‘Choosing Raw’ Review and an 80/10/10 Update

[choosing raw cover image]A few weeks ago, I published a podcast episode about my most recent diet experiment: 80/10/10, also known as fruitarian.

The diet is 100 percent raw and very low in fat (only 10 percent of calories), but I’ve made it slightly less extreme by eating cooked food for dinner most nights.

I’ve felt spectacular on modified 80/10/10, but after a month of giant salads, half-watermelon lunches, smoothies made from eight bananas, and more mangoes than I’ve ever eaten in my life, I’ve had to make further modifications, and the way I’m eating now only barely resembles true 80/10/10.

The problem? It has nothing to do with all the fruit — that’s actually been really fun. Instead, it’s my weight. Eating this way, I simply couldn’t keep it on, even with only moderate training (25-30 miles per week right now). I don’t keep close track of weight these days, but I know I lost a good eight pounds in the last month, maybe more. And considering I started around 140 lbs, that’s too much for me to lose.

The thing is, I’m not convinced the weight loss is unhealthy. I’ve heard Michael Arnstein say that he likes to be at 117 pounds when he’s racing a 100-miler, and he’s won more than his share of big ones at that weight. Judging from the incredible amount of energy I felt on this diet, it’s quite possible my weight was simply moving toward its ideal, dropping intramuscular fat and approaching a maximum strength-to-weight ratio.

If running were my career, and walking around at 120 pounds was simply part of the deal, I might be okay with weighing so little. But that’s not the case. I’m not a pro or an elite or even an obsessed recreational runner — I like running, but I like a lot of other things too. Including looking healthy. When I give talks, attend Vegfests, or simply meet people and talk about my diet and what I do for a living, I don’t want to be so thin as to play right into the stereotype of the skinny, malnourished vegan.

The Silver Lining

Like I said, I love how I feel. I don’t just feel more physically energetic and require noticeably less sleep than before; I’ve also found a new enthusiasm for running, work, and setting goals (I’ve got my eye on another 100-miler in March). Same with my wife, who started training for her first marathon since having kids.

Now that I’ve felt that energy — a boost far beyond how I normally feel, even on a pretty healthy vegan diet — I don’t want to lose it. What’s more, the extreme restrictiveness of 80/10/10 (raw fruit and leafy vegetables and very little else, not even many nuts and seeds) has recalibrated my taste buds and my sense of willpower around the food choices I make. What seemed very hard before — Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian diet, for example — now feels completely doable. Easy, even.

I’m eating more raw foods than I ever have before. I’m still loving a smoothie made mostly from bananas; it’s just that now I’m adding some walnuts and flaxseeds to it. I’m still eating giant salads for lunch, but I’ve started including a cup of beans and a raw, nut-based dressing

I’m inspired to do better than ever with diet. Which brings me to a new book I’m very excited about: Choosing Raw, from my friend Gena Hamshaw.

Choosing Raw: Making Raw Foods Part of the Way You Eat

Gena was one of my original inspirations for becoming vegan. She made it seem easy. And now that I’m at a similar place with raw food — interested, but without any real desire to give up the fun and (perhaps) health of cooking — her lead is again an easy one to follow.

The title Choosing Raw might lead one to assume that it’s a raw cookbook. But it’s really not that. We’ve cooked six or seven meals from the book, and when I say “cooked,” I mean it: many of the meals in Choosing Raw aren’t raw. They include plenty of raw ingredients, but what I love about Gena’s approach is that she has no ideological attachment to “being raw.” She’s a nutritionist, not a purist. So when cooked black beans, tempeh, or quinoa add to the health and appeal of a meal, Gena doesn’t hesitate to include them.

What’s more, Gena’s a “small steps” person like I am — she understands that even the healthiest diet in the world wouldn’t help anyone if nobody could make it last. And so the 125 recipes in Choosing Raw are organized into three levels, to slowly first introduce readers to vegan cooking (sweet potato black bean enchiladas, for example) before shifting to meals with a higher proportion of raw ingredients. A 21-day meal plan is included, along with adaptation suggestions for those who want an easy start, higher protein, or an even higher focus on raw foods.

A perfect (and delicious) example, which Gena herself says “embodies flexible, high-raw cuisine at its finest,” is the cover-photo recipe: lentil and walnut tacos, whose sole cooked ingredient (lentils) serves to add heartiness and flavor to an array of raw foods like avocado, romaine lettuce, salsa, walnuts, and sun-dried tomatoes. Come to think of it, I don’t know if sun-dried tomatoes count as raw … but that doesn’t matter to me, and what I love about Gena’s approach is that minutiae like this doesn’t matter to her either.

Finally, though it’s easy to focus on the recipes, the nutrition primer that makes up the first one-quarter of the book is perfect — I learned a lot and am I glad I took the time to read every word of it. Gena is not afraid to challenge accepted dogma or admit shortcomings in the plant-based diet that many vegans and raw foodists won’t — like the difficulty of getting EPA and DHA fatty acids, the need to supplement with vitamin B12, and the flawed reasoning in some pretty central tenets of raw foodism (like the enzyme-denaturing bit and the idea that fruit “ferment” in our stomachs if incorrectly combined with other foods). She also clears up long-standing myths and contradicting advice about soy, juicing versus blending, and good old protein, and somehow manages to keep all of this information concise and interesting.

Check out Choosing Raw on Amazon or in bookstores, or learn more at Gena’s blog.

Root “Rawvioli” with Nut Cheese and Pesto

Here’s a recipe from the book, one that my family and I made while we were practicing for the Woodstock Fruit Festival last month. This dish is raw with the exception of nutritional yeast, but the richness of the cashew “cheese” and pesto make eating ravioli made from raw beets surprisingly not-weird. We really enjoyed this one, and had leftover pesto and cashew cheese to use elsewhere.

[rawvioli image]
Serves 4

For the Rawvioli:

2 large beets, scrubbed, peeled, and rinsed

For the Cashew Cheese (Makes 1 1/2 Cups):

2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained of soak water
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Kale and Pistachio Pesto (Makes 1 Heaping Cup):

1⁄2 cup pistachios
3⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil
2 cups loosely chopped kale
1⁄3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried

1. Cut the beets in half through the center, horizontally (so you’re separating the top half from the bottom, not the right side from the left side). Use a mandoline to slice them into very thin (almost paper thin) slices. You’ll want between thirty-two and forty slices altogether (four or five rawvioli per person).

2. Make the cashew cheese: place the cashews, salt, nutritional yeast, lemon, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade. Pulse until the cashews are broken up well. Run the motor and drizzle in 1⁄3 cup of water. Keep blending until the mixture is very smooth and creamy. You may need to stop a few times to scrape the bowl down—be patient! The key to perfect cashew cheese is to scrape the bowl down a lot, and also to blend for a very, very long time. Your ideal cashew cheese should be thick, but easy to spread. Add a little extra water if needed. Check the cashew cheese for seasoning. Add black pepper to taste. Cashew cheese will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the fridge.

3. Make the pesto: grind the pistachios and sea salt together in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade until coarsely ground. Add the garlic, basil, and kale. Pulse a few more times to break down. Turn on the motor and drizzle in the olive oil slowly. When the olive oil has been incorporated, pulse in the lemon juice and nutritional yeast. Store in a jar or other airtight container in the fridge for 5 days. You can freeze any pesto you don’t have a chance to use.

4. Place four or five beet slices on a serving place. Place a heaping tablespoon of cashew cheese on top of each slice. Place another beet slice on top of the cheese, and press down slightly to flatten the rawvioli. Top with a dollop of pesto. Repeat on the three remaining plates, and serve.

From Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2014.



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  1. Matt, I am so deeply grateful for this fantastic review! Thank you for taking the time to read the book so carefully, to consider it seriously, and to share your impressions with this awesome community. I’m so happy that you dig my approach; I’ve always felt such similarities in the way we view things.

    I also want to commend you on stopping your 80-10-10 experiment. All arguing over the diet aside, I think it’s crucial for us to look like healthy ambassadors of veganism. I was fresh out of an ED relapse early in my raw food mania days, and I realized pretty quickly that adhering to raw too strictly just wasn’t going to restore my body the way I wanted it to, even if I loved the food and felt pretty awesome. I wanted to feel AND look vibrant. And the flexibility, in the end, has been really helpful for me.

    Thanks again for sharing the book!

  2. That cashew cheese recipe looks good. How would that be for pizza?

  3. Totally agree! I did a 21 Day Raw challenge and could never do that regularly. The amount of prep work I had to put in to make the meals I liked took way longer than I’m able to do right now. However, I LOVED the way I felt eating Raw. I had so much energy and my skin looked great. I still have a few raw lunches and breakfast combos I use in my every day meal planning so the “raw experiment” for me, was totally worth it.

  4. Do you know Fully Raw Kristina? She is the owner of the Fully Raw Co-Op in Houston Texas, the largest in the country! She’s pretty amazing. She’s been fully raw for 9 years and eats the 80/10/10 diet. She looks amazing, vibrant and glowing. She’s on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as FullyRawKristina. You should check her out.

  5. Wow, Matt! great experiment! I’m curious if you tried increasing your calories, or did you limit calories to the same amount that you were eating before? Maybe you would need to eat more calories on your raw diet to compensate for burning through those easily-metabolized sugars so quickly??

  6. I’m curious, if you FELT great, maybe better than before, why stop? Is it just a social concern about being “too skinny”? I ask because I’m seriously thinking about trying the diet after reading the book. I’d hate to think I, or anyone else, would stop doing something that made them feel great because of society saying we need to look a certain way. Remember, just because we think of a certain look as being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Maybe being very low body fat is the way humans were designed to be. Most animals in the wild are.

  7. follow up comment- I notice that in the protein section you mentioned you usually try for about 12-15% of your diet to be protein. So going to 10% isn’t THAT much of a change for you (compared to a 40-50% common athletic diet). What do you think was the nutritional cause of the weight change – not enough protein, not enough fat, or not enough complex carbs??
    Just curious… it’s a brilliant experiment!!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your fruitarian experiment! I started eating this way and have been feeling amazing! Also fantastic energy and mental clarity. I have also been dropping some weight but so far that’s not a problem for me though it may become one. I also like a “raw tip 4” approach like the one you used. I’m excited to look at the book. I want to say I’m glad you had an open mind to try 80-10-10 because it allowed me to open my mind to it as well. Keep up the great work!

  9. Thanks for sharing Matt! It’s always great to hear about new raw food books! I’m glad she’s not super strict and doesn’t worry about the minutiae like you said!! I’ll have to check this book out!
    I also think it’s good that after losing the 8 pounds you realized that that was enough! I thought you looked great at the expo in August! Don’t lose anymore lol!
    Loving the Rawvioli recipe by the way – looks great!

  10. Wait ! Wait!

    I too went 30 days on raw fruit after Woodstock and I too quit.
    But please we didn’t quit because of how we look !
    Most people don’t have a clue what healthy looks like, cause they are overweight !

    I just couldn’t get enough fruit. Fifteen cases of mango, two of cases of oranges and 50 pounds of bananas didn’t do it.

    I’ve read our closest relatives bonobos, oranatangs and chimpanzee’s only eat up to 60% fruit.
    Is that a clue? I don’t know.

    I like the idea of 80/10/10 to support my 50 mile per week runs and my Ultra Marathon aspiration’s.
    But I just plain old failed because I could not do it.


  11. I think it is absolutely amazing that you take the time to actually test and try some of these different diets and ideas. I do think if you really want to do the raw food diet as an athlete, you really need to follow closer to a 33-33-33 approach and as long as you eat healthy fats and don’t heat them up your cholesterol etc will stay perfect and in fact is probably the healthier and more balanced way to eat for most active people. You can check some of the theory behind it in “The sunfood diet success system” by David Wolfe and also in a book called “the Wahls protocol” by Terry Wahls, md and even though the latter book does not recommend a vegetarian lifestyle she does have some sound research, but more along a Paleo profile and more directed towards people with extreme need for healing. Thanks again for an interesting, informational and inspirational blog.

  12. I think you guys are absolutely crazy! You felt fantastic, energetic, needed less sleep, etc. etc., all indicators of extraordinary health, but you’ve stopped, because you don’t think you LOOK healthy? Seriously? It matters so much how you look, despite how you feel? Sorry, I think that’s really sad! :/

    • Melissa, it’s not helpful to go getting judgy on other vegans for their choices. We’re all on the same team here!

      *looking* healthy is a big part of mental health that can negatively impact physical health if it’s not maintained. If you don’t feel like you look healthy, that’s undue stress put on your relationship with food that can potentially undo any benefits you might be receiving from your healthy diet.

      Not to mention that, no matter what people say, people DO judge a book by its cover. And someone who is out there to promote the lifestyle of the vegan athlete as something positive, healthy, etc – should not go around looking like the stereotypical “emaciated, malnutritioned vegan.” As a vegan marathon runner who is out to change that stereotype, I would have done the exact same thing as Mr. Frazier. I am clearly labeled a NMA at all my events, and therefore represent the cause – and looking healthy is a big part of that. It doesn’t matter how many people I pass when I run – if they all think I look like a woman suffering from anorexia, I’m not doing the public image of vegans any favors.

  13. I agree with you. I did close to 9 months as a raw-food vegan (no cooked foods) and definitely lost too much weight, including muscle. Like you, I found that it did ‘recalibrate” my taste buds, and opened me up to a wider variety of foods and food prep techniques.

  14. Would you explain a little more about requiring less sleep while you were on this plan? How much were you sleeping compared with before going fruitarian? Also, thanks for always being so open about your various trials and errors. 😉


  15. Matt, I’m really happy that you got so many benefits from your experiment. I can identify with so much of it too, especially the mango addiction (LOL) and the weight loss. In mid 2012 I was down to 155lbs from my usual 170-ish and people definitely noticed. Some people actually gain weight initially too, everyone has their own journey with it. I eventually got back up to 168lbs and I’ve been stable there for a couple years now. I’m not saying you should change your decision and soldier through, but I just wanted to share my experience. Gena is awesome and this new cookbook looks really, really good.

  16. I’m with Melissa on this one. As for Choosng Raw, it has become my go-to for party recipes when I want to show off how delicious vegan food can be. I’ve also followed Gena on her blog and on Food52, and I agree with her on many things. But while the recipes are inventive, colorful and delicious, I almost always have to modify them heavily for every-day eating. Unfortunately, many of them, like the one above, are impossible to fix–at over 1000 calories per serving, counting only the nuts and oil (!), it’s way, way too high in fat. Adding beans and grains every other day to 80/10/10, with an occasional avocado or a few nuts, maintains my weight without damaging my arteries with over-consumption of so-called “healthy” fats. As McDougall says, nuts are a treat.

  17. Wondering how much of how good you feel has to do with reducing or eliminating grains, which, of course, can’t usually be eaten raw….

  18. Matt,
    Thanks for sharing your journey with eating 80/10/10. I was wondering if your wife was still eating this way and if she lost weight on this and how she felt. I’m curious because it seems that men can lose weight a lot easier than women and I’d like to know how this way of eating affected your wife. Have a great one and thanks for sharing!

  19. I made Gena’s raw key lime pie from this book, and it was delicious!

  20. I love this website and am fascinated by 80/10/10 and all the benefits people say they get, especially when the endurance athletes say they are not as sore, etc. I read the book and tried 80/10/10, lasting about 12 days before I cracked. Perhaps the “cold tofurky” switch was too much from veg/vegan to 80/10/10 raw. In any case, I learned a lot about myself and am thinking I’ll try 80/10/10-ish again, perhaps in a more modified form like Matt is talking about. That doesn’t rule out, however, that I’d try full 80/10/10 for a month or two of triathlon training. Thus, leading me to my question for Matt and any others. When I did 80/10/10 for those nearly two weeks, I was DYING for salt. I kept thinking it would go away…which it did not…thus I cracked. I kept thinking maybe I was missing a good recipe, like a celery-based salad dressing type thing to give a little bit of a salt taste. Anyone have any suggestions? Thanks! Love NMA!

  21. Hey everyone! I thought I posted this comment/question a week ago, but I don’t see it listed here. In any case, I am excited for people’s feedback! I love the 80/10/10 concept, especially that it would lead to better athletic performance with less soreness, etc. I tried the diet in May of 2013 and lasted about 10 days before I couldn’t do it anymore. Granted, I jumped in with both feet and did not transition, just “cold tofurky” 80/10/10. The problem I had was that I was DYING for something salty. So…I am actually planning to try 80/10/10 again with a slower transition – more like what Matt described, two raw fruit/veggie meals and then a veg/vegan cooked supper. That said, I would LOVE to hear suggestions for getting a salty sensation on 80/10/10, in case I ever do go full raw low-fat vegan again. Anyone have any thoughts, recipes, advice for me? Thanks guys! Love NMA!

  22. Marianne Morrill says:

    I was so intrigued after reading about your experiment, I had to give this a go. I have been at it for almost a month now and am really enjoying it. I started the first few weeks, doing the diet during th week and allowing myself to eat something cooked on the weekends. I too lost weight but am finding that I have more energy and am performing better when I run bike or swim. I am have a half iron man coming up this next week and am looking forward to seeing how it goes.
    I will admit that it presents some challenges when going out with family and such, but I have so far been able to make it work sometimes with some minor compromises.
    I think that you have to do what works best for you and like any lifestyle change, sometimes old habits die hard. Thanks for the great insight that you always give and for your willingness to share with all of us.

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