As the name suggests, a raw food diet is a diet of uncooked, unprocessed foods. We are not talking about an occasional salad or smoothie, but a diet mainly comprised of uncooked foods or heated only below 48℃.
The promise of the raw food diet is a healthier and more energized body. Advocates believe that cooking food destroys nutrients and enzymes in foods and robs them of energy. Raw food diet is meant to achieve weight loss, increase immunity, heals inflammation, and helps fight against chronic diseases.
While raw food diet may seem trendy, it is not new at all.
One of the earliest advocates of the raw food diet is a Swiss scientist named Maximilian Oskar Bircher-benner, and he claimed that eating raw apples helped cure his jaundice. He is also the guy that created the famous Bircher muesli!
Today, the raw food diet is predominately plant-based, full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, foods we know to be nutrient powerhouses. Some followers are strictly vegan, eating no animal products, some include raw eggs and raw dairy, and some include raw fish or dry meat. Followers prepare food through soaking, sprouting, fermentation; and, using tools such as blenders, dehydrators, and food processors.
Raw Foods Contain More Nutrients
While it is true that boiling vegetables reduce their water-soluble vitamins and cooking does destroy some nutrients, for example, vitamin B and C, but that’s not the whole story.
Lycopene, for example, is a powerful antioxidant associated with sun protection, heart health, and the prevention of certain cancers. A study published in Journal of agricultural and food chemistry in 2002 found that cooking tomato increases its lycopene content and total antioxidant activity and hence enhances its nutritional value. Another study in 2009 that cooking green asparagus increases its amount of beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, nutrients associated with eye protection.
Raw Foods are Better for Digestion
One important aspect of cooking is that it breaks down plant fiber and cell walls, making it easier to digest food and absorb nutrients. Also, most raw foods are served at a cooler temperature, and our digestion works best when food is slightly warm or around body temperature.
Advocates also claim that cooking destroys enzymes in plants. On this, most scientists believe that the human body produces the digestive enzymes needed to break down food; even though cooking denatures plant enzymes, it has little impact on digestion.
Raw Food Induces Weight Loss
By nature, a raw food diet eliminates the intake of processed foods. No having baked goods, processed meat, deep-fried foods, or pre-packed meals naturally reduce added sugar, trans fat, and food additives. Calorie intake is also drastically reduced. This is a good change for many people and possibly the main reason for improved health.
Some of the risks are food contamination and food poisoning. As we know, cooking kills harmful bacteria and microorganisms. With a raw food diet, you will need to be extra careful with the source and cleaning of your food.
At the same time, some foods may be dangerous eaten raw. Red kidney bean contains something called “phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)”, a protein that can be dangerous to humans. Soaking, plus boiling for at least 30min or stir-frying for more than 18 minutes, can drastically reduce PHA, making it safe for consumption.
Those who eat raw and unpasteurized eggs, milk, seafood, and meat are at higher risks of food-borne illnesses.
On the other hand, having limited food choices means having restricted access to certain nutrients. Those on a strict raw vegan diet may not get enough protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and B12.
A study done in Germany published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that the subject who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels o vitamin A but low levels of lycopene.
The Jury is Still Out
There are benefits in including both raw and cooked foods. As with the golden rule of “eating a variety of food in moderation”, any extreme diet pattern is more likely to do more harm than good in the long run.
The raw food diet may be beneficial as a short-term intervention to allow the body a break by not putting in more toxic from our usual foods. But as a long-term eating pattern, it may not be sustainable, based on our knowledge today.