Articles

The Raw Food Diet

Various forms of the raw food diet have been around for a long time, it became particularly popular during the 70s with the likes of communes and hippy living but has recently seen a fresh surge in popularity. Several well-known nutritional therapists are big advocates of the diet, but is it really a healthy alternative to normal eating? Supporters of the diet believe that eating mostly raw foods has many health benefits and can lead to weight loss, improved digestion and improved health overall. Let's take a look at what is good, what is bad and whether it should be considered as a healthy diet.


What is it?


The basic principle of the raw food diet is to obviously eat raw food. At least 75% of all food eaten should be raw to be fully following a raw food diet. This means no cooking, specifically no heating of the food above 48 c, it also shouldn't be processed or refined in any way. Some forms of processing such as juicing, blending and soaking are permitted. The diet is also mostly plant-based, while some raw foodists eat raw meat, dairy and fish, the majority of the diet comes from plant sources such as fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. As you cannot cook the grains and legumes, they often require soaking to be edible. Refined oils, tea, coffee, alcohol and refined sugars and flours are all off-limits too due to the processing.



What are the claimed health benefits? Are they true?


1. Raw food is healthier because cooking food destroys the natural enzymes present in the foods which makes them harder for our body to digest. This can upset our digestion and health overall.

FALSE: This claim is definitely false. While cooking does technically destroy enzymes due to the heating of the enzyme proteins, these enzymes would have been destroyed in the stomach anyway because of its acidity. Therefore cooking, is not changing the enzyme capacity of our food as they would have been destroyed anyway. Our body produces its own, very strong, enzymes that do all of our digestion and they rarely don't work! So in reality, our bodies are doing all of our digestion for us either way and there is no health benefit to consuming these raw food enzymes. 


2. Eating raw foods increases the nutrient availability of the food because cooking destroys the nutrients.

PARTIALLY FALSE: While cooking can decrease some of the nutrients in our food, such as vitamin C, this is very dependent on the cooking method used. If you boil your vegetables you will lose a lot of the nutrients in the water, however if you steam your veggies they will hold on to much more! Cooking also increases the availability of many other nutrients so really a mix of raw foods and cooked foods is the way to go, just like a normal balanced diet would offer.


3. Raw food diets offer everything your body needs and promote better health.

FALSE: Raw food diets, especially if not carefully planned, cut out a lot of important nutrient groups from our diet and can cause nutrient deficiencies. Cutting out food groups such as meat, fish and dairy, means you are at much higher risk of being deficient in iron, b vitamins, zinc and calcium and studies show that many raw food followers are indeed deficient in these things. It is undeniable that including more fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds is beneficial to us, any healthy diet should promote these things, but there is no need to go raw to include these things in our diet.


4. Cutting out processed foods is better for us.

TRUE: Just like increasing the amount of fruit and veg we eat, reducing our processed food intake is beneficial too. Reducing sugar, starchy, high fat processed foods is a great way to improve the diet and health. However, this is the case with any healthy diet!


5. Raw food diets lead to weight loss.

TRUE: Research does show that raw food diets often lead to weight loss, this is because they are often much lower in calories than normal diets because it is very hard to meet our calorie needs with raw foods. While weight loss is sometimes positive, many people following a raw food diet are underweight and loss of the menstrual cycle is also very common in this group. So while some weight loss can be good, it can become bad if you quickly drop a lot of weight.


One other important thing to consider is that humans started cooking food for a reason: it kills harmful bacteria. While this is less of a threat if you aren't eating meat, dairy or fish, it is still a threat. Heating food kills harmful bacteria that can cause severe illnesses so stopping cooking food can pose a health risk.



Review

Aiming to increase your consumption of foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes is a great health goal that will have many benefits. However, only eating raw foods is an unnecessary and potentially unsafe way of doing so. There is no benefit to the enzymes in the food and cooking offers us many benefits such as increased nutrient availability and food safety. The raw diet may also lead to nutrient deficiencies and low calorie availability, which will significantly worsen health rather than improve it. Our verdict: takeaway some of the beneficial principles of the raw food diet: reducing processed foods and increasing plant-based foods but leave the raw component - we don't need it!

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