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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 10, 2007

Raw Food Gets Served

By Mark Sisson
52 Comments


Friday we gave a raw foodism proponent, Raw Chef Dan, the opportunity to explain the philosophy. Dan’s a busy guy and he was up front about the fact that he couldn’t get into an ongoing debate but could share a bit about the philosophy. So the purpose of the feature on Friday was simply to present an introduction to the whole premise of raw food before I assessed the lifestyle. I initially planned to cover raw foodism in a follow-up Primal Health post this week, but I’ll go ahead and address it today since we’ve got a hot plate on our hands with this topic. (Guess that means homeopathy is on the burner for Wednesday’s Primal Health…I think you’ll find this to be an interesting week at MDA.) To be blunt, my assessment isn’t pretty. But I do want to be clear that this isn’t about one guy. Dan’s obviously got strong opinions and you can probably guess that I’d disagree with them, but I want to steer the conversation to the raw food philosophy in general. Let’s investigate.

Raw foodism shouldn’t be dismissed as merely another trend (no California jokes, people). It’s become insanely popular and, as you’ll note from the Friday post, has passionately devoted adherents. Raw food proponents toss around terms like “living” and “consciousness” and the diet has a distinct spiritual overtone (some might say religious). The raw food diet is perhaps one of the most difficult diets to follow – even more so than veganism and perhaps even more specific than the macrobiotic diet – and requires an enormous amount of effort and time. Still, if a diet is going to awaken your soul, I suppose the effort required is worth it.

The raw food diet entails the following: raw, obviously; typically vegan although not necessarily so; absolutely no processed, refined, treated, altered or preserved foods of any sort. Beyond that it gets more complex, as raw foodists explore which particular foods and food combinations are crucial for their particular systems and health characteristics. It gets a little too woo for me. But the basic gist of the raw food diet is that foods, in their organic, natural, uncooked state, are “alive” and full of nutritional density to which traditionally prepared – cooked – foods simply can’t compare. Moreover, raw foods are full of important enzymes, which are believed to be the fundamental wellspring of ideal human health. Our modern problems of obesity, depression, diabetes, arthritis, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and nearly every other disorder, syndrome and malady can be attributed to the dead food we eat.

Okay.

I don’t disagree that subsisting on raw vegetables, nuts, fruits and seeds is a better idea than living on fries and burgers. We should all make fresh – or frozen – vegetables the base, in terms of bulk, of our diets. Americans are sorely lacking in sufficient vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, and they’re also eating far too many garbage calories. Produce consumption certainly takes care of those issues. But nutritional benefits of produce, nuts and seeds aside, this is where the raw foodists and I part ways – and it’s where the gorillas and humans likely parted ways, too. In fact, one compelling theory in mammalian evolution – specifically, the great apes – holds that our human scavenging of any meat we could get our incisors on is likely why gorillas are gorillas and humans became humans. In particular, our ancestors went for the fattiest tissues they could find (brains, organs, liver…getting hungry yet?). We’re clearly evolved as omnivores and we do need a lot of protein. Based on my understanding of evolution and nutrition, I don’t espouse veganism or vegetarianism, although I’ve got both lifestyles going on under my very own roof, so I’m not telling you it’s my way or the highway, either.

Raw foodists are not necessarily vegans or even vegetarians, of course, although many shy away from “too much” protein under the misinformed belief that our bodies cannot digest “too much” (whatever that is). That said, some eat raw fish and others even go for raw beef. That’s important, because sufficient protein is absolutely a concern here. Fermentation is another part of the raw foodism umbrella (and we discussed fermentation with another radical foodster, Sandor Katz, last week). But let’s get back to the raw thing: what on earth makes raw better? How is some food “living” and nutrient dense by virtue of its temperature, while other food is “dead” and therefore poison? Another blogger posted a brutal assessment of raw food in response to Friday’s post, and I couldn’t have said it better. Go read her piece when you’re done here if you’re interested in this issue.

Fact: You cannot be deficient in enzymes (unless you have a rare genetic condition). You don’t need enzymes from food. Your body has its own digestive enzymes or builds specific enzymes within cells to catalyze biochemical reactions. No amount of living or dead food is going to change that. Don’t fall for enzyme therapy, “curative” enzyme supplements (unless they are digestive enzymes), and diets that focus on enzymes. Some of those juicer infomercials focus on “enzyme benefits” and they drive me nuts (I’ve ranted about this, of course).

Fact: By the time it gets to you, all food is dead. The fresher the better so as to obtain more vitamins, minerals and nutrients, but it’s not “living”. If you want to eat raw vegetables and fruits and nuts to obtain more nutrition, I’m all for that. But there’s nothing spiritual about it, and subsisting on raw food to the exclusion of some cooked foods could ultimately be unhealthy.

Fact: You do need protein, and lots of it. I suggest shooting for at least 20 grams at every meal, totaling at least 100 grams daily.

Fact: Cooking probably helped shape our evolution. Humans have benefited from the nutrition in cooked food for well over 250,000 years and it’s not a bad thing. Many nutrients that are important to the body – various carotenoids, for example – are often only released when the food is cooked. Over-cooking will reduce the amount of vitamins, but hopefully you don’t do that anyway, because soggy or dried-out food tastes bad. (Our tongues are surprisingly intelligent indicators.)

Fact: Humans clearly evolved eating a variety of meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, greens, shoots, stems, peppers, roots, tubers and even flowers. While it’s possible (and recommended, given how hard you’re going to have to work to get enough protein) to eat a great variety of foods on the raw food diet, there’s simply no great nutritional advantage and no scientific merit to going raw.

Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten. Technically, all living things, plant matter included, have evolved particular defensive mechanisms – from chemicals to spikes and thorns to toxins – to stand a better chance at survival. Many perfectly nutritious foods do require cooking to remove poisons or become edible. So the belief that our modern diet is replete with chemicals and toxins – while often accurate – does not negate the fact that raw, “natural” foods can also contain their own chemicals and even toxins.

I welcome your thoughts.

Further Reading:

Escape from Vegan Island

Low-Carb Recipes for Vegans and Carnivores Alike

Flickr Photo Source (CC)

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46 Comments on "Raw Food Gets Served"

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terry
terry
9 years 2 months ago

I agree that the live food theory has many a hole in it. But I do buy into eating fresh organic foods, along with foods like tuna and other fresh fish. Greasy foods will in the long run do a lot of damage to your body. Eating fresh non-fried foods is a very healthy way to go.

Tatsujin
9 years 2 months ago

“If eating raw is wrong…then I don’t wanna be right” 😉

Great article Mark. I would love to see Dan’s or any raw experts rebuttle of the facts presented in your post.

T.

McFly
McFly
9 years 2 months ago

“Fact: By the time it gets to you, all food is dead.”

I beg to differ. May I refer you to…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RTPKXdNpIA

It’s catching on. Is the baby in the background eating live octopus too?

Abraham Williams
9 years 2 months ago
I am not a raw foodist. I never will be. Eating raw organ meats would take some time getting used to I think. However, in response to “Fact: You cannot be deficient in enzymes (unless you have a rare genetic condition).”, some people don’t produce lactase. Isn’t only ~40% of the population that even produces lactase? If you pasteurize milk, it gets boiled away. Thus, lactose intolerance. This is a perfect example of cooking destroying an enzyme that is needed for digestion. Ok, so it’s a tiny point. Still, there’s a hole in that fact. 🙂
Abraham Williams
9 years 2 months ago

Oh and also, I’d recommend being careful not to char that meat in the picture: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060406101252.htm

Abraham Williams
9 years 2 months ago

This is such a fun article. Thanks, Mark. One other callout.

“Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten…”

Very true as many minerals in grains are bound up in phytic acid, phosphorus in particular. This prevents their absorption. Many traditional societies soak, sprout, or ferment their grains in lactic acid (whey) as a predigestive step towards removing the phytates (salt form of phytic acid). I know this from my studies, but I refrain from the grain.

shaw
9 years 2 months ago

I have two friends who have actually started feeding their very sick cats and dog raw diets. The animals are all doing great. The cats were diabetic and obese and the dog had kidney problems. It’s pretty amazing when you see the difference on these animal, so there is definitely something to this.

Robin
Robin
4 years 5 months ago

Animals will certainly do better on raw food which they should be eating. Cats in nature would not eat grains or cooked meat. There’s a good book called Pottenger’s Prophecy about Dr Pottenger’s experiments with feeding cats raw or cooked meat. The ones on cooked food became sicker. It took 4 generations of good feeding to bring them back to health. It occurred to me that with the Std American Diet, humans’ epigenes are being adversely affected as well. Food for thought.

daddyquatro
daddyquatro
9 years 2 months ago

Just a minor , off topic, point because I know she’s gonna be jazzed. The blogger you linked to is a she. Yay LabRat!

LabRat
9 years 2 months ago
*grin* Hi D4. (And yeah, to be honest I think I blushed to the roots of my hair.) Shaw: The raw diet works as well as it does on many dogs and cats because a great many commercial pet kibbles are formulated as though they were feeding primates, not carnivores. They’re as depressingly high-carb as so many of the offerings for humans; part of it is ignorance, but a lot of it is that grain meals are cheaper than meat meals, and some of it is that you can only put so much protein and fat into a dry food… Read more »
Mark
Mark
9 years 2 months ago
Abraham, I like a good debate. I’ll stand by my “fact” about enzyme non-deficiency. I think you may be confusing lactase with lactose. Lactase is the enzyme many humans make to asssist them in digesting lactose (the sugar in milk). Milk does not contain lactase. If it did, there would be little or no lactose left for us to consume. So pasteurizing milk won’t change its digestiblity very much. You are either good at making the lactase enzyme or you are not (genetically speaking). It’s interesting that one of the theories of recent human evolution suggests that our genome may… Read more »
Mark Sisson
9 years 2 months ago

Argh, sorry for being such a knucklehead, Labrat! Great post.

suvetar
suvetar
6 years 4 months ago
I know this post is 3 years old, but I wanted to reply to you personally to maybe ‘teach’ you something new 🙂 Many people claim that humans cooked their food for hundreds of thousands of years, this is false. First of all the earth has turned itself over 4x…and everytime life was wiped, something new evolved to be the top of the food chain. Continents again, split apart from another, new oceans are being built all the time, there is a new one evolving since 2005 in the northeastern desert of Africa. Not all humans came from Africa, that… Read more »
cog
cog
9 years 2 months ago

My friend’s mother is one of those gullible hippy types you can imagine falling for this type of fad. She’s never had an ounce of fat on her as long as I’ve known her, however she started the raw diet several months ago.
Well last week she had to be airlifted to the hospital while she was at an outdoor art festival because she collapsed from exhaustion. After running some tests the only thing the Doctor could attribute as the likely cause of her exhaustion was diet.

healthy food lover
healthy food lover
6 years 4 months ago
Gullible hippy types…so true. There’s a couple of people I know who proudly called themselves ‘raw vegan’ and embarked on a physically demanding adventure covering a lot of miles in mid summer. Their adherence to raw food only and their ignorance/denial of their body’s signals to stop and replenish meant that after about 4 days they both ended up in hospital. Such was their depletion of essential electrolytes etc that in fact they were only a hair’s breadth away from heart failure. What I have found with a lot of ‘raw’ people is that if they are feeling crap or… Read more »
jaime
9 years 2 months ago
Mark, a question (rather than a challenge) – You say, in defense of cooking, that humans evolved to eat cooked food. On the other hand, in your reasoning not to eat grains, you cite the relatively recent introduction of grains (via farming) into our diets. But where do you draw the line between food we evolved to eat and dietary changes too recent to be “natural” to us? I’ve read elsewhere things along the lines of, “Humans have been cultivating grains for such and such many years, and they are a natural part of a healthy diet.” I’m talking other… Read more »
Abraham Williams
9 years 2 months ago

Mark,

Glad you said that lactase wasn’t in Milk. It prompted me to check my facts. I’m hard pressed to find real evidence of lactase in raw milk. Raw milk proponents say it’s in there where as the FDA says it’s not. I did read in the ajcn that unpasteurized yogurt was found to digest more readily in lactose intolerant people where pasteurized yogurt did not. The finding was “…lactase activity is released by the yogurt microorganisms…”. Haven’t found a study on raw milk though.

Thanks!

Pelikan
Pelikan
9 years 2 months ago

Thank you! You’ve restored my confidence. I know that you started the last post by a disclaimer, but it wasn’t really enough. This post makes more sense to me. And it is good form that you linked to the “rant” at Atomic Nerds.

Jaime
9 years 2 months ago

Abraham – I’ve heard that yogurt in general is easier for lactards (like myself) because the bacteria digest some of the lactose into easier-to-handle sugars. I’ve heard the same for cheese – the harder/older the cheese is, the less lactose it, allegedly, has. I’m wary, because I’ve lived so okay without dairy, and testing it out doesn’t seem worth the price if it doesn’t work for me, but that’s the info I’ve gotten.

Lscoop
Lscoop
9 years 2 months ago
The author is doing what he is accusing of others of doing….presenting his own personal views as “fact”, and even labeling such as “fact”. Wow! That’s about the most nonobjective reporting I’ve ever seen! I’m a former meat & potatoes kind of girl who switched to (mostly….let’s say 85%) raw a couple of years ago. And yes, I’m one of those who eats raw meat/fish to ensure getting enough protein. But what is ‘enough’? Even the FDA, a meat & potatoes organization in my opinion (note that 90% farm subsidies either go to the meat industry or to creating feed… Read more »
Lscoop
Lscoop
9 years 2 months ago

Oops, made a couple of errors above. When I said 50 grams of “meat”, I meant “protein”. Ditto in the next sentence when I said that “3.5 oz of meat or fish gets me easily to my 50 grams”…..it’s 3.5 oz of meat/fish protein coupled with a LOT of greens and some seeds that gets me to the 50 grams!

Mark
Mark
9 years 2 months ago
Lscoop, Good stuff. I will continue to disagree on several points, though. First off, I will reiterate that this site attempts to be objective, but (there’s always that “but”) when all is said and done, it’s our (MDA staff) reading of the science and interpretation of it that forms the opinion expressed on the site. Maybe our use of the term “fact” assumes a bit much, since there continues to be so much disagreement among even experts in this vast area of nutrition. As for protein requirements, I stand by my reading of the science that sugggests we need much… Read more »
raw chef dan
9 years 2 months ago
I can’t be bothered to read all of this but your perception of the raw life style is so far off it’s no wonder you are not an advocate. The raw food way of eating is very simple. Way more so than vegan or Macro. And way easier to prepare and clean up that cooking. The other thing is that the awareness in raw foods is about eating quality food not a restriction of what you can and you can’t eat. If you have a high performance race car you don’t just put any fuel into it or it will… Read more »
raw chef dan
9 years 2 months ago
There is a lot of great information here and many great arguments. In my personal opinion you should eat what you want to eat, just as long as you take the time to educate yourself a little so you are not just eating anything and not having a clue to what and why. You also need to take a good look at who you are getting your information from. I wouldn’t ask a 300lbs guy how to loose weight or a smoker how to quit. Some of these “specialist” don’t look to healthy too me. Whatever they are doing obviously… Read more »
Andrea
9 years 26 days ago

I think that IF I found truth and value to the idea that heating food beyond a certain temperature is bad for it and bad for me, then I’d consider eating that way.

However, to “properly” practice rawism I’d have to do a few key things, one of which is EAT RAW MEAT. Eggs, organ meats, fish in particular. Getting the high enough levels of both protein and fat I think would be very important to health on such a diet.

But, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Geoff
Geoff
9 years 20 days ago
Extremely interesing article and comments. This is one of the best articles I have seen on the “raw food” debate, Mark. Whether you agree or disagree with any particular diet or lifestyle, the important issue is to do what feel right and trust your body. I have personally experienced a renaissance of health and vitality over the past four years simply by eliminating fast food (I was a bonafide junkie — aka Subway Jared!), processed foods and simple sugars. I shed 50 lbs (220 to 170) and have easily held this weight for the past two years. Exercising consistently (8… Read more »
anina.net
9 years 17 days ago

hey! have you seen raw chef dan’s new blog? check it out! http://www.rawchefdan.typepad.com

Lscoop
Lscoop
9 years 17 days ago
This is indeed an interesting debate going on here. I didn’t get to see all of the replies (even the ones made before mine) until just now. I should note that when I was young I tried going vegan several times….every last time I had a notable increase in colds. Clearly there was a problem when I didn’t get enough protein….back then there weren’t nutritional programs around where I could check my nutrient levels and I’m sure I was way off base from what I needed. Interestingly enough, during the years that I was low-carb, eating about 100 g of… Read more »
Matthew
8 years 5 months ago
SSSsome of you so called facts are not facts. Raw food can be spiritual and that is the fatc. All you have to do is read the essene gospel of peace to find out how. Also all of your so called facts are only theorys if you include evolving from gorillas(A very mindless view). Gorillas are gorillas and humans are humans. Here are some facts that everyone should know about. -Einstein said “Humans are the only species smart enough to cook their food but dumb enough to eat it.” Go ahead and argue Einstein and look like a moron. -Live… Read more »
kaybee
kaybee
7 years 10 months ago

Well, to each his own. I can’t speak for any one else, I can only speak for me. My eyesight was poor before I encountered raw food. I always had eye infections and was constantly put on steroidal prescription eye medication.
Six months of raw food and several packs of goji berries later, my vision is 20/20. There’s something to be said for raw foods.

AlainaOfArc
AlainaOfArc
7 years 8 months ago
I have to wonder if all these benefits listed of the “raw food diet” such as better eyesight, better performance, losing weight, etc. aren’t just from eating better-quality foods. If you go from the typical Western diet to a raw food diet, of course you’re going to see improvements in your health. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of the diet itself, it could just be from eating less junk. I’ve tried to do the raw food thing and in my own experience, it makes me really bloated, gassy, and terribly uncomfortable. That’s not to say I think it’s… Read more »
the healthy food lover
the healthy food lover
7 years 6 months ago
I have some friends and acquaintances who are into Raw (and a couple of them I would describe as Raw Food Nazis). I think it’s more accurate to say they are enslaved to their diets. I had a raw food friend stay over recently and she ate like a horse – continously! She admitted to me her diet has become a problem: it drains all of her spare money – which means as a student she’s in constant debt and living in poverty. For her, the search for suitable raw, organic food is a constant pursuit which occupies a large… Read more »
Jenny
Jenny
7 years 4 months ago
Hi Mark and other MDAers- I would not consider myself any label of a raw foodist. However, I just want to point out to you that dismissing the positive effect of incorporating a large amount of raw food, juicing, and food combining has on all aspects of the human body is beyond unfair. You have not attempted a diet of this sort, therefore you are not qualified to make such a harsh judgment on something that you have not personally experienced. Removing animal products from my diet, juicing, and food combining has eliminated my depression, digestive issues, menstruation issues, acne,… Read more »
Jenny
Jenny
7 years 4 months ago
I just wanted to add as I looked through a few other comments that just going “raw” has no better health benefit than eating 3 pounds of bacon a day. Anyone who truly cares about their health doesn’t binge on “raw” nuts and sugary concoctions day in and day out just because it is labeled as raw. That is what I hate about these labels – for me it is about HEALTH. How my body responds to food. How it makes me feel. THAT is what separates the crazies from the ones who actually know what they’re talking about, and… Read more »
john
john
6 years 11 months ago

Many of your “facts” don’t hold up to scrutiny, and this article has not made a good argument to make me think raw food “got served”. For someone looking into primal, raw paleo, raw food and various diets, it is of little value.

davewoof
davewoof
6 years 9 months ago
So hey, what’s ‘raw chef dan’ hoyt up to these days? Taking any subway rides? I’ve known quite a few raw foodists over the years, and not all of them are compltely insane. Just enough to make me reject their hippy philosophy. On one hand I think the raw food diet has some good features- low calorie, few allergenic foods, lots of fresh fruits, and vegetables. On the other hand what few calories there are come from sugary fruits- ‘dr.’ doug graham recommends eating 40 banannas in a sitting- and the amount of calories can be so restrictive that it… Read more »
Ralph Doncaster
6 years 9 months ago

I recently read a paper that reviewed fat/protein metabolism. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark it, but it concluded that humans cannot survive on a diet where 85% of calories come from protein (but many humans can survive on 85% fat).
I did find a source that discusses the concept, but it doesn’t have the numbers I read.
http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/fat-not-protein.html

Here’s an interesting experiment showing the benefit of a high-fat diet.
http://www.mybigfatdiet.net/

fixed gear
6 years 7 months ago
Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten. Technically, all living things, plant matter included, have evolved particular defensive mechanisms – from chemicals to spikes and thorns to toxins – to stand a better chance at survival. Many perfectly nutritious foods do require cooking to remove poisons or become edible. So the belief that our modern diet is replete with chemicals and toxins – while often accurate – does not negate the fact that raw, “natural” foods can also contain their own chemicals and even toxins. Well if that’s your… Read more »
Chris
5 years 9 months ago

I have not read all the comments so I may have missed something…
There is one very fine food that we (many of us) eat alive, and raw and that is Oysters. If I bring in a bunch of oysters from our bottom and the not eat them, I can put them back in the cove and they will go on filtering algae just like before. This is true for other mollusks as well, such as clams, scallops, cochina etc.
Question…where can I find a definitive list of foods and what effects specific to a food occur when cooked verses

Trent
Trent
5 years 8 months ago

http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html
We have evolved with cooking for long enough for it to be a part of us. This TED talk argues that the invention of cooking helped significantly to make us into the big brained humans we are today.

Chris
5 years 8 months ago
When it gets to me not all the I consume is dead. I eat a lot of oysters, I raise my own, and there is nothing better than to dive for a few and open them up and eat them right there in the water. This also goes for some clams and scallops and other shell fish. They are alive. I you took a bunch of oysters, purchased from the fish monger and put them back in a suitable environment, they stand a good chance of going on living and being wild shell fish. Also, when in season I eat… Read more »
Kristen
Kristen
3 years 8 months ago
About 9 years ago I ate a raw vegan diet for 10 months. I had a lot of weight to lose (50 lbs. or so) but I lost maybe 10. (Proof that calories are not the end-all, be-all of weight loss.) I was sick to my stomach and starving all the time. The advice I got online told me it was my fault for practicing improper food combining and eating too many nuts and avocadoes. I occasionally overate nuts and avocadoes because I was freaking starving. I think my vegan and raw vegan experiment exacerbated my metabolic syndrome and insulin… Read more »
Annette
Annette
3 years 6 months ago

This was an interesting read until you started talking about the great apes. What percentage of their diets include meat? And in what situations do they resort to it? And how do their bodies digest it? Bad example. Also you displayed your ignorance about Veganism when you brought up the P word: protein. I didn’t bother reading the rest.

Simon
Simon
3 years 6 months ago
Personally I think it’s a trade off and a healthy diet should be promoted with both raw AND cooked food. Here’s my 2 cents: – if you cook it you may lose some stuff, may retain some stuff, and in some cases even form some good stuff. At the end of the day: you will end up with some good stuff! And enough to reach a healthy daily amount to be beneficial – cooked almost always tastes better than raw, and can be far more palatable and easy to digest. This MUST be taken into account when thinking about children… Read more »
Gavin
Gavin
3 years 6 months ago
Interesting take on raw foods. I agree with you about heat deactivating certain toxins and increasing certain vitamins, but certain vitamins are also heat sensitive- such as C, B6, B12, and E. Enzymes, however, I feel are important. I’ve read many studies on their benefits and importance. Another factor is microorganism as obviously they are useless when cooked. That said, I am not a raw foodist. I eat around 50% raw, that portion being animal products, dairy, fruits, and soaked nuts. I actually consume small amounts of raw liver. Cooked? Animal products, veggies, nuts, properly prepared grains (gasp). My point… Read more »
Ryan
Ryan
3 years 2 months ago

100 grams of protein a day?*

*citation needed.

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