It seems like every week we hear about a new raw diet success story - someone who has changed their life by simply shutting off their stove and swearing off their microwave.
From the “Ageless Woman,” who has eaten a raw diet for more than 40 years and makes her husband look like a cradle-robber, to the story of Rosemary Fletcher who spent 11 years confined to a wheelchair, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, only to become a vibrant and fully mobile raw foodist, there are countless stories of borderline-miraculous results found by following a raw food diet.
But what are the real benefits of a raw diet and are there any risks that you should know about?
The basics of Raw Foodism
A raw diet involves uncooked and unprocessed foods as well as natural drinking water.
There are many variations on a raw food diet. However, the most popular raw food diets are raw vegan diets. Those are diets that involve absolutely no animal products and no cooking of any ingredient. For the average person, this could conjure images of grazing in the yard or severe deprivation, but for many others, this is a way of life.
Fist myth debunked: A raw diet is not a deprivation diet. Raw diet believers say the sheer number of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts creates endless combinations. In fact, there are countless sources of mouthwatering raw recipes and raw foodies have found ways to recreate many traditionally-cooked favorites.
A raw diet can be difficult to adjust to. For this reason, many people who stand by the benefits of raw foodism, strive to eat a mostly raw diet, with only one meal containing any cooked foods, for instance.
But why raw? Cooking food at more than 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroys crucial enzymes. Followers of the raw diet believe cooking “kills the food.” Among other things, the destruction of these enzymes makes it far more difficult for your body to digest the foods, instead relying on its own enzymes (when possible) to do the work.
Instead of “killing the food,” the idea is to fill the body with as many live enzymes and fresh food as possible. Because, life begets life, and ultimately living foods beget health.
Benefits of a Raw Diet
The research on raw diets is limited, and much of it comes from self-reporting raw foodists. But, some studies have shown significant benefits, and those self-reported benefits are nothing to disregard either.
- Reduced cancer risk: Studies have found an inverse relationship between the consumption of raw food and certain types of cancers, including breast cancer.
- Weight control: People who follow even a mostly raw-vegan diet are far less likely to be overweight than those who consume cooked and processed foods and animal products, some experiencing dramatic weight loss.
- Reduced hypertension: One study found significant drops in blood pressure after 6 months on an average 62 percent raw diet.
- Dramatic improvements in chronic pain: Fibromyalgia patients, as well as those suffering from other rheumatologic diseases, see dramatic reductions in pain and increased range of motion when following a raw diet.
- Increased energy levels: According to a survey of 500 raw foodists, the number reporting “good” or “excellent” energy levels jumped from 31 to 88 percent following 2 years on a raw food diet.
- Improved digestion: Along with more frequent and easier bowel movements, raw foodists also report fewer digestive discomforts like indigestion, bloating, heartburn and the symptoms of disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Raw diet benefits link to the many other benefits associated with consuming less processed and refined foods.
Risks of Raw Diet
As with nearly any strict and exclusive diet plan, experts have taken issue with some aspects of the raw food movement. It’s important to note that some of these risks are associated only with 100 percent raw vegan diets and could be resolved with proper dietary supplementation or a diet of mostly raw foods.
- Decreased bone density: According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, a raw vegan diet (no dairy, no meats) is associated with lower bone mass, though it is not connected to vitamin D deficiency.
- Amenorrhea: Women on a 100 percent raw diet are more likely to experience “partial to complete” amenorrhea, or loss of menstrual cycle.
- Decreased HDL or “good” cholesterol: In addition to decreasing LDL or “bad” cholesterol, a raw diet is also associated to the reduction of HDL or “good” cholesterol.
- B12 deficiency: A risk with any vegan diet, B12 deficiency can become a problem with a raw vegan diet.
Most people on a raw diet consume organic food, however, those who do not, also might deal with issues associated to pesticides in their food.
What should you do?
A raw food diet shows a significant number of benefits and few risks. Many of the benefits of a raw vegan diet can be attained by eating a mostly raw diet, aiming to get around 80 percent of your daily caloric intake from raw foods, for example.
Changing how you cook can also significantly improve the nutritional integrity of the cooked foods that you do intend to eat. Choosing to cook vegetables on the stove-top without water (i.e. sautéing) seems to be best for maintaining antioxidant levels.
While some studies say that microwaving also maintains nutritional integrity of vegetables, the risks of microwave cooking are known and convenience shouldn’t beat out health when choosing a cooking method.
We all make dietary choices that best fit our lifestyles and our health needs and goals. Do your own research when it comes to raw diets, explore the wide variety of recipe options, and if you have any questions be sure to ask your doctor, naturopathic practitioner or health advisor.