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Raw Food Diet – Benefits, Risks and How It Works

Raw Food Diet

What Is The Raw Food Diet?

The raw food diet dates back to the Natural Hygiene movement of the 1800s. While the interpretation of the raw food diet may vary, it refers to a diet composed of mostly or entirely raw and unprocessed foods. A food is called raw food if it has not been cooked or heated over 104–118°F (40–48°C). Also, it should not be refined, pasteurized or processed in any way to preserve it in its most natural form.

In a world of processed foods, many people have turned to the raw food diet for its highly touted health benefits. Supporters of the raw food diet believe that processing and cooking destroy or reduce the beneficial enzymes, nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants that are present in food.

There is significant research that shows cooking food damages its nutritional value. That is why the raw food diet focuses on eating unprocessed and uncooked food so you get all the nutrients food has to offer without the harmful additives.

Types of raw foodists

Typically, raw foodists are 100% plant-based vegans. However, some raw foodists also eat raw fish, meat and dairy. There are different types of raw foodists depending on the composition of their diet.

  • Raw vegans – They eat plant-based foods and no animal products
  • Raw vegetarians – They eat plant-based foods as well as eggs and dairy products
  • Raw omnivores – They eat both plant-based foods and animal-based foods

Raw “foodism” can be approached as a lifestyle on its own or be used to give your body a healthy boost in the short term.

Is Raw Food Healthier Than Cooked Food?

There is a lot of controversy regarding the benefits of raw food vs. cooked food as claimed by the proponents of the raw food diet.

Natural enzymes

Proponents of the raw food diet argue that cooking destroys the natural enzymes found in food that are vital to human health and digestion. They allow our body to fully digest foods without having to rely on our own enzymes. While it is true that cooking cause most enzymes to denature, however, enzymes also denature in the highly acidic environment of the stomach. Furthermore, the human body also produces its own enzymes to help facilitate digestion and energy production.

Nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants

Another core argument in support of the raw food diet is that cooking reduces the nutritional value of foods. It is estimated that once cooked, the food can lose up to 85 percent of its nutritional value, more so for water-soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C.

On the other hand, cooking increases the availability of other nutrients and antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene that your body absorbs. Cooking also reduces certain harmful compounds such as lectins and phytic acid that are found in food plants such as seeds, legumes and grains. These can be harmful if digested in large amounts and hinder your metabolism from absorbing nutrients and minerals properly. Finally, when cooked, some vegetables such as tomatoes and carrots may be more beneficial as cooking makes lycopene (antioxidant) available to your body.


Usually cooking food to 160°F kills most of the toxins, bacteria and harmful compounds that are present in food. It has to be even higher to kill bacteria in some meats. However, if the food has been kept at room temperature for more than two hours, bacteria may have accumulated beyond safe levels forming heat-resistant toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.

Foods To Eat and Avoid On A Raw Food Diet

Foods to Eat

There is a wide variety of foods you can add into your raw food diet such as:

  • Fresh and dried fruits
  • Freshly made fruit and vegetable juices
  • Raw vegetables
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Raw beans, grains and legumes (sprouted or soaked)
  • Nut milks
  • Raw nut butters
  • Cold-pressed olive and coconut oils
  • Fermented foods
  • Seaweeds
  • Raw eggs
  • Dairy products (non-pasteurized and non-homogenized)
  • Raw fish or meat
  • Dried meats
  • Purified water (no tap water)

Foods to Avoid

There are also several foods that you should avoid when you are on a raw food diet such as:

  • Cooked or processed foods (fruits, vegetables, meats and grains)
  • Baked foods
  • Roasted nuts and seeds
  • Refined oils
  • Refined sugars and flour
  • Table salt (refined salt containing up to 99 percent sodium chloride)
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Pasta
  • Pastries
  • Fast food
  • Coffee and tea
  • Chips and snacks
  • Alcohol
  • Processed juices
  • Other processed and refined foods

Risky Plant Based Foods and Raw Animal Products

Some plant-based foods and raw animal products contain harmful toxins, chemicals and bacteria which can have adverse consequences on your health. So the following foods should be consumed with caution.

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Apricot kernels
  • Buckwheat
  • Cassava
  • Kidney beans
  • Parsnips
  • Pea seeds
  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Raw eggs

Using Raw Food Nuts in Your Diet

There are two ways to think about raw food nuts – it can mean how to use nuts in a raw food diet, or it could mean people who are crazy about raw food.

When you are switching to raw food nuts can be your best friend. The raw diet tends to be a low calorie diet and nuts, being higher in calories than many raw foods, can help us feel satisfied. In addition, they come packed with healthy fatty acids and they contain a lot of essential minerals that you may not find in other raw foods.

For example, Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that should be found in the soil and therefore ought to occur naturally in most of the vegetable foods that we eat. However, some areas are much richer in selenium than others, and the amount in our soil has been greatly reduced by farming, so many people need supplements these days. One or two Brazil nuts a day can provide the selenium that the average body needs.

Most raw kitchens are well stocked with nuts. Buy large when you can to save money, but be sure they are truly raw if you want a 100% raw food diet. It is much easier to stick to a raw food diet if you have plenty of variety, as well as being better for your health. So consider stocking up on all of the types of raw food nuts that you can find raw.

Be aware that when nut packaging says ‘raw’, it may only mean ‘unroasted’. It does not necessarily mean that the nuts have never been heated above 115 degrees F. Here is some guidance on which nuts are really raw and which are not:

1. Raw food nuts and seeds that are usually raw in regular stores

  • Unroasted filberts/hazelnuts
  • Most walnuts (Check with the supplier whether steam is used for shelling.)
  • Unroasted almonds in their skins (except those from California – Californian almonds are pasteurized, even if still in the shell)
  • Most unroasted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame, pinoli/pine nut)

2. Nuts that you should buy in the shell, because they are boiled during commercial shelling

  • Brazil nuts
  • Pecans
  • Macadamia nuts

3. Nuts that are not raw in regular grocery stores but can be bought raw from some health food stores and/or specialist raw food suppliers

  • Cashews (they can be poisonous if not shelled correctly.)
  • Nut butters

4. Nuts that you will probably never find raw unless you take them straight from the tree

  • Pistachios

It’s easy to add nuts to your raw diet. Throw a handful of whole nuts into your salad, end a fruit meal with some nuts to make you feel more satisfied for longer, or grind them up to make pates and raw food nuts sauces.

Even if you think of yourself as a person who doesn’t like nuts, you will probably find that this changes when you switch to a raw diet. As long as you are not allergic, your tastes will change so that you are much more appreciative of whole raw foods including members of the nut family.

Don’t be scared of the calories in raw food nuts, even if you are trying to lose weight. If you are following a 100% raw diet you almost certainly will lose weight without being concerned about calories.

Of course, it would not be good for your health to eat a whole jar of raw almond butter every day – though you may be tempted! So if you find you have a tendency to sit down with the jar and a spoon, switch to whole nuts and chew them slowly.

If you are overweight, the best way to snack on nuts is to choose varieties that you have to shell by hand. You’ll eat less this way, you’ll be more in touch with your feelings of hunger or fullness, and you will be more likely to be choosing raw food nuts that your body really wants.

Pros and Cons Of A Raw Food Diet

Whether you are starting a raw food diet to lose weight or to detox your body, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of this this unique dietary approach.

Pros of A Raw Food Diet

Studies have shown that a plant-based diet (not necessarily all raw diet) offers several health benefits that can alleviate or reduce the risk of many health problems such as allergies, weak immune system, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, candida, obesity, weight issues and so on.

  • A raw food diet incorporates a high amount of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other foods that are high in nutrients and fiber.
  • As some nutrients such as vitamins B and C are reduced or destroyed when cooked, a raw food diet supplies more of these.
  • With a raw food diet, the body is better able to prevent and resists diseases, especially chronic ones.
  • Eating raw food can lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels that reduce risk of developing heart and cardiovascular disease.
  • Switching from a mostly cooked food diet to a mostly raw food diet can lead to rapid and healthy weight loss with less body fat because it is low in calories.
  • A lot of foods release harmful free radicals and carcinogens when cooked. So eating raw food can help you detox and clean out your body.
  • Raw foods keep trans fats, refined sugars, high levels of salt and monosodium glutamate from entering your body.
  • Raw foods lead to less inflammation throughout the body than processed foods.
  • The healthy fats and dietary fiber found in raw food are not present in most processed foods.
  • The enzymes in raw foods make your digestive system more efficient. This leads to a higher level of absorption of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in food.
  • Almost all raw foods are gluten-free. Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale which may triggers autoimmune and bowel problems in people with gluten intolerance.
  • Many raw food enthusiasts maintain that their skin are healthier and clearer.
  • Raw food devotees claim that they have more physical energy and a clearer thought process than when they eat processed foods.
  • You can generally eat as much raw food as you like, because everything you eat is healthy.

Cons of A Raw Food Diet

In the short-term, the raw food diet may not create major health problems. However, various health problems may arise if you intend to follow the raw diet over a long period of time. Especially, the larger the proportion of raw food to cooked food in your diet, the risk of adverse effects tends to increase.

  • A mostly raw food diet is often deficient in not only calories but also in some vitamins, minerals and protein such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. So a raw-food vegan is at risk of not getting enough of these nutrients.
  • As raw food is nutrient-dense but calorie-poor, you may not be able to eat enough raw food to meet your daily calorie needs, as fruits and vegetables simply don’t provide enough calories or protein to make up for the deficiency.
  • A long term “raw food only” approach can lead to weaker bones with low bone mass and an increased risk of bone breaks, fractures and osteoporosis due to low calorie and protein intake.
  • Raw food also lowers “good” cholesterol or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels and lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency which may raise homocysteine (tHcy) levels. High levels of tHcy can raise the risk of cardiovascular problems.
  • Raw food hinders the digestibility of foods, making it more difficult for your metabolism to get enough calories and nutrients from uncooked foods.
  • A long-term raw food diet can be hard on your digestive system which may cause digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Following a raw diet over long periods of time can increase the risk of tooth wear due to excessive chewing.
  • Women on the raw food diet may experience irregularities in their menstrual cycle or even develop amenorrhea (absence of a menstruation).
  • A raw food diet increases the risk of being exposed to foodborne illness. Foodborne disease (also referred to as food poisoning) is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract caused by spoiled food or beverages that contain pathogenic bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle ache, fever, chills, loss of appetite, dehydration and weight loss.

Transitioning From Cooked To Raw Food

Today people in modern societies eat predominantly processed foods which are deemed unhealthy. On the other hand, a raw food diet in the short term can deliver several health rewards. This encourages many raw food dieters to go all out when they first start. They eat nothing but raw food. However, this can cause an adverse reaction in your body since your digestive system is not used to digesting too much raw food. That is why a moderate approach to a raw food diet may be the safest in the long term.

As with any dietary change, the transition to a raw food diet can be tough. Also, a raw food diet can be challenging to maintain in the long run. Just keep the following in mind when switching from cooked to raw food will be much smoother and painless.

Begin slowly

You probably can’t switch easily from years of eating processed foods to raw foods in a day. Start off slowly, adding a few raw foods into your current diet. Perhaps, incorporating just one meal of raw food a day into your current diet would be a healthy start. There is no right or wrong way to eating raw food. You have to find the right combination that works best for you.

Count calories

Given that raw foods are incredibly rich in nutrients, dense in fiber but low in calories, make sure you are getting enough calories from the raw foods you eat to keep your energy level high and your body healthy. As insufficient calorie intake on a raw diet can have adverse effects on your health, you have to start monitoring your daily calorie intake carefully.

Supplement nutritional deficiencies

A raw food diet often leads to a deficiency in vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients and vitamins. Unless you take nutritional supplements to make up for the lack of these nutrients to a certain extent, you may develop health problems from nutritional deficiencies over time.


There are lots of great raw food recipes online. Put them to work, experimenting until you come up with some scrumptious raw food meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.

Recognize unhealthy cravings

To a certain extent, you may be addicted to sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other unhealthy ingredients commonly used in processed foods. Don’t ignore these cravings. Recognize them, and then remember the reasons why you are adopting a raw food diet.

Do a pantry, refrigerator and freezer clean-up

It is easy to eat foods which don’t adhere to the raw diet if they are all around you. Clean up your refrigerator, freezer and pantry of any foods which are not compatible with the raw food diet. This will make your transition from cooked to raw food easier as you will not be tempted every time you walk into your kitchen.

Keep a journal

Start recording your daily food and drink consumption regularly. You may be consuming more non-raw foods and beverages than you think, and this is a good way to keep track of your food consumption and make your transition progress smoothly.

Adapt the raw food to your dietary lifestyle

There are certain things you need to consider concerning the raw food diet depending on your specific dietary needs.

  • Vegans and vegetarians – A raw food diet can fit perfectly into these types of lifestyles. However, if you currently eat cooked fish, eggs and/or dairy products, you will have to eliminate those food in order to adhere to a strict raw food diet.
  • Fruitarians – If you eat nothing but fruits, seeds and nuts, just make sure they are not cooked and they qualify for raw food diet
  • Pollotarians (also called pollo vegetarian) – Duck, turkey, chicken and other fowl are not allowed in this nutritional approach. So, if you are a pollotarian, you will have to pass on those foods during your raw diet, as eating raw poultry increases your risk of getting infected with Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria.

Fitting The Raw Food Diet Into Your Life

You don’t have to give up on enjoying time with your friends and family members who are not on the raw food diet. You can fit a raw food diet into your current lifestyle without ruining your relationships. Consider the following tips for smoothly working a raw food diet plan into your life.

  • Don’t beat yourself up if you “cheat” – It’s going to happen. It is better to simply return to the raw food approach than to give up when you stumble and fall.
  • Try to get your family involved but don’t force them – If your family does not join you on your raw food journey right away, they may when they see some of its health benefits you enjoy.
  • Prepare and plan – A lot of raw food enthusiasts do all of their shopping, preparing and planning on the same day every week. This means that they are always prepared for a week’s worth of raw food, and end up sticking to their raw food diet better than those who are just winging it.
  • Find a local raw food support group, or start one yourself – and Facebook provide plenty of physical and virtual group settings where you can locate and contact other “raw foodists.”
  • Have a plan of action concerning eating out – There are going to be times when you have to eat away from home. These include holidays, special occasions and business events. Eat before you leave home, and drink plenty of water to limit the amount of non-raw foods you will be consuming.

Essential Kitchen Gadgets For The Raw Food Diet

You will need some kitchen gadgets and tools to make your raw food experience more productive and enjoyable as well as trouble free. You probably don’t need any more tools other than what you already have in your kitchen to get started on the raw food diet. Nevertheless, the following tools and devices are recommended for getting the most out of your raw food diet experience.

Knife Set

You are going to be doing a lot of cutting, slicing and dicing. So buy the best quality knife set you can afford. Make sure one knife is at least 8 inches long, paired with a versatile utility blade and a paring knife.

Knife sharpener

A sharp blade will cut much quicker than a dull blade. You are going to be doing a lot of cutting, so you need to keep your blades sharp.


A mandoline helps you quickly slice raw foods by hand, works faster than using a knife and delivers a consistent thickness over and over. Avoid cheaply made mandolines.

Cutting board

You can purchase a cutting board made of wood, acrylic, rubber or plastic. You should choose a large board with antibacterial properties, one that is knife friendly and dishwasher safe. Consider buying a couple of boards at first so you can experiment with them to see which one you like better.

Kitchen scale

A kitchen scale is important, especially if you are a stickler when it comes to following recipes. A good quality kitchen scale doesn’t cost a lot of money. Once you start using one, you will wonder how you got along without it for so long.

Canning kits and vacuum sealing systems

Raw food pros know the value of preserving foods for as long as possible. This can be accomplished by canning and vacuum sealing your raw food concoctions. These devices can extend the life of your foods and let you enjoy them longer.


Eating raw food as it comes out of the ground may soon start looking and tasting unappetizing. This means you have to create smoothies, sauces and other delicious concoctions to tantalize your taste buds. Nothing beats a blender for this purpose. You should get a high quality blender with a powerful motor to realize all the possibilities of turning fruits and vegetables into delicious liquids.


Not everyone loves the raw tastes of fruits and vegetables. A juicer takes all of the beneficial nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and minerals out of fruits and vegetables and delivers them in a healthy juice.

Many raw food recipes require freshly juiced vegetables and fruits. A healthy juice is a great way to get all those wonderful nutrients from fruits and vegetables into your body quickly. If you have never juiced before, the health rewards and limitless energy you are going to get from juicing raw fruits and vegetables are going to be a wonderful experience for you.

Juicers come in two types, centrifugal and masticating juicers. Centrifugal juicers make use of blades which rotate at a high speed to slice and dice food. They cost less, make more noise and yield less juice than masticating juicers. Masticating juicers use gears instead of blades and grind food instead of slicing it. They are more expensive, quieter and more efficient than centrifugal juicers.

Food dehydrator

A food dehydrator helps preserve and extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. It makes use a heat source and air flow to remove the water content and moisture from foods. Some raw food recipes require dried foods. The cost of a good dehydrator will vary depending on how much food you can dehydrate at one time, how fast the unit works and other features.

Food processor

You can easily grate, shred, slice, dice, puree and combine all kinds of raw foods with an efficient food processor. Some models of food processors can even help you make citrus and vegetable juice, beat cake batter, knead bread dough and grind meats and vegetables. Stay away from small, micro-sized processors commonly advertised on various media. Choose at least a 6 to 8 cup processor, and pay for a powerful motor and accessory blades.

Small handheld accessories

A spice grinder is perfect for grinding seeds and spices. A spiral slicer or food spiralizer turns boring raw foods into gorgeous, visual works of art. A microplane can grate and zest just about anything, including garlic, ginger and fine herbs.

Sprouting bags are convenient and portable, and they make sprouting grains a snap. Don’t forget a sprouting jar, and a yogurt maker for creating nut, coconut and soy milk-based yogurts.

Final Words

You are now armed with all the information and resources you need to begin your raw food diet which is a dietary approach of eating only or mostly food that is uncooked and unprocessed. The next step is up to you. You have to take action. Start off slowly, taking small steps that lead to the results you are aiming for.

Make sure you consult your doctor before starting your raw food diet, as you should with any drastic change you make to your dietary approach. You should also schedule a couple of checkups with your doctor along the way after you have started your raw food diet to make sure everything is in order.

Finally, keep in mind that despite some potential health benefits, the raw food diet can also pose risks of adverse health effects. So it may be healthier to eat a combination of raw and cooked food to get the most out of your dietary experience.

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