Vegan and raw food advocate Zhanna Samsonova dies after extreme diet worsens infection - report

Photos of @rawveganfoodchef, Zhanna Samsonova, with fruit and vegan food
Photo credit: @rawveganfoodchef / Instagram

A vegan influencer who adopted an extreme diet of raw, plant-based food has reportedly died of "hunger and exhaustion" after developing an infection. 

Zhanna Samsonova, a Russian influencer and proponent of a raw, vegan diet, is said to have followed the eating regime for about five years, surviving on the likes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and juices. 

According to reports, the 39-year-old - known online as Zhanna D'Art - had further restricted her eating habits over the last few months and died on July 21.

Speaking to the Russian newspaper Vechernyaya Kazan (Evening Kazan), Samsonova's mother Vera claimed her daughter's death was due to a "cholera-like infection" that was exacerbated by her body's "exhaustion", which she attributed to her heavily restricted diet. 

She added that she had made attempts to convince her daughter to expand her diet, noting she did not approve of the extreme approach to eating. 

While the official cause of death has yet to be determined, followers of the raw food approach have hit back at assumptions Samsonova's diet was solely to blame. It has been suggested on social media she may have been suffering from an eating disorder or other illness.

Vera, 63, told local media that on the day of her death, her daughter had been scheduled to return to the Russian city of Kazan. 

Her family is now working to have Samsonova's body returned to Russia: it's understood she had been living in Sri Lanka for a number of years, however her Instagram states she had recently been in Phuket, Thailand.

On Samsonova's Instagram, @rawveganfoodchef, the 39-year-old frequently shared photos of her colourful vegan meals, including a cucumber, zucchini and seaweed spaghetti with her "signature spicy avocado sauce", a raw pizza with falafel, and raw, plant-based sushi rolls with a coconut and tomato curry sauce. Her last post, a video about the tropical fruit durian, was shared with her almost 24,000 followers on June 10.

In a post published on June 7, Samsonova said she was excited for Thailand's fruit season, writing: "This is the most awaited time! Time to gain weight!"

In an upload on September 21 last year, she wrote of how a healthy diet was "not about strict limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love", adding: "It's about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood."

"It has been five years since I switched [to] a fully fruit-based-low-fat diet known as the 80/10/10 diet and I have not been sick during all that time. My mood is better, my mind clearer, I have more energy, easier to sleep, easier to wake up, I feel more stable emotionally," she continued.

The 39-year-old had previously detailed on social media how she refrained from eating and drinking for several days after contracting COVID-19 in 2021, telling her followers she "decided not to force" her body to consume food and liquids due to her loss of appetite. 

A raw food diet is focused on eating foods in their natural state, meaning they are uncooked and unprocessed. Preparation methods include juicing, soaking, sprouting, blending, and sometimes drying. 

While vegetarians, omnivores and vegans can follow a raw food eating plan, raw vegan diets are the most limiting as the foods must not only be raw, but plant-based (no animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs).

According to the non-profit academic medical centre Cleveland Clinic, a scrupulous raw vegan diet is associated with a number of health risks, including vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. 

"The raw vegan diet, in its pure form, is very restrictive and can lead to nutrient deficiencies," registered dietitian Maxine Smith said in an article for the centre. "The raw vegan diet can be a short-term way to clean up your diet, but it's too restrictive to be a lifelong diet plan."