiencies in the vegan diet?
Avocado, durian, nuts, seeds, olives, and many other fatty fruits give us more
than enough EFAs.
A diet composed solely of non-fatty fruits and vegetables will supply roughly
7% of its calories from fats, and will give us enough EFAs, in proper
combinations, without giving us too much.
Too much fat is the problem we are discussing, and animal protein invariably
leaves us eating too much fat.
Billings claims that; “other supplementation may be appropriate for optimal
health.” Once again Billings misses the point of nutrition by asserting that
more is better, relying upon fear tactics rather than science.
Nuts, seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, avocado, citrus, berries,
and bananas all contain choline.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is still available to all people willing to go
outside during the daytime. If they are unwilling or unable to go outdoors, no
amount of vitamin D supplementation will result in health.
Calcium is widely present in fruits and vegetables, invalidating Billing’s
argument. Are you really worried about getting enough zinc? Do you know
many people with zinc deficiencies? I don’t. One ounce of tahini supplies
20% of your daily zinc requirement.
Based on a diet of three equal meals per day, a meal of blackberries will meet
your zinc requirements for an entire day. We aren’t looking to exceed our zinc
needs, only to satisfy them.
Billings states that deficiencies of zinc and iron “may” be a concern on a
“restricted diet.” When did low-fat raw vegan become restricted, and what sort
of restrictions is he referring to? One can only wonder.
Billings’s arguments against the raw vegan diet are exceptionally weak, at
best, and embarrassingly ludicrous at worst.
They are also vaporous, vague, indirect, convoluted, lacking in substance, and
reliably based upon disinformation, misdirection and outright fiction.
Whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruits and vegetables have and always will
prove out as the most nutritious of all food for human beings. The higher the
percentage of these foods in our diet, the better it is for us.
If we eat the most nutritious of health foods, to the exclusion of all other foods,
we are eating by definition the healthiest of all possible diets. Indeed, the low-
fat, raw vegan diet is undeniably our species-specific diet.
Thomas Billings Responds:
Graham's article includes material that is irrelevant to the question posed.
This response focuses on the material that is relevant.
Graham’s claim that Dr. Michael Klaper, M.D. says vegan diets are nutritionally
complete is incorrect.
Dr. Klaper recommends that vegans supplement. In a separate interview, Dr.
Klaper repeats the suggestion to supplement, and makes the interesting
"...we see most people do quite well on vegan diets. But, there are some folks
who will lose muscle mass, experience lower energy levels and not feel at their
best eating a vegan diet."
The original China Study is an ecological study (an epidemiological study in
which the unit of analysis is a population rather than an individual). Such
studies may generate hypotheses but they prove nothing. The China Study
report lists only six statistically significant correlations between meat eating
and disease mortality.
Further, four of those correlations are negative, which indicates that the
mortality rate for that disease decreased as meat consumption increased. The
direct evidence of the study is hardly the condemnation of meat consumption
that vegan advocates may claim it to be.
Graham makes numeric claims but provides no backing for those claims, e.g.,
the reference to meat "completely lacking in almost one million" nutrients.
Graham’s unsupported claims (note the complete lack of references in his
article) greatly diminish his credibility.
Graham identifies the trademark of a successful diet as one that people can
follow for an extended period of time. By this measure, 100% raw vegan
cannot be considered a successful diet as few stick to it long term let alone
thrive on it long term (and those who do almost invariably supplement).
High-raw omnivorous diets have a much higher long-term success rate than
100% raw vegan. This is not surprising considering (a) raw vegan is not our
natural diet but only part of it; (b) it does not provide all the nutrients we need.
Graham repeats the “humans are frugivores” claim. It is hard to understand
why this claim is so important to some vegans when one considers that non-
human primate frugivores are generally non-vegetarian.
That is, even if humans are frugivores, it does not mean that we are natural
vegetarians. Chimpanzees and bonobos are frugivores and they are non-
Hunting by chimpanzees is common and well-documented; less well known is
that bonobos also hunt animals for food.
The idea that humans cannot eat animal foods because we lack claws and
fangs is invalid because tool use made those adaptations unnecessary.
Humans have used tools since our inception as a species.
The claim that humans are obligate frugivores adapted to high-fruit vegan
diets falls apart under cursory examination:
A highly specialized diet would mean we are adapted only to a narrow
ecological niche, and we should not have succeeded outside the tropics.
Over the course of evolution, human tribes that adopted fruit-based diets
should have out-reproduced the tribes who ate animal foods, i.e. fruit-based
diets should be the norm. This is clearly not the case.
Long-term success should be the norm on high-fruit diets; instead we see a
high failure rate.
In order to pick the fruit that is supposed to be the basis of our diet, humans
should be quadrupedal (like chimps) and have the special adaptations for tree
climbing that many non-human primates have.
With so many obvious fallacies in the “humans are obligate frugivores” claim,
why does anyone promote such misinformation? The reality is that our
species-specific dietary range is defined by evolution.
Humans are generalists who not only have survived, but thrived and
colonized the entire planet (land area, excluding Antarctica). Because of our
evolutionary history – diverse environments, cultures and foods – humans
have adapted to a range of diets.
In closing, let’s return to the important question posed in my article: what
sustainable diet(s) can work well for us? If you thrive on them, then raw,
vegan or vegetarian diets may be part of your answer to this question.
However, consider that you may need to supplement and/or modify your diet
to thrive long term.
Article: What is the Optimal Diet for Humans?
Dr. Douglas Graham www.foodnsport.com
Thomas Billings www.beyondveg.com