Raw food diets have been gaining considerable attention and have even grown to be somewhat of a pop culture in recent years. So what is a raw food diet plan and can we all benefit from it?
What Is A Raw Food Diet Plan?
A raw food diet plan is a diet that consists mainly of uncooked foods. Proponents of raw foods believe that cooking destroys most of the important enzymes and nutrition that your body needs. Raw foods enthusiasts believe that eating raw foods helps to prevent disease, increase energy, lose weight, improve digestion and clear your skin.
Typically a raw food diet implies that about 75% or more of the food you eat is raw. According to US News, a very small number of people actually follow a diet that is 100% raw foods.
Typically in the raw food diet, you are allowed to heat your foods as long as they are not heated above 104-115 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generally believed to be the point above which important enzymes and vitamins for our digestion are damaged.
Many raw food diet recipes, especially those for breads and crackers, take advantage of this, and heat foods at low temperatures (called “dehydrating”).
However some believe that beneficial enzymes can be damaged at lower temperatures, even as low as 72 degrees.
Many people following the raw food diet are vegans or vegetarians. Unlike vegans (who avoid all animal-derived foods), vegetarians may consume raw milk or cheese made from raw milk under the raw food diet.
Non-vegans and non-vegetarians on the raw food diet may also eat raw meat including sashimi and carpaccio.
The benefits of raw foods in general are becoming better known and raw foods are being encouraged by health experts including Dr. Oz. Juicing and making smoothies are also becoming popular ways of incorporating raw foods into people’s diets.
Raw Food Diet Benefits
Here is a list of what are believed to be the benefits of eating raw foods:
- Raw foods provide the body with a high level of important enzymes and nutrients
- Raw foods are necessary for digestive efficiency
- Raw foods are necessary for proper bowel function
- Raw vegetables, which make up a large percentage of a raw food diet, are generally low in calories
- Raw foods will detoxify your body
- Raw foods generally prevent disease
- Raw foods increase energy
- Raw foods make you lose weight
- Raw foods clear your skin
What Can You Eat on a Raw Food Diet Plan?
You may think that you can only eat raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds on a raw food diet plan. While according to WebMD typically about 75% of a raw food diet is made up of vegetables and fruits, there are other things you can eat.
Here is a sample list of raw foods that you can eat on a raw food diet plan.
- Raw vegetables
- Raw fruits
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet)
- Beans and legumes
- Sprouted seeds
- Dried fruits
- Nut butter
- Miso paste
- Chia seeds
- Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
- Raw virgin coconut oil
- Raw coconut butter
- Raw milk (meaning not pasteurized)
- Raw milk yogurt
- Cheese from raw milk
- Raw fish
- Certain raw meat
- Fresh vegetable/fruit juices
- Fresh vegetable/fruit smoothies
- Herbal teas
- Spices (cayenne, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, raw soy sauce, etc.)
- Shredded coconut
- Honey and maple syrup
- Fermented foods (miso, kimchee, sauerkraut)
What Should You Avoid Eating Raw?
Some vegetables and legumes are better consumed cooked to avoid their natural toxins.
Here is a list of foods to avoid eating raw, just to be safe.
- alfalfa sprouts
- mung beans
- black-eyed peas
- buckwheat greens
- fava beans
- kidney beans
The Potential Risks of a Predominantly Raw Food Diet
First of all, everyone seems to agree that generally incorporating raw foods into your diet is a healthy thing to do and a much better alternative to eating junk foods and processed foods, which is the standard American diet (SAD).
The differences in opinion begin to arise with respect to adopting a diet that is made up of mainly raw foods (close to or 100% raw foods).
Too much fruits and nuts
The potential shortcoming of a predominantly raw food diet is that you may end up consuming lots of fruits, nuts and seeds just to meet your caloric needs, since vegetables are extremely low in calories. This may limit the diversity of your nutrients. Also, fruits and nuts have lower nutrients per calorie compared to vegetables.
Consuming too much fruit may also result in over-consumption of sugar.
Some vegetable nutrients made available only through cooking
According to Dr. Fuhrman, although high-heat cooking such as barbecuing, baking and frying will damage the food and form toxic compounds, steaming and soup making do not form these compounds and are encouraged.
Heating and moisturizing vegetables and beans (through steaming and soup making) increase the digestibility of many nutritious and beneficial compounds, whereas these nutrients would have been lost if consumed raw.
A good example often used is that you cannot get much lycopene, which is a pigment that protects against prostate cancer, from raw tomatoes. So it is better to eat tomatoes cooked in order to consume lycopene.
Also cooking destroys some of the anti-nutrients that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, enabling the body to increase absorption of those nutrients.
Lastly according to Dr. Fuhrman, studies have shown that the body absorbs many more of the anti-cancer compounds from cooked vegetables versus raw vegetables.
Some other concerns of a predominantly raw food diet include:
- Raw foods may contain more parasites and bacteria
- Some vegetables are hard to digest raw, unless juiced
- Risk of nutritional deficiency, such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12
Preparing Raw Food Diet Recipes
People on a raw food diet are very creative with their food preparation, in order to make their raw foods taste good. The preparation of raw food dishes often involves the use of a blender, food processor and dehydrator. A juicer is also essential in a raw food diet, to make nutrient-dense juices.
A dehydrator is an equipment used to make the breads, crackers, chips and raisins in a raw food diet. It is an equipment that heats foods at low temperatures, below 118F. It dehydrates the foods, often making them crisp.
Blenders are often used to make the soups and sauces in a raw food diet recipe.
Juicers are also essential in a raw food diet, since they allow you to consume lots of nutrients in 1-2 cups.
Should You Go On a Raw Food Diet Plan?
Going on a 100% raw food diet on a long-term basis may be challenging due to possible nutrient deficiencies. You will need to know which foods and even supplements to consume in order to avoid nutrient deficiency.
However, incorporating raw foods as a part of your diet is an excellent way to increase nutrients in your diet. Even Dr. Fuhrman, who advocates also eating cooked vegetables, encourages incorporating lots of raw foods in your diet, suggesting salads to be your main dish.
According to Dr. Oz, going on a raw food only diet for a short period may be a good way to reboot your system.
Proponents suggest a minimum of 30% to 50% of your foods to be from fresh raw foods.
Juicing is an excellent and easy way to incorporate raw foods into your diet, allowing you to consume the nutrients of lots of fresh vegetables and fruits in 1 glass.
Tips When Incorporating Raw Foods Into Your Diet
- Gradually increase raw foods, and allow your body to adjust.
- Do not over-consume fruits and nuts.
- Make sure to also eat cooked vegetables.
- When eating raw produce, try to buy organic ones.
Dr. Fuhrman – Raw vs Cooked Food?
US News – Raw Food Diet
Huffington Post – Raw Food Diet
Dr. Mercola – David Wolfe interview
About.com – Raw Food Diet
Dr. Mercola – You’ve Heard About Raw-Food Diets and Cooked-Food Diets, Now Find Out Which is Right