Is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy?
What is the 80-10-10 diet?
In case you haven’t heard of this eating lifestyle, it is a high raw vegan diet in which 80% of the calories come from carbohydrates in the form of fruit, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat. These proportions are derived from those that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables, most of which are about 80% carbohydrate, 10% fat, and 10% protein.
People who follow the 80-10-10 diet will either eat all fruit, or will eat two large fruit-only meals per day, and then a large green salad in the evening. On this diet, only a handful of seeds or nuts is allowed per day, and oils, sweeteners, condiments, and spices are strictly forbidden. Of course, it is a vegan diet, so no animal products are included.
Now, to our burning question…
Is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy? First, it is a vegan diet, so we must first address the question of whether a vegan diet is healthy. Well, seeing as how the name of this blog is “The Homesteading Vegan,” you might get the idea that I believe the answer to that question is a hearty “yes!”
Short answer: yes, if you pay attention to your nutrition, veganism is a very healthy diet. A longer answer is in this post I wrote about a 100% plant-based diet.
If you’re already convinced of the health benefits of a vegan diet, your main concern might have to do with all the consumption of fruit. Isn’t all that sugar bad for you? The answer to that can be complicated, but I’m going to make it simple: the naturally occurring sugar in fruit does not cause any harm to the body in and of itself.
What about the protein? Isn’t the diet a little low in protein? Advocates of low-protein diets point to human breastmilk to answer that question. Babies who are fed breastmilk receive only 7% of their calories from protein, and it is enough for them to grow and develop from a six-pound baby into a twenty-pound toddler.
But then, these low-protein advocates need to be consistent and insist that an adult human diet must therefore be 54% fat, because that is how much fat is in breastmilk.
But rarely do you hear anyone recommending a diet that is both low in protein and high in fat. It’s either high in both protein and fat and low in carbs, or low in protein and fat and high in carbs. Like the 80-10-10 diet.
That said, many people do very well with those low amounts of protein and fat. You can find long-term 80-10-10ers, of both the fruitarian type and the greens eaters type, who will swear by the diet. If it works for them, I say, great! Keep it up! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Benefits of the 80-10-10 diet
The diet certainly has a lot going for it: it’s loaded with phytonutrients, is highly energizing thanks to the easily digestible source of carbs found in fruit, eliminates animal fats, is environmentally friendly (for the most part), discourages the consumption of processed foods, and is delicious.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? So why even write an article about whether the 80-10-10 diet is healthy? Seems like the answer is clear, right? It is definitely healthy!
We are not all created equal
Well, it is…for some people. Maybe even for a lot of people, if more people would be willing to give it a try. But if you look around the Internet, it wouldn’t take you too long to find people saying that the 80-10-10 diet ended up deteriorating, rather than improving, their health.
Now, the truth is that some of these people may have followed the diet incorrectly. Because to get enough of the minerals you need if your main food is fruit, you may have to consume a lot more calories than you are used to, especially if you’re buying fruit growing in unenriched soil. Whereas you might get everything you need from a moderate-fat, moderate-protein raw food diet that allows for more nut and seed consumption by eating the standard 2,000 calories a day, you may have to double your caloric input, perhaps triple it, to get the same nutrition from fruit.
Some people gain weight from this extra calorie consumption, some don’t. The calories from fruit are of a very different quality than those from nuts and seeds.
The point I’m trying to make is that many people who try the 80-10-10 diet try to make it work within the 2,000-calorie-per-day regime. A few months to a year later, when their hair starts falling out in clumps, or they’ve developed several cavities, or they are constantly fatigued, they quit and blame the diet when it wasn’t the diet’s fault at all, it was that they did not consume enough fruit to get the minerals their body needs.
If this is sounding like an expensive or difficult diet to make work, you’re right. But I’m not going into that now. What we’re looking at here is whether the 80-10-10 diet is healthy for everyone, and at this moment I want to point out that it may have ultimately been a very healthy diet for many people, but they either never try it or they do not consume enough fruit to make it work.
But “many” does not equal “everybody”.
What about the rest of us? What about the people who followed all the rules of the diet and ate enough, and still failed to thrive? What about those of us who feel famished if we eat only carbs for 2/3 to 3/4 of the day? The answer is simple: we need more protein and fat in our diet. Not necessarily a lot more, but more than 10% of each, and a consequently less than 80% carbohydrates.
Douglas Graham, who wrote the 80-10-10 diet, along with the medical doctors who have authored books recommending high carb, low fat diets consisting of mainly cooked starches, will cry “Foul!” at my assertion. We are all biologically the same, they say, so we must all eat the macronutrients in the same ratios.
Been there, done that. I’ve tried low-fat, high-carb. I was always hungry and lethargic – yes, even when I was eating the supposedly healthy whole grains.
Many others can give the same testimony. Why? Biochemical individuality. Some people are sensitive to the alkaloids in nightshade vegetables, while others can eat as many potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes as they want. Some people can’t eat anything with any protein that slightly resembles gluten, let alone gluten itself, while others can consume several slices of bread a day without experiencing any negative effects from it.
In the same way, some people need more fat and protein to thrive than others. I believe that this is one of the main reasons that vegans go back to eating meat. They read a book that gives them the idea that the ideal vegan diet has to be low in both fat and protein, and when that doesn’t work for them they blame veganism instead of tweaking their macronutrient ratios.
Does this mean that they should shoot for 50% or more of the calories from fat? No! They are not babies who need that much fat in order to grow quickly. But it does mean that they will feel much better if they jack up both their fat and protein consumption, up to 15-30% of their diet for each.
My husband and I do well on a diet with a fat content of around 30% and protein at 15-20%. This is about half the fat that the average raw food vegan consumes, and is what is considered within the range of healthy by most dieticians and other nutrition experts.
Most of our fat comes from soaked and/or sprouted seeds and almonds. Here’s my question: why are seeds and nuts, also being plant foods, not figured into the equation? Why not consider the fat and protein content of those foods, along with those of fruits and vegetables, and split the difference? For people who struggle to make the 80-10-10 diet work for them, I think we should.
While research does support the idea that a low-fat, high-carb vegan diet can eliminate such problems as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there is no proof that it is THE perfect diet for everyone.
So, is the 80-10-10 diet really healthy? Sure it is…if your biochemical makeup thrives on that particular macronutrient ratio. If it doesn’t, feel free to tweak it until you find what makes YOU feel great.