What is a raw food diet?
Many raw food eaters will also include certain legumes that, while they cannot be consumed in a completely raw state, can be eaten if sprouted.
Few raw food proponents include any kind of animal products in their diet, such as meat or milk, although some will include "sushi grade" meats and, as long as they are still raw (unpasteurized), milk products as well.
One other common exception to the raw food diet is consuming foods that have been dehydrated at temperatures below 115°F. The reason for this temperature is that foods heated above 115°F will lose their living enzymes and some of their vitamin content.
Within the world of the raw food diet, there are many variations, such as those who call themselves fruitarians, consuming nothing but fruit. There are even subsets of fruitarians, such as those who eat nothing but bananas. But the bulk of raw food advocates promote dietary variety.
Do you have to eat 100-percent raw to be on a raw food diet?
What are the benefits of eating raw foods?
While there are some naysayers who question the value of specifically raw fruits and vegetables consumption, there is one undeniable benefit to the average raw food diet – that by making your primary dietary sources plant-based foods, you will be eating foods that are of the richest nutritional value, in terms of essential vitamins and minerals. Whether cooked or raw, just about any vegetable will benefit your health more than the highly processed foods that are common in the American diet, such as snack chips, pastries, or sugary desserts.
In many cases, the value of eating a primarily plant-based diet is as much about the harmful things you're not getting as the good things that you are getting. For example, on a raw food plant-based diet, you will naturally be consuming less saturated fat, less processed sugar, no trans fats, no artificial preservatives, less sodium, and fewer chemical byproducts. As well, managing your weight and insulin levels is much easier on a raw food diet due not only to the lesser amounts of sugar but also due to the higher amounts of fiber. Those who switch to a raw food diet usually also benefit from healthier cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels.
One key advantage of eating raw is to ensure that the living elements of food, such as phytonutrients and enzymes, are still alive. Cooking kills the healthy living elements of fruits and vegetables. Cooking can reduce the nutritional value of your foods since heat kills off many phytonutrients. Water-soluble vitamins in particular are affected by the heat, as are omega-3 fatty acids. Fiber content can also be reduced by heating.
For example, a study on the effect of heating of cocoa beans found that the standard higher temperatures used to roast cocoa beans causes a loss of valuable flavonoids. The unprocessed beans were also found to be richer in the natural cacao flavor.
The flavor and aroma of many fruits and vegetables are blunted by cooking. And you don't need a scientific study to determine this:
- Inhale the scent of a vine ripened, fresh tomato. Taste it.
- Now, take a whiff of canned stewed tomatoes and try a bite.
Research supporting raw food health benefitsIf you have ever tried a raw food diet, or if you know someone who has, you likely have experienced or witnessed some of the benefits commonly touted by raw foodists, such as reduced susceptibility to illness, higher levels of energy, greater alertness, healthy weight loss, and improved skin tone. But is there any scientific proof to support these claims? Yes. Let's take a look at some of those.
- The Journal of Nutrition published results of a fascinating study involving more than 1300 subjects that demonstrated that long-term consumption of a raw food diet "remarkably lowers" LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, and positively affected HDL levels – the good cholesterol. Participants were all consuming between 70 and 100 percent raw foods throughout the study.
- In research spearheaded by Doctor Luigi Fontana, raw food dieters were found to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of vitamin D and, consequently, a potentially lesser risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer.
- In a 2008 German study, results showed that a long-term strict raw food diet results in a positive plasma beta-carotene concentrations, indicating a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The scientists believe that these positive levels are likely the result of the healthy fat contents found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oil that are common to a raw food diet.
- In a two-year long 2006 raw food study, involving 500 female participants, results showed significant improvement in menstrual cycles, a reduction in stress levels, and an improvement in skin condition, including oiliness, dryness, eczema, and skin eruptions when consuming a raw food diet. Participants also experienced a decrease in the amount of sleep required in order to feel rested. Sleep quality also improved; participants reporting no insomnia rose from 40 percent to 59 percent after transitioning to a raw, live foods diet.
In a follow-up report coming soon, we will look at raw food dieting risks and downsides, and – in case you want to try it – how to get started with a raw food diet. Meanwhile, please consider that no substantial change in diet should be undertaken without first consulting with your doctor.