But do raw foodists live any longer than anyone else? Skeptics say they don't, and, yes, we hear every so often of centenarians who, according to media reports, have thrived on tobacco, booze and fried breakfasts.
However, we also know that the only reason these cases are reported is that they are the exceptions to the rule, and many studies have shown there to be an association between healthy eating and longevity.
So, as we as raw fooders believe raw-eating to be the epitome of the healthy diet, we'd expect raw eaters to be living particularly long and healthy lives.
There are no studies I know of comparing raw eaters' lifespans with those on other sorts of diet. So, in the absence of a large-scale longitudinal study, I have here had a quick look at the age stats for eight people known in the raw food world (or at least in the UK and US) for their advocacy of raw food eating. I haven't been 'selective' - there aren't that many to choose from! Whether or not all of them were 100% raw foodists, they did at least all follow diets that included significantly more raw food than the average and were vociferous promoters of raw food eating.
Our eight include raw vegetarians, vegans and fruitarians. And if anyone feels I've glossed over their lives somewhat, please bear in mind that the article would be very long if I did otherwise! If there are any significant inaccuracies, let me know and I'll edit if necessary.
First, what is the average life-span? Well, as you know, it varies enormously, by country, and area within any given country. But, the average for men in the UK is 75 (US - 76) and women 81 (US also 81).
Here they are...
T C Fry
T C Fry, a Natural Hygienist, advocated a fruitarian diet, and sources suggest he followed at the least a high-fruit, vegan diet. TC lived to 70 years only, dying from a coronorary embolism, and he'd been suffering from numerous health problems prior to his death. There have been many opinions as to what contributed to these. Inevitably, some have centred on his diet, but Dr Doug Graham, who knew TC very well, believes that his health problems were brought on by overwork, and points out that on a raw diet TC lived for far longer than had been his forecast life expectancy on a cooked diet: 'Fry...was told to prepare to die when he was 45. He was that ill. He changed his lifestyle and lived another 25 years, 24 of them most brilliantly, and vibrantly...His main problem was that he worked too many hours; often for day on end without ever sleeping.'
(Edit July 09 - since writing this article I've found out a little more about T C Fry's life - please see article 'Why T C Fry Died 'So Young' here.)
Hilton, a vegan and fruitarian, who even claimed to be breatharian at one stage, lived to 92 - much longer than the average. He must have been quite fit in his latter years as he was still writing books at 90 (including 'How I Lived to be 90').
Youkta, a vegetarian, was the wife of Viktoras Kulvinskas, although was a raw food teacher in her own right. Youkta died recently at the age of 59 from 'stress-related' gastro-intestinal problems.
Johnny was initially vegetarian but later fruitarian, even to the extent of eating papayas only at one time. He lived to 81, a little longer than the average, although had not been healthy in the years leading up to his death, suffering from various problems; there are conflicting opinions as to the causes of these.
Herbert Shelton was also a champion of Natural Hygiene ideas (preceding T C Fry). Herbert, although seeing a vegan diet as the 'ideal', was a vegetarian and lived to 89, significantly longer than the average. I don't have much information on his life, although do know that his health was adversely affected after being kicked by a horse! And for some years prior to his death he suffered from neuro-muscular problems. However, he continued to enjoy good mental health, as he was still dictating books shortly before his death.
Edmund Szekeley>Szekeley translated The Essene Gospel of Peace from manuscripts discovered at the Vatican earlier this century, founded the Biogenics Movement and wrote many books on diet. It is not clear whether he was vegetarian or vegan, although the Essene Gospel advocates a vegetarian diet. Szekeley died at 79, living a little longer than the average, particularly for a man of his generation; I have no information on his state of health in the years prior to his death.
Ann, a vegetarian, is best-known for her live food program including sprouts, wheatgrass and raw fermented foods. Sadly, Ann died at 84 in a fire at her premises. She has always been described as being in excellent health in the years prior to her death.
Norman W Walker
Norman was vegetarian, and a great advocate of juicing and colonics. Norman lived to 99, a lot longer than the average, and by all accounts enjoyed excellent health in his latter years.
OK, so at first the 'results, don't look earth-shattering. None of the eight made the 'big one', and two died quite early.
BUT, of our eight raw foodists,
six out of eight lived longer than the average.
Although the sample size is small, this is an encouraging statistic. It's...GOOD!
Now let's compare their age of death with the average. There are only two women in the sample, so not much to go on there, but there are six men.
The average age of death of the six men was 85, which is 10 years longer than the current average male life-span (and will be even longer than the average life-span for men of their generation).
And that's VERY GOOD!
I think it's fair to say that, certainly on the basis of the information we have on prominent raw foodists that the raw food diet does extend life - in our sample, by about ten years. And, yes, sure, I'll grant that, as raw foodists, they were probably taking great care of themselves in other (non-food) ways too.
If you know people who say, as people so often do, 'well, I'm not sure I want to live to....(x)', yes, it's true that some in our sample were not in the best of health in the years prior to their deaths. But that's the case for many people who die in their 60s and 70s. What would you rather? Live to 75-80 with a few years of ill-health prior to that? Or live to 85-90 with a few years of ill-health prior to that? I believe we're here in this life to learn, and as it takes quite a long time to get things through my thick skull, I could do with another 10 years!
The raw food movement now is huge. It wasn't 50 years ago. And there are thousands (hundreds of thousands?) out there now making their life's work the promotion of raw food eating. I think that in 50 years' time there'll be a lot more than a sample size of eight on which to base conclusions. And probably by then there will have been a longitudinal study done of ordinary, 'quiet' raw foodists, ie those who haven't been in the limelight (and if you know any quiet raw nonagenarians, let me know!).
Finally, are there any lessons we can learn from the relatively early demise of T C Fry? Firstly, many of the followers of his health writings were hugely disappointed by his death at 70 - a salutary reminder that our idols have feet of clay, and that if we put all our faith in one person, it can end in tears...
Secondly, if Dr Doug Graham is correct as to what made TC ill, then his story (and Youkta's) does help us remember that whilst diet is a big factor influencing our health, it's not the only thing we should be attending to. (July 09 edit - Doug is correct! See earlier reference to my June 09 article on TC.)
And TC himself listed many non-diet requisites for health. Here are some of them (and in case anyone thinks I'm lecturing, note that I fail on most of these to some extent - regularly!)
Sleep, rest, relaxation (are you getting enough?)
Sunshine (to UK/cool climate readers - are there ever occasions when the sun's shining, and you could quite easily be out there for ten minutes, but...you're not?)
Exercise (running is easy, costs nothing and needs no kit bar trainers)
Fresh air (are at least the little windows in your house open?)
Pure water (research distillers, ionisers; if you can't afford one of those, a jug filter is one step up from tap water)
Aesthetic environment (have you plants near you right now?)
Creative useful work (if your job is no longer right for you, but it's too much to change it right now, start something different part-time).
Self-mastery/self-control (as a big procrastinator, I'm trying to follow Norman W Walker (99 years!): 'We cannot very well discipline ourselves in the great things of life unless, and until, we have learned that discipline must begin with the small things.')
Motivation, having purpose/cause to serve (You have that, as you are raw. Therefore one of your purposes, amongst many others specific to your own talents, is to be a living testimony to the power of raw food.)
Gregariousness (book a raw event now - preferably one of mine!)
Emotional and mental well-being (too huge an area for comment, except - oh, can't resist it...don't stress over this list!)
(Oh, and some healthy eaters have died in accidents. We may be raw, but we still have to look where we're going when we cross the road.)
Not many of us could show a clean pair of heels on everything in the list above. But let's see raw food as ONE (BIG) step in the right direction towards getting our houses in order.
The raw food biographies here give hope. It doesn't appear to be the case that 'raw fooders don't live any longer than anyone else.' This small sample suggests that, on average, yes they do. And those who were still working in their 80s and 90s, writing books, transforming the lives of others (and continuing to do so, posthumously) are a beacon for us.
And as more people follow a raw food diet, perhaps one day we'll see research that confirms what is obvious to raw fooders, that the more the fuel we put into our bodies is whole, and undamaged by cooking, the better and longer our bodies will function.
And if we can take steps to address those non-diet factors, then...let's go for 150! (with apologies to Rob Hull of Funky Raw, who's aiming for 500-600 years; I know my expectations are far too low.)
Finally, a cautionary note: many people come to raw relatively late in life and/or because of illness. So our bodies will already be damaged to some extent by our 'past lives'. Did you know for example that 30-40% of men aged 30-50 have prostate cancer, but 'silent', ie it hasn't grown sufficiently large yet to be noticeable (and we may guess that it will already be present in men in their 20s as well...)? We know this from autopsies of men dying early accidental deaths (source). I've read elsewhere that half of people aged 50+ have some sort of tumour, but don't know it. Now, there are many reports of disease being reversed on the raw food diet, and, certainly logically, if we remove the causes of illness (as you know, there have been countless reports on the link between diet and cancer), then even if tumours present when we change our diet do not actually go, they should not grow further to cause problems. However, I have read of several cases where people known to be 'healthy eaters' have died relatively young, but on probing, I find they did 'backslide' in their diets in later years, eg included meat, which of course, could have disastrous results. Recently I have read of a well-known person suffering from stomach cancer who has been described as 'fruitarian'. An anti-raw health blog leapt on this, but in fact this person was fruitarian at one stage in his life only...20 years ago. I wonder if stomach problems at that time had prompted him to change his diet, and wonder why he then left it - perhaps because he felt better and thought it was 'safe' to return to his old diet? (I have always been alarmed by those 'health experts' who tell people to switch to a raw diet (which of course results in radical improvements in their health), then, as soon as they appear to be better, tell them they can 'reintroduce' a little cooked food again (!)).
So, if you know you were ill before you went raw (or suspect you were), or came to raw relatively late in life, stay with it!
If we turn to a raw food diet, at any point in our lives, and stay raw, then I think we can confidently expect to live longer than the average and be in a better state of health for longer too, as long as we see raw food as the first step towards getting the rest of our houses in order.
Many people have found this article through googling 'raw food longevity', so I thought I'd share with you some information I've gleaned from John Robbins' new book 'Healthy at 100'. Now, remembering that diet-is-not-the-only-factor-that-affects-our-health :-), and the cultures I'm about to mention certainly do live a lifestyle that is in general far healthier than that of the average UK/US person, here are a few facts about the diets of the fabled Abkhasians, Vilcabambians and Hunza, who are famed for not only living longer than we do but also staying remarkably healthy in old age - not suffering at all, or at least far less, from the diseases common in our societies.
(For ease, I'll call them the A's, the V's and the H's!)
All follow relatively high raw diets, rising to around 80% in the summer. All follow high-carbohydrate, rather than what some describe as 'high protein', diets. Carbohydrates average 70%.
The A's are 90% vegan.
The V's and H's are 99% vegan.
All eat significant quantities of fruit (the Hunzas well-known for their apricot production).
A's: 'virtually every meal contains nuts in one form or another'.
V's: 'their fat comes mostly from avocados, seeds and nuts.'
Percentage of calories from fat:
(whilst not as low as the 10% limit favoured by, eg, followers of the 80/10/10 diet, this is still far less fat than the average person in our culture consumes).
Overall daily calories (adult males):
All three cultures eat substantial amounts of whole grains. The H's, in the winter, soak pulses 'which are eaten raw when they begin to sprout.'
And, as a postscript, would I attach any credence to a 'sample-size-of-one' when it comes to longevity? You bet -when it suits me!
'The world's oldest living person celebrated her 120th birthday on Saturday in Leshan, Sichuan Province, according to local newspaper West China Metropolis News report.
Du Pinhua, listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest living person, celebrated her birthday with dozens of relatives and locals.
Du said she has been vegetarian for her whole life. Locals describe Du as a tolerant and happy lady, who never argues with others.'
Sure, as it doesn't say so, we can presume she's not raw but 1) lots of points for vegetarianism (and several studies have linked vegetarianism to health and longevity) and 2) as she's vegetarian, likely to have eaten more raw fruit and veg than the average. Perhaps if we're vegetarian/vegan, and raw, and have a happy disposition, our great-great-great-great grandchildren can bring us mangoes when they come to visit!