You might remember a guest post about fruitarianism on No Meat Athlete last year that drew a lot of negative comments, mostly dismissing the diet as a fad. But Ben Benulis wanted to see if there was something more to it. Here he is with a post about his experiment.
As vegetarians and vegans, most of us are comfortable going against the grain. We buck the trend of the standard diet in favor of something we feel is better.
But even the most open-minded of vegetarian and vegan individuals will eventually draw the line somewhere.
Case in point: Fruitarianism.
Controversial things like this pique my curiosity. When I read last year’s No Meat Athlete post on the fruitarian diet, I began to ask questions:
- How could anyone survive, even thrive, on just fruits and vegetables?
- Why were people so quick to jump to conclusions that this diet was unhealthy/nutrient-deficient/unsustainable/expensive/ridiculous?
- Why was there such a negative backlash on something that, to me, sounded kinda cool?
- If fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods, is it really so crazy to eat them to the exclusion of everything else?
If you look at the comments of the NMA post on fruitarianism, a lot of people seemed to magically become experts on why this was bad, without ever having read anything else on the topic or, better yet, trying it themselves.
I had the opposite reaction — someone going so ridiculously against the grain intrigued me. With such negative backlash, I wondered what the big deal was. I had to investigate for myself.
A rose by any other name
It turns out what many of us call “fruitarianism” is actually the 80/10/10 diet, designed by Dr. Douglas Graham. Dr. Graham is a lifelong athlete, a raw vegan since the 1980s and hasn’t had a sick day since before I was born. (I’m almost 30.) For me, that’s enough for me to wonder if he might have stumbled on to a secret or two in his lifetime.
His book, The 80/10/10 Diet, is an excellent, interesting read. It’s the culmination of years of experience and research that produced a few other books as well, including Grain Damage and Nutrition and Athletic Performance.
Before anyone undergoes such an endeavor (or dismisses it outright), I’d suggest picking up this text. If you’re looking for the Cliff’s Notes version, here are some of the highlights of the 80/10/10 diet:
- Eat plant-based whole foods in their natural state. Nature provides food to us, as is, with everything we need. If we cook something, we alter it and it is no longer a whole food. No other animal in nature cooks their food. (You don’t see monkeys in the rainforest sautéing their greens, right?)
- When calories from protein exceed 10% it leads to poor health. Protein from raw plants is best. Cooked protein from any source is denatured. Animal protein is especially toxic.
- When calories from fat exceed 10% it is excessive. Cooked fats in particular are carcinogenic. Oil is not a whole food and should be avoided.
- Carbohydrates are then left to be at least 80% from calories as a lower limit. For carbohydrates, fruit is king. It tastes great, comes in its own packaging, and doesn’t need to be cooked or altered in any way.
- Grains are indigestible in their raw state. Since one has to cook them, they are not a whole food. Grains have a poor micronutrient content (relative to fruits and vegetables) and various “anti-nutrients,” such as gluten.
Putting theory into practice
I’d advise a gradual transition to the diet. I experimented with his recipes and slowly started incorporating more and more fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet until they were about 80% of daily intake. Once I felt comfortable with this, I decided to try a 30-day trial of this diet, full blast, 100%.
Fundamentally, the 80/10/10 Diet involves getting your primary calorie source (94-98%) from fruit. Your main source of macronutrients (calories, carbs, protein & fat) is fruit and your main source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is vegetables.
However, since fruits are far more calorically dense than vegetables, you end up eating equal volumes of fruits and vegetables. Here is what a typical day looked like for me:
- Breakfast: 1-2L of water. 3 large mangoes (600 calories)
- Lunch/snacks: 4L of strawberry-banana smoothie. About 27 bananas and 1/2 lb of strawberries with simply water as a base. (2,900 calories)
- Dinner: Large spinach salad with tomato and 1/2 an avocado and homemade blueberry/date dressing (250 calories)
That brought my total calorie count for the day to 3,750. For an active person like me, at 6’1″ and 170 lbs, this was about right. On very active days, I ramped up my calorie count.
In all, I was able to cover all my macro and micronutrient needs, aside from Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, which aren’t usually in plant foods, anyway. I feel pretty darn good about that.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Who has 27 ripe bananas in their house for one day of eating? It can be a bit challenging. To make it work, I discovered a few key strategies:
I’d like to think my work background in supply chain management helped here. Not only did I need to have enough fruit, I needed to have enough RIPE fruit. When you buy fruit from the grocery store, it usually isn’t ripe yet — there is a window of ripeness between underripe and overripe that must be carefully managed.
There’s a highly technical way to determine ripeness, and I’ll let you in on the complicated secret: A banana must be brown and speckled, like a “dinosaur weiner.” (If anyone asks you where you got such privileged information, don’t tell them I let you in on the secret!)
I needed lots of speckled dinosaur wieners. So I bought in bulk. I found out that if you buy an entire 40lb box of bananas from the grocery store, they give you a 10% discount. $17 for 40lbs of bananas is 3 days worth of food. Turns out this diet is pretty cheap after all!!
Of course there were the awkward questions at the checkout line. I got tired of people not believing me when I said I was going to eat them all so I started telling people I had a pet monkey.
Whenever a certain type of fruit was on sale, I bought as much as I could carry. On one weekend drive out to the country my wife and I passed a farm fruit stand got a 40lb box of peaches for $18. For 3 days, I ate pretty much only farm-fresh organic peaches and spinach. Despite what you may think, it was fantastic.
A blender is essential:
30 bananas a day is best accomplished by drinking most of them. There end up being endless permutations of possible smoothies. For the sake of easy digestion, smoothies of more than 3 ingredients are discouraged. If you’re on the 80/10/10 diet, your new motto is “simplicity at meal time, variety throughout the year.”
The diet makes it challenging (not impossible) to meet friends for dinner. If people asked, I just told them I had eaten before I got there (which was often true). Your main option at any restaurant is a salad with no dressing.
The longer you do this diet, the more your taste buds “wake up,” and you no longer need dressing on a salad because the vegetables taste so good on their own.
My taste buds became “re-sensitized”. Fruits and vegetables just tasted better and had more flavor. Lettuce and spinach, just on their own, tasted delicious. Conversely, veggies like jalapenos, olives and banana peppers (which I always loved) had almost too much flavor and became hard to eat.
Cravings for things outside the diet:
This was tricky. There were times when cravings for a burrito or tofu stir-fry crept in. To manage this, I ate enough fruit during the day so that I would always be satisfied. I counted my calories to make sure I was getting enough to sustain me through the day. Once I mastered that, the cravings never really hit me anymore.
While undertaking this experiement, I noted a few changes in my body. I lost 5 pounds of body fat, going from 11% body fat to 8%, though I was eating as much as I wanted (anywhere from 3,600 to 4,400 calories a day).
I also noticed insane athletic recovery. I’m no Ironman triathlete, but I do like to get out there and hit it hard when I can. I had one day where I did 22 miles commuting on my bike, a superslow strength training workout at lunch, and 2 hours of footbag at night. The next morning I woke up fresh as a daisy not an ounce of soreness.
I slept better. I felt clear-headed. I was more productive at work.
I just felt better.
I was a “fruitarian” for 31 days — 1 day longer than planned. On the 32nd day, I broke down and had some Chinese stir-fry. After I ate it, I felt like someone had force-fed me 10 sleeping pills and then punched me in the stomach.
I took a week off and truthfully went on what turned out to be quite the vegan junk food bender. I had an obligatory monster burrito and even an entire Whole Foods vegan pizza in one sitting.
At the end of the week, I went out for a run and woke up the next day, sore for the first time in over a month. That was the signal to re-embrace the diet.
This time, I’m going for 60 days.
Ben Benulis is a vegan footbagger and runner who also enjoys cycling and strength training. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife and 2 dogs. He blogs at Vegan Gym Rat and is sometimes hangs out on Twitter as @ironcladben.
PS — For any NMA readers in the Madison, WI area this morning (Friday, Sept. 9), for Ironman Wisconsin or anything else, NMA writer Susan Lacke is hosting a little meetup at 10 AM at the coffee shop on Main and Martin Luther King in Madison, by the Ironman Registration. Come hang out!
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