For those who aren’t already familiar with the Raw till 4 diet (coined by prominent YouTuber Freelee the Banana Girl), it is a popular plant-based diet consisting of a large fruit-based meal for breakfast and lunch (1000 calories/ 4,184kJ + each) and a large cooked starch-based meal for dinner, such as 1.5kg potatoes (baked without oil) with a low sodium sweet chilli sauce and cos lettuce, or 300g (uncooked weight) gluten-free corn pasta with a low-sodium tomato sauce.
The diet avoids salt and oils, and promotes an intake of ‘unlimited calories’ from carbohydrate-rich foods (including fruits, starchy vegetables, gluten-free pasta and noodles, white rice).
While the diet has some nutritional benefits, it’s not a diet that I would recommend, for reasons I will outline below.
For the record, I think Freebee’s heart is in the right place by devoting her life to the promotion of plant-based diets, but the Dietitian in me can’t get past the nutritional shortfalls of the diet.
I also have nothing against raw vegan diets, as they can be nutritious when appropriately planned (as all diets need to be!). If you’re interested in going on a raw vegan diet, I highly recommend the book Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets by renowned vegan dietitians Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.
To provide objectivity, I analysed a sample day on the diet consisting of:
Smoothie made with 10x medium ripe bananas, water, and a few Medjool dates
6x large mangoes
1.5kg potatoes, baked with cos lettuce and sweet chilli sauce to serve
To clarify, the diet does meet the protein requirements (providing around 60g) of the average Australian woman (which is a common misconception of the diet).
To begin with, these are what I consider to be the benefits of the Raw till 4 diet:
1. The diet is a whole food, plant-based diet filled with minimally-processed foods, and it encourages people to follow a vegan diet and lifestyle
2. Nutritionally, the diet is very low in sodium, total fat, saturated fat and free from cholesterol, and high in vitamin C, magnesium, folate, potassium and dietary fibre. It is also very high in disease-fighting phytonutrients such as carotenoids and lycopene, which have well-documented health benefits
However, I have the following concerns about the diet:
1. The diet is promoted as a ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition. The recommendations for meal sizes and daily energy intake (i.e. total calories/kilojoules) do not take into account people’s individual needs. For example - a woman who weighs 50kg, is 1.55m tall and does sedentary office work has very different energy requirements to a woman who weighs 70kg, is 1.8m tall and does 60 minutes of high intensity exercise each day.
2. Nutritional concerns: the diet is very low in calcium - the sample day I analysed came back with less than 200mg (the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for adults in Australia is 1000mg), as fruits are a poor source of dietary calcium. There are many calcium-rich vegetables (such as kale and Asian greens), but these don’t seem to feature in the diet. Vegans are not immune to osteoporosis and bone fractures - this study showed that vegans with calcium intakes less than 525mg were at an increased risk of fractures compared to omnivores and vegetarians.
Although maintaining a very low sodium intake and not eating animal protein does theoretically reduce human calcium requirements (which you can read about here), less than 200mg is below what humans need to stay in positive calcium balance, and would result in the body drawing on calcium stored in the skeleton. Although calcium isn’t the only dietary or lifestyle factor which is important in maintaining bone mineral density (regular exercise and vitamin D are also implicated), it’s arguably the most important.
The sample day I analysed was also very low in iodine, which is required for thyroid function (as the thyroid hormones contain atoms of iodine) and is critically important for women who fall pregnant. In Australia, fruits and vegetables are poor sources of dietary iodine, and plant-based sources are limited to iodised salt, fortified breads (with added iodised salt) and edible seaweeds, none of which are included in the diet.
As with iodine, the soil in Australia is low in selenium (another nutrient required for thyroid function), which also fell short in my nutrient analysis. Brazil nuts are a very good source of selenium – just 2 nuts per day will provide the RDI for this nutrient.
The sample day I analysed also didn’t meet the adult requirement for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3s (0.7mg; the Adequate Intake (AI) amount is 0.8g/day for a woman, 1.3g/day for a man). Omega-3s are an essential fatty acid, which means they can’t be made in the body and must be taken in through the diet.
3. The diet doesn’t include the legumes on a daily basis. In my professional opinion, I believe legumes are an important part of plant-based diets, as they are rich in iron, zinc and the essential amino acid lysine (which is low in grains, fruits and vegetables). Aside from that, they have numerous health benefits relating to the their unique dietary fibre content (which feeds beneficial gut bacteria and keeps the large bowel healthy) and impressive phytonutrient content.
4. Adding to point 2, the diet doesn’t showcase the enormous variety of plant-based whole foods, such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables. I believe plant-based diets should celebrate the diversity of plant foods by incorporating a range of these different foods on a daily basis.
5. The diet promotes the consumption of refined grains (such as white rice and noodles) and products (such as corn pasta) over whole grain alternatives, which have well-studied health benefits.
6. Freelee often is often seen adding coconut sugar to fruit smoothies in her videos which I just can’t see any logical reason for. Her rationale is to increase the carbohydrate content, but I don’t think this is the best way of going about adding carbohydrates to the diet, as sugar has little nutritional value.
There are many more aspects of the diet I could delve deeper into, but I’ve decided to keep this short and just limit it to a few salient points.
What do you think? Have you tried the Raw Till 4 diet? Feel free to leave a comment below sharing your experiences.