Is the Raw Food Diet healthy?
All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)
However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.
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In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.
The Raw Food Diet: What It Is
Raw food had a moment about a decade ago and its popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years. (It gained a lot of momentum during the juice bar craze, since many juice bars also serve raw foods.) Raw food devotees are generally vegans who believe that plant foods should be consumed in their most natural form—uncooked and unprocessed—because natural enzymes in “living” food make it best for the body.
What You Eat
The diet is primarily made up of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts (and nut butters), seeds, raw grains and legumes (usually soaked or sprouted), and seaweed. Raw means nothing heated above around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Since you can’t use heat, raw foodies do a lot of juicing, blending, dehydrating, and sprouting to increase meal options and variety.
What You Don’t Eat
Meat, dairy, seafood, or any plant-based foods heated above 115. (There are small subsets of raw food diet followers who eat raw eggs and dairy, but the vast majority are vegan.) You generally avoid foods that are processed in other ways, too, like refined or pasteurized. Many raw food diet followers also skip alcohol, refined sugars, and caffeine, simply because the diet emphasizes a strict adherence to only eating foods that are the absolute best for the body.
Pros and Cons
The biggest benefit of a raw food diet is that it’s impossible to not eat enough fruits and veggies. In fact, fresh produce will be filling your plate 24-7, and that’s a very good thing. You’ll be getting lots of fiber and antioxidants and very little sugar and bad fat, for sure. And cooking some foods does destroy certain nutrients, depending on the food. (Vitamin C in spinach and carrots, for example.) Also, it’s really hard to overeat on a raw food diet, so it can be good for weight loss and maintenance, for some people.
However, nutrients in some foods are actually better absorbed when cooked (like lycopene in tomatoes, for example), and restricting your diet this much could lead to other deficiencies, particularly in vitamins and minerals like B12, D, and calcium. And following a raw food diet is really, really, really hard. To make “meals” without cooking, you often need extra equipment (spiralizers, dehydrators, blenders) and lots of time (unless you’re content with just eating straight-up salads all of the time). It’s hard to eat out and you miss out on lots of flavors.
The Bottom Line
A healthy diet you can’t follow isn’t a healthy diet at all, so for most people, sticking to raw food one hundred percent of the time is unnecessary and will just make eating well harder. However, if you happen to try raw veganism and feel amazing and find that you LOVE dehydrating kale and blending almonds into butter, by all means, go for it. Just be extra careful about getting in a wide variety of foods in order to avoid nutrient deficiencies. In general, I recommend eating a combo of raw and cooked, which helps increase variety, the amount you eat, and nutrient absorption.