The Freegan Diet: What Does It Consist Of?

We're going to tell you what the freegan diet consists of, a movement that arose against the inequalities suffered throughout the world motivated by the industry.
The Freegan Diet: What Does It Consist Of?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 12 July, 2023

The freegan diet is a type of diet that’s based on consuming only products that are available for free in order to avoid contributing to an unsustainable and unfair food system. It’s an approach with a strong moral and ethical background that could have harmful consequences for health, due to the deficiencies of essential nutrients that are generated.

It should be borne in mind that the two fundamental pillars of a healthy eating pattern are variety and balance. It’s important that the spectrum of ingested foods is wide in order to avoid deficiencies that can negatively affect the functioning of human physiology. Likewise, it’ll be important to consume the same calories that are expended, at least within the context of good body composition.

How did the freegan diet come about?

The oldest references to the freegan diet date back to the 1960s. In an area of San Francisco, California, this movement began to take shape. Just the same, it hasn’t had many followers throughout the world. It’s a minority dietary pattern, especially assimilated by anarchist groups that seek to fight against militarism and against animal abuse.

The objective of the freegan diet is to protest against the industrialization of farms and in favor of all those people who have difficulties accessing food throughout the world. It also highlights the amount of garbage that’s generated per day due to the overexploitation of resources, which ends up damaging and polluting the environment.

In this regard, the freegan diet is more than a feeding method–it could be considered a movement in itself. It has a solitary nature and vindicates the injustices that are committed in many parts of the world, which cause inequalities and death due to hunger.

It should be noted that freegans are committed to taking advantage of all food that’s in good condition to avoid producing more waste, which would generate an increase in the pollution of the planet. In this way, they intend to contribute their grain of sand against climate change and other environmental problems that occupy the front pages today.

However, this philosophy doesn’t only apply to food but also to other areas of consumption. It’s possible to replicate the mentality when we talk about clothing, household appliances, and even cultural goods. They always bet on reuse and, when the time comes, on recycling.

Is the freegan diet safe?

Fresh foods.
Many of the foods that are included in a varied and balanced diet aren’t part of the freegan diet, especially due to their industrial origin.

The first thing you have to be clear about is that some practices that are typical of the freegan diet are prohibited in certain countries. For example, in certain Spanish cities, it’s illegal to rummage through garbage containers to get food. In fact, this conduct could be punished with high financial fines. Still, it’s possible to turn to food banks or apps that allow restaurants to donate surplus food.

On occasions, the leftovers can be marketed at reduced prices in supermarkets or commercial surfaces, so their use would be optimal within the freegan culture. Even organizing parties where communal meals are prepared for sharing among the participants would be welcome.

Just the same, and beyond the possible legal implications, we’re talking about a feeding method that has a multitude of deficiencies, so it’s not considered adequate from a health point of view. First of all, this type of diet may not meet energy requirements. Perhaps this isn’t the worst of evils.

However, developing a deficit in terms of essential nutrients is much more worrisome. For example, not meeting daily protein requirements has been shown to increase the risk of developing sarcopenia in the medium and long term. In this regard, the functionality of the human body could be compromised over time.

It’s crucial to meet vitamin requirements

The freegan diet isn’t only harmful in regard to macronutrient deficiencies. Many of the vitamins are excreted daily, so it’s crucial to ensure their intake in certain doses to compensate for the losses. According to a study published in the journal Pathology, maintaining an inadequate supply of vitamin C over time can generate scurvy.

Now, in addition to vitamins, flavonoids are also important. Most of the phytonutrients in foods of plant origin are in a higher concentration when the ripening point of the foods is adequate. These elements are essential to neutralize the formation of free radicals. There’s evidence that this mechanism helps prevent many complex diseases.

At the same time, the freegan diet often resorts to the consumption of products that have exceeded the preferred consumption date or that don’t respect basic hygiene measures. This is especially dangerous, as you could experience food poisoning that could compromise your health.

For example, Listeria contamination is of particular concern in pregnant women. According to research published in the journal IDCases, it could trigger meningitis cases. It’s also a risk factor for the development of spontaneous abortions, so you have to be very careful with this type of bacteria during pregnancy.

There are other alternatives when it comes to environmentally friendly diets

If you have an interest in protecting the environment and promoting sustainable consumption practices, it’s possible to opt for certain alternatives besides the freegan diet. They’re healthier for health and reduce the ecological footprint and human impact on the environment. For example, purchasing organic food could be an efficient strategy.

In addition, these types of foods don’t have pesticides or chemicals inside, so they’re safer for human health. It’s true that its external appearance may not be as good as those of industrial production, but their nutritional value will be clearly superior.

Avoiding additives is also a plus for locally produced and sustainably produced groceries. These elements could be harmful to health if ingested on a chronic basis. For example, there are certain associations between regular nitrite consumption and an increased risk of developing cancer. This is evidenced by a study published in the journal Epidemiology.

In recent years, the term “zero mile food” has become popular. This means that the food has been locally produced, so local trade is favored. Many large supermarkets offer it and, with this, they contribute to improving the lives of producers in the area, who see their foodstuffs rewarded more fairly, which allows them to increase their quality of life.

Beware of restrictive diets

If you’re considering following a freegan diet, we must warn you that the implementation of restrictive eating guidelines isn’t usually a good idea. Only protocols that limit caloric intake at a point in time, such as intermittent fasting, have demonstrated health benefits.

However, avoiding the intake of an entire group or type of food has a negative impact on the functioning of the body. With the passage of time, more and more inefficiencies will be produced in the physiology of the body, which will condition well-being. In many cases, these types of restrictions aren’t even sustainable in the medium term.

For this reason, before starting a plan of this style, we recommend visiting a nutrition expert. They can advise you regarding whether or not it’s a good alternative for your health. If you want to start it for ideological reasons, you may need to adopt a specific guideline to avoid deficits over time. An example could be supplementation.

Try to ensure food hygiene

A person with abdominal pain due to food poisoning.
Due to the fact that the freegan diet is quite restrictive, hygienic measures become even more important in order to avoid infections or food poisoning.

Another key point of any diet, including the freegan diet, is the need to ensure the hygiene of the eaten food eaten. In the event that these don’t comply with a series of controls or the dates of preferred consumption are exceeded, the risk of food poisoning could be increased. Hundreds of deaths from these causes occur around the world every year.

It’s essential to cook animal products well until the temperature in the internal area exceeds 150 degrees Fahrenheit. In the same way, you have to be very careful with eggs and raw dairy, as they could harbor a high amount of bacteria inside. It’s always best to resort to sterilization processes by applying heat.

Also, it’s important to note that not all people are equally sensitive to poisoning or infections. As we’ve mentioned, pregnant women are a risk group. Also children and the elderly, so in these cases, a freegan diet or similar wouldn’t be recommended at all. It’s best to plan a varied and balanced diet with proper cooking methods.

The freegan diet: A philosophy more than a feeding method

As you’ve seen, the freegan diet has several implications regarding the way of life, beyond defining only the products that can be included in the diet. People who adopt this way of life are committed to the health of the planet and to equality between societies and peoples, even though this may put the proper functioning of the body at risk.

It’s clear that from a scientific point of view, the freegan diet isn’t a good option. If you’re thinking about carrying it out, we recommend that you weigh the pros and cons of this decision, as it could have harmful consequences for health in the medium term. The best thing, when trying to reduce the risk of getting sick, is to follow a diet that’s as varied and balanced as possible.

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