Raw Food Diet – How does It Work? Benefits and Risks


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Manveen Sibia
Manveen had an illustrious career in journalism and writing. She is the mother of a super active 7-year-old. While chasing her around the house, she also finds time to pursue her passion for writing on parenting, education, health, fitness, and entertainment.

A raw food diet eliminates cooked food from the menu. The proponents of this diet believe that uncooked and unprocessed food can provide many benefits. Though the raw food diet has been around since the late 1800s, it has seen an upsurge in popularity in recent years. In this article, you shall learn in detail about the raw food diet, how it works, and its pros and cons.

What is the raw food diet?

The raw food diet, also known as raw foodism, encourages people to eat only raw or unprocessed food. According to this diet, food is considered raw if it has not been heated beyond 118°F. It should not be pasteurized, refined, or treated with pesticides. Fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, sprouted grains, and beans are staples of the raw food diet. While most raw food diets are plant-based, some people eat raw animal products like raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, raw fish, meat, and eggs.

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The proponents of the raw food diet believe that cooking the food destroys its nutrients and beneficial enzymes. They also think cooking destroys the ‘life force’ of the food that exists in all raw food. The raw food diet also believes in avoiding all packaged and processed foods like bread, cereals, crackers, cheese, refined oils, and processed meat. The followers of a raw food diet believe that it can boost immunity, improve arthritis and diabetes, and help in weight loss.

Types of raw food diet

We can broadly classify this diet into three main types –

Raw vegetarian diet

Raw vegetarians eat raw plant-based food, along with milk and dairy products.

Raw vegan diet

Raw vegans eat uncooked plant-based foods but no animal-based products at all.

Raw food diet

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In this diet, you can eat both plant-based and animal-based foods in their raw form.

How does it work?

To follow a raw food diet, make sure at least 75% of the food that you consume should be raw. While gentle heating is acceptable, make sure the temperature is not above 118°F.

Foods you can eat

  • Whole, unprocessed foods
  • All fresh, organic fruits
  • All fresh, organic vegetables
  • Sprouted or germinated beans and grains
  • Dried fruits
  • Nut milk like almond milk
  • Raw nut butter
  • Cold-pressed olive and coconut oils
  • Seaweed
  • Fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut
  • Raw eggs and dairy
  • Raw meat and fish

Foods you must avoid

  • All cooked vegetables, fruit and meats
  • Baked items like cakes, cookies, and bread
  • Refined oils
  • Roasted nuts
  • Refined sugar and flour
  • Table salt
  • Pasteurized dairy and juices
  • Tea and coffee
  • All processed foods
  • Pasta
  • Alcohol

You can use vegetables in salads and smoothies. You can also have fruits whole, or juice them or use them in smoothies. Frozen fruits are also considered raw. You can eat whole grains like millet, quinoa, oats, wheat germ,  and wild rice by sprouting them. You can also sprout and eat mung beans, chickpeas,  adzuki beans, and lentils. You can eat nuts in the form of nut butter, pesto, and nut milk.

Avoid refined oils and use only cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, chia oil, raw flaxseed oil, and raw hemp oil. You can also have pasteurized foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, and yogurt on this diet. Drinks like freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, wheatgrass juice, coconut water are permitted in this diet. Coffee, tea, herbal tea, and alcohol is prohibited.

Though table salt is not permitted, you can use Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt. To flavor your food, you can also use basil, cinnamon, chives, dill, parsley, and cayenne. Raw vanilla beans, vinegar, ginger root, and raw soy sauce is also allowed. Most of the sweeteners we use are processed and not raw. However, you can use agave nectar, coconut nectar, raw honey, mesquite powder, date sugar, and yacon syrup.

Benefits of a raw food diet

1. Highly nutritious

The raw food diet contains vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole, which are rich in nutrients. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, and antioxidants. These nutrients boost immunity and prevent various diseases linked to processed foods.

2. High in fiber

Raw food diet contains fiber, which is lacking in the diet of most Americans. Fiber helps improve digestion, prevents constipation, and helps to stay full for longer.

3. Low in sodium and saturated fats

Since raw food diet does not contain table salt and processed foods, it is low in sodium and saturated fats. Low-sodium food is highly beneficial for heart health.

4. Weight loss

Raw foods diet contains vegetables and fruits that are low in calories and avoids processed foods that are high in calories. The high fiber content of this diet also ensures that you stay fuller for longer and prevents snacking between meals.

Risks of the raw food diet

1. Nutritional deficiencies

This diet is very restrictive as it does not allow you to consume many types of foods. Such restrictive diets can lead to dietary deficiencies. People who follow a raw vegan diet do not get enough vitamin B12, iron, and calcium from the food that they eat.

2. Cooking improves absorption of so nutrients

While some foods lose their nutrients when we cook them, others become more digestible and nutritious after cooking. For example, our body absorbs lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, more quickly when tomatoes are cooked. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts contain goitrogen compounds that can block thyroid function. Cooking can deactivate these compounds.

3. Food-borne illnesses

Eating raw foods can increase the risk of food-borne diseases. Cooking kills all the harmful bacteria and pathogens that can lead to food poisoning. This fact is especially true for raw dairy, raw fish, meat, and eggs. Some foods like taro and rhubarb could be toxic if you consumed them without cooking.

4. Low bone mass

According to a study from the Washington University School of Medicine, a raw food vegetarian diet is associated with low bone mass at clinically significant skeletal regions due to low calorie and protein intake (1).

5. Impractical

It can be challenging to maintain a raw food diet for a long time. Avoiding cooked foods limits your food choices. Healthy social life and going out for meals is also tricky on a raw food diet.

6 Expensive

Buying large amounts of fresh organic food can be costly in the long run.

7. Not advisable for people with digestive issues

If you are suffering from digestive problems like inflammatory bowel disease or ulcerative colitis, eating raw food is not advisable. In such cases breaking down the fibrous vegetable cell walls becomes difficult. Cooking helps to predigest fibers and release vitamins and minerals.

Sample menu

Breakfast –  A green smoothie, and a bowl of fruit or raw oatmeal made from sprouted grains

  • Morning snack – A serving of raw nuts or seeds
  • Lunch – A salad with avocado, nuts or cold-pressed olive oil, a cup of raw soup, and raw vegetable noodles
  • Afternoon snack – Raw crackers or some fruit or a bowl of raw vegan pudding
  • Dinner – A salad with a veggie burger patty wrapped in a lettuce leaf.
  • Dessert – Raw cheesecake, raw brownies, or sweet raw pudding.

Tips on beginning a raw food diet

  • Start slowly – If you try to go for a strictly raw diet, it may prove too much for you, and there are high chances of failure. Start with swapping just one meal per day with a raw food meal. Gradually add more meals as you get comfortable with the raw food diet.
  • Raw fruits are rich in vitamins; vegetables provide iron, magnesium, and calcium, while nuts and seeds provide healthy fats. You must create a meal that incorporates all these to ensure that you get balanced nutrition.
  • A raw food diet contains 75 % of raw food. For the other 25%, you can cook on low heat, steam, and use slow cookers.
  • You can also try juicing and sprouting.
  • You must add fermented foods to your diet plant. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi encourage a healthy microbiome, which is beneficial for maintaining hormonal balance, healthy weight, improving immunity, and digestive system.

Final thoughts

A raw food diet consists of mostly raw, unprocessed, and organic foods. The idea behind this diet is that heating and cooking food can destroy its nutrients and natural enzymes. According to the proponents of the raw food diet, it can boost immunity, and improve arthritis and diabetes. Since this diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grain, it is highly nutritious. It is also rich in dietary fiber, which is good for the digestive system and weight loss.

Unfortunately, since this diet is restrictive, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Raw food can contain harmful bacteria, which can lead to food-borne illnesses. It can also be impractical and expensive. The raw food diet is not recommended for people with digestive issues. Following this diet for an extended period can cause low bone mass.

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