The amount of dietary do’s and don’ts bombarding us on a daily basis may make sifting through bogus nutritional claims seem impossible. But have no fear — the Glamourgirlz sleuths are here to decode the latest, greatest, (and not so great) diets in our Debunking Diets Series. This week, we’re digging deeper into the raw food diet.
What you can eat: Raw or slightly heated plant-based foods. A relies on uncooked fruits and vegetables, sprouted grains, unroasted nuts and seeds, seaweed, dried fruits, and beans. Some variations include (which, like sprouted grains, ) like miso, sprout milk yogurt, and raw soy sauce.
What you can’t eat: Anything heated above , which includes nearly all processed food, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. That means pretty much anything outside the produce aisle of a grocery store is off limits — except packages specifically labeled “raw.” Good news for snackers: Nibbles like kale chips, seaweed, and dried fruit mixes are a-okay as long as they’re sun-baked or prepared in a .
Exceptions: all dairy, eggs, and even honey. But there are also that include raw eggs, fish, meat, and cheese made from unpasteurized (i.e. unheated) milk have gained popularity in the raw food world. Proponents believe the addition of some uncooked animal products — basically a cross between raw and Paleo — is actually healthier and provides more complete nutrition.
The Theory: The raw food diet — sometimes called a living food (LF) diet or “rawism” — claims that . To get the most out of food and avoid toxins, raw foodists try to keep their diet as natural and “alive” as possible. Proponents of the diet argue that humans are the only animals that cook their food. They believe this is why animals that eat cooked food (humans, household pets, and other domesticated critters) are the only species with health issues like cancer, diabetes, and genetic diseases. Studies have shown consistently reduces the risk of cancer, but the results for raw versus cooked fruits and veggies are inconclusive Steinmetz, K.A., Potter, J.D. Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455. Cancer Causes Control. 1991 Sep; 2(5): 325-57 Link, L.B., Potter, J.D. Cancer Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Sep;13(9):1422-35..
According to raw foodists, heating food above 115 degrees in fruits and vegetables that . Cooking some foods can also release carcinogens and free radicals that may contribute to health problems . Jimenez-Monreal, A.M., García-Diz, L., Martínez-Tomé, M., et al. Dept. of Food Science, Veterinary Faculty, Univ. of Murcia, Murcia, Spain. J Food Sci. 2009 Apr; 74(3): H97-H103.
The first modern proponent of a raw diet for better health was Swiss doctor (fun fact: He also invented muesli!). In 1897 Bircher-Benner claimed to have cured his own jaundice with a regimen of raw apples. From that point on, he set about convincing others that raw food was the secret to optimal health.
Apples and Bananas — What the Science Says
A raw diet contains extremely because of the lack of meat, dairy, and processed food. It is notably high in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients like beta-carotene and vitamin A found in fruits and veggies . Garcia, A.L., Koebnick, C., Dagnelie, P.C., et al. Institute of Nutritional Science, University of Giessen, Giessen, German. British Journal of Nutrition. 2008 Jun;99(6):1293-300. Epub 2007 Nov 21.. The antioxidant-rich diet often results in significant weight loss and has also been shown to help bring relief from diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia Hänninen, O., Rauma, A.L., Kaartinen, K., et al. Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland. Acta Physiol Hung. 1999;86(3-4):171-80. Donaldson, M.S., Speight, N., Loomis, S. Hallelujah Acres Foundation, Shelby, NC, USA. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2001;1:7. Epub 2001 Sep 26.. Because fat produces molecules that trigger inflammation throughout the body, a diet extremely low in fat can reduce those reactions (simply because there’s less fat hangin’ around). Raw foodists also claim the diet increases happiness, reduces anxiety, promotes a feeling of , and grants (just kidding about that last one) Link, L.B., Hussaini, N.S., Jacobson, J.S. Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, 722 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, USA. Complement Ther Med. 2008 Jun;16(3):124-30. Epub 2008 Apr 8..
So why hasn’t everyone thrown out their pots and pans and embraced this magic diet? It’s no joke. A raw food diet is requires a serious commitment — no conventional banana bread, veggie burgers, or pizza — and it also can have some serious health drawbacks.
According to some nutritionists, a raw food diet is no better than a healthy, balanced diet that includes cooked food. Many of the supposed benefits aren't backed by research. Raw foodists claim that cooking food destroys vital plant enzymes that drive biochemical reactions in the body. But the digestion process (chewing, stomach acid, the works) regardless of whether the food was cooked or raw to begin with. In fact, , like lycopene in tomatoes and antioxidants in carotenoids such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and peppers are actually .
A raw food diet can also be like calcium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Dedicated rawists often have low bone mass due to the extreme nature of the diet, which reduces body mass and can lead to osteoperosis and increased risk of fractures (though believe the low bone mass is simply due to low body weight, not weak bones) Fontana, L., Shew, J.L., Holloszy, J.O., et al. Section of Applied Physiology, Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science, Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Mar 28;165(6):684-9. NIH Consensus Development Panel on Osteoporosis Prevention, Diagnosis, and Therapy. JAMA. 2001 Feb 14;285(6):785-95..
And those who consume raw meat, eggs, and unpasteurized milk products (especially children, the elderly, and sick people) put themselves at risk for and foodborne illness. If opting to try a raw omnivorous diet, be careful about food safety and always scope out the source before digging into that steak tartare.
Should I Go Raw? — Diet Decision
Incorporating more fruits and veggies into any diet is always a good idea, but consider your everyday routine and dietary needs carefully before committing to a totally raw diet. Because of the extremity of this eating plan, rawism is more of a lifestyle choice than a temporary weight loss program. Swearing off the stove can lead to higher energy levels and easier digestion, but going totally raw has some big disadvantages too.
A raw lifestyle takes planning, nutritional knowledge, and some seriopus willpower! Plus, is pricey — not to mention controversial. claim packaged raw foods and the eats at are not “100 percent raw.” Nutrition labels show that going raw doesn’t always mean going healthy; for example, has almost the same nutritional content as regular ole’ PB. As always, speak with a nutritionist or doctor before making any drastic dietary decisions.
Have you gone raw? Tell us about your experience in the comments below or tweet the author @sophbreene.