The raw food diet is, of course, nothing new. There have always been those who have supported the many benefits of eating raw foods, and for good reason. Many studies support links between a diet rich in raw foods and a reduction in the incidence of many chronic diseases. A small number of Americans are taking this principle to heart by choosing a completely raw food diet.
What is the Raw Food Diet?
Essentially, the raw food diet is made up of only raw and unprocessed, preferably organic, foods. Raw food proponents assert that it is not only about leaving certain things out of the diet, it is also about how you prepare the good things you do consume. They believe that raw, living foods contain enzymes, many of which are destroyed when heated to above 104-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Because they feel these enzymes are so valuable to good health, they aim for at least 75% of the foods they consume to be raw. Some raw foodists are vegetarian or vegan as well, while others eat animal products such as raw fish (sushi), unpasteurized milk (or dairy products made from unpasteurized milk) or raw eggs.
What Foods Fall within the Raw Food Guidelines?
- Sprouted grains
- Whole grains
- Fresh fruit
- Beans/Bean sprouts
- Raw (unroasted) nuts
- Coconut milk
What are the Health Benefits?
A raw food diet is low in trans fats, saturated fats, and salt. It also virtually eliminates many of the chemicals found in processed foods. It is also generally high in fiber. Advocates of the diet claim that raw foodism provides increased energy, weight loss, improved digestion, reduction in the incidence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, improved skin and hair and longevity; scientific research, however, is lacking to substantiate or refute these claims.
What are the Risks?
While all people would benefit from including some raw foods in their diet–such as fruits and vegetables–a totally raw foods diet is not appropriate for all people. Some medical experts warn that it can be extremely difficult to meet your nutritional needs on a totally raw diet due to the relatively poor digestibility of many raw foods. And mainstream nutrition experts explain that even if there are live enzymes in raw food, they are destroyed by the highly acidic stomach environment before they make it to the digestive phase. “Humans have very specific digestive enzymes of our own that are highly efficient at breaking down everything we could possibly need; even if live food enzymes could make it to our intestines intact, our bodies wouldn’t need them to help digest food,” explains Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietitian. Experts further caution that raw food diets are especially inappropriate for children or pregnant women, both for potential of nutritional inadequacy as well as for the possible food safety risks associated with certain types of raw food.
If you are considering a raw food diet, special care must be taken to ensure that you get the proper nutrients. Consulting with a trained nutrition professional is essential to ensuring you plan a diet that will meet all of your nutritional needs.