The raw food diet (or raw veganism) is on the rise as one of the latest trends in clean eating. Despite its recent boom in popularity, the raw food diet isn’t a new concept - in fact it dates all the way back to the 1800s.
Many celebrities (including Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Venus Williams) swear by the raw food diet. You may have heard the benefits of the raw food diet such as weight loss, clear skin and increased energy levels. But, before you ditch your Sunday roast for a kale smoothie, let’s find out if raw veganism is everything it’s cracked up to be.
What is the raw food diet?
The raw food diet, as the name implies, is a diet composed mostly of raw and unprocessed food. It eliminates all cooking at temperatures above 104–118°F (40–48°C), as well as any food that’s refined, pasteurised or processed in any way (including supplements). Because of this, the raw food diet is generally considered to be a form of veganism (containing no animal products).
However, if you’re brave, you can include raw eggs or meat (such as carpaccio) if you don’t want to follow a fully vegan diet. This does come with risks, as raw meat and eggs can contain harmful bacteria like salmonella. Both cooking and pasteurisation reduce your risk of contracting salmonella.
Don’t worry. Eating raw food doesn’t mean you’ll only be crunching on carrot sticks and cucumber slices for the rest of your days…
How does the raw food diet work?
The raw food diet uses alternative food preparation methods such as juicing, dehydrating (at a low heat) and fermenting. The bulk (of not all) of your meals will be plant-based - using fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. You can include grains and legumes, but these need to be soaked or sprouted.
What are the benefits of the raw food diet?
There are many claimed benefits of the raw food diet. It’s important to note, however, that there is no scientific evidence to back these claims.
Followers of the raw food diet believe that cooking or processing your food is not only unnatural, but harmful to your health. This is because they believe enzymes found in raw, “living” food, are destroyed - reducing their nutrient content.
The raw food diet is supposed to preserve the “life force” within our food. People on the raw food diet claim this is the best way to prevent and reverse disease. Other supposed benefits of the raw food diet include:
- Greater quantities of dietary fiber and micronutrients
- Improved digestion, liver function and heart health
- Reduced risk of inflammation
- Reduced risk of cancer and chronic diseases
- Clear, healthy skin
- Higher energy levels
There are a few benefits to the raw food diet which can’t be disputed
It increases your intake of whole foods and cuts out all the processed junk foods which are detrimental to your health. It also almost guarantees weight loss. This is because the raw food diet is very low in calories.
Even if there’s no scientific evidence to support most of the health benefits, the weight loss itself sounds great. So, apart from a couple of kgs, what have you got to lose?
Health risks associated with the raw food diet
Despite the almost guaranteed weight loss, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the raw food diet. Raw diets are highly restrictive. Switching to a raw food diet decreases your calorie intake so significantly that you might find it difficult to meet your daily caloric needs. Download our Honest Guide to Weight Management.
Most raw food diets quickly become unbalanced. This is because you end up using fruit or fats to boost your calorie intake. As a result, many people on the raw food diet develop vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies.
Some of the health risks associated with the raw food diet include:
- Bone mass loss due to low calorie intake and lack of calcium, protein and vitamin D
- Lowered HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the “good” cholesterol
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Increased risk of tooth erosion
- Irregularities in women’s menstrual cycles or amenorrhea (no menstruation) caused by low body weight
In layman’s terms, you’re slowly starving yourself. Although fruit and veggies are very healthy for you, they can’t provide enough fuel to power the human body on their own.
Why do we cook our food?
While raw food evangelists believe cooking makes food toxic and indigestible, science disagrees.
Learning to cook helped our ancestors advance the development of the human brain. It opened up a world of new nutrients - and was one of the contributing factors to our success as a species.
During the cooking process, the cellular walls and fibers in our food break down. This releases additional nutrients that our bodies would never be able to absorb from raw food. Cooking also reduces certain chemicals which inhibit the absorption of micronutrients like calcium and iron.
“Cooking tomatoes, for example, increases by five-fold the bioavailability of the antioxidant lycopene. Similarly, cooking carrots makes the beta-carotene they contain more available for the body to absorb. Soups are full of nutrients that would not be available in a pot of raw carrots, onions, parsnips and potatoes,” writes the Scientific American.
The verdict on the raw food diet
Following a restrictive diet, no matter how seemingly healthy, is never a good thing.
You’re unlikely to encounter any major short-term health concerns following the raw food diet. However, eating only raw food (or predominantly raw food) as a long-term diet may lead to serious health problems. After considering the pros and cons of the raw food diet, it’s clear that the negative health effects outweigh the potential benefit of weight loss.
The best way to lose weight, is to follow a healthy, balanced diet of both cooked and raw foods, combined with exercise. If you'd like to learn more about your nutritional needs, discover Diet Fit - A personalised easy to follow plan, tailored to your DNA.
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