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Monday, February 4, 2013

Fruitarian Diet: Is It Right For You?

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

Fruit

It was merely a case of an actor trying to better understand and master his character.

To prepare for his upcoming role as Apple exec Steve Jobs, Ashton Kutcher followed the same radical fruitarian diet that Jobs followed prior to dying from pancreatic cancer. His diet may have landed him in the hospital.

So where did Kutcher go wrong?

At the Macworld meeting last month, Kutcher said that  he had been eating mostly fruit and carrot juice for nearly a month when severe abdominal pain sent him to the ER. He was later diagnosed with pancreatitis. It is important to note that following a fruitarian diet is not a typical cause of pancreatitis. But even if Kutcher’s diet wasn’t the cause of his unfortunate hospitalization, is a fruitarian diet healthy?

The official position statement on vegetarian diets from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says an appropriately planned vegan diet can be healthful and nutritionally adequate. But is a diet that solely consists of fruit, nuts and seeds meet the criteria of “appropriately planned”? No.

A fruitarian diet is a type of vegan diet. All vegan diets can lack adequate levels of B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iodine and long chain omega-3 fats, all nutrients found abundantly in animal sources. People on these diets usually take supplements to meet their nutritional needs. Since fruitarian diets can lack vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, it is especially hard to meet recommended amounts of the nutrients mentioned above, including protein. Protein needs may also be higher for those who eat mainly plant sources of protein.

I’ve worked in a variety of settings where extreme diets were either part of my recommendations (many moons ago) or that of the institution that I was working at the time. From heart disease to managing weight and even to fighting cancer, radical dietary approaches have had their appeal. But do they offer any more hope of fighting heart disease, cancer or even managing weight better than the more researched healthy dietary approaches such as the Mediterranean, or DASH diets? Nope. In fact, when undergoing cancer treatment, it may be more difficult to meet increased protein and calorie needs when following a strict vegan diet.

So what does science support? A well-planned plant based diet (that does not exclude plant food groups such as grains or plant protein sources like beans and legumes) can be nutritionally adequate and one of the healthiest diets on earth. Notice I said “plant-based” but not necessarily “plant only” for all people. Whatever diet you chose to follow, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Is there any large population/culture in the world who eats this type of diet?”
  • “Is there scientific research that supports the safety and efficacy of this diet to fight disease and attain health?”

The answer to these questions for a Jobs-Kutcher fruitarian type diet would be a resounding “NO”!

Are you thinking of going on a restrictive diet? Ask me about it in the comment section and I’ll weigh in.

Posted by: David Grotto, RD, LDN at 10:48 am

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