The diet world has moved beyond the low-fat and low-carb crazes of yore toward eating more whole, unprocessed foods. You can’t argue with this concept—the nutritional benefits of eating foods fresh from nature, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes, are plenty. But a new twist takes this diet principal beyond the whole food movement—to a dietary pattern based on eating whole plant foods that are cooked to temperatures not exceeding 118ºF. This means that most raw “foodists” are vegans, with the exception of a very few who also include unpasteurized dairy products or raw fish, meat and eggs.
Advantages of nature’s raw foods. A raw food diet relies heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which are rich in nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals—plant compounds often responsible for the bright colors found in fruits and vegetables that hold health-protective activities, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties Studies have linked vegan and vegetarian diets with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Supporters of this diet argue that once food is cooked, its nutrients and enzymes, which they claim are essential for optimal digestion, are lost. But there is minimal science to back this up. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that it is the body, not the food, that supplies the enzymes needed for digestion. However, it’s a fact that when some fruits and vegetables are cooked, water soluble nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin C, are susceptible to loss.
Pitfalls of a raw food diet. While raw foodists have an eating style that often reflects a vegan diet, the diet is further restricted to exclude cooked whole grains, beans and legumes, adding to the difficulty in following the diet long-term. For example, meeting the needs for essential nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins can be very challenging. And the few raw foodists who eat raw animal products open the gate for a variety of food borne illnesses and bacterial contamination concerns.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to this style of eating is that it takes a lot of work, creativity and careful planning— not to mention expense. Often raw foodists rely on costly prepared raw foods. Restaurant dining, or even traveling while on a raw food diet can prove very restrictive and difficult. There’s little science to indicate we need to eat only raw foods for optimal health, but there’s plenty of research that supports eating a bounty of whole plant foods—whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.
This article was written by McKenzie for the March 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition