Saturday 19 May 2012

Paleo and fruitarian lifestyles have a lot in common

My new fitness trainer eats a lot of fruit. And she looks darn healthy. Now I know, you should not take weight-training advice from a professional body builder or risk serious overtraining, but still I was intrigued and did some research. The vegan and paleo communities are often not on friendly terms. Thus what struck me most researching fruitarian blogs, was how similar many of the ideas were.

A very strict fruitarian only eats fruits in the common meaning, sweet and juicy fruits from trees or bushes. Others also include vegetable fruits such as avocados, tomatoes and cucumbers, still others also include nuts, many regularly eat salad. To get sufficient calories from fruits, a fruitarian has to eat several kilograms of fruit. Some people calling themselves fruitarians actually get most calories from nuts and avocados. In this post fruitarians are people getting most calories from simple carbohydrates, that is from sweet fruits.

The paleolithic lifestyle is inspired by the way people lived before agriculture. As the information from the Paleolithic Age is scarce, in praxis this often means, that existing hunter gatherers and their diets and lifestyles are studied. Such bands often trade with nearby agriculturalists and thus no longer live a true stone-age life. Still as long as they are free from the deceases of civilisation, they provide good role models in my view. Similarly, many paleos also look at other existing cultures that are in good health. In this respect the paleo community is close to the Weston A Price Foundation, who seek guidance with how people lived a few generations ago. The paleo diet is best defined by what it not eaten: processed foods, grains, sugar and refined seed oils.


The most important resemblance is that fruitarians by definition also do not eat processed foods (fruit German, paleo), grains (fruit German, paleo), sugar and refined seed oils.

Both communities practice intermittent fasting fruit, paleo), that is they skip a meal, only eat in the evening or do not eat for a day once in a while. Intermittent fasting is a great training for your fat metabolism and can improve health in many ways.

Furthermore, both groups warn against eating too little calories and promise weight loss without hunger or calorie restriction. The fruitarians are most vocal in this point as you have to eat a lot to get sufficient energy from fruit.

More in detail: both groups like coconuts (fruit German, paleo).

Not only the diet is similar, also the rest of the life style has similarities. For example, both groups like vigorous exercise. Where this term may be used differently; fruitarians would associate it with long runs and bike tours, while paleos think more of weight and sprint training. Both communities stress the need for rest and sleep to recover after sport. Regular sun bathing is advocated to improve vitamin D levels and to prevent sunburns (fruit German, paleo)


The clearest difference can also be stated in a positive way: both communities believe that the combination of fats and carbs is not a good idea. The paleos stress that this combination leads to weight gain. The fruitarians emphasise that too much fats hampers the digestion of fruits and leads to bloating. Believers in variability could also solve this conflict by not eating fats and carbs in the same meal, or on the same day.

Both groups are enthusiastic about the advantages of their diet and report rapid health improvement in the first weeks. For the fruitarians, I found more comments of people, where the benefits lasted only weeks or months and problems occurred later on. Also in the paleo community, you do not hear that many comments of people who have been paleo for a long time (the bloggers themselves do follow the diet longer). Still the number of comments that the diet did not work is limited. Thus, maybe these people are simply satisfied, diet and health is no longer an issue and they no longer comment.

In both groups there are people having trouble sticking to the diet. I have the feeling this happens more for the fruitarians. Fruitarians with health problems are often scolded for not sticking to the diet exactly. Partial implementation of the paleo recommendations still seems to bring partial benefits and people are given friendly advice on how to make adherence easier. A main paleo blogger, Mark Sisson, stresses that it is sufficient to stick to the rules only 80 percent.

As a scientist, I noticed that the relation to science is also strikingly different. The fruitarians suggest that mainstream nutrition is on their side and do not put much effort into founding their claims in science. If claims are based on science, it is typically an observational study, but mainly they are based on personal experience. The relation of the paleo community is quite paradox. They are highly critical of mainstream science, observational studies and the standard nutritional advice. On the other hand, they reason in a quite scientific way and make an effort to base their ideas on experimental studies and bio-chemistry.


A typical argument from the high-carb crowd is found in this comment by Adam:
Essentially, because the body uses carbohydrates preferentially as a source of fuel (an indication that our evolutionary diet must have predominated in carbohydrates), ...
I would argue that the body uses carbohydrates as source of fuel first because we cannot store it well. The glycogen store is important for intensive movements because carbs can be burned without much oxygen, but it is very limited in size. The glycogen store is probably limited because the energy density of fat is higher than of carbohydrates. Thus, I would expect that even a carnivore would burn carbohydrates preferentially and from this fact you cannot determine which macronutrient is the best fuel.

I did not find any argument for eating only raw foods, but also eating raw foods may be a good idea. Variability probably provides more nutrients.

Ward Nicholson sees a fruitarian diet as not healthy in the long term. He mentions that an exception may be people who define fruit very broadly and include nuts, vegetables or even hen-fruit (eggs). He then goes on to complain, why these people still call themselves fruitarians and not simply vegetarian and suggests fruitarians feel themselves to be superior over normal vegetarians.

I would argue that it at least makes sense to distinguish the fruitarian from a vegetarian or vegan diet. Most of the fruitarians were (raw) vegans before they converted to fruitarians and report that their health improved by this change. From a paleo perspective, one would expect that these improvements are due to dropping grains, refined oils and possible too much nuts. Those fruitarians that use a very liberal definition of fruits, still do not eat grains and refined seed oils, they noticed that difference and this difference warrants another name. How about paleo vegan?

Intermittent fruitarian experiment

A vegetarian diet can be sustainable health wise, but a vegan diet is an unproven, new diet. That is too much an experiment for me. However, trying the fruitarian diet for a short period should be save and an interesting experiment. It could be a good training for your carbohydrate metabolism.

Thus as an experiment, I planned to eat only fruits for a week. I made it one day. Eating 5 large bananas in one sitting was quite challenging and the next day I did not feel like eating fruit at all. Thus I changed my strategy and now eat a fruit meal about every other day for the last four weeks.

Advantage: my metabolism is much higher, I am often glowing, especially my legs, especially after sports and especially at night. It is mostly a pleasant glow, but I may have to stop this in the middle of the summer or risk overheating.

Disadvantage: some bloating, especially at the beginning, and having to pee at night more. Furthermore, I have gained one or two kilos. No idea yet whether this is water, muscle or fat and thus how to judge this. Even if it is fat, I can just go back to my old diet, fast a few days intermittently and my weight will be back. No stress. Some paleos report problems with fruit and say that it leads them to eat more other carbs and gain weight. For me, even large amounts of fruit seem to be harmless.

Personal conclusions

If you do not feel well on a vegan diet, which may include lots of gains, refined oils, soya and industrial substitute products, changing to a fruitarian diet is probably a good idea. This way you can try an almost paleo diet without ethical problems. If it works well for you, you may want to consider going to a paleo vegetarian diet by adding eggs, cream and butter. A little bit of meat and especially offal would make the diet even healthier in my view. Most people do not want to eat
offal, thus it is cheap, basically no animal is butchered additionally and it contains many important nutrients. There is no need to make it a high meat diet. If you have problems with your mood, immunity or teeth, notice a decrease in strength or weight problems, please do not be too proud and try another diet and lifestyle.

When you begin with a paleo diet it may be best to refrain from fruit so that your body learns to burn fat. However, once you are healthy, I would recommend paleos to try fruit and see what happens. A more diverse diet can never hurt; if only as an option for a hotel breakfast. Fruit is probably best eaten after a workout with some protein or as a 100% fruit meal.

My advice to all others would be to look at what these two diets have in common and maybe try a diet without grains, sugar and refined oils. Try it for a month and see how your body reacts. It's a save bet, there is nothing essential about grains, sugar and refined oils. If you'd like also eat some coconut, try intermittent fasting and regularly get some sun and movement.

More information

In a similar vein




More paleo posts

The paleo culture
After the Ancestral Health Symposium 2012, as discussion started about the sometimes self-centred culture of the paleo community
Natural cures for asthma?
Some ideas for natural ways, which helped me cure my asthma.
Sleep and diversity
Differences in sleeping times, from early bird to night owls, may provide security advantages.
Is obesity bias evolutionary?
A critical comment on an article, which states that humans have an intrinsic propensity to eat too much.
Freedom to learn
Forcing children to learn stifles their innate motivation to teach themselves and may thus be counter productive.


  1. Great post! I have experimented off and on with a Fruitarian diet and am back on it again. I have found that I need to eat a lot of fruit to keep myself happy. Today for lunch I ate half a watermelon and a banana. Though the quantity seems large, it isn't too big and leaves me feeling full(which is very important to me). I hope fruitarianism does not hurt me in the long run, as I would like to think that it is the right(both humane and healthy) way to eat.

    1. Thanks.

      Great nick. I love my VivoBarefoot shoes and wear them all the time. Improved my gait and I no longer have problems with a sleeping toe. Many people only wear minimal sport shoes, but most of the time you are not doing sports.

      Experimenting off and on with a Fruitarian diet is likely healthy for many. Especially if you come from a SAD or a high nut diet, you will probably notice clear health improvements.

      I think it is no coincidence that only so little people are able to stick with the diet long term. On the long term many people will get deficiencies and a lower metabolism and your body will signal you to eat more other stuff. Be prepared to stop if you no longer feel good on the diet and do not keep on it because it worked so well in the beginning. Times change.

      Half a melon and a banana does not sound like much to me. Especially for an athlete. Did you ever compute the number of calories it provides?

  2. Victor,

    Thanks for the link! It was enjoyable reading your thoughts on being a Fruitarian for a week. As a long term approach to eating a well-balanced diet, Fruitarian diets do have their limitations. Don't all "diets?" I believe the most positive piece of knowledge we can borrow from being a Fruitarian is that everyone should eat more fruit. Specifically, fresh and local fruit when possible.

    From my research, most Fruitarian athletes stick to eating a majority of different melons due to their abundance of water, size, and overall less amounts of sugar.

    Adding a variety of fruits is most effective way to eat a nutritionally healthier diet. Of course, this depends on what your fitness goals are. A lot of people that speak badly about eating fruit are speaking from a different standpoint than the majority of people ever need to be concerned with. The truth is we should eat more fruit to get the sugar our body craves than eating processed junk foods and soda.

    From my own experience, eating fruit for breakfast is an amazing way to start the day and kickstarts the sugar our body needs most after a long night of rest.

    Great read. Keep up the good work!

    1. You are welcome! Pointing people to good stuff is one of the values of a good post. I especially liked your undogmatic rules:

      Everyone’s body works in different ways. Find out which foods raise your vitality, your life force and feel good vibration. Eat foods that make you feel great. For me, it’s dark leafy greens, raw vegetables, and fruit.

      There is no such thing as the perfect diet: our bodies are constantly changing; therefore, our nutritional needs will always vary. Stop trying to conform to a particular diet or eating trend and focus on eating healthy nutritious foods all the time.

      I don't know if all diets have limitations, at least in the sense that you are missing something. Personally, I have no problems with cravings or "falling of the wagon".

      Maybe also because I am not too dogmatic about it. In the beginning of my paleo diet, I did eat less carbs than nowadays, but I would say also the relatively high carb version (relative to the "gurus") is within the large range determined by our enormous ignorance and person differences.

      The only limitation of the diet may be social gatherings, where it is part of the fun to eat pink slime, green fluorescent jello and so on. :-)


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