The decision to adapt a raw food lifestyle is not an easy one. Here we explore some of the reasons to make the change and why raw foods are a popular choice for many.
I started this journey with the intention of improving my vitality and health. I have tried pretty much every diet out there, so why am I revisiting raw foods?
There are many advocates of and opponents to a 100% raw vegan diet. I am not taking a stance but I know that right now I am not prepared to completely restrict myself to only raw vegan foods. That being said I have been 100% vegan since Easter, except I had a tuna tartare appetizer for dinner one evening while I was traveling.
What is a Raw Food Diet?
The original diet was raw food based. Historically, fire and the ability to cook food was an important milestone in the ability of human beings to get adequate nutrition and establish stable communities.
Contemporary interest in raw food diets originated back in the 1800s during the Natural Hygiene movement founded by Maximillian Bircher-Benner. Generally speaking, raw food is considered to be any food that has NOT been heated above 104-118 degrees (the specific temperature is debated). Raw food enthusiasts believe that keeping temperatures low preserves nutrients and the naturally occurring enzymes in the food which help with their digestion.
There are a few different types of raw food diets. Most raw foodies are Raw Vegan, meaning they consume only plant-based foods in their raw form. There are some raw vegetarians, who include raw dairy products in their diets. Finally, a few raw foodies include uncooked or minimally cooked animal products (including fish and meat) in their diets.
Types of Raw Foods
fresh, raw fruits and raw vegetables
raw nuts and seeds
purified water, but not tap water
freshly made fruit and vegetable juices
young coconut milk
soaked and sprouted beans, grains, and legumes
raw nut butter
dried wheatgrass or algae
fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut
Raw food enthusiasts believe that this low calorie, high fiber, plant-based diet is designed to promote optimal health. Many report experiencing more energy, weight loss, healthier skin, and even improved digestion. Adding more raw foods has been shown to reduce the risk of certain diseases
Without vitamins, our cells would not function properly, our organs would suffer, and eventually we would no longer be able to survive. Vitamins help regulate metabolism, convert fat and carbohydrates into energy, and form bone and tissue.
Phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”), which includes antioxidants, give fruits and vegetables their radiant colors and are important in the prevention of chronic diseases, most notably cancer and heart disease. These are literally nature’s compounds that keep us well. Dr. Mark Hyman says that phytonutrients help “turn-on” your body’s metabolism at the cellular level and regulate hormones that help control appetite. These foods have high levels of antioxidants with health-promoting and disease-preventing compounds.
Minerals also have a synergistic relationship with vitamins. They help each other help us. When some foods are cooked, many of the minerals are destroyed, or altered. Mineral deficiencies cause disease.
Many vitamins and phytonutrients are destroyed or damaged when cooked or processed above 130 degrees. Eating fresh, organic raw fruits and vegetables increases the vitamins and micronutrients in your diet.
Easy Weight Loss
For me, a raw foods diet is the easiest way for me to lose weight quickly. I never, ever feel deprived because of the volume of food that I can eat because many raw foods are low in calories, fat, and sodium, and high in fiber. The raw foods community has created so many substitute recipes for the Standard American Diet (SAD) food.
Also my cravings have subsided. I stopped craving coffee every morning. My sugar cravings are mostly gone and a square or two of extremely dark chocolate will satisfy that urge. When I crave sugar I also make a smoothie or healthy raw dessert, which is much healthier than eating a whole pint of ice cream. Now, I miss it when I don’t have a green smoothie for a few days, and junk foods don’t even factor into any of my decisions around food.
Simplifies Cooking and Kitchen
One of the reasons I love a raw food diet is that I find it easier to prepare my meals and keep the kitchen clean. I love to cook but hate to clean! 😉
I primarily use blenders, food processors, and dehydrators to prepare my raw meals. There is little cross-contamination of food (i.e. meats and dairy). There is no cooked and baked on dirt on my pots and pans. (In fact, I don’t use pots and pans for the most part). I can rinse the blender well and start preparing another dish immediately.
You may need to ramp up your kitchen skills. I have always enjoyed cooking and trying new recipes. If you are not adventurous and generally eat the same meals, raw foods may be a struggle at first. I have really enjoyed exploring farmer’s markets and trying new things.
Eating out can be tricky, and if you go organic, you may need to go to specialty stores for a wider selection than your usual grocery store. Since my previous raw food experience, most of the chain grocery stores now carry a wide variety of organic and other health foods.
Without getting preachy, I will just say that there is no question that a raw vegan diet allows me to lessen my environmental footprint easily and feel good about it.
For those who are interested in exploring the ethical implications of the raw diet let me say that the story is complex. There are many vantage points with conflicting messages. There are ethical concerns with the way plants are produced just as there are concerns about animals. Some studies have shown that the faux plant-based proteins take as much, if not more, energy to produce as animal foods.
There are so many points of pain in our current food system it is difficult to know where to start. However, each intentional step to make constructive choices can and will be rewarded, so find the ways the are consistent with your values.
I am obsessed with how beautiful my raw food dishes look! Hence, the photoblog. I love making a sandwich, salad or a pasta dish with all the vibrant colors because it’s so visually pleasing. The way the food is plated is a key component to satiation. And, when you have the beautiful colors of fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s so simple.
Have you seen any raw desserts? One of the most exciting things about eating raw food is that the desserts are amazing! They are not low calorie, but because the rest of the diet is low calorie and low fat, it is easier to justify a high calorie treat more often.
As with any diet, there are some long-term concerns. As a raw vegan, you have to make sure you’re getting enough protein, iron, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals like B12. If you exclude all animal products, you may need to take supplements to make up for any gaps in your diet.
Also, cooking actually makes some nutrients in foods more available like beta-carotene and lycopene. It also kills bacteria and prevents food poisoning.
Antinutrients are another important concern. When eating foods raw, it is important to prepare foods to maximize digestibility. Soaking and sprouting nuts, seeds and grains is critical.
Raw foods adherents say that most animals eat raw foods and as animals we should follow suit. However, the fact is that our digestive tracts have evolved and are significantly different than other animals. Wild animals spend their entire day searching for food and a lot of time chewing the food they find. Even domesticated animals spend a large portion of their days grazing and chewing. It is possible to eat raw only but it takes a lot of time to chew and digest enough nutrients well.
In the current food system, we do not have access to a highly diverse source of food. Seed documentary
Foods That Should Never Be Eaten Raw
- Rhubarb greens
- Kidney Beans
- Lima Beans
For me a balanced perspective is important. While I know that a primarily raw vegan diet is beneficial for me at this moment. I also know after 50 years ;-), that my body needs different things at different times. What I know for sure is that everybody and everybody is unique and has their own specific needs for optimal health. One diet will never work for everyone. I am committed to my health and well being whatever form that takes. Making healthful food choices is part of that journey.
Frequently asked questions about why to eat raw foods.
There are certain foods that are actually more nutritious when cooked than when raw.
Plants have certain antinutrients that protect the plants from animals and disease. These substances make plants that have not been prepared properly difficult to digest.
Certain foods should not be eaten raw including:
There is a risk when eating a primarily plant based diet of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Despite the consensus in the raw foods community that the enzymes in raw foods make them more digestible, the fact is that that is not true for everyone. For some, eating primarily raw foods means that less food actually is digested.
Philip J Tuso, MD, Mohamed H Ismail, MD, Benjamin P Ha, MD, Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD
Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets
Fontana L, Shew JL, Holloszy JO, Villareal DT.
Low bone mass in subjects on a long-term raw vegetarian diet.
Mar 28 2005
Rachel N. Carmody, Michael Dannemann, Adrian W. Briggs, Birgit Nickel, Emily E. Groopman, Richard W. Wrangham, and Janet Kelso
Genetic Evidence of Human Adaptation to a Cooked Diet
Mar 15 2016
Kate L. Brookie, Georgia I. Best, and Tamlin S. Conner
Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables
Apr 10 2018
U.S. News and World Reports
What is Raw Food Diet?
Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience
Reality Check: 5 Risks of a Raw Vegan Diet
Jan 16 2013