The untimely passing of raw vegan influencer Zhanna Samsonova at the age of 39 has drawn significant attention to the potential risks of extreme diets.1 Known for promoting raw and vegan foods on social media, Samsonova’s tragic death has sparked discussions surrounding the adequacy of vegan diets. While some individuals are quick to blame her plant-based eating choices, it’s crucial to approach the story with facts and avoid generalizations.2 A well-planned vegan diet can indeed be healthful, just as a well-planned omnivorous diet can be. This article explores the story of the late influencer and the facts surrounding her diet, and its possible contributions to her death.
Zhanna Samsonova, a Russian national, gained fame as a vegan influencer on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram under the name Zhanna D’Art. She passionately advocated for raw and uncooked herbivorous fare, inspiring her millions of followers to embrace healthier eating habits. Samsonova’s diet primarily consisted of exotic fruits, sunflower seed sprouts, fruit smoothies, and juices, and she claimed to have been exclusively following a raw vegan diet for the last four years. Notably, she reportedly ate only giant sweet jackfruits and durian, a pungent fruit known for its custardy meat.
Samsonova’s tragic journey took a turn during her travels in Southeast Asia, where she eventually sought medical treatment due to her deteriorating health. Reports suggest that she appeared exhausted and showed signs of severe lymphatic issues and swollen legs during her stay in Sri Lanka. Despite being urged by friends to seek medical attention, she continued with her strict diet and lifestyle. Finally, in Malaysia, she passed away on July 21. Her cause of death has not been officially declared, but her mother attributed it to a “cholera-like infection,” potentially exacerbated by exhaustion caused by her extreme diet.
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The Concerns Surrounding Raw Vegan Diets
While Samsonova’s commitment to promoting raw and vegan foods is commendable, there are concerns about the potential consequences of such an extreme diet. Health experts warn that a raw foods diet, especially one that focuses on few foods, can lead to deficiencies in vital nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition found that individuals on a raw vegan diet typically consume less than the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12. Such deficiencies can have serious health implications, including anemia, nervous system damage, and heart disease.
Despite the potential downsides of an unbalanced raw vegan diet, it is essential to avoid using this tragedy to generalize vegan diets. Samsonova’s case should be considered an isolated incident and not representative of all vegans or vegan diets. It is crucial to remember that the key to a healthful diet, regardless of its composition, is proper planning and consideration of nutritional needs.
Dr. Mathew Nagra, ND, a vegan and naturopathic doctor, is known for his evidence-based approach to living a plant-based lifestyle. He often focuses on ethics, facts, and evidence when promoting plant-based living, making him a valuable source of information for those seeking a relatively unbias take on veganism. You can watch his discussion of this tragic story below, offering valuable nuance that one might get from mainstream media outlets.
Zhanna Samsonova’s mother, Vera Samsonova, believes that her daughter’s extreme vegan diet may have contributed to her untimely demise. Vera had attempted to persuade Zhanna to give up her vegan diet, but Zhanna remained dedicated to her beliefs. While preliminary reports point to a possible cholera-like infection, it is essential to wait for the official medical report before drawing any conclusions about the cause of Zhanna’s death.
In the context of extreme diets, it is essential to recognize the potential risk of eating disorders, which can be particularly concerning in young individuals.3 Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are serious psychiatric illnesses that can lead to significant morbidity and mortality. While it is unclear if Zhanna Samsonova had an eating disorder, her extreme diet raises questions about the importance of early detection and intervention for those at risk.
The tragic loss of vegan influencer Zhanna Samsonova has sparked a debate over extreme diets and their potential consequences. While her raw vegan diet may have contributed to her declining health, it is essential to avoid using this story as evidence that all vegan diets are inadequate. A balanced and well-planned vegan diet can be healthful, just as a well-planned omnivorous diet can be. Instead of drawing hasty conclusions, let us use this opportunity to educate and promote the importance of balanced nutrition and healthy eating habits for everyone.
Keep Reading: Identical Twins Trailed a Vegan Diet Vs. Omnivorous Diet
- “Vegan raw food diet influencer Zhanna D’Art dies of suspected starvation: report.” NY Post. Ben Cost. July 31, 2023.
- Instagram. dr.matthewnagra
- “Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders.” JAMA Network. Jon Arcelus, LMS, MSc, FRCPsych, PhD, et al. 2011.