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Raw food diets – what is it and is it healthy? Nutritional aspect – pros and cons

There are many in the vegan community who promote a raw food diet and claim that it is the healthiest diet of them all. However that is not always the case.

Many who eat raw food claim that eating cooked food is worse for you than eating raw food and some even go so far as to say that eating cooked food is unhealthy or that cooked food can cause inflammation in the body or that it is unnatural. Spreading that sort of information is false and can be dangerous for both people s mental and physical health. Some even claim that a raw food diet will cure different illneses such as cancer, diabetes, chronic inflammation and other illnesses. (Note, there may be a reason to this and it doesn’t have to be that the food is raw, but that a person is eating less processed, eats less calories and loses weight and could be that they are just eating more fruit and vegetables which is always a positive… however that can be done when eating a balanced and not 100% raw food diet either.)

I will be upfront and honest that i am anti raw food diets. I can understand that if you maybe live in Bali or Thailand or other warm countries where there is an abundance of various exotic cheap fruits it may be easier to eat a variety. But also in warm countries you are less likely to crave cooked foods and instead you’ll want salads, fresh fruits, acai bowls, smoothies and raw food. So i can understand that. Also, not all raw food is bad… there are days i eat fruit salad which is a raw meal or make smoothies or eat acai bowls which are all raw, and there are some amazing cafes which serve all raw food and that is great! However, eating completely raw in a colder country such as the Nordic Countries, England, Ireland etc i would not recommend.

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First up, what even is a raw food diet?

A food is considered raw if it has never been heated over 104–118°F (40–48°C). It should also not be refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides or otherwise processed in any way. (Source)

“Supporters also believe that cooking foods is harmful to human health because it destroys the natural enzymes in foods, reduces their nutrient content and reduces the “life force” that they believe to exist in all raw or “living” foods.

People follow the raw food diet for the benefits they believe it has, including weight loss, improved vitality, increased energy, improvement to chronic diseases, improved overall health and a reduced impact on the environment.”

 

What does the raw food diet include?

Fresh fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts and seeds (note, cashews are not raw!), raw grains and legumes which have been soaked and sprouted, cold pressed oils, raw nut butters, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.

Foods to avoid: Cooked fruits, vegetables, grains, roasted nuts and seeds, refined sugars and flours, table salt, coffee, tea, any other processed food.

 

A raw food diet is not always a healthy diet. Infact, it can most likely be more unhealthy than a normal balanced diet because there are so many restrictions and in the long term can lead to deficiencies in healthy fats, protein, calcium, iron,  B-12 and D vitamin as well as  weightloss if you cant sustain your energy requirements.

As a vegan it is important to eat grains, lentils, beans to get enough calories as well as protein, iron, calcium and also eating nuts, avocado, seeds, chia seeds  and flax seeds adds healthy fats as well as omega 3 to your diet.

Also many foods and vegetables are the most nutritious when they are cooked such as beans carrots, mushrooms, pumpkin, potatoes,  spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower etc (read more here)  By cooking the vegetables (i.e not overcooking) it makes it easier for the body to absorb such as the vitamin A in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato. Cooking food doesn’t make it unhealthy, infact it can make it more nutritious and make the vitamins and minerals more bioavailable compared to when it is raw. Such as beans… they are toxic if eaten raw, that is why you cook them. But beans are some of the healthiest foods with so many vitamins, minerals and macronutrients.

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Note, this meal is not raw because the mushrooms, broccolli, sweet potatoe, beans, sweet corn are all cooked as well as the hummus being made from cooked beans. This was my attempt at a raw food lunch one day!

 

Many go on a raw vegan diet thinking that it will fix all their health problems or that it will make them lose weight or they want to be able to “eat as much as they want and not think about gaining weight” or they want to detox their body. But i can tell you that the most sustainable and healthy diet is one that is balanced and doesn’t leave you feeling deprived or restricted. Because on a raw food diet you are likely to lose weight, but after a while the cravings for warm cooked food might kick in or maybe you just lose your social life because you can’t go out to eat.

If you are serious about raw food i would recommend that you just eat a few raw meals each week, or at the maximum do raw till 4, but listen to your body so you eat cooked meals if you really want it. But also, do your research and realise that raw food most likely isnt sustainable and ask yourself why you want to eat raw food. If you want to do it just to try it, then fine… i’ve tried several diets and ways of eating in the past just to experience it and be able to help future clients and have experience of eating a certain way. But realise that a raw food diet won’t cleanse or detox you and it won’t solve your health, stomach or skin problems… even if yes, eating less processed food, eating more fruits and vegetables, consuming more water will help those things… but you can do all of those things while still eating warm and cooked meals and eating a more balanced plat based diet!

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Below are some pro’s and con’s.

 

  1. Because the fruit and vegetables have to be transported meaning that they will lose some of their nutrients during the transport process.
  2. Fruit and vegetables are more expensive in colder climate countries. The fruit and veggies are 1) less nutritionally dense and 2) more expensive so you arent really getting your moneys worth if im honest…. and lest not mention the climate factor. (However, eating fruit and veggies will still have less of a climate impact than meat and dairy.)
  3. Also, alot of fruit and veggies have been treated with pesticides which for a normal intake really doesn’t matter and won’t affect your health negatively. However if you are eating several kilo fruit and veg which have been sprayed with pesticides… well, then you are getting more than your 5 a day. Of course you could eat organic, but that means that it is alot more expensive… also a higher risk for bugs and insects in/on your fruit and veg, not to mention that organic doesn’t mean it is completely free from the use of pesticides, just less or pesticides with different chemicals/ingredients.
  4. You need to be aware of how much you eat, what you eat and that you are eating enough. Not to mention you will more than likely need to supplement more than a vegan who eats cooked meals and lots of grains, warm veggies, lentils, beans, potatoes etc If you aren’t aware of your intake then it is easier to end up with deficiencies or lose weight.
    1. And this is where one of the “Benefits” of raw vegan diet shows… because if someone is overweight and goes on a raw vegan diet they will 1) cut out processed food, 2) most likely eat less than they need because there is less variety and less junk food to eat and 3) they will most likely lose weight which will then result in better health results such as less insulin resistance and lower blood fats and cholesterol. But they could still get the same results from eating cooked food, grains, lentils, beans but eating at a calorie deficiency.
  5. You will most likely be very bloated from the higher volume food you need to eat to get the right amount of energy, also alot of fiber and alot of fructose. If you eat alot of fruit it will spike your blood sugar, not as much as if you were to drink example a cola or eat chocolate, but it is still broken down to glucose and will give you an increase in blood sugar and then a blood sugar drop soon after. So i wouldn’t eat just fruits if you are a raw food vegan, instead eat as many veggies as you can. (However remember that cucumber and lettuce are almost completely water and lack vitamins and minerals so by eating them you are just filling your stomach but not really benefitting your body with vitamins or minerals or energy.)
  6. Of course a pro of a vegan diet is all the antioxidants in fruit which is great. However too much antioxidants can actually have the opposite effect and be prooxidants in the body which is not what you want.
  7. Also, all the acidity in fruit is definitely not something your dentist will recommend. Also easier to end up with heart burn if you eat alot of acidic fruits. (However things like stress, smoking, lifestyle all add to the risk of suffering from heart burn/indigestion)
  8. You will most likely get alot of water from your food which is good for your skin!
  9. Either you will spend alot of time preparing and cooking foods so that you eat more variety such as raw food sandwiches, raw food salads, raw food pizza, raw food tacos, different desserts, smoothies etc or you will spend less time because all you do is eat raw fruit as it is or just cut up some veggies and eat with maybe a raw food hummus or guacamole. But if it a long term way of eating you will most likely need to prepare and spend alot of time in the kitchen to prepare your different meals.
  10. There is alot of mentioning that certain cooked foods could be inflammatory – which is true. However meat nd dairy cause the most inflammation, and smoking, stress and even exercise cause stress and inflammation in the body. Cutting out meat and dairy will help limit inflammation in the body and of course getting your daily dose of fruit and vegetables with their different antioxidants can help against inflammation and stress in the body, but only eating fruit and vegetables won’t make the result any better. I.e too much of a good thing doesn’t always make the result even better.
Pros Cons
Less processed food. This can be beneficial to some. Expensive – unless you live in a very warm country where there is an abundance of different, cheap fruits.
Less time cooking food – however you might still need to do a lot of chopping and preparing meals Acidity which can erode your teeth
Some vegetables are most nutritious when not cooked (however some are most nutritious and bioavailable when cooked) High volume food. (This can be a positive to some, but for most it’s a negative)
A lot of fiber which can be positive in many peoples diets (however, there is a lot of fiber in cooked food as well) Easier to end up with nutritional deficiencies unless you are tracking and very aware of what you are eating.
A lot of antioxidants (however note, too many antioxidants can actually have a negative/opposite effect than wanted) More of an inconvenience when eating out or being social. Not as much to choose from.
  Fruits aren’t as nutritionally dense when they are imported from countries far away.
  Many fruit and vegetables are more bioavailable and nutritious when heated up and prepared
  Lack of variation in diet, more reliant on supplements
  All the raw food can cause A LOT of bloating.

Note, i wanted to try to stay as unbiased and objective as possible, but i know my own opinion shined through. However i am also just stating the facts from a nutritional point of view, and am worried about people who don’t know alot of nutrition and follow a raw food diet and then blame a vegan diet for their health problems or that they actually do end up with health problems or deficiencies.

Also note, i do think more people need to increase their fruit, vegetable, fiber and water intake and that is great about a raw food diet, not to mention that raw food desserts are usually delicious and contain alot more nutrients and vitamins than processed store-bought desserts. however people can still be healthy while eating processed desserts from time to time but also can be healthy when increasing their fruit, vegetables  and water intake but still eating cooked potatoes, beans and cooked vegetables as well as bread and roasted nuts and soya products.

Have you ever eaten a raw food diet? What are your thoughts about a raw food diet?

The video by Mic the Vegan gives a quick insight into some pros and cons of a vegan diet which you might want to watch as well.

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6 thoughts on “Raw food diets – what is it and is it healthy? Nutritional aspect – pros and cons”

  1. Very good article Izzy! And yes, your opinion might shine through but in all honesty I don’t think that’s a bad thing either as I think it is truly not good especially for young men/woman to follow such a diet 🙂

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  2. Brilliant post which highlights the pitfalls of following an extreme diet. I don`t think following a raw diet is a good idea nor is it sustainable. The odd portion of raw food, ie salad or crudities is ok now and again but I can`t imagine eating this way and never having any cooked food. I know I couldn’t do it!

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