A raw food diet is a plant-based diet typically consisting of entirely, or mostly, raw food from plants. Typically, about 75 to 80 percent of food on the diet is raw, though there’s no exact requirement. People who stick to a raw food regimen don’t cook any of their food above 118°F (48°C). The diet also forbids processed foods.
The raw food diet is also known as the raw vegan diet, raw veganism, or the uncooked vegan diet. Although the raw food diet has its roots in the 19th century, it’s made a big comeback in recent years as celebrities and athletes — including tennis star Venus Williams — have popularized it.
The raw food diet can deliver a number of health benefits, including weight loss, but there are also risks and drawbacks associated with the diet.
The main components of the raw food diet
The main components of the raw food diet are fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains and beans. In other words: Get familiar with the organic section of your grocery store or find a good local resource.
Many who follow the raw food diet are vegan, but not all. Some raw food dieters will eat raw animal products like unpasteurized dairy foods (milk and cheeses) and raw eggs as well as some raw meats and fish.
Raw food dieters are big on blenders to create green smoothies and other healthy twists on uncooked food. Other tools of the trade include food processors, juicers, and dehydrators. Dehydrators can add some crispness to foods by using hot air (but not too hot) to help concentrate a food’s flavors. So, food can be warmed or heated slightly, as long as it’s under that 118°F (48°C) mark.
One of the core beliefs of raw food dieting is that cooking breaks down some of a food’s essential nutrients and enzymes that aid in digestion. Another core belief is that uncooked or “live food” contains life energy that cooking eliminates. This is a spiritual belief that lacks scientific evidence.
The potential benefits of a raw food diet
One of the major benefits of a raw food diet is that it’s low in calories and high in fiber, which helps keep you feeling full. It may be helpful for people trying to lose weight.
A raw food diet may also help reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes or avoid diabetes altogether. In addition, a raw food diet can help guard against cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol levels. Low-sodium or low-salt diets also help reduce blood pressure. The raw food diet is naturally low in sodium.
Some fans of the raw food diet have also credited it with better sleep, clearer skin, and a reduction of symptoms caused by food allergies, but more research is needed on these anecdotal relationships.
What to consider before starting a raw food diet
Sticking to a raw food diet drastically reduces the number of foods you can eat. This restriction may leave some people feeling limited with their options. Likewise, restaurants may not offer raw food diet-friendly options, which can make eating out and socializing difficult at times.
Sticking to a raw food diet also involves a lot of preparation, both inside the kitchen and out. Organic foods tend to be more expensive, so you may need to adjust your grocery budget accordingly. And raw food ingredients aren’t available everywhere. You’ll have to do some research on where you can get your supplies or how to grow some yourself. Some devoted raw food dieters will sprout their own seeds, grains, nuts, and beans.
One of the potential risks of the raw food diet is the lack of cooking food. Cooking makes some foods more digestible and protects humans from certain food-borne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli. Likewise, the pasteurization process prevents bacteria contamination in milks and cheeses and certain diseases that may result.
Raw food dieters may also become deficient in certain vitamins and nutrients. A 2005 study found that people whose diets are higher in raw food (70 to 100 percent) are more prone to deficiencies in vitamin B-12.
How to tell if it’s right
If you’re already vegan, that’s a good start. And if you’re interested in losing weight, the raw food diet might put you on the right track.
The raw food diet may also agree with you if you live in a fertile area where you can grow many of your own fruits and vegetables or if you like working outdoors with your hands. Score another one for the “yes” column if you enjoy meal preparation.
How to sustain and follow a raw food diet
It may also be beneficial to get started at the same time as a friend. You can bounce ideas off each other, go grocery shopping together, swap recipes, and be accountable to one another, like a training partner.
Nobody wants to join? That’s okay. There are online communities for raw food dieters, like The Rawtarian, Living and Raw Foods, and the All Raw Directory. There may be a group that meets up in your area.
Also, you may wish to work with a dietitian or nutritionist to teach you more about diet science and for coaching along the way.
No one diet is right for everyone. There are clear benefits and drawbacks to the raw food diet. But if you answered yes during the section on if it’s right for you, it may be an option for you to try.
Just be sure to speak with your doctor first about starting a new diet or exercise regimen so they can determine if it’s appropriate for you based on your individual needs, health, and medical conditions.