The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most healthful food for the body is uncooked. Although most food is eaten raw, heating food is acceptable as long as the temperature stays below 104 to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (the cutoff temperature varies among those in the raw food community).Cooking at temperatures higher than the cutoff temperature is thought to destroy the enzymes naturally present in food. According to raw foodists, enyzymes are the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb nutrients. If we overconsume cooked food, our bodies are forced to work harder by producing more enzymes. Over time, a lack of enzymes from food is thought to lead to digestive problems and nutrient deficiency.Cooking certain foods diminishes its nutritional value. For example, the cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli, sulforaphanes, are greatly reduced when broccoli is cooked. Other foods, however, become more healthful after cooking, because the fibrous portion is broken down. For example, cooked tomatoes contain three to four times more lycopene than raw tomatoes.Eating raw food prevents the formation of potentially harmful compounds in food during high heat cooking, such as advanced glycation end products, heterocyclic amines, and oxidized cholesterol.There are different ways that people follow a raw food diet. Some follow a raw vegan diet while others consume raw animal products, such as raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi or ceviche (raw fish), or carpaccio (raw meat). Some people eat only raw foods, while others include cooked food for variety. The proportion of raw food can be anywhere from 50 percent of the diet to a diet that is all raw.Raw food detox diets or cleanses are entering the mainstream. People typically go on a detox diet or cleanse for three to five days. After the detox diet or cleanse, they may continue a raw food diet, return to their regular diet, or try to improve their daily diet by consuming more raw foods.
What Foods Can I Eat?
The raw food diet consists mainly of plant foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, sprouts, seeds and nuts. While foods are usually eaten close to their natural state, food can be processed for convenience and variety.
- Seeds, usually presoaked
- Nuts, usually presoaked
- Sprouted grains
- Dried fruits
- Sprouted seeds
- Young coconut milk
- Fresh herbs
- Raw spices
- Sea vegetables
- Fresh fruit or vegetable juices
Small beans and legumes such as lentils, mung beans, adzuki beans, garbanzos, and peas may be eaten after they are sprouted.In addition to plant foods, some raw foodists eat raw animal foods such as raw eggs, fish and meat, and non-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk, yogurt and cheese.Raw foodists drink fresh juices, smoothies, young coconut juice, nut “milks”, and purified water.
How are Foods Prepared?
On the raw food diet, specific methods can be used to make foods more digestible and to add variety to the diet:
- Sprouting – Grains, seeds and small beans and legumes are soaked and sprouted.
- Soaking – Nuts and seeds are often soaked.
- Juicing – Fruits and vegetables can be juiced.
- Dehydrated – Foods can be heated, never above 116 F, using a piece of equipment called a dehydrator.
- Blending – Foods can be blended or chopped using a food processor or blender, to make recipes for pesto, soup, hummus.
There are many processed raw food products available at health food stores, natural grocers and online, such as:
- Cold-pressed oil
- Raw nut butters
- Raw nut “milks”
- Fermented foods such as miso, kimchee and sauerkraut
- Dried fruits and vegetables
- Raw chocolate
- Raw crackers, chips and snack foods
What Equipment is Used?
- Dehydrator, a piece of equipment that can blow air through food at low temperatures.
- Food processor
- Large containers or trays to soak and sprout seeds, grains, and beans
- Mason jars for storing sprouts and other food
Besides Cooked Food, What Foods Should I Avoid?
Some raw beans can be eaten after they have been soaked and sprouted, but others are considered unsafe to eat, such as kidney beans, soy beans, and fava beans. Other foods that are avoided include:
- Buckwheat greens
- Rhubarb leaves
- Cassava and cassava flour
On a raw food diet, people usually avoid food grown with pesticides or made with preservatives, additives, food color or food dye.Boiled water and beverages made from it are not consumed on a strict raw food diet.
What are the Benefits of a Raw Food Diet?
People who follow a raw food diet believe it has numerous health benefits, including:
- Increased energy
- Clearer skin
- Weight loss
- Reduced risk of disease
The raw food diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fat than the typical Western diet. It is also low in sodium and sugar and high in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, vitamin A, and health-promoting antioxidants.These properties are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations.The raw food diet is also thought to have a favorable acid-alkaline balance, being low in acid-forming food. Too much acidity in the body is thought to result in disease.Besides the immediate benefits, the raw food diet may theoretically slow the aging process and reduce inflammation, because it contains fewer advanced glycation end products and other potentially damaging compounds, such as oxidized cholesterol.
What are the Concerns?
One of the main concerns people have with the raw food diet is the risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, one study found that people on raw food diets have higher levels of homocysteine and lower HDL cholesterol levels, due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Both are risk factors for heart disease. Supplementing with a multivitamin may help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Eating a variety of foods may also help.People with hypoglycemia or diabetes should use caution on the raw food diet. Although the antioxidants, vegetables, and fiber can be helpful, if done improperly (overconsuming fruit juices) may worsen the condition.People with a history of eating disorders or those who are underweight should consult their health care provider before trying the raw food diet.According to other alternative diet theories, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, a raw food diet may not be appropriate for people living in colder climates or for people with certain constitutional types.
Some people experience a detoxification reaction when they start the raw food diet, especially if their previous diet was rich in meat, sugar, and caffeine. Mild headaches, nausea, and cravings can occur but usually last for several days.