The Raw Food Diet

What Should I Know About It?

raw food diet
Oli Kellett/Taxi/Getty Images

The raw food diet is based on the belief by some alternative medicine practitioners 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 slightly among those in the raw food community).

According to proponents, enyzymes are the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Cooking denatures enzymes. If we overconsume cooked food, our bodies have to work harder by producing more enzymes. Over time, a lack of enzymes from food is said to promote digestive problems, nutrient deficiency, accelerated aging, and weight gain.

Cooking food may diminish its nutritional value. For example, sulforaphanes, the cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli, are reduced when broccoli is cooked. Certain vitamins, such as vitamin C and folate, are destroyed by heat. 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.

What Do I Eat on a Raw Food Diet?

There are different ways that people follow a raw food diet. Most people who follow a raw food diet are vegan. Some consume raw animal products, such as raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi, ceviche (raw fish), or carpaccio (raw meat).

Some people eat only raw foods, while others include cooked food for variety and convenience. The percentage of raw food is usually 70 percent or more of the diet.

To find out what foods are typically eaten on a raw food diet, read the List of Foods to Eat on a Raw Food Diet.

How is Raw Food Prepared?

  • Soaking and Sprouting

    Raw beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors that are normally destroyed with cooking. The nutrients can be released by soaking them (germination) or sprouting them.

    Germination involves soaking in water for a specific amount of time. Although the recommended germination times vary from 2 hours (for cashews) up to one day (for mung beans), some raw foodists say that soaking overnight is sufficient and more convenient. It's important to start with dried, raw, preferably organic seeds, beans, legumes, or nuts.

    Rinse beans, nuts, legumes, or seeds and place in a glass container. Add room temperature purified water to cover and soak at room temperature overnight. Mung beans, however, require a full 24 hours. Rinse a couple of times prior to use.

    • Sprouting

    After germination, seeds, beans, and legumes can be sprouted. After they are drained during the final step of the germination process, place them in a container for sprouting. Leave them at room temperature for the recommended time. The seed, bean, or legume will open and a sprout will grow from it. Rinse the sprouted nuts or seeds and drain well. They can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

    • Dehydrating

    Foods can be heated, never above 118 F, using a piece of equipment called a dehydrator to simulate sun-drying. They are enclosed containers with heating elements to warm at low temperatures. A fan inside the dehydrator blows the warm air across the food, which is spread out on trays. Dehydrators can be used to make raisins, sundried tomatoes, kale chips, crackers, breads, croutons, and fruit leathers.

    • Blending

    Foods can be blended or chopped using a food processor or blender, to make recipes for smoothies, pesto, soup, hummus.

    • Fermenting
    • Pickling
    • Juicing

    What Equipment is Used to Prepare Raw Food?

    • Blender - to make smoothies, soup, nut milks
    • Thermometer - to ensure during heating that food stays below 118 F
    • Dehydrator - a piece of equipment that can blow air through food at low temperatures.
    • Juicer
    • Mini-blender - for chopping or grinding small amounts of food
    • Food processor
    • Spiral Slicer - cuts vegetables into spiral shapes
    • Large containers or trays to soak and sprout seeds, grains, and beans
    • Mason jars or sprouters

    Besides Cooked Food, What Else 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
    • Mushrooms
    • Peas
    • Potatoes
    • Rhubarb leaves
    • Taro
    • Cassava and cassava flour
    • Parsnips

    On a raw food diet, people usually avoid food grown with pesticides or made with preservatives, additives, food color or food dye.

    Benefits of the Raw Food Diet

    So far, scientific support for the claims that the raw food diet can treat any condition is lacking. Proponents of the diet often claim it has certain health benefits such as:

    • 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.

    In alternative medicine, the raw food diet is said to have a favorable acid-alkaline balance, being low in acid-forming food. Too much acidity in the body is said to promote disease.

    Some proponents of the diet suggest that it may reduce inflammation because it contains fewer advanced glycation end-products and other compounds.

    Caveats: Is a Raw Fruits and Veggies Diet Safe?

    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.

    The raw food diet hasn't been tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications.

    If you're considering trying the diet, talk with your doctor first.


    • Ease into the diet. Start with 50 percent raw and go from there. Don’t be focused on going 100 percent raw. Instead, find the balance that works best with your lifestyle and consider it an evolving process.
    • If you are going to try the diet, you’ll need to find recipes and make meal plans, especially as you begin. Don’t allow yourself to go hungry.
    • Make sure to eat a variety of foods.


    Fontana L, Shew JL, Holloszy JO, Villareal DT. Low bone mass in subjects on a long-term raw vegetarian diet. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Mar 28;165(6):684-9.

    Koebnick C, Garcia AL, Dagnelie PC, Strassner C, Lindemans J, Katz N, Leitzmann C, Hoffmann I. Long-term consumption of a raw food diet is associated with favorable serum LDL cholesterol and triglycerides but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol in humans. J Nutr. 2005 Oct;135(10):2372-8.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

    Continue Reading