What is the raw food diet? Advantages, disadvantages and what you can eat
Most diets stipulate what foods you can eat, not how they are prepared. Meanwhile, the raw food diet — a plant-based fad diet that often overlaps with veganism — focuses specifically on cooking: it consists of mostly or all raw, unprocessed foods.
But is the raw food diet really healthy? For one, it will require you to eat a ton of plants, replacing processed ingredients with whole foods. On the other hand, you won’t be able to safely enjoy many staple foods.
If you’re considering trying the plant-based, uncooked lifestyle, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. Here’s everything you need to know about the raw food diet, according to dietitians.
What is the raw food diet?
The raw food diet consists of plants (and sometimes raw animal products) that have not been heated beyond a certain temperature, explains Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD, director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The exact definition of “raw” varies from person to person, she notes, but 118°F seems like the upper limit for most people.
In its strictest form, the diet consists entirely of raw, unprocessed foods; some people allocate a certain percentage of their food intake to non-raw foods, Levin says. Raw veganism is the most common form of the diet, but you can also eat raw, unprocessed animal products, including fish, eggs, and milk.
“The goal is to eat foods in their natural state,” says Pam Fullenweider, RD, MS, a registered dietitian. “The theory is that the heat when cooking destroys the enzymes needed for digestion and creates toxins in our bodies. There is no scientific evidence that supports this idea.
You can eat vegetables, fruits, sprouted beans, sprouted grains, nuts, and seeds as part of a raw diet. Blending, juicing, drying, fermenting, pressing, and steeping are all acceptable preparation methods, which means oils, nut butters, nut milks, cold infused beverages and dried fruits are all acceptable.
What are the benefits of the raw food diet?
Obviously, eating more plants comes with many health benefits. “Because the diet is generally plant-based, it includes fresh, raw fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which help reduce inflammation in our bodies,” says Fullenweider. .
Because plants are high in fiber, they digest slowly and help you feel fuller for longer, reducing cravings between meals. They’re also lower in calories, which means this diet will likely boost weight loss, says Fullenweider, especially if you ditch processed foods altogether.
And plant-based diets have long been known to be linked to a lower likelihood of chronic disease, adds Levin. One study 2019for example, found that plant-based diets were associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular mortality, and even all-cause mortality in middle-aged adults.
What are the disadvantages of the raw food diet?
It’s not all good news, though: The raw diet also poses serious risks. Fullenweider calls the diet “very restrictive”, noting that it could lead to deficiencies in calcium, iron, protein and vitamins B12 and D. This is supported by a 2005 studywhich found that while a raw vegetarian diet resulted in less body fat overall, it was also linked to lower nutrient intake and lower bone mass.
Plus, there’s a reason most people cook their meals: “Eating raw foods of animal origin is dangerous and not recommended,” says Fullenweider. (All meat should be cooked to internal temperatures between 145°F and 165°Fdepending on the type, to prevent foodborne illness, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)
Some people also might not know how to get the most out of their food, Levin says: If you don’t soak and sprout beans and grains, for example, you might not eat them at all, leaving you with no high calorie option. . Plus, she adds, “cooking certain foods actually makes their nutrients more available when eaten.”
Should You Try the Raw Food Diet?
It’s a complicated question. Fullenweider doesn’t think the diet is worth trying. Instead, she recommends the mediterranean diet, another cutting-edge approach to eating that prioritizes whole foods, but lets you cook your meals. It is also associated with heart health and weight lossand it’s at a much lower risk of nutrient deficiencies, says Fullenweider.
Levin, meanwhile, is more optimistic. “I’ve seen people thrive on a raw food diet, so I’m hesitant to consider it a bad idea,” she says. However, it does state that if you want to try, you need the right tools at your disposal: invest in equipment like a dehydrator and blender, and educate yourself about food safety and the risks of food soaking and sprouting.
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