Do We Need to Eat Greens?

Recently at the Woodstock Fruit Festival, I attended a class entitled “Do Raw Fooders Need to Eat Greens?”, hoping that the instructor, (who I knew to be hygiene-friendly) would answer the question using factual evidence and common sense rather than the normal speculation and fear-mongering.  I was disappointed.  Although the speaker acknowledged that the taste buds are the sentinels of the body and need to be respected, he nevertheless propagated the standard advice to blend foods that taste bad (greens being the food in question) with fruit in order to sneak them in.  It seems that nobody in the raw food world (or elsewhere) is approaching this issue in a way that respects the laws of nature.  So I’m re-posting the following comments I wrote a couple years ago for the RawSchool Yahoo Group, on the topic of whether greens are “essential”.

Best wishes, Nora

Hi All,

In the Q&A section of newest edition of Living Nutrition magazine, a reader asks if she absolutely must eat greens, admitting that she doesn’t like them and wondering if she can disguise them in a banana smoothie to fulfill her “daily salad requirement”. In case you don’t get the magazine, here are the answers:

Doug Graham: “Yes.  You do have to eat your greens — feel free to drink them.  I have found that people who include insufficient greens in their diet invariably suffer health decline.”   He goes on to explain the nutrient advantages that greens offer, saying that it is not “essential” to eat greens everyday but that 2-4% of total overall calories should come from them.  He also says it is “healthful” to blend greens but a good salad is a “real joy”, adding that likes and dislikes often change in time.

David Klein:   “Dr. Herbert Shelton reported that in nature all frugivores eat some greens, and he recommended greens as beneficial to the digestion of high protein foods.   As a predominant fruit eater for 23 years, my daily diet regularly includes two heads of lettuce and two bunches of kale, substituting on occasion bok choy, salad mix and tender inner ribs of celery” .. He further says “a balanced sense of wellness is experienced when they are combined with sweet fruits, except melon which is best eaten alone”.

Apparently even fruit fans are not immune from the unfortunate fruit phobia that has swept through the raw food world of late.   The remarks above only differ by degree (a large degree, granted) from the full-scale war on fruit waged by the likes of Paul Nison, whose rationale for doing so was recently critiqued by Doug Graham.   Nison says we should avoid fruit almost entirely, and Graham says we should avoid eating it exclusively.   Neither of them offers any real evidence to support their beliefs, and indeed nature-trusting truth seekers have good reasons to disregard both.

Personally, I have never met a failing raw fooder whose symptoms couldn’t be blamed on obvious mistakes of EXCESS in his/her past or current diet and lifestyle. It would be extremely difficult to produce evidence that could isolate the lack of greens, or even nutritional deficiencies in general, as the cause for his/her ill health, considering that almost everyone comes to raw food after having eaten some version of the disease-producing conventional western diet for decades.   Although deficiency is a concern among cooked food eaters, or at least it should be, the biggest problem with the conventional way of eating is EXCESS, and this is what leads to the pathological conditions which impede the body’s ability to use nutrients. 

Even after a person goes raw, it takes a very long time to leave  bad habits behind and heal from the physical damage they did. If we took a close look at people experiencing “health decline”, in all cases we would find either the misinterpretation of acute symptoms or the dietary excesses and poor lifestyle habits, past and present, that really caused the problems. Blaming the health failures of high fruit eating raw fooders on the greens issue is as specious as blaming sickness on germs, and as unscientific.

Even in the raw food community we can’t escape from the illogical notion that disease is caused by deficiency rather than excess. A person can be committing 50 acts of blatant dietary excess every single day and everyone seems to want to put a drop of his blood under a microscope to see what the problem might be. The deficiency way of thinking is an outgrowth of the medical myth that ADDING things to the body is the key to good health. The popularity of this mindset grew mainly because when you can ADD something to a problem, there’s a product to SELL.

Even though it makes nobody any money, most often in our modern world, it’s taking something away that holds the key to health, and the greens debate represents no exception. The key benefit of eating greens is not the avoidance of deficiency, but avoidance of excess.

Raw fooders typically indulge many habits of excess but the most common is over eating in general — regardless of whether they’re in the low or high fat camp. Overeating as a temporary strategy to stay off cooked foods is perfectly acceptable; in fact, most find that it is absolutely essential and some even realize that it’s not sustainable to do that.  There comes a time when the body reaches a level of efficiency that it demands less food and the constant eating must end or health issues will be the cost. It can take up to 10 years for a person to overcome the tendency to eat for reasons other than hunger, although this can vary according to age and other factors. In raw fooders who have not yet reached this mark and/or have not deliberately sought to decrease their overall consumption to a level that is normal for human beings (much less than is supposed by raw food gurus), it is a mistake to suspect deficiencies when they encounter health issues. If problems happen more often in high fruit eaters than high greens eaters, that doesn’t mean the former are failing because they’re not eating “enough” greens. It likely just means that among people who eat constantly (like low fat raw vegans tend to do), those who favor more low or negative fuel-value foods like greens will be able to get away with it longer. Eating greens, like exercise, simply allows people to eat for reasons other than hunger without suffering the negative effects. And neither eating greens nor exercise offers a viable permanent solution to overeating or food addiction. There is no replacement for learning to properly interpret the bodily sensations that drive people to eat when they shouldn’t.

Those who tell us to eat greens even if we don’t like them are often quick to imply that a dislike for green foods is probably pathological and will correct itself over time as the body heals. If this is true, there is nothing to fear in telling people who are making improvements to their diets to avoid greens until they taste good. Regardless of the reasons that the taste buds send their signal of rejection, the signal should not be ignored. If the dislike of greens is not related to condition, then it can only mean that some people just naturally don’t like greens. This is not likely, because we know that members of a species generally share the same dietary affinities, and greens in some form do generally appeal to most of us. But if it’s possible that some people just naturally don’t like greens, there is still nothing to fear.

I sometimes meet transitioning raw fooders who say they’re not fond of fruit and prefer other foods instead. What I usually suggest is that they try many fruits, eat only the ones that appeal and keep going back to the ones previously rejected to see if they taste better. Even though I know with all certainty that fruit is the best food for humans, I also know that eating should be an entirely pleasurable experience. Nobody needs to eat foods they don’t like. In addition to eating the fruits they like, I also tell them to build a transitional diet around other raw foods because this will still allow healing to proceed, as long as the new diet represents an improvement over what was eaten before. And as health improves, the ability to appreciate fruit will return as well. To deny this is to deny all the evidence that human beings are biological frugivores.

If we can do this with our #1 food – fruit – there’s no reason the same advice can’t be offered to people who don’t like greens. How long is a person who dislikes greens likely to go without them by following this advice? What is the estimated period that a person can go without greens before experiencing the grave consequences we’re warned about? And, most importantly, what evidence is this estimate based on? If we’re being asked to chuck a fundamental law of nature (all species eat only those foods which appeal to them), we need to have the answers to these questions.

The truth is, the people who are advising us to choke greens down could never produce sufficient evidence to trump a natural law, and those who are taking the advice aren’t demanding evidence, either. Both seem to take on face value any idea that validates the popular, civilization-based suspicion that nature isn’t 100% trustworthy. The greens issue is reminiscent of the fearful unknown consequence that made our parents force us to eat vegetables when we were kids. If any of them had examined the issue objectively, they’d have discovered there was nothing to be afraid of and all those mealtime struggles could have been avoided. Nobody needs to be coerced or threatened into eating something they don’t like in order to be healthy. If this wasn’t true, our species would not be here.

Natural hygienists generally recognize that processing never improves food. However, it seems when it comes to the “necessity” of eating greens, no otherwise sensible rule is an obstacle. Blended foods cannot be characterized as healthful except relative to whatever cooked or inappropriate fare that might be eaten instead. As we all know, some indigestible constituents in certain foods may be made more digestible or palatable by processing, but others are destroyed or are made more vulnerable to destruction. Very often in transition, the trade off is worthwhile and certainly this is the case with blending when it allows a person to avoid eating worse things. However, it is entirely indefensible as a means to sneak distasteful foods past the body’s wise sentinels to fulfill some arbitrary or presumed nutritional requirement.

Observations of non-human primates have given us a great deal of truthful information about our own dietary needs but unfortunately they have also provided support for every flawed diet theory out there. The primal diet people love to point out that chimps hunt and kill other animals. The greens advocates talk about the quantity of greens that gorillas eat. The supplement hucksters say that we can’t get the B12 we need because we don’t eat insects or dirty leaves like our primate relatives.

All we really know for certain from anatomical comparisons and field observations is that humans belong in the same category as all other primates: frugivora. Anything beyond that seems to be more speculation than fact. The similarities between humans and our closest relatives are preponderant, granted.  However, you don’t have to be a primatologist to see that there are differences too. Nutritional requirements obviously vary among divergent primate species. Although we can’t say exactly how our needs differ from other primates, using physiological and anatomical differences as a way to account for the discrepancies between human and non-human preferences seems more sensible than other explanations which require us to flout natural laws.

Humans are gentle, naturally empathetic and nonviolent, perhaps more so than any other species, including, it could be argued, many or most of our primate relatives. It is common to hear long term raw fooders discuss the changes they experience in temperament and disposition after getting to a higher level of health. Many refer to it in metaphysical or spiritual terms but regardless of how it is framed, a desire for harmonious and loving co-existence with each other and the rest of nature is very prevalent among healthy members of our species. Our peace-loving nature dovetails beautifully with the entirely symbiotic act of eating fruit, and perhaps even supports the idea that our species is better suited than any other — not only physiologically but psychologically — to a diet of fruit only. That may be speculative but then so are the ideas that claim to support the need to eat greens at any cost.

In any event, it makes more sense to trust nature while we gather the finer details of what we’re supposed to be eating, rather than issuing arbitrary mandates or inducing fear where none is warranted. It’s impossible to reconcile something like a “daily salad requirement” with the fact that our ancestors managed successfully eating whatever was available that appealed to them on any given day, week, month or year. No other species besides modern humans consults its intellect in selecting foods. No other creature needs to observe other similar animals before knowing what to eat, or put their foods under microscopes to see what nutrients they contain. They are all born with the knowledge of what to eat, and so are we, from the time we exit the womb. This knowledge is not mysterious and it doesn’t need to be “re-awakened”. It only needs to be heeded.

This idea is often met with the standard retort that no other species grows its own food, like this fact alone renders our food inadequate or unfit. The truth is, we can’t fool nature into giving us fruit, we have to genuinely replicate the conditions under which a tree or vine will see fit to reproduce itself. Only nature produces fruit, and even though modern fruit has been manipulated to some extent, it is not fake and it alone has the potential to fulfill our nutritional needs even in its imperfect state. Human-cultivated food is not artificial food any more than an artificially inseminated baby is an artificial human.  The body doesn’t require perfection, only adequacy.

Our acceptance of the idea that we must eat things we don’t like reveals our weaknesses, emotional dependence on outside “experts” and our lack of faith in nature. There aren’t even two nutrition gurus in the world who agree on everything, and this is a sign that none of them has the whole truth. If we think experts know more about what our bodies need than our bodies themselves, we are lost. Where do we allow our senses, logic and real evidence to rule, and where do we ignore these in favor of “expert” advice?  That’s the slippery slope we step on when we decide to toss out the laws of nature.

Even with all our modern advances, there is no replacement for the system of food selection that nature gave us. Allow your taste buds to do their magnificent work, and when they say “no, thanks”, listen. There is nothing to fear.

Kind wishes,



10 thoughts on “Do We Need to Eat Greens?

  1. Nora,
    You say “nobody…is approaching this issue,” but I say, “You are!” I can’t wait for the day that your voice is heard by the masses. Even if those “masses” are only the greater rawfood community. Having read your website and group posts over the years has helped me to think clearer about what the so-called gurus are touting.
    Thank you for your consistency and thoroughness in what you teach.
    Kim D.

  2. Dear Nora,
    I was a subscriber to Living Nutrition magazine when this question and answer article was published. I ate it up and swallowed it. But when I first started reading your Yahoo group posts, I immediately begin to see things differently. Thank you for re-posting this. You have my permission to re-post this as often as you care. It takes time to get un-educated about nutritional needs.
    Tim Griffin

  3. Hi Nora – this has to be the most intelligent, comprehensive and unbiased writing on eating greens that I’ve ever read!! Fantastic work!!

  4. your writings continue to ring truth for me…thank you, from the land of durian abundance, Philippines this is DurianDarrick

  5. Thanks Nora
    I actually “crave” greens as much as fruits. And so did craved greens during my entire life, long before I became raw. I love eating lettuces, rocket..etc
    I wonder if some other people feels the same?

    1. Hi Ar,
      Thanks for leaving your comment. Yes, it’s true that greens can be very appealing to some people and not to others, and this is sometimes interpreted to mean that we all need different foods. However, cravings for greens can be more or less pathological, because these foods can help alkalize an acidic (toxic) bloodstream. I find that if I overeat acidic fruit like grapefruits, oranges or pineapple, I get very strong cravings for celery. In the end, cravings for any food should not be confused with real hunger and even though greens may serve to palliate the conditions produced by overeating or other dietary mistakes, cravings for them should be understood as an attempt by the body to re-acquire homeostasis or chemical balance, and not a legitimate or long-term requirement. True hunger never requires a specific food or even specific type of food.

  6. Hello Nora
    Thanks for your response
    I do believe we are biologically adapted to thrive on fruits and vegetables. I even like eating a Romaine lettuce much more than an apple and I even enjoy eating greens much more than other fruits at times. It is as simple as that. We want it, we need it!
    We can’t get all the necessary minerals from fruits alone, every single nutritional advise on the planet says so, including the heavy weights of the raw movement, such as Dr. Graham
    If people don’t like greens, its only a matter of re educating taste, no big deal.
    thanks again!

    1. Ar,
      It doesn’t matter if everyone on earth *believes* (as opposed to knows) a false idea. Consensus doesn’t influence truth one iota. I think you missed the point of my reply, which was to say that “cravings” for greens is not legitimate hunger. Wanting and needing are not equivalent. Even though the consumption of greens may suppress the effects of other dietary mistakes, the desire for them should not be interpreted to mean that humans cannot live (and thrive) on fruit alone. Not liking greens requires no “re-education” as there is no harm in not eating them. .Nobody who claims otherwise is using anything approaching real evidence to support their contention. If you haven’t already read the essay on my website about raw fooders and the issue of nutrient deficiency, it may be helpful as it illustrates how adherence to belief systems (like the one created by modern nutritional pseudo-science, after which the new faux science of raw foodism has been modeled) can lead a person away from the truth, nature and his/her own body. No other animal on earth has to be advised about what to eat. If you want greens, eat them, by all means. But it behooves you to understand WHY you crave greens, and also to be open to the possibility that by improving your diet you could permanently discard the harmful habit of eating in response to false cravings and desires for specific foods rather than hunger (which is not food specific). Hunger is the only legitimate reason to eat.
      Thanks for the discussion.

  7. […] Do We Need to Eat Greens?, Nora Lenz, […]

Comments are closed.