What Is a Raw Food Diet and Is It Right for You?
It is easier to explain what is a raw food diet than to practice it. “Raw foodism” or “rawism” holds that foods are the most wholesome, the most health giving, when they are in their natural states. People who follow raw food diets do so for health reasons, not to lose weight, although most do lose weight on the diet.
Raw foodists eat unprocessed and uncooked foods, almost exclusively plant-based foods. Three-quarters of a typical raw food diet consists of fruits and vegetables. Most followers of raw food diets are vegans, which means they do not eat eggs or dairy. Some raw foodists eat raw eggs and cheese made from unpasteurized or raw milk. Some also eat raw (or dehydrated) fish and chicken.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, raw food diets depend heavily on seaweed, sprouts, sprouted seeds, whole grains, beans, dried fruits, nuts, coconut milk, and purified water. There’s no place for alcohol, refined sugar, or caffeine in a raw food diet.
There are also no ovens or stoves needed for a raw food diet. One raw foodist actually had her landlord remove the stove from her apartment! Blenders and dehydrators are the common equipment for a raw food diet. The temperature in a food dehydrator can go no higher than 118 degrees Fahrenheit because raw food dieters believe that high heat leaches out the enzymes and vitamins needed for good health and good digestion.
What is a Raw Food Diet Menu?
Raw foods are lower in calories than cooked foods, so it takes planning to get enough calories for optimum health. It also takes lots of fruits and vegetables; the kitchen of a raw food practitioner may look like a farmer’s market or the produce section of a grocery store.
Fruit and greens make up the bulk of a typical raw food breakfast. A raw food smoothie combines fruits and vegetables into a healthful, filling, and tasty beverage. Banana pudding is another breakfast choice: blend bananas, dates, and celery in the blender until very smooth and pour over chopped bananas and dates. Fresh squeezed orange juice is a nutritious starter for the day. To get enough calories a raw foodie may eat a dozen or more bananas or oranges for breakfast.
Lots of fruits and vegetables make the ideal raw food lunch. Smoothies are also good for lunch and snacks. Raw food “ice cream” can be made by blending frozen bananas with any kind of fruit.
A typical raw food dinner consists of a raw soup and salad, with or without fruit.
Pros and Cons of Raw Food Diets
The scientific researched is mixed about the advantages and disadvantages of raw food diets. Some studies show that raw food diets have more antioxidants, which may help prevent certain cancers. Raw foodies tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than other people. Raw food diets are high in fiber and vitamins A and C.
Many practitioners of raw food diets report that eating only raw foods helped them recover from serious, chronic illnesses when traditional medical treatments failed. They report renewed vigor, energy, and health as a result of their raw food diets.
On the down side, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) believes that 118 degrees may not be hot enough to kill all the harmful bacteria in raw eggs, raw fish, and raw chicken. The ADA also points out that cooking makes the nutrients in some foods more available to the body; Eggs and tomatoes are two examples. The association also notes that the nutrient content of certain foods decrease when the foods are dehydrated, chopped, or exposed to air.
Raw foodists, most of whom do not eat meat, may experience vitamin B-12 deficiency because vitamin B-12 comes from animal products. As with all vegetarians, raw foodists are vulnerable to deficiencies in iron, calcium vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. One study found lower levels of lycopene, an important antioxidant, is raw foodists. Cooked tomatoes are a major source of lycopene.
Followers of raw food diets are typically thin, which is not necessarily bad. However, women may stop menstruating if they become too thin.
The ADA is also concerned that a raw food diet can result in a decrease in bone mass and an increase in certain amino acids, both of which can contribute to osteoporosis.
A Healthier Raw Food Diet
Careful food planning and attention to nutrition can address many of the concerns about raw food diets. In fact, raw foodists need to be much more thoughtful about the food they eat than do people who eat more varied diets.
The ADA recommends that people who follow a raw food diet eat twice as much food that contains iron. While vegetables do contain iron, the body does not absorb it as well as the iron that comes from animals. Tofu, legumes, spinach, parsley, cashews, and almonds are good sources of iron.
To compensate for the lack of calcium from dairy products, raw foodists should eat at least eight servings a day of fruits and vegetables that are rich in calcium. Figs, spinach, and bok choy are three plant-based food sources of calcium.
Flaxseed, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybean oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids for people who do not eat fish products. Enriched breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk are good sources of vitamin B-12. Raw foodists can increase their vitamin D intake by eating certain fortified foods and increasing their sun exposure. The ADA recommends that people who eat raw food diets consider taking vitamin B-12 and vitamin D supplements.
Is a Raw Food Diet for You?
As with all major health and dietary decisions, it’s a good idea to consult with a health care provider before switching to a raw food diet. It’s also important to transition carefully into a raw food diet. A registered dietician or alternative health care provider can help with the transition and can help you figure out what is a raw food diet that works for you.