Introduction to the Raw Foods Diet
There is no single raw foods diet, but the basic premise is to eat foods that have not been cooked, processed, exposed to chemicals or genetically modified. The raw foods diet is sometimes called ‘the living foods’ diet for this reason. Proponents of raw foods say that cooking destroys vitamins and other vital nutrients, although there is not much scientific research to support this claim. Most raw foodists are also vegan, but raw eggs and unpasteurized dairy products are permitted, and eating raw meat and fish is also not unheard of. While most people follow a raw foods diet in order to lose weight, others may choose it for a variety of health concerns, from cancer prevention to curing acne.
HISTORY OF THE RAW FOODS DIET
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a diet of raw foods became popular among a group of people who called themselves Naturemenschen (‘Natural Men’). Their goals were broader than just dietary changes and included a lifestyle of getting back to nature in all ways. Around the same time, a Swiss doctor and nutritionist named Maximillian Bircher-Benner began experimenting with raw foods after curing his own case of jaundice by eating raw apples. He believed that there was an overemphasis on eating animal protein, that poor nutrition was the basis of all disease and that the best diet consisted of at least fifty percent raw fruits, vegetables and nuts. Unlike vegetarianism which has become very popular in recent years, the raw foods diet remains on the fringes, although as more celebrities embrace the idea, it gets a fair amount of attention in the press.
Raw Foods Diet Macros
About 70-80% of your intake will be in the form of carbohydrates, and most of the calories will come from fruit. Vegetables are also an important component of a raw foods diet, but they tend to be very low in calories.
Protein can be found in most plant-based foods, and a variety of legumes, nuts and seeds along with greens and sprouted grains can provide complete protein. Protein intake on a raw foods diet tends to be low, around 10%.
Fats come from avocados, cold-pressed raw oils such as olive and coconut, nuts and raw nut butters and will make up about 10-20% of your intake.
Benefits of the Raw Foods Diet
Raw vegetables are an essential component of the raw foods diet. Veggies contain a lot of filling fiber but are very low in calories, and therefore a diet of raw foods is almost always lower in calories than many other diets, virtually guaranteeing weight loss.
You Get Your Greens
Fruit and veggies contain tons of healthful vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but Americans tend to fall woefully short on the recommended five daily servings. Getting above and beyond your daily five should be no problem on a raw foods diet.
Raw foodists rave about the benefits they see in their skin after just a few days. Many say that acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and other conditions can be cured with a raw foods diet.
Satisfaction (Fairly) Guaranteed
Calories are not restricted on a raw foods diet, and you are encouraged to eat to satiety. Things like legumes, veggies, and grains which are all part of the diet tend to be full of fiber and slow to digest, allowing you to feel fuller, longer. If you do feel hungry, you are free to increase your intake.
Potential Health Benefits
A diet that is high in fruit and vegetables and low in salt can help control blood pressure and also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, heart failure, stroke, and certain cancers. Losing weight can help prevent or reverse type II diabetes. Fruits and veggies are also high in antioxidants and proponents of raw foods say that the diet also helps with conditions like depression and migraines.
Digestive issues like IBS, lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity have become commonplace. Many raw foodists claim to have solved all their digestive woes with this diet, without taking any medications.
Replacing a diet that is high in processed foods to one that is made up of lots of fruit and vegetables often results in a dramatic increase in energy. A diet of raw foods will get you off the sugar-and-caffeine rollercoaster, and it is likely you will say goodbye to brain fog and the afternoon energy slump.
Adding raw foods to your diet is an excellent way to get more healthful, antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables into your meals. Even if you only replace one meal of processed foods a day with raw foods, it will be an improvement.
Reduced Environmental Impact
Organic fruit and vegetables requires fewer resources than farming animal proteins. If you eat local produce, you’ll cut down on your carbon footprint even more.
Downsides of the Raw Foods Diet
It’s A Lot of Work
Despite the fact that most of your food will be raw, meals often involve lots of soaking, chopping, blending, juicing, sprouting, fermenting and other preparations. For the most part, grains and legumes are not digestible in their raw form and must be soaked, sprouted, or undergo other processes in order to make them edible (and tastier). Using a dehydrator takes hours to get a finished product.
Lots of Rules
A raw foods diet is pretty restrictive with lots of rules about what you can and cannot eat, as well as how you prepare food.
Can Get Expensive
Eating exclusively organic foods will cost more than their non-organic counterparts. Most people juice, blend and use other fancy equipment such as a food dehydrator or mandolin. Powerful models of these appliances can run several hundred dollars each.
Risk of Nutritional Deficits
Vegetables and fruit are healthy, but they aren’t calorie-dense and you may struggle to get enough calories on this diet. You also have to really know what you’re doing and eat a wide variety of plants in order to meet your nutritional needs on a raw foods diet. While proponents of this diet say that raw foods offer complete nutrition, cooking increases the absorption of certain nutrients, including antioxidants.
May Have a Negative Effect on Health
While cooking does destroy certain vitamins, especially B and C, it makes others such as beta-carotene and lycopene, more bio-available. Cooking also kills harmful bacteria and other toxic compounds in food. In one study, a significant number of women (70%) who followed this diet experienced disruption to their menstrual cycle.
Following a raw food diet can be tricky if you want to (or need to) eat out. Restaurants generally do not offer many raw foods, and few people serve raw food meals at their home.
Raw Foods Diet Details
There is no one raw foods diet; consequently, you can design your own. The basics include having plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit every day, as well as nuts, seeds, sprouts, grains and legumes so long as they are prepared without cooking. Consuming raw meat, fish, eggs and unpasteurized dairy is also allowed.
Food items must not be heated above 115º Fahrenheit to count as raw (some say lower, 104º F). Proponents of the diet say heating destroys vitamins, enzymes and other healing properties of plants.
If buying anything pre-packaged, be sure it is labeled ‘raw.’
Cold-pressed virgin olive oil, raw coconut butter and raw virgin coconut oil, nuts and raw nut butters are healthy fats that are allowed on this diet.
Fresh-squeezed juices and herbal tea can be enjoyed along with fresh water. If you decide to go raw long-term, you may wish to invest in a dehydrator so you can make things like zucchini chips or chia granola.
It is important to note that very few raw foodists eat 100% raw foods. Most eat in the range of 75%-80% raw foods, and the rest are cooked.
Best Foods to Eat on the Raw Foods Diet
Vegetables — Any kind so long as they’re raw.
Fruit — All fresh fruit is part of the raw foods diet as well.
Nuts & seeds — So long as they’re raw, they’re a-okay. This includes nut butters and nut beverages, such as raw almond milk.
Raw grains & legumes — Most grains and legumes will need to be soaked or sprouted in order to make them digestible.
Dried fruit & meat — Be sure they are organic, and made without additives such as sugar or chemicals. Many raw foodists invest in a dehydrator so they can make their own dried foods.
Cold-pressed oils — Extra-virgin olive oil and cold-pressed coconut oil provide healthy fats on a diet of raw foods.
Fermented foods — Things like sauerkraut, kimchi and miso contain gut-friendly probiotics.
Seaweed — Seaweed has many beneficial nutrients and fiber, and also offers detoxifying effects.
Water — Necessary for hydration and the best thirst-quencher.
Fresh-pressed juices — Juicing is popular with raw foodists.
Herbal tea — Caffeinated beverages are not part of a raw foods diet, but herbal teas can add flavor to your water.
Herbs & spices — Fresh herbs and spices are a great way to add some zing to your raw foods.
Raw dairy — Unpasteurized milk and other raw dairy products are allowed on this diet.
Raw meat, fish & eggs — Raw animal protein is less common, but not forbidden.
Himalayan crystal salt — If you want to add salt, stick with Himalayan salt because standard table salt has been processed and has added ingredients.
Foods to Avoid on the Raw Foods Diet
Cooked foods — This includes every category: veggies, meat, grains, and so on. Note that most raw foodists do eat some cooked food each day (often 25% or less of total intake).
Processed foods — Anything that comes in brightly colored cellophane and has a bunch of ingredients is most likely not a raw food.
Baked goods — Pastries, cookies, pie, cake and the like are all made with heat, but some adherents to this diet make raw food ‘cookies’ and other treats in a dehydrator.
Roasted nuts & seeds — Be sure all nuts and seeds are raw, organic and unprocessed.
Refined grains — Flour, sugar, and all processed foods are out.
Table salt — Regular (iodized) salt is to be avoided on this diet because it has been processed and contains additives.
Pasteurized dairy products — All dairy must be raw, meaning unpasteurized.
Caffeinated beverages — Coffee and regular tea are not part of a raw foods diet.
Alcohol — Beer, wine and spirits are to be avoided.
Keys to Success on the Raw Foods Diet
While a raw foods diet can be restrictive, very few raw foodists eat 100% raw all the time. This means you can gradually make the switch, changing your diet one meal at a time. By giving yourself time to adjust to a new way of eating, you have a better chance at success.
To avoid the dreaded scenario of coming home and finding one brown banana on the counter, it is important to know how much food you need to have on hand to sustain you. You’ll also need to make time to shop, and do it far enough in advance so that you can have ripe food on hand. Stores often sell fruit that is underripe to reduce spoilage before it is sold. Because green bananas aren’t much of an improvement over brown ones, you’ll want to keep enough fruit on hand that is in various stages of ripeness.
Have Ripening Stations
If you only shop once or twice a week, your fresh fruit and veggies may not all fit on the kitchen counter. You’ll find spots around your house that are warmer or cooler that can speed up or slow down the ripening process.
While you can get just about any fruit or vegetable year-round these days, plants still do have a growing season. Your produce will taste better and cost less if you eat what is in season for your area. Learn what is in season and enjoy food that tastes good and is more economical.
Preseve the Bounty
If you grow your own, buy in bulk, or you find yourself with a batch of fruit that has ripened faster than expected, you can freeze the excess or stick it in the dehydrator.
Embarking on a new diet can be tough, and even tougher if you are going it alone. Find supportive friends either live or online who are supportive of your weight loss journey.
It’s easy to confuse the signals for hunger and thirst. Be sure to drink plenty of fresh, clean water every day.
While exercise is not a required part of a raw foods diet, it is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle. Your exercise plan could do double duty by digging a new garden plot and growing your own produce.
Common Myths About the Raw Foods Diet
You Can Eat Only Raw Foods
You may hear that you must only eat raw food all the time in order to reap the benefits of this diet but very few raw foodists eat 100% raw. A raw foods diet is flexible. Even if you only replace a fast food burger, fries and soda once a week with a salad and water, you’ll be a gainer. However, in order to get all the benefits of the raw foods diet, you’ll need to follow it more often than a lunch here and there. Many raw foodists aim for at least 75% raw.
All Your Food Will Be Cold
Your food can be warmed up to 115º Fahrenheit and still be considered raw. A dehydrator can be used to heat food, and so can the warming plate on a coffeemaker.
All You Eat Is Salad
A raw food diet consists of more than vegetables and fruit. Sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, seaweed, fermented foods, and cold-pressed oils can all be combined to make some pretty tasty dishes.
The Raw Foods Diet is Super Expensive
Any diet can be expensive or done on the cheap. While organic vegetables often cost more than non-organic, you can get a lot of organic produce for what you would pay for a lobster or filet mignon. Overall, fruit and vegetables cost much less than meat. And you can always start a garden and get at least some of your veggies for next to nothing.
You Can Never Eat Out
While raw foods aren’t as mainstream as fast food joints, vegetarian and vegan restaurants abound, particularly in midsize and larger cities, and many will have options that are compatible with a raw foods diet. Stores like Whole Foods and local food co-ops will have a raw section, and green smoothies and salads are widely available. (Take a pass on the bottled dressing.)
Meal Prep Takes Forever
Running a dehydrator does take a while, but you don’t need to babysit the machine. If you have a blender or juicer, smoothies, raw soups, and salads are quick and easy to prepare.
You’ll Be Hungry All The Time
Vegetables don’t contain a ton of calories so you may be surprised at how much you need to eat to not feel hungry, but there are no restrictions on quantity, so eat up. Be sure to include some healthy fats to help feel satisfied.
Common Mistakes on the Raw Foods Diet
Not Clearing the Cupboards
While it may be easier to make the switch to raw foods gradually, having temptation within easy reach will make it much more difficult to make the transition. You’ll have a much better chance of success if you get rid of all the processed, sugary, empty-calorie foods from your house.
Eating Too Little
While it may make you feel virtuous to nibble a salad and even better if you see the scale showing lower numbers, not eating enough is a recipe for disaster over the long-term. Between insufficient nutrition and the inevitable temptation to eat something you shouldn’t, it’s very important to eat sufficient amounts of food, and when it comes to vegetables which are low in calories, that can mean eating a lot.
Nuts are tasty and versatile, and also packed with calories. Most of your calories should come from fruit and vegetables, with a moderate amount coming from nuts, seeds, and other high-fat foods like avocados and olive oil.
Not Trying Something New
Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables every day becomes even more important on a raw foods diet. In order to meet all of your nutritional needs, it is imperative you branch out from bananas and broccoli. If you’re going raw, you’ll probably also want to invest in a good-quality blender, a mandolin, or at least a decent knife.
Going It Alone
Eating is social, and a raw foods diet is about as opposite from the standard American diet as you can get. It can be a lonely road if you don’t have like-minded people around you. Find a community, either live or online, to share experiences, and to help remind you that you’re not alone.
Not Understanding the Diet
It’s hard to follow a new diet if you don’t know what it really involves. Be sure to educate yourself so you know what you’re getting into. Hopefully this guide has helped to clarify many of the particulars.
Common Questions About the Raw Foods Diet
What’s Wrong With Cooking Food?
Raw foodists believe that heating destroys the natural enzymes found in raw food. This is why the diet is sometimes called the ‘living food’ diet. While it is true that extreme heat does destroy nutrients, there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up the claim that any form of heating food is bad. Additionally, some foods are made more digestible, not to mention tastier, by cooking.
Why Should I Follow Such an Extreme Diet?
Although science has managed to help us extend life for many into their eighties and beyond, people are suffering more and more from so-called ‘lifestyle diseases,’ such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. A diet consisting of whole, natural foods can help prevent and even reverse these conditions.
Do You Have to Eat Raw Meat?
Eating raw meat, fish, and/or eggs is not required. There is no one raw foods diet, giving you plenty of freedom to decide what you eat.
Are You Ever Allowed to Eat Anything that is Cooked?
Very few raw foodists eat 100% raw food. Most aim to eat about 75% raw, and the rest is cooked.
How Do You Get Protein on this Diet?
There’s a little bit of a protein fixation going on these days, but protein isn’t more important than other nutrients. Most foods including plant-based ones contain some protein.
Will I Lose Weight on a Raw Foods Diet?
Because a raw foods diet is primarily composed of vegetables and fruit which are low in calories, most people lose weight on this diet. That said, it is possible to overeat on any diet and excess calories, even if they come from plants, will prevent or slow weight loss.
Raw Foods VS Paleo
The Paleo diet and Raw Foods share the commonality of being focused on eating close to nature and all the foods you eat are supposed to be organic. But two big differences are that cooking is allowed on the Paleo diet, and Paleo also has a focus on animal protein which is absent in the raw foods diet. Another difference is that grains and legumes are allowed on raw foods, but are avoided on Paleo. Overall, a Paleo diet is probably slightly less restrictive than raw foods, and may allow you to eat in more social settings.
Raw Foods VS Vegetarian
A vegetarian diet contains plenty of raw foods, but cooking is not forbidden to vegetarians, and neither are pasteurized dairy products. Raw meat and fish are also allowed on a raw foods diet, but eating animal flesh is not part of a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is very common these days and easy to find on most restaurant menus while raw foods tend to be confined to salads.
Raw Foods VS Vegan
Most raw foods diets are vegan, with the additional restriction of eating only uncooked foods. Most vegans also aim to eat organic produce. The main difference is that a raw foods diet allows for eating raw meat, fish, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products, while a vegan diet eschews all foods that come from animal sources. The good news for raw foodists are that vegan restaurants often have at least a few raw food menu selections, making it easier to eat out.
Best Raw Foods Diet Supplements
Taking supplements on a raw foods diet is discouraged. Proponents of a raw foodists diet believe that you get all the nutrition you need from whole foods and therefore do not need to supplement. In addition, many supplements have been processed, making them incompatible with the premise of consuming only unaltered foodstuffs. That said, certain nutrients are more difficult to get on a raw foods diet, such as:
Vitamin B-12 — Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient that is obtained primarily through animal sources, and so it can be difficult to get enough of the vitamin on a diet that is mostly fruit and vegetables. A deficiency in vitamin B-12 can cause damage to the nervous system and anemia.
Vitamin D — Vitamin D is vital for many processes in the body, including the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, memory, immunity and muscle recovery. While we can make vitamin D through sun exposure, most people do not get enough through this method. Additionally, very few unfortified foods contain vitamin D. Many people, not just vegans, can benefit from supplementing with vitamin D.
Iron — Iron is used by the body to make red blood cells that transport oxygen, and a deficiency can result in anemia. Symptoms include fatigue and a weak immune system. While iron can be found in plant foods, this form (known as non-heme) is not easily absorbed by the body.
Zinc — This mineral is essential for a strong immune system, metabolism and cell repair. A deficiency can lead to delays in wound healing, hair loss, developmental issues and diarrhea. Plant-based foods tend to be low in zinc, although soaking nuts, seeds and legumes seems to increase absorption.
Calcium — Calcium is necessary not only for strong bones and teeth, but also a healthy heart, muscles and nerves. Although leafy greens like kale and bok choy contain calcium, most vegans do not get enough calcium.
Omega 3s — Omega 3s are called essential fatty acids because they are necessary for proper brain development, and are also important in controlling inflammation and reducing the risk of depression, ADHD and certain cancers, including breast cancer. Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans contain the type of omega 3s known as ALA, but two other essential fatty acids EPA and DHA are mainly found in animal products, like fatty fish. A vegan omega 3 supplement made from algae oil is available.
Iodine — Table or iodized salt is not part of a raw foods diet because it has been processed, but iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function. Symptoms of a deficiency include depression, weight gain, memory problems, low energy and tingling in the extremities. While iodine can be found naturally in seaweed, many vegans test low in iodine levels.
Raw Foods Diet Recipes and Resources
Raw Foods Diet Studies
Proponents of the Raw Foods Diet
- Venus Williams
- Demi Moore
- Jason Mraz
- Woody Harrelson
- Uma Thurman
- Susan Sarandon
- Carol Alt
- Edward Norton
- Donna Karan
- Angela Bassett
- Alicia Silverstone
- Steve Jobs
- Charlie Trotter