Have you ever eaten dinner with someone who smothers their wilted veggies in hot cheese or butter? Or orders their food so blackened you hardly think there’s anything left but carcinogens?
When I sit across people like this, I always wonder if there’s even enough nutrients in their food to make it worth their while to ingest.
How overcooked and cheesy does broccoli have to be to make all its nutritional value fly out the window?
Well, supporters of the raw food diet would be appalled by my aforementioned friends. That’s because raw foodies believe in eating food when it provides the most amount of nutrients for your body: completely raw.
The raw food diet isn’t really a diet because you’re not obsessing over calories and drastically restricting your food intake. It’s just called healthy eating…to an extreme.
But the raw food diet takes that healthy eating concept to the next level and sets guidelines for how to eat and ‘cook’ your healthy food.
We’ll explore some of the benefits and drawbacks to this lifestyle in today’s post. So let’s begin by defining what the raw diet is.
What is the Raw Food Diet?
By definition, the raw food diet, or raw foodism, is characterized by only eating uncooked and unprocessed foods.
The belief is that by cooking foods, you actually destroy their nutritional value and kill off the important enzymes that make that food so healthy. That’s part of why this diet is also called the living food diet.
Food is consumed in its natural, raw (living state), instead of eaten after it’s been cooked, and essentially ‘killed’ of its nutrients.
On this diet, cooking is limited to using dehydration and any other methods that keep food below a cooking temperature of 118 degrees F.
Similar to the vegan diet, people who adhere to a raw diet consume fruits and vegetables in abundance.
Followers of the raw diet are divided into many categories, with the four most popular being:
- Raw vegetarians: consume raw foods plus eggs and dairy
- Raw vegans: consume all raw foods and zero animal products or byproducts
- Raw omnivores: choose to eat plant and animal based foods, mostly raw*
- Raw carnivores: opt for raw meat only diets*
*Just to be clear, I’m not recommending that anyone consumes raw meat here.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking: “Well, I can understand eating fruits and veggies raw, but eating raw meat is just a bit too much for me”…don’t worry, I’d agree with you here.
But after thinking about it further, I remembered that the Italians eat carpaccio, the Japanese excel at sashimi, Latin Americans have ceviche, and Hawaiians have poke. So I guess eating raw meats and fish isn’t really that uncommon. But they’re just not as prominent in our world of processed foods.
Raw foodism is the very opposite of that.
That’s what I love most about the raw foodie philosophy: eating whole, unprocessed foods is the key to improving our overall health.
Unlike typical fad diets and detox kits that promote weight loss in the shortest amount of time, the raw diet is aimed at improving your overall health for life, and I couldn’t agree with that concept more.
So I think it’s time for us to explore the health benefits of following a raw food lifestyle.
Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
After learning more about the vegan diet and the health benefits associated with it, I can understand why people are drawn to eating natural fruits and veggies. You really can’t beat the nutritional benefits that unprocessed fruits and veggies have to offer.
By incorporating more of them in your life, you’ll be upping your fiber, vitamin, and mineral supplies so your body can start working smarter.
But, when water soluble vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin C are cooked at high temperatures, they start to lose their potency. On top of that, “minerals like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc may be reduced by up to 60 to 70 percent” during cooking processes.
So how does raw eating specifically benefit our bodies?
1. Cancer Protection
A study presented in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry examined the effects of eating cooked broccoli versus raw broccoli.
Broccoli contains an anti-cancer and blood pressure lowering compound known as sulforaphane. So researchers were interested in seeing how the levels of this compound were affected by the cooking process.
They discovered that “higher amounts of sulforaphane were found in the blood and urine when broccoli was eaten raw”. On top of that, “absorption of sulforaphane was delayed when cooked broccoli was consumed”.
Garlic is another veggie with more cancer fighting properties in its raw state.
According to one study, eating raw garlic two or more times a week was associated with less risks for developing lung cancer.
So not only do we get more protection from cancer and health issues like high blood pressure, but our bodies can actually take in these compounds much better in their raw state, which means it will be easily available for our bodies to use.
2. Combats Anemia
Another veggie that’s best consumed raw is beets. According to Health magazine, beets “lose more than 25% of their folate when cooked”.
This is part of what makes beets so popular for juicing.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why do I need folate anyway? Isn’t that only important for pregnant women?”
Yes, that is true, but truthfully, we all need folate.
Eating Well explains that folate is a water soluble B vitamin that helps us create healthy new cells. When it’s combined with vitamin B12, it also helps our bodies produce normal red blood cells.
Without folate, we’d feel extremely weak and tired, as well as irritable. This lack of folate may even create a decrease in appetite and may also drain color from your skin, making you look super unhealthy.
Essentially, a deficiency in folate can lead to anemia, which is when the body has a scarcity of red blood cells, resulting in less oxygen being able to circulate in the body.
Thankfully, we can eat raw beets to give our bodies a folate boost.
Speaking of giving our bodies a boost, eating a raw diet can also help our immune systems.
3. Strong Immune System
I find it funny anytime one of my clients tells me that they’re taking one of those over the counter immunity boosters such as Airborne.
If you look carefully at the ingredient label on these products, you’ll quickly realize that most of the immunity powers come from a large dose of vitamin C.
Instead of spending money on a processed, powdered version of this nutrient, you could go directly to the source by eating vitamin C rich foods like raw carrots and raw red peppers.
This article in the NY Times Dr. Well section explains that: “Canned peas and carrots lose 85-95% of their natural vitamin C”.
But that’s not all.
Dr. Well continues on to say: “Depending on the method used, loss of vitamin C during home cooking typically can range from 15 percent to 55 percent, according to this review by researchers at the University of California Davis”.
But carrots aren’t the only food that will help strengthen your immunity.
One Green Planet tells us that the following four raw foods can also help if you feel a cold coming on:
On top of protecting our immune systems, eating a raw diet may also help keep the weight off, too.
4. Lower BMI
US News’ Health section presented a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzing the effects of a raw food diet compared to a typical American diet.
Over the course of four years, 18 participants followed a strict raw diet, while the other 18 individuals followed an average American one.
The results: those following the raw diet showed a significantly lower BMI, or body mass index.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- Those who ate raw showed an average 20.7 BMI for men and 20.1 for women
- Those who ate the American diet had an average BMI of 25.5 and 25.4 respectively
Plus, the study showed that “[the] total body fat in the raw food group was 13.9 percent for men and 24.1 percent for women, compared with 20.8 and 33.5 percent among the non-raw food dieters”.
That’s amazing news for those looking to drastically reduce their BMIs.
By following a raw diet and lowering your total body fat and BMI, you could also end up reducing your risks for chronic diseases and health concerns such as diabetes, heart attacks, and stroke.
5. Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Collective Evolution explains that: “Bioactive compounds in plant based foods interact with cells, enzymes, hormones and DNA which affects gene expression and cell changes – the interaction helps to greatly reduce chronic diseases”.
In my processed foods article, I showed you how unhealthy foods can have the opposite effect on your health. Think: increased rates of cancer, chronic inflammation, and digestive upsets, just to name a few.
Well, raw foods can help combat issues like this.
Collective Evolution says: “Evidence demonstrates that inflammation is often found to be the root cause of most chronic diseases, and antioxidants from natural foods eaten raw or minimally cooked counter free radicals that fan the flames of inflammation”.
And if those aren’t enough reasons to consider adding more raw foods to your diet, here are two more for you.
6. Improved Skin & Increased Energy
Some supporters of the raw food diet claim that you’ll notice an improvement in your skin’s appearance and your energy levels over time.
Drawbacks to a Raw Food Diet
Just like you can’t believe everything you hear, there are a few scientifically researched drawbacks to this lifestyle as well. Like the fact that some foods are actually healthier when cooked (ahem raw meat, anyone?).
“Three cups of raw spinach, for example, have 90 milligrams of calcium, whereas one cup of cooked has nearly triple the amount (259 milligrams)”.
So if you’re planning on following a raw diet food regime, you’ll have to do your homework to figure out which health benefits matter most to you.
Sure, raw spinach has folate and vitamins that would work well for a raw foodie, but the cooked version would provide more calcium to someone like a vegan who may lack adequate calcium in their diet.
Not everything in the raw food world comes up asparagus and roses, there are some other drawbacks to consider too.
Extremely Low Body Weight and Amenorrhea
Unfortunately, following an extremely strict, raw diet can lead to dangerously low body weight levels.
One study even found that women following these diets should be cautioned that having such a low body weight can lead to amenorrhea, which is the absence or loss of menstruation.
But that’s not the only concern.
Another study examined the effects of a 95% raw food diet on oral hygiene.
As it turns out, the increased consumption of acidic fruits actually caused participants from the raw food group to experience more dental erosions than the control group who feasted on a traditional diet.
Although raw food dieters can try to limit their intake of acidic fruits, it may prove to be difficult in the long run.
To get the same vitamin C benefits, you could substitute raw red bell peppers. They have three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C without as much acid. Plus, they have more magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin E in their raw, crunchy state.
With any diet or change in eating habits, it’s important to weigh both the benefits and risks with your doctor before making any drastic changes.
I can say for certain that adding more raw fruits and veggies to your diet is never a bad thing. However, I would caution against going completely raw.
This is especially true for anyone considering raw meat as part of their diet. You’re definitely going to want to have a chat with your doctor about that one.
I think more research needs to be done on the raw diet specifically to prove that it’s a 100% safe and effective way of getting all the macronutrients your body needs to thrive.
Would you ever consider going on a raw diet?