The raw food diet isn’t a diet in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, some experts who advocate raw food diets call them “anti-diets,” as they do not limit you to certain food groups.
In that sense, a raw food diet is more aptly described as a change in lifestyle. Instead of consuming foods that have been processed in some sort of way, it encourages the consumption of raw, unaltered foods.
What is a raw food diet?
The raw food diet aims to maximize the number of nutrients that you consume and make your food more readily digestible. The goal isn’t to completely avoid cooked foods as if they were toxic, nor is it to become a raw vegan. The raw food diet is just a more “extreme” way of including more raw fruits and vegetables in your diet every day.
The benefits of a raw food lifestyle
Raw foodism is a lifestyle choice that’s been promoted since the 1800s and scientifically recognized for its numerous health benefits.
- Reduction in inflammation
- Improved digestion
- Increased intake in dietary fiber
- Improved heart health
- Better liver function
- Constipation control
- Additional energy
- Improved skin health
- Prevention of nutritional deficiencies
- Reduction of dietary carcinogens
- Healthy body weight
What can’t you eat on a raw food diet?
A commonality of various raw food diets is that they restrict foods that have been:
- Produced using laboratory chemicals
This means that you’ll be avoiding packaged and processed foods, including the following:
- Processed cheese
- Refined oils
- Processed meats
You may find that it’s hard to change your eating patterns this extensively all at once. This is particularly the case if you don’t like raw fruits and vegetables very much. You might want to think about transitioning gradually. This way, you are more likely to stay on the course.
In fact, research indicates that the more that you rush into new eating patterns and fad diets, the more likely you are to gain back any weight that you lose. Adding high-fiber and raw foods into your diet slowly will also make you less likely to experience digestive issues and cravings.
Who is it for?
One benefit of a raw food diet is that cooked foods are actually more difficult to digest than raw foods. This may be counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Also, cooking foods can destabilize some of their enzymes and alter their natural antioxidants and vitamins. Raw food also:
- Alkalizes the body
- Reduces acidity
- Has less chance of fermenting in the stomach and resulting in inflammation
Some people who do particularly well on raw foods are those with:
- Heart disease
- Hypertension and high cholesterol
- Kidney disease
- Gallstones or gallbladder disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Food allergies
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Hormonal imbalance
Studies even recommend the raw food diet for house pets — dogs, especially. According to certain veterinary experts and holistic health practitioners, it can be beneficial for dogs with Cushing’s disease and other ailments related to aging. However, these claims remain controversial and for the most part unsubstantiated.
How does raw food affect your body?
With respect to the way that enzymes in foods are affected by cooking, there is some debate. However, many experts maintain that foods heated over 112 degrees Fahrenheit retain fewer enzymes.
Enzymes are used by your system to decompose food into smaller components. This is an important concern because you won’t be able to consume a lot of nutrients if they aren’t readily available to your body.
The digestive system itself produces certain of the enzymes that you need. These are called endogenous enzymes. Raw foods are a source of enzymes that are not produced by the body, known as exogenous enzymes. A key idea behind the raw diet philosophy is that the more exogenous enzymes we consume, the less we will have to rely on endogenous enzymes.
Every food is different with respects to how cooking affects it. Many foods that are rich in antioxidants are particularly vulnerable to cooking. The heat at which a food begins to lose its nutrients is termed the “heat labile point.” It’s in this condition that the food loses some of its nutrients.
Another good reason to consume raw foods is that they are easier to digest. When a food stays in the digestive tract for a long period of time, it can ferment and cause issues such as gas and inflammation. You might even get a condition called leaky gut syndrome if this is an ongoing problem. Since raw and fermented foods spend less time in the digestive track, they are much less likely to ferment in your gut and cause health problems.
Raw foods also have a great effect on the body’s acid/alkaline balance. You will be more prone to illness if the acidity in your body increases and your immune system’s strength diminishes. While cooked foods can lead to more acidity in your system, raw foods neutralize acid and alkalize the body.
Finally, you’ll lose more weight on a raw food diet. Raw foods are richer in fiber and nutrients. This can help stop your craving for more food.
How to follow a raw food diet
As has been stated before, you don’t need to treat cooked foods as a total taboo. Basically, you should work to achieve a healthy balance. You will probably do your best when you eat a lot of raw foods in addition to a few that are partially cooked.
To achieve your goals, take the following steps to incorporate more raw foods into your diet:
- At every meal, use up half of your plate by eating non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Try to make as much of this portion of your plate full of raw items.
- You can lightly cook some of your foods at temperatures that are under 100 degrees. Try using a steamer to achieve this effect. Also, for variation, try juicing some of the items. Keep in mind that there are many variations on this diet, and you should pick a pattern of eating that is good for you. Usually, on a raw food diet, 75 to 80 percent of your total intake will be from raw, plant-based foods.
- Be very careful with the fats you are using. Replace hydrogenated oils and trans fats with good fats. Good fats include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and nuts/seeds.
- Concentrate on quality animal foods in moderate amounts.
- Do away with sugary foods and refined grains. This will include anything white. Replace the refined stuff with sprouted grain products. Emphasize real fruits instead of sugary snacks.
Foods you can eat on a raw food diet
The usual raw food diet is composed of intact, unprocessed food that hasn’t been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The primary food groups that are consumed are fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, sea vegetables, and fats.
Certain foods are easy to identify as being raw. Anything that grows and is eaten without processing is such an item. Other ingredients, some of which we will list, are sometimes raw and sometimes not. Therefore, you may need to read labels to figure out what is what.
- Foods that have been cooked or baked in any manner are not considered to be raw.
- Canned foods are not considered to be raw.
- Herbal teas are not considered to be raw, since the leaves are typically heated at the factory.
You can use vegetables in any way that does not involve cooking them. They can also be pickled or made into noodles. Frozen vegetables that have been cooked before they are frozen are not considered to be raw.
Fruits can be whole, dried, dehydrated, or made into juices and smoothies. Frozen fruits are fine.
Nuts and seeds
Try to find raw and organic seeds and nuts. You can make them into anything that does not require cooking. This means that you can grind them down to produce certain food items as nut milks.
Many sweeteners are processed. This makes them not raw. Try some of the following:
- Agave nectar (raw)
- Coconut nectar
- Honey (raw)
- Mesquite powder
- Stevia powder
- Date sugar
- Yacon syrup
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are a must on any raw food diet. Fermented foods are raw and include natural probiotics. You can eat yogurt, kefir, sourdough, and other cultured foods.
The probiotics in fermented foods give you beneficial bacteria that will live in your gut. They will aid in nutrient absorption and boost your immune system. You may also find that your skin gets clearer, and you may lose some weight.
Even if you don’t switch to a raw food diet, you may find that it’s beneficial to include fermented foods in your diet.
The downsides of a raw food diet
First of all, there are some benefits to cooking certain foods. For instance, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes have nutrients in them that are brought out by cooking. The beta-carotene and lycopene in these foods are antioxidants that are actually released by the cooking process. Peppers and mushrooms, too, actually become more nutrient-dense after they have been cooked.
Certain foods contain bacteria that is potentially harmful for you to consume. Meat, fish, and eggs are particularly prone to this.
Also, some vegetables contain goitrogen compounds. In excess, these can be harmful for your thyroid gland. When you cook vegetables, the quantity of goitrogens decreases greatly, but when you are on a raw food diet your risk for goitrogen compound-induced problems increases.
The diet may not be the best choice for people with certain gut types. Raw fruits and vegetables can be difficult for them to digest, so the increase in fiber might be an issue. If you have digestive problems, you may want to cook more of your foods.
What’s the difference between a raw food diet and a vegan diet?
Keeping in mind that this is not a vegan diet, there are foods that you can consume besides fruits and vegetables. Included on this diet are:
- Some Meat
- Raw dairy products
Raw vegans don’t eat any animal products at all. They also eat very few cooked foods. For this reason, it can be a very hard diet to maintain. Many doctors don’t recommend that you go on a raw vegan diet because it is hard to get all of the vitamins, minerals, and protein that you need.
The bottom line
If you suffer from low energy level, fatigue, depression, or certain other health issues, then you should definitely consult a doctor before going on any kind of diet.
The raw food diet is a lifestyle choice that definitely has its benefits — up to a certain point. Perhaps the best thing to do is to try a modified raw foods diet. What this would mean is that foods are consumed raw when it’s beneficial to do so. When there is an advantage to consuming cooked foods, then you will do so by all means. This way, you’ll get the benefits of both worlds.
Of course, everyone can benefit from eating more raw fruits and vegetables. This is true even for those who don’t adopt a more stringent raw food regimen.