An apple a day, yes, but all day long?
When Joe Bernstein meets friends for a dinner out, he knows ahead of time that there will be nothing on the menu for him to eat.
"They do accommodate me, though," he said. "I just ask for a dish of sliced avocado."
You could say that Bernstein is mad about fruit. He is a fruitarian, or frugivore, and he adheres to a lifestyle that is a niche within a subset of vegetarianism. Bernstein, who lives in New York City, eats only raw fruit, a diet that includes some nuts and non-sweet fruit like avocado and tomato. A typical day of meals may include sunflower seeds with a few servings of fruit, such as pears or plums, for breakfast; a coconut shake with bananas for lunch; and Brazil nuts with tomatoes and avocado for dinner.
"I'm not too elaborate in the kitchen," Bernstein said. "I usually just eat whole pieces of fruit to keep it simple."
For the typical, omnivorous American, it's hard to believe that he isn't starving to death.
Yet Bernstein, who is a healthy 145 pounds and 5 feet 10, insists that his all-fruit diet is completely satisfying.
"It gives me a feeling of higher energy, less fatigue and more endurance," Bernstein said. "A feeling that I won't be zonked if I miss a couple of meals."
The reasons people turn to fruitarianism vary. For some, like Bernstein, the motivation centers on conservation. Fruits fall from trees or vines naturally, and it isn't necessary to kill the plant or take away from the earth to make a meal.
Others, like Dan McDonald, do it for the physical result, which he says manifests itself in a spiritual way. McDonald, who was a body-builder for 10 years before becoming a raw food advocate, says that it's important to experiment to figure out what is best for the body.
"I tore myself to shreds with body-building and now I'm in the process of healing myself," said McDonald, a New Yorker. Because he is testing out different diets, he steams vegetables at times, but said he is striving toward his ideal of becoming a frugivore.
Robert Dyckman, who founded Acting Consciously, also feels that his food choices yield a change beyond physical appearance.
“Emotionally I’m calm and poised,” said Dyckman, who blogs about his diet at actingconsciously.blogspot.com. “I can empathize with others much easier.”
Dyckman volunteers as a leader at the Raw Health and Happiness Society, which meets weekly and serves as a “safe and supportive environment for self-growth,” he said. Dyckman, who said that he hasn’t been sick in seven years, said that his diet did not alienate him from his non-fruitarian friends.
“I love parties,” Dyckman said. “And I love to get together with my friends, and that doesn’t necessarily require eating ... and if there’s food involved, I have the opportunity to share gorgeous organic produce with my friends.”
Unlike Dyckman and Bernstein, McDonald sees fruitarianism as a phase of detoxification, rather than a permanent lifestyle choice. After the healing process is complete, he believes he can have the occasional baked potato or maybe even some meat as he strives for a sense of balance.
McDonald still runs into some awkward situations. "What about Grandma's turkey on Thanksgiving?" he asked. "It's filled with love, and she wants you to eat it." Still, McDonald admitted that he physically feels the dinnertime compromise.
"The next day, I don't feel as well," McDonald said.
McDonald is the co-founder of True Radiant Health, which offers services to people who want to try a raw food diet, and he touts fruitarianism as a preventative measure for cancer as well as a medication for those who have already received diagnoses.
According to the American Cancer Society, a vegetarian diet includes “many health-promoting features.” Research shows that diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been linked to a lower risk of lung, oral, esophageal, stomach and colon cancer. Yet the society also warns, “Strict vegetarian diets that avoid all animal products, including milk and eggs, should be supplemented with Vitamin B12, zinc and iron (especially for children and premenopausal women).”
According to Martha Muehe, who has been a raw foodist since 1999, her diet has alleviated most of her health problems, including her flawed eyesight.
"I no longer have symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypoglycemia, migraines, allergies, sinusitis, post-nasal drip, bronchitis, etc." Muehe said. "My eyes have gone from 40/20 to 30/20 as of last year."
Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, has had a number of clients ask her about the fruitarian diet. While Sass is a vegan – meaning that she eats no animal products at all – she has concerns about a strict fruitarian diet and, like the cancer society, recommends a Vitamin B12 supplement. The amount of nuts that a fruitarian would have to ingest to fulfill a protein requirement would exceed the fat allotment for the day, according to Sass.
Fruitarians who experience a sense of improved health may feel an enhanced well-being because their pre-fruitarian diets were so unwholesome, Sass said. A fruitarian who begins to eat food rich in beta-carotene, for example, may experience improved eyesight, but may be lacking other vitamins and minerals.
“They’re filling in a gap that they had previously, but they’re creating a whole bunch of other gaps,” Sass said, adding that along with Vitamin B, calcium is hard to come by on a fruitarian, as well as vegan, diet.
Some dietitians have expressed concern with the potential for fruitarians to become sugar addicts, a problem that Aimee Cavenecia, an aspiring fruitarian in New York, does not worry about.
"People can be addicted to love, to meat, to exercise," Cavenecia said. "I would rather be addicted to something cleansing than something toxic."
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