The raw food diet consists of only eating raw foods, be it animal or plant-derived. Food cannot be heated more than a certain amount (about 47 degrees Celsius or about 118 degrees Fahrenheit). It can also be called rawism or raw foodism.
The premise is that the food consumed should be in as natural a state as possible so that an individual might benefit from all the raw nutrients that can sometimes be depleted through cooking. Sometimes, people following the diet think of food as “alive” or “dead,” with anything raw being “alive” because its “life force” is still intact.
What Is a Raw Food Diet?
Raw food diets often include a range of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, with added raw fish, raw eggs, raw meat, and raw milk (and other dairy foods) if it is not vegan. The food may also be minimally processed through fermenting (yogurt, kefir, cheeses) or sprouting seeds.
The big faux pas with a raw food diet is consuming any cooked food heated beyond 118 F, pasteurized, homogenized, or treated with synthetic chemicals and additives.
How the Raw Food Diet Works
The theory behind the raw food diet is that heating foods beyond certain temperatures as used in cooking destroys natural enzymes, which can hamper digestion and allow the build-up of toxins in our bodies. This is supported by literature where some nutrients could be degraded through the cooking process, and mutagenic and inflammatory compounds could be created.
However, on the other hand, some compounds in foods, namely beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, become more bioavailable to our bodies when cooked. Likewise, digestion could be facilitated by cooking raw vegetables, which helps break down cell walls and fibers and make tough starches more palatable.
Historically, the guiding idea behind the raw food diet is to carefully consider three things:
- The effect heat has on food.
- The purpose of natural food.
- The effect of eating foods containing gluten.
On the raw diet, you can eat almost anything as long as it’s raw and not processed food. So, this guideline would encompass vegetarians, vegans, ovo-lacto-vegetarians, and even non-vegetarians who are happy consuming raw eggs, raw fish, raw milk, and raw meat.
Another common tenet of the plan is to consume foods individually — like not mixing salads with dressings.
We then have some guidelines about food preparation. According to the guidelines, you can:
- Sprout beans, grains, and seeds.
- Dehydrate, juice, or blend raw fruit or vegetables.
- Soak fruit and seeds.
Exercise is not listed as a guideline of this diet, as the purpose is very focused on food and not overall weight loss.
The Diet Plan
In addition to asking these questions about the purpose and treatment of food, here are some examples of whole foods that would satisfy the tenets of the raw diet.
- Fresh produce of all kinds
- Dried fruit
- Fresh juices made of fruits and vegetables
- Unprocessed coconut water
- Uncooked meat, fish, and eggs
- Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut
The diet cost is just what you would pay for your groceries. Since, most often, the raw diet is vegan or vegetarian, you could forage or grow your food to keep costs down. If you’re a mixed raw food dieter where animal products are allowed, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products will cost more.
If you want to prepare food at home, while you won’t need as many cooking pots and apparatus like ovens and microwaves, you may need to invest in a dehydrator and vacuum flasks for fermenting.
Therefore, the diet will cost what you put in, in terms of groceries.
Dos and Don’ts
- Get creative with fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans—discovering new ways to blend, juice, or dry them to improve the taste, texture, and diversity of your meals.
- Ensure you stay hydrated and prioritize other essential things like sleep and exercise.
- Don’t cook (steam, boil, bake, roast, barbeque) your food but simply enjoy it all in its raw form.
- Don’t over-exercise or over-exert yourself, as vegans and raw food dieters have been shown to consume very low fat and can be deficient in enough energy for their requirements.
- Don’t continue to do it too long without checking in with a doctor or dietitian, as studies show it is easy to become deficient in some essential nutrients.
Sample Diet Plan
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
- There are notable benefits in the body, such as clearer skin, weight loss, more energy, and improved digestion from all the nutrients and insoluble fiber consumed.
- The tendency to eat organic fruits and vegetables exposes the raw foodist to lower levels of pesticides and nitrates and increased levels of minerals and vitamin C.
- It is often associated with longevity, improving chronic diseases, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Raw foodists have double the risk of severe tooth decay because of the greater amount of acid and sugar through significant fruit intake. This can layer the teeth with acidic plaques that compromise the enamel.
- Pathogens in food, such as molds or bacteria, can be ingested and cause severe disease.
- It is very restrictive, making it difficult to eat at restaurants.
- It is prevalent to be deficient in certain nutrients, leading to amenorrhea in women.
- Food preparation could be more time-consuming.
- Nutrients may, in fact, not be as bioavailable as they would when cooked.
The Bottom Line: Is the Raw Food Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The raw food diet is purported to be a healthy diet where raw foodists ingest more nutrients and enzymes from their food as it hasn’t gone through a cooking and denaturing process. As a result of eating this way and avoiding a lot of the added sugars, fats, salts, and fast food society consumes today, raw foodists inevitably lose weight. There are many health benefits associated with this diet; however, there are also some concerns regarding lower bone mass and nutrient absorption.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.