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I’ve come across a lot of diets over the last 10 years and many of them seem to miss out on important nutrients or have serious imbalances which can cause some health issues if maintained over a long time.
When we judge whether or not a diet is working for us, we’ll usually just look at the physical changes in our body and not pay much attention to anything else. When eating a very low-calorie diet, you should make sure that you pay extra attention to the nutrients you are getting to avoid deficiencies. For calorie restriction to work, this is very important.
Slight deficiencies over the long-term can cause increased rates of disease; they usually don’t kill you immediately.
Deficiencies and imbalances
As a raw foodist and a vegan, I’ve had to adjust my diet slightly, as well as use targeted supplementation to protect against deficiencies and imbalances. Taking a multivitamin might also be useful for some people who are just starting the diet.
Unfortunately, in the raw food community – which is growing in popularity – some people are being very ignorant when it comes to these potential hazards.
Zinc deficiency on a vegan diet because of too much copper
Zinc and copper are two minerals in the diet which compete at the same sites for absorption in the gut, so getting too much of one can throw out of balance and cause a secondary deficiency. On a raw food diet, copper is usually abundant in plant foods, so we get plenty of that. Zinc, on the other hand, is more difficult to consume without supplementing.
It’s not uncommon to get 4 – 5 mg of copper on a raw food diet. Ideally, you should try to aim for a Zn to Cu ratio between 8:1 to 10:1. This means that you will need to aim for 8 – 10 mg of zinc, for every 1 mg of copper in your diet.
Getting these ratios correct is important because it can have significant effects on your health if there is an imbalance. Achieving the correct ratio is important because elevated copper and low zinc levels will increase the burden of oxidative stress in the body, by decreasing levels of superoxide dismutase, which is responsible for the redox reaction or dismutation of superoxide free radicals into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide.
These enzymes are part of the intracellular and extracellular antioxidant defense systems in the body and are important for protecting against diseases like cancer. Zinc is also involved in many catalytic activities that involve 200 enzymes. It also plays a significant role in DNA synthesis, cell division, wound healing, immune function and also prevents accelerated aging.
Any imbalance here with zinc and copper can very easily be corrected with supplementation. So if you have to supplement, please do it.
Signs of zinc deficiency will not show up right away: one symptom that I developed myself was dry or rough hands. Other symptoms like a poor immune system, skin problems, hair loss and more can also show up. I’ve known a few people eating diets which are mainly plant-based who’ve had these problems and corrected them when they started to supplement.
Some quick tips and things to watch out for
Garlic can enhance the absorption of Zinc: Taking garlic with your food can significantly increase the bioavailability of zinc by 10 to 70 percent.
Other potential deficiencies on a raw food vegan diet: B12, calcium, and iron can also be difficult to get on a plant-based diet. Unlike Zinc, these can be easily tested for, so get blood work done and supplement where necessary. I personally take a vitamin B12 supplement called Methylcobalamin, and I choose my sources of calcium wisely! Kale has more bioavailable calcium than spinach! So remember, even if your CRON-O-METER shows up that you met the recommended daily allowance (RDI), you still can be low in some minerals.
Eat a diverse range of foods: This is one way to ensure that you are getting proper nutrition and all the protective compounds in plant foods. There are many types of fruits and vegetables which provide unique phytochemicals that are very beneficial to your health and longevity.
One of the reasons I think eating a strict fruitarian diet is bad is because fruits have never been shown to be more beneficial than vegetables. Vegetables are much more nutrient dense than fruits. Fruits can provide you with a lot of calories, but you get fewer vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
The aim is simple: Get the most nutrients in the fewest amount of calories possible. A low-calorie diet should ideally meet all vitamins, minerals, fatty acids with diet alone. If you can’t do that, then don’t be afraid to supplement with a multivitamin.
I’m no longer a strong proponent of taking a huge amount of supplements unless there is a specific disease or problem which can be prevented by them. A sensible and targeted supplement will help you in creating a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, a lot of people miss things on the diet because they didn’t have the right information or were misinformed by others, and have led to serious health issues. These can be easily avoided by doing some basic research and acknowledging the weaknesses of the diet.
1. Gautam S1, Platel K, Srinivasan K. Higher bioaccessibility of iron and zinc from food grains in the presence of garlic and onion. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jul 28;58(14):8426-9. doi: 10.1021/jf100716t.
2. Josko Osredkar and Natasa Sustar
Copper and Zinc, Biological Role and Significance of Copper/Zinc
Article reviewed and updated: February 2019.