A typical raw food diet involves consuming fresh non-processed food cooked to a temperature of less than 40 °C. It is most often associated with a vegan and mostly organic food diet. Raw foodists believe that the live enzymes contained in raw food react with enzymes in the body to aid in digestion (and heating food destroys these live enzymes). Here’s a quick rundown of what we found to be true.
A raw food diet consists of mostly fruits, veggies, seeds, and little processed foods which maximizes antioxidant intake and has been known to result in increased energy, improved skin and complexion and weight loss. Measurable benefits include lower risk of diseases associated with saturated fat intake such as heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure (see study here).
Studies have found raw vegan diets to be associated with health benefits such as
– Improved symptoms of fibromyalgia
– Reduced rheumatoid arthritis (mostly due to higher lactobacilli intake) (see study)
– Lower breast cancer risk (see study)
– Lower overall cancer risk due to the avoidance of toxins produced by cooking food
o HCAs, or heterocyclic amines, are created from cooking muscle meat and are thought to increase cancer risk in humans
o Nitrosamines are formed by cooking and preserving meats with salt and smoking and are regarded as carcinogens and known causes of colon and stomach cancer
o AGEs are toxins created by heat and are absorbed by the body during digestion
o PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are formed by cooking meats and are known to be carcinogenic, and are also found in cigarette-smoke and car-exhaust fumes (see study)
o Acrylamide is found in cooked starchy foods and has been linked to endometrial and ovarian cancers (see study)
Some foods have more benefits when they are cooked, such as tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Cooking makes certain phytochemicals easier to absorb, such as beta-carotene in carrots. The cooking process can also reduce certain “anti-nutrients” such as phytic acid, polyphenols, and oxalic acid (see study). More importantly, cooking also helps get rid of bacteria. Eating unpasteurized and raw foods, especially meat, dairy and fish, can greatly increase your risk for food-borne illness and gastroenteritis. Sensitive individuals or those with compromised immune systems are at particularly high risk if consuming only raw foods. In addition, raw food takes longer to digest and break down, and can be harder on your digestive system as opposed to cooked food.
Studies have found raw vegan diets to be associated with the following deficiencies
o Lower calcium, iron, vitamin D, B12, protein, and calorie intake
o Increased risk of osteoporosis and lower bone density (see study)
o Being underweight and amenorrhea (see study)
o Dental erosions (see study)
Also worth noting, according to alternative health diet theories such as macrobiotics, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine, a raw diet may not be appropriate for people living in colder climates.
We believe that in moderation, eating a diet high in raw foods could have substantial health benefits. There needs to be careful consideration for your own unique set of circumstances, especially with respect to your risk of osteoporosis and other nutritional deficiencies. There also needs to be mindfulness of the hazards associated with the raw food diet such as bacteria, particularly from raw animal products. For more information check out this podcast of Dr. Ruthann Russo, author of the Raw Food Diet Myth.