What is the Dr. Sebi diet, and does it work?
Dr. Sebi believed that mucus and acidity caused disease. He held that eating certain foods and avoiding others could detoxify the body, achieving an alkaline state that could reduce the risk and effects of disease.
The Dr. Sebi diet is not approved by official sources, and no scientific evidence shows that it can prevent or treat medical conditions.
Plant-based diets can benefit health under some conditions, but the Dr. Sebi diet may not include enough key nutrients to keep the body healthy.
This article looks into the diet and its potential benefits and risks.
Who is Dr. Sebi?
The Dr. Sebi diet requires a person to eat strictly plant-based foods
Alfredo Bowman, better known as Dr. Sebi, was a self-proclaimed healer and herbalist. He was self-educated — he was not a medical doctor and held no Ph.D.
An obituary describes his controversial health claims, such as curing AIDS and leukemia. These and similar assertions resulted in a 1993 lawsuit that ended with the court ordering Dr. Sebi's organization to stop making these claims. Dr. Sebi reportedly died in 2016 in police custody.
What is the Dr. Sebi diet?
Dr. Sebi believed the Western approach to disease to be ineffective. He held that mucus and acidity — rather bacteria and viruses, for example — caused disease.
A main theory behind the diet is that disease can only survive in acidic environments. The aim of the diet is to achieve an alkaline state in the body in order to prevent or eradicate disease.
The diet's official website sells botanical remedies that it claims will detoxify the body. Some of these remedies — called African Bio-mineral Balance supplements — retail at $1,500 per package.
The site links to no research that would support its claims about health benefits. It does note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not evaluated the statements. Those behind the site acknowledge that they are not medical doctors and do not intend the site's content to replace medical advice.
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How to follow the diet
Dr. Sebi's nutritional guide includes a number of rules, such as:
- Only eat foods listed in the guide.
- Drink 1 gallon of natural spring water daily.
- Avoid animal products, hybrid foods, and alcohol.
- Avoid using a microwave, which will "kill your food."
- Avoid canned and seedless fruits.
The Dr. Sebi diet involves eating:
- vegetables, including avocado, kale, bell peppers, and wild arugula
- fruits, including apples, bananas, dates, and Seville oranges
- grains, including rye, wild rice, spelt, and quinoa
- oils, including avocado, hempseed, coconut, and olive oils, though the diet advises against using the latter two in cooking
- nuts and seeds, including hemp and raw sesame seeds, tahini butter, and walnuts
- herbal teas, including chamomile, fennel, and ginger varieties
- natural sweeteners, including agave syrup and date sugar
- spices, including cayenne and powdered seaweed
What are the benefits?
There is a lack of any scientific evidence to support the Dr. Sebi diet.
However, research indicates that a plant-based diet can benefit health. There are also risks to consider, which we discuss in the next section.
Some health benefits of plant-based diets may include:
- Weight loss — a 2015 study concluded that a vegan diet resulted in more weight loss than other, less restrictive diets. Participants lost up to 7.5% of body weight after 6 months on a vegan diet.
- Appetite control — a 2016 study in young male participants found that they felt more full and satisfied after eating a plant-based meal containing peas and beans than a meal containing meat.
- Altering the microbiome — the term "microbiome" collectively refers to the microorganisms in the gut. A 2019 study found that a plant-based diet could alter the microbiome favorably, leading to less risk of disease. However, confirming this will require more research.
- Reduced risk of disease — a 2017 review concluded that a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 40% and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by half.
The Dr. Sebi diet encourages people to eat whole foods and avoids processed foods. A study from 2017 found that reducing the intake of processed food would improve the nutritional quality of the general diet in the United States.
Is it safe?
The Dr. Sebi diet is restrictive, and it may not include enough important nutrients, which the diet's website does not clearly acknowledge.
If a person adopts this diet, they may benefit from consulting a healthcare professional, who may recommend additional supplements.
Following the Dr. Sebi diet may result in a vitamin B-12 deficiency. A person may be able to prevent this by consuming supplements and fortified foods.
In general, people following vegan or vegetarian diets and older adults have a risk of B-12 deficiency. Doctors usually recommend that people who do not consume animal products take B-12 supplements.
Symptoms of B-12 deficiency include tiredness, depression, and tingling in the hands and feet. There is also a risk of pernicious anemia, which keeps the body from producing enough healthy red blood cells.
In the diet, protein helps support the health of the brain, muscles, bones, hormones, and DNA.
According to current guidelines, females aged over 19 should have a daily protein intake of 46 grams (g), while males of the same age should consume 56 g.
Some foods included in the Dr. Sebi diet contain protein. For example, 100 g of hulled hemp seeds contain 31.56 g of protein, while the same amount of walnuts contains 16.67 g of protein. For comparison, 100 g of oven-roasted chicken breast contains 16.79 g of the nutrient.
However, the Dr. Sebi diet restricts other sources of plant protein, such as beans, lentils, and soy. A person would need to eat an unusually large amount of the permitted protein sources to meet daily requirements.
Research suggests that it is important to eat a wide variety of plant foods to absorb enough amino acids, which are building blocks of protein. This may be difficult when following the Dr. Sebi diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes. They support:
- brain, heart, and eye health
- the immune system
The Dr. Sebi diet includes plant sources of omega-3s, such as hemp seeds and walnuts.
However, the body more readily absorbs these acids from animal sources. A 2019 study indicates that a vegan diet contains little or none of two omega-3 fatty acids, unless the person takes a supplement.
Anyone following the Dr. Sebi diet may benefit from taking an omega-3 supplement.
Dr. Sebi's recipes often contain unusual ingredients or his patented botanical supplements. However, a person who is not strictly adhering to the diet could easily adapt some recipes to make healthful, plant-based meals:
- Dr. Sebi's 'veggie-ful' smoothie. Try leaving out the date sugar, as the drink may be sweet enough without it.
- Zucchini bread pancakes. Maple syrup or coconut sugar could replace the date sugar.
- Veggie fajitas tacos. People who consume wheat or corn may prefer these types of tortillas.
No scientific research supports the Dr. Sebi diet. However, it may bring some of the benefits associated with other plant-based diets.
Eating more whole fruits and vegetables could have positive effects on health. It could also help a person to lose weight if that is a goal.
The restrictions of the Dr. Sebi diet, however, could pose risks. It is crucial to ensure that the body is taking in enough nutrients, including vitamin B-12, through supplementation, if necessary.
Certain people may be more susceptible to the risks associated with the Dr. Sebi diet. Among them are adolescents, women who are breastfeeding, and older adults.
The diet's proponents recommend products that can be expensive, and no scientific evidence supports their use. A more healthful approach may be to eat more plant-based foods and to supplement any missing nutrients.
It may be a good idea to conduct research and consult a healthcare professional before trying any new diet.