Tag Archives: naturalistic fallacy

My Position on Rawfoodism

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If I had to name one thing that has been bugging me lately about the vegan movement, it would have to be rawfoodism*. It should go without saying that this is health veganism taken to unnecessary extremes, born out of pseudo-science, perfectionism, and mythology. Not only does it do nothing to help animals, it does nothing to help improve the health of rawfoodists themselves or anyone for that matter.

Some rawfoodists I’ve met believe they’ve finally found the holy grail of healthy eating and they are not letting go. So fanatical are some of them, they believe any vegan who eats any amount of cooked foods are “poisoning” themselves, and deserve to be mocked as the vegan lepers that they truly are. If you get into an argument with one, expect a torrent of pithy slogans like “cooked food is poison!” in lieu of anything of substance. The foundation of almost all rawfoodist dogma is the naturalistic fallacy, which basically means anything natural is “good”, and anything unnatural is “bad”.

Truth be told, there is virtually no science to support the idea that 100% vegan rawfoodism is the healthiest diet. With science offering no support, vegan rawfoodist gurus and super-athletes have created a powerful mythos of seemingly compelling anecdotes for the proponents of the rawfood cult. While very few rawfoodists are as holy, uh, I mean as healthy as the high priests they emulate, they believe if they “detoxify” and “revitalize” their body’s cells long enough by eating raw foods, they too can achieve super health.

Never mind all those pesky plant toxins that are largely destroyed by cooking, or the fact that many foods are more digestible when cooked, that’s all corporate propaganda to the rawfoodist. To the rawfoodist, perfect health isn’t a fantasy, it is something that can be attained if you eat 100% raw 100% of the time.

The reality is that perfect health is a chimera, and there is no such thing as a “perfect” diet. Anyone trying to sell you a “perfect” diet is a charlatan. Rawfoodism is a fad, and one that is potentially harmful to veganism. It is also harmful to people with serious diseases who choose going raw vegan to treat their condition and end up dying due to lack of proper medical treatment. Veganism, raw or cooked, doesn’t necessarily make you super-healthy, and shouldn’t be promoted as such. That’s not what veganism is truly about in the first place. Its essence is about compassion for all life, and extreme, overly strict, overly complicated, pseudo-scientific approaches to vegan dieting can only hurt our efforts at helping animals. Veganism should be informed by science, not pseudo-science.

I realize this post may puzzle some people. My only aim with this blog and my joggling is to show that a well-balanced vegan diet is adequate for just about anyone, including athletes. The idea that a vegan or vegan rawfood diet can take you to a level of health and super-athleticism that is only attainable by vegans or vegan rawfoodists is preposterous, and not something I believe in. If there is one thing the vegan movement needs a lot more of, it’s critical thinking.

* I realize that not all rawfoodists are vegan; some drink raw milk, consume honey or other animal products. This post concerns both rawfoodism in general, and vegan rawfoodism in particular since the health claims and motivations are very similar. Many rawfoodists started out as vegans, and saw raw veganism as the next logical step in making their diet healthier.

Related articles:

Raw Veganism

Raw Food Vegan Diets

Raw Or Cooked Foods: Which is The Best Diet for Vegans?

Raw Credulity

Beyond Vegetarianism

The Hippocrates Health Institute: Cancer quackery finally under the spotlight, but will it matter?

Barefoot running versus minimalist shoes

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Currently, the ever-present question in the running world is: to run barefoot or to not run barefoot? Barefoot running is all the rage these days, with many barefooters swearing it has helped improve their running. They claim that sneakers tend to distort our running, making us run in a less optimal manner. Some barefoot runners run barefoot all or most of the time, weather permitting. Others may do it occasionally as a form of cross-training.

While it is true that barefoot running has different biomechanics and running economy than running with sneakers, what little science we have doesn’t confirm most of the benefits barefooters regularly tout. Barefooters often claim that running sneaker-less encourages landing on the forefoot(as opposed to running with sneakers which encourages landing on the heel), which they claim reduces the risk of injury. This isn’t necessarily true, and there is little evidence of reduced injury due to barefoot running.

Of course, there are some rather obvious issues with running barefoot for more than a few miles, like callouses, and blisters, among other things. As a compromise, some people wear minimalist shoes while running. They are like socks but with extra padding for the soles of your feet. They are supposed to be just like barefoot running bio-mechanically, while providing just enough protection for your feet.

The point of this blog post though isn’t to answer the question of whether or not barefoot running is better, but if minimalist shoe running is bio-mechanically equivalent to running barefoot. According to
Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study:

CONCLUSIONS:

Barefoot running was different to all shod conditions. Barefoot running changes the amount of work done at the knee and ankle joints and this may have therapeutic and performance implications for runners.

So it looks like minimalist shoe running is not the same as barefoot running, at least when it comes to bio-mechanics. As for me, I’ve never tried barefoot running for more than a few miles. The most common arguments for it are unpersuasive to me since they are almost always based on a very common logical fallacy I’m a bit tired of: The naturalistic fallacy – “it’s more natural, therefore it’s better!”. I did a post on this fallacy a while back: Radioactive Brazil nuts and the naturalistic fallacy

I will of course continue to look into this and I hope more good research is done on the bigger question of barefoot running, rather than how minimalist shoes compare with it. I may try doing it occasionally if I have the time, just as an experiment, even though I find the arguments for it unpersuasive at best.

Have you tried barefoot running or running in minimalist shoes? Have you experienced any benefits from it?

Radioactive Brazil nuts and the naturalistic fallacy

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Brazil nuts. Source: Wikipedia

Believe it or not, just about all the food we consume has tiny amounts of radioactivity. Some foods contain more than others. While a small amount of it is due to nuclear fallout and industrial pollution, most of it is naturally occurring, since radioactivity is a natural phenomenon.

Brazil nuts by far are the most radioactive of all food. According to Wikipedia:

Brazil nuts contain small amounts of radium. Although the amount of radium, a radioactive element, is very small, about 1–7 pCi/g (40–260 Bq/kg), and most of it is not retained by the body, this is 1,000 times higher than in other foods. According to Oak Ridge Associated Universities, this is not because of elevated levels of radium in the soil, but due to “the very extensive root system of the tree”.

Even though Brazil nuts are a lot more radioactive compared to most foods(due to its deep, extensive roots), this doesn’t mean we should avoid them. The amount is way too small to have any permanent effects. This radioactivity in Brazil nuts is naturally occurring, not due to nuclear fallout.

Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, an important mineral that some preliminary studies suggest may help prevent cancer, among other things. Fortunately, selenium deficiency is rare in most developed countries.

I think this also goes to show that eating “natural” doesn’t mean you are somehow avoiding very toxic substances. Radiation is perfectly natural, and so are lead and mercury, which are also present in trace amounts in the food and water supply. Luckily, these toxins tend to get quickly removed by the body.

While eating healthy usually means eating more “natural”(less processed foods, more whole/unprocessed foods), many health-nuts take this to extremes and buy into some form of the “naturalistic fallacy” to justify their dietary habits. This is especially true of people who follow a rawfood vegan diet, and also the followers of “paleo” diets.

At its most basic, the naturalistic fallacy means equating “natural” with being inherently good, safe, or desirable, while something “unnatural” is seen as inherently bad, or undesirable. Ask a rawfoodist to explain why they believe their diet is so much better compared to the way most people eat, and their answer ultimately boils down to: “It is more natural”. Cooked food is “unnatural”(what other animals cook their food?), so cooked food is bad; food in its raw, “natural” state is good.

This doesn’t mean there is no truth to the arguments in favor of eating raw. For instance, it is true that many nutrients are destroyed while cooking at high temperatures. On the other hand, many other nutrients are less bio-available in raw foods. It must also be noted that cooking helps destroy many anti-nutrients like oxalates or phytates that can interfere with the absorption of important minerals like iron(this is why raw spinach with its high oxalate content is a poor source of calcium and iron). This explains why you can’t eat beans raw(of course you can try to do it, but I wouldn’t advise it). While some foods like salad greens, nuts, and fruit are best eaten raw, many other foods, like legumes and grains have to be cooked.

While we should minimize our consumption of processed foods, and of both natural and synthetic toxins, we shouldn’t go overboard and panic if we discover something contains trace amounts of a toxic substance. Similarly, we shouldn’t demonize something just because it may contain something that is “unnatural”. Dogmatic black and white thinking is not helpful when it comes to healthy eating.

References:

Radioactivity in nature