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Bliss on ‘banana island’

COMMITTED: Gabby Vinden swears by the benefits of fruitarianism. Picture: Max Mason-HubersFOR the whole month of April, Gabby Vinden is eating bananas. She estimates she’s going to consume 600 bananas over the 30 days. Bananas for breakfast, bananas for lunch, bananas for dinner, bananas for snacks. The banana detox is known as ‘‘banana island’’. Sounds enough to make you go bananas, but Vinden says she feels amazing.
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‘‘I have been feeling energetic, clear-headed, vibrant, happy and focused,’’ she says. ‘‘I also feel more in touch with my emotion whenever I do banana island as I am not eating anything stimulating to distract me.’’

Vinden is part of the growing trend of veganism in Australia, with around 1per cent of all respondents identifying themselves as vegan, according to a Newspoll survey conducted in 2010. Veganism is loosely defined as living without using animal products – no meat, no dairy and in most cases, no honey.

However, Vinden is not your typical vegan. She follows what is known as the 80/10/10 diet – a version of veganism that prescribes solely fruit and uncooked vegetables. A typical day in the life of Vinden’s stomach includes half a watermelon for breakfast, 10 bananas or five mangoes for lunch, and four-person portion of salad or uncooked vegetable version of ‘‘pasta’’ (made of spiralised zucchini) for dinner.

‘‘How to describe what we eat is fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruits and vegetables,” she says.

‘‘A sustainable raw food diet is one that you get the bulk of your calories from fruits and you have lots of vegetables for their high mineral content.’’

Vinden decided to go vegetarian four years ago for environmental reasons, but her lifestyle quickly eventuated into full-blown veganism after coming across studies that suggested dairy can be detrimental to health.

She discovered the teachings of Dr Doug Graham, one of the pioneers of the raw food diet and author of The 80/10/10 Diet, while browsing vegan forums online. Dr Graham’s recipe for good health is 80per cent carbohydrate, 10per cent protein and 10per cent fat – all of which, Dr Graham asserts, can be found in a diet consisting only of raw fruits and vegetables.

‘‘Are dairy, meat, and grain-based foods supportive of human health? Absolutely not,’’ he says.

‘‘There are no finer health foods than whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are the best choices for human nutrition and for overall health.’’

Vinden is currently studying a bachelor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle. But Vinden has found Dr Graham’s beliefs surrounding the links between western diseases and cooked, processed food far more enlightening and convincing than her tertiary studies.

‘‘What I learn at uni is not compatible at all with my [raw vegan] lifestyle,’’ she says.

‘‘I think when I’m giving out nutritional information I don’t want people to think ‘Oh, she’s just some far out, raw hippy that doesn’t know the science’. But I don’t believe in a lot of stuff that’s taught at uni.’’

Last year, she decided to defer a semester of university and jet over to the United States to attend 2013 Woodstock Fruit Festival – an annual week-long festival celebrating the fruitarian diet.

Now in it’s fourth year, the festival attracted over 600 raw foodies from all over the world, including Dr Graham.

‘‘It’s this fruit festival with 24-hour fruit buffets and all the pioneers of the lifestyle do lectures and talks, there are athletic events and classes,’’

‘‘As a vegan living in Newcastle, there aren’t that many of us and you’re often the odd one out, so it was really cool to be surrounded by fellow raw foodies.’’

But how healthy can a diet that consists solely of one food group be? Vinden says she feels ‘‘amazing’’ since adopting the diet. ‘‘I started to feel better pretty much instantly. Initially I found I never got bloated from anything I ate and my energy just started skyrocketing straight away because everything I was eating was so easy to digest. I became a lot more regular, no cravings for unhealthy food because I’m just always carbed-up and feeling great and really clear headed,’’ she says.

Dr Graham agrees.

‘‘For me, the biggest benefits have included profound mental clarity, dramatic memory improvement, unexpected athletic longevity, reduced need for sleep, easy weight management, vastly improved emotional poise, and great energy throughout every day,’’ he says.

‘‘I have seen people heal from almost every known condition and disease simply by following the 80/10/10 diet and lifestyle.’’

Many dietitians and nutritionists aren’t convinced however, labelling the diet ‘‘extreme’’, ‘‘restrictive’’ and even ‘‘dangerous’’. Trent Watson, dietician at Ethos Health, suggests moderation rather than isolation is the path to optimum health. ‘‘As a dietitian having seen a lot of people try and follow an extreme diet, especially those eliminating whole food groups, most experience some sort of nutritional deficiency. If she’s not having a complement of the five core food groups, she will be nutritionally deficient,’’ he says.

‘‘We do ingest too much meat and dairy generally. My advice would be strive for a diet with an energy balance and consume all the food groups in moderation … Moderation is the key,’’ he says.

Vinden disagrees. She believes moderation is a myth perpetuated by the meat and dairy industries in order to exploit their agenda.

‘‘It’s all very corrupt. A lot of people on the nutritional boards who are writing out dietary guidelines have links to these major industry corporations,’’ she suggests.

Dr Graham also believes the meat and dairy industry operate under a financial agenda, rather than a consideration of the nutrition of the masses.

‘‘They have creatively gone about this business over the years, using political clout, intensive advertising campaigns, and even donating millions of books to the nation’s public schools, books promoting their agenda through a slanted view of nutrition,’’ he says.

However, from a dietitian’s point of view, Watson is sceptical.

‘‘If you take a good look into guidelines, you’ll find they are supported by a body of scientific evidence, not just one or two studies, and recommendations are set by that body of evidence,’’ he argues.

Vinden says she would like to see a worldwide shift in attitudes towards adopting sustainable methods of consumption, which she believes is in line with the raw vegan ethos.

‘‘There’s literally no waste involved in eating a raw diet. All the fruit and vegetable scraps go back into the earth and create beautiful rich compost which obviously goes back into the soil to help grow more fruit and vegetables,’’ she says.

‘‘I think the whole world should go raw vegan. It’s definitely the most sustainable and healthy way to live.’’

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