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Fruitarianism – myth, mirth, or magic?

Fruitarians believe in living off fruit exclusively. The question however is, what is the definition here of “fruit”? And how well can one live off one food group only? By Gerrit Rautenbach

During the last part of the 20th century, Tim Noakes, then professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town, was a staunch believer in the importance of carbohydrates in a good diet for us humans. Read all about carbo-loading in his first edition of Lore of running. Early in the 21st century, however, he shocked the world with his new book, The Real Meal Revolution, in which carbs (and therefore sugar) gets the chop. This means fruit is not a major player in his eating recommendations for the Banting diet that this new belief of his is advocating. Which means fruitarians will not be Noakes disciples.

It also illustrates that the human race’s outlook on healthy eating is a seriously varied and evolving subject. Never a dull moment. Are eggs, ok? More? Less? None? What about fish? Meat, veggies? Atkins telling you to eat meat almost exclusively. Do we eat nuts? Jip, ok, but not peanuts. Are we vegetarian, vegan, cooked or only raw? Or are we nuts? Doughnuts?

But what if we want to be fruitarians and only eat fruit? Then you must first clarify what “only fruit” really means. It seems that people living as fruitarians are redefining fruit away from its common definition, being soft, pulpy, sweet, and juicy fruits from trees or vines, to also include “vegetable fruits” such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. as well as “oily fruits” (avocados, coconuts, olives …) and then the somewhat nutty definition of “nut fruits”. Botanically speaking, all these foods can be considered fruits, so at a stretch, all the above are technically on a fruitarian’s menu.

Quite a lot of famous people were, or are still, fruitarians. No, Keith Richards is everything but one of them, while Mick Jagger is a cranberry junky. Both will turn 80 this year. Probably the most famous of all was Steve Jobs. One can’t help to wonder what came first. Did he become a fruitarian because he was co-founder of Apple, or did he call it Apple because he was a fruitarian? (A bit like the chicken/egg situation, but those terms are not permissible in this article.)

Then there is movie star Ashton Kutcher who portrayed Steve Jobs in the 2013 movie Jobs. To do a good job on Jobs, Kutcher intensely studied and implemented the Apple co-founder’s behaviours, including his unusual eating habits. Although Jobs died of pancreatic cancer and Kutcher ended up with pancreatitis, medically it is not a fact that excessive amounts of fruit cause pancreatic problems. However, eating fruit only could lead to nutrient deficiencies and health complications as well as possibly raising blood sugar levels and affecting insulin sensitivity, depending on the individual.

Like vegans, fruitarians are often motivated via a spiritual angle to eat natural foodstuffs only. They don’t want to kill to eat and some extreme fruitarians (is that a tautology?) will only eat fruit that fell off a tree. Or some won’t eat fruit that was sprayed to help keep it happy and healthy. Au natural, they reckon. Like Ayelet Alfasia and Dima Gaysinski, a couple who became fruitarians five years ago and along the way decided to go the whole hog … um, rather …the whole way.  They discarded all forms of soap as well as their clothes. They reckon they don’t have any form of body odour and all headaches, tooth decay and other issues like bloating and so on are all gone. Dima says he will soon not need his spectacles anymore. Fruit is better than carrots, apparently.

Probably the ultimate spiritual fruitarian was the Indian political and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi. He was brought up a strict vegetarian and sustained the “fruit only” diet for five years. He apparently discontinued the diet due to a condition of pleurisy and went back to vegetarianism. “The basis of my vegetarianism is not physical, but moral. If anybody said that I should die if I did not take beef or mutton, even on medical advice, I would prefer death.” He didn’t go that far on fruit only.

Then, probably one of the most unlikely fruitarians of all time was (sic) “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. Clearly quite a (fruit) basket case. Idi became a fruitarian while in exile in Saudi Arabia and apparently ate such an exorbitant amount of Jaffa oranges it earned him the nickname, Dr Jaffa. He died of kidney failure in 2003. Fruit for thought?

However, the most famous fruitarian back home in SA was Tannie Essie Honiball who lived the diet to its fullest and wrote several books, the most famous being I live on fruit today. Tannie Essie was born in 1924 in Edenburg, Orange Free State and matriculated in Bloemfontein. She thereafter obtained BSc and Physical Education degrees as well as Performers Licentiate, piano at Stellenbosch and Orange Free State Universities. She later went to Europe to continue her physical education studies in Holland, Denmark, and London. She was also active in sport and a Western Province diving champion.

Then tuberculosis and subsequently severe depression got in the way of everything, and she was hospitalised in 1958 at the age of 34. That’s when Cornelius Valkenburg de Villiers-Dreyer came into her distressed life.

In I live on fruit today, she wrote: “Cornelius was already 76 when I met him. He embodied the essence of what the fruit diet could do … Despite his years, he showed no sign of ageing … He was dynamic and fit! I later married him – and, until his sudden death (due to a brain haemorrhage following a fall), I never saw him debilitated, depressed or ill … I had no difficulty placing my life in the hands of such a person.”

Cornelius withdrew her from normal life and in her isolation she was transformed. Along with mindfulness, meditation and focusing on essentials such as breathing, the main element of her treatment was living on fruit only. Within a year she went from a living wreck to excellent health, full of the joys of life, living a fruitful life to the age of 89. Essie is apparently the only fruitarian that participated in a scientific study on the diet, published in The South American Medical Journal in 1971. The researchers found her to be in “excellent health”.

Being so full of life got her remarried in 1973 to non other than the famous cartoonist, T.O. Honiball, creator of, amongst others, Adoons-hulle, a famous comic strip of a baboon family in Huisgenoot (You). He also started following the fruit diet, but stopped after a while. Rumour has it that it was due to Adoons who kept on pinching his fruit.

Talking about primates … were they the first fruitarians? Not likely, as they would eat anything, really. Tannie Essie refers to perfect fruitarianism as the Eden way of eating. That is when you eat only one fruit at a time. So then maybe Adam and Eve were the world’s first fruitarians. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) they didn’t remain fruitarians forever.

It was apparently after the forbidden fruit episode that Eve made a remark to Adam: “Eating that apple wasn’t the problem at all. But after those mushrooms … now that’s when the snake started talking!”

Well, there you have it. Fruit can never be the bad apple.



Honiball, E. I live on fruit today  Benedic Books
Van Meck A. Die Ontwaking Benedic Books

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