The Raw Food Diet

Basics, Benefits, Meal Prep Tips, and More

raw food diet
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The raw food diet is based on the belief that uncooked and unprocessed food can help you to achieve better health and prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer. Some proponents claim that cooking breaks down the enzymes in uncooked or "live food", which aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Typically, about 70 percent or more of the diet consists of raw food. Your staples on the raw food diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains and beans.

Gently heating food is considered acceptable as long as the temperature doesn't go above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. While most people who are on a raw food diet plan are vegan, some eat raw animal products, like raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, or raw fish or meat.

The Benefits of a Raw Food Diet

Proponents of the diet often claim the raw food diet has certain health benefits such as:

  • Increased energy
  • Clearer skin
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced risk of disease

The raw food diet is lower in calories, sodium, sugar, trans fat, and saturated fat than the standard American diet. It is also higher in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants.

The fiber in the diet may help keep you feeling full and guard against constipation.

Some proponents of the diet say that it may reduce inflammation because of the antioxidants in plant foods and fewer advanced glycation end-products in uncooked food.

Research on the Raw Food Diet

Although there's very little research on the raw food diet, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that following a strict raw food diet may be associated with elevated risk factors for heart disease. Researchers examined the nutritional status of people who had been following a raw food diet (at least 70 percent raw food) for at least two years.

They found that only 14 percent had elevated LDL cholesterol levels and none had high triglycerides.

However, 38 percent of participants were deficient in vitamin B12, and 51 percent had elevated homocysteine levels. Both low vitamin B12 and elevated homocysteine levels are considered independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

study published in Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism examined the relationship between long-term raw food diets and body weight and found that body mass index (BMI) was below the normal weight range in 14.7 percent of men and 25 percent of women. Approximately 30 percent of women under 45 years of age had partial to complete amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods), particularly those eating 90 percent or more raw foods.

What Do I Eat on a Raw Food 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.

Foods to Avoid

Some raw beans can be eaten after they have been soaked and sprouted, but others, such as kidney, soy, and fava beans, are considered unsafe to eat.

Other foods to avoid on a raw food diet include:

  • Buckwheat greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Taro
  • Cassava and cassava flour
  • Parsnips

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 five days.

Dehydrating. Foods can be heated, never above 118 F, using a piece of equipment called a dehydrator to simulate sun-drying. Dehydrators are enclosed containers with heating elements to warm food 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. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, raw coconut yogurt, raw macadamia nut cheese, and kimchi.

Juicing. Vegetables and fruit can be juiced.

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 warm air through food to add some dryness, chewiness, or crispness to food
  • 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

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, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. The raw food diet has also be associated with low bone mass.

Some foods become more digestible after cooking, because the fibrous portion is broken down. For example, cooked tomatoes contain three to four times more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Levels of compounds in broccoli called sulforaphanes are maximized when broccoli is steamed at 140 degrees Farenheit.

Some raw foods are high in calories, fat, and sugar.

Cooking protects from food-borne illnesses (such as E.coli). A raw food diet isn't recommended for pregnant women, children, older adults, people with weak immune systems, and those with medical conditions.

People with hypoglycemia or diabetes should use caution on the raw food diet. Although the antioxidants, vegetables, and fiber can be helpful, overconsumption of juice may worsen the condition.

People with a history of eating disorders or those who are underweight should consult their healthcare provider before trying the raw food diet.

A Word From Verywell

The standard American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and has large amounts of animal products and processed food. Getting more fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods into our diets may protect against certain diseases.

While most of us could benefit from eating a more plant-based diet, adhering to a 70 percent or more raw food diet can requires a lot of effort and has some drawbacks (such as the risks of vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, elevated homocysteine, food-borne illness, and being underweight), so if you are thinking of trying the diet, consult your healthcare provider to see if it is the right eating plan for you.

If you'd like to eat more raw plant foods but don't want to go on a full-fledged raw food diet, start slow by integrating one or more servings of raw vegetables into your meals and find the balance that works best for you.

Sources:

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.

Koebnick C, Strassner C, Hoffmann I, Leitzmann C. Consequences of a long-term raw food diet on body weight and menstruation: results of a questionnaire survey. Ann Nutr Metab. 1999;43(2):69-79.

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.

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