Some people believe that eating raw food is healthier since heating destroys nutrients and natural enzymes. Some of them even claim that cooking makes food toxic. However, there is no research done to confirm these statements. Moreover, experts say that eating a primarily raw diet can have a negative effect on health.
The raw food diet is an eating practice that involves the consumption of only or mostly uncooked and unprocessed foods to improve health and prevent chronic diseases. This diet allows blending, juicing, soaking, sprouting, and dehydrating foods. The raw food diet can be vegan (includes only plant-based food), vegetarian (includes plant-based food, unprocessed dairy products, and raw eggs), or omnivorous (includes raw animal products and raw or dried meat).
A raw food diet requires that you eat only foods that have not been heated above 104-118°F (40-48°C), pasteurized, treated with pesticides, refined, or processed in any other way. Instead, focus on:
- fresh and dried vegetables and fruits
- seeds, nuts
- raw, soaked, or sprouted grains and legumes
- cold-pressed coconut and olive oils
- raw flaxseed and hempseed oils
- raw nut and seed butter
- nut milk
- fermented foods
- herbs and spices
The three most common types of the raw food diet include:
- vegan raw food diet
- vegetarian raw food diet
- omnivorous raw food diet
Depending on your diet type, you may exclude or include certain food groups like raw eggs, unprocessed dairy products, raw fish, and raw or dried meat.
The list of foods you should avoid while following the raw food diet includes:
- cooked or processed foods
- table salt
- coffee and tea
- refined oils
- refined sugars and flour
Pregnant women, young children, seniors, people with a weakened immune system, and those with chronic medical conditions like kidney disease should avoid following raw food diet. In addition, even if you don’t fall in one of the listed categories, it is good to consult with a healthcare provider before trying this nutritional approach.
In addition, there are some risks associated with the raw food diet. They arise since some food can be not safe to consume in a raw form, including:
- meat and chicken
- seafood and shellfish
- milk and dairy products
- fruits and vegetables (they must be washed properly before consumption)
- kidney beans
The listed foods may contain toxins or cause food poisoning when eaten raw.
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
Since the raw food diet eliminates many food groups, people following it are at a higher risk of developing deficiencies in specific nutrients like protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B-12 (riboflavin), vitamin D, zinc, and iodine. Therefore, to ensure that you are getting enough of these, include the following foods in your diet:
- protein: almonds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, lentils, peas, quinoa, spinach, kale, broccoli, arugula, buckwheat groats, oats;
- iron: spinach, peas, lentils, walnuts, peanuts, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, quinoa;
- calcium: chia seeds, poppy seeds, almonds, lentils, rhubarb, leafy greens;
- vitamin B-12 (riboflavin): nori, nutritional yeast;
- vitamin D: supplements only;
- zinc: legumes, seeds (hemp seeds, sesame seeds, squash seeds, and pumpkin seeds), almonds, cashew, eggs, oats;
- iodine: seaweed (nori, kombu kelp, wakame), prunes;
As we can see from the list above, a raw food diet can only offer a limited selection of food sources of mentioned nutrients. Therefore, it might be a good idea to discuss supplement intake with your doctor.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
While cooking food is not allowed on a raw food diet, there are some techniques you can use to diversify your meals. They include dehydrating, soaking, juicing, sprouting, fermenting, and blending.
- Dehydrating food. You will need a kitchen appliance called a dehydrator to perform this technique. It works by conducting air at a low heat to remove moisture from foods. As a result, you get healthy snacks similar to cookies, crackers, granola, etc.
- Soaking food. This technique involves letting foods like seeds, nuts, beans, and legumes sit in the water for some time. Soaking helps reduce the phytic acid and inhibitors of digestive enzymes. As a result, the absorption of such nutrients and minerals as protein, calcium, zinc, and iron increases. It is best to let beans soak for 6-8 hours or overnight, nuts and seeds – from 20 minutes to 2-3 hours.
- Juicing food. It involves extracting juice from fresh vegetables and fruits. You can use either a juicer or a blender to perform this technique. It is worth mentioning that you should drink the juice on the same day as you make it.
- Sprouting food. You can sprout seeds, nuts, beans, and grains. For example, seeds soaked in warm water usually sprout in three to seven days. It is easier for our body to absorb nutrients like zinc, iron, and vitamin C from sprouted foods.
- Fermenting food. Fermentation is a process that involves food sugar breakdown by yeast and bacteria. Fermented foods can improve your health by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut. In addition, it prolongs food preservation.
- Blending food. This technique involves putting different foods in a blender and mixing it.
You can find various recipes for each listed technique to make your raw food diet more diverse and tasty.
Even though the raw food diet promotes eating whole and fiber-rich foods, it cannot be called a well-balanced nutritional approach. The raw food diet makes it difficult to maintain adequate nutrition and meet your body’s needs. In addition, many people have a tough time keeping such a diet due to the extreme limitations in food choices. Notably, continuous nutritional restrictions can lead to unhealthy relationships with food.
Following the raw food diet for the long term may pose some health risks, including nutrient and caloric deficiencies and an increased risk of foodborne illnesses.
Overall, including more fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet is a healthy choice. However, you do not have to eliminate all cooked foods to reap the benefits of raw foods. Instead, it is essential to find a balance in your diet, giving preferences to a whole and unprocessed food and being attentive to how your diet impacts your health.
It is worth mentioning that it is advisable to consult with your doctor before following any nutritional approach.