Is a Raw Food Diet Right For You?

April 25, 2012

Raw Zucchini “Pasta”. Photo by Kari Sullivan.

The concept of raw food is not complicated, but preparing nutritionally balanced and complete raw meals requires dedication and education. In a raw food diet, whole, fresh, usually organic ingredients are prepared using any method that does not heat them above 47°C (118°F).

While not all raw food diets are vegan, allowing unpasteurised dairy and eggs, most raw foodists promote an organic vegan raw food diet, which is the focus of this month’s diet overview.

Benefits of a Raw Diet

Raw Chocolate Cake: Photo by Cstrom.

Lori Baird and Julie Rodwell, Editor and Contributing Editor of The Complete Book of Raw Food state that eating an organic raw food diet allows the body to release toxins. This toxin-release is a primary reason that the raw food diet has gained popularity as a seasonal detox and as a disease fighter.

The belief behind the raw food diet is that cooking food at a temperature any higher than 118°F denatures the food, diminishing the high concentrations of enzymes present in raw food.  Enzymes, chemicals produced in living cells, facilitate digestion and keep arteries clean.

Scientific Studies on Raw Diets

Pressed Chips: Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

In 2005, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition examined the effects of the raw food diet on cholesterol, homocysteine, and vitamin B12 levels. While raw food dieters had favourable levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, 38 per cent of participants had low HDL cholesterol levels, vitamin B12 deficiency, and increased homocysteine levels.

One study published by the American Heart Association examined 179 adults aged 60 years and older, and found that elevated levels of homocysteine may be related to high blood pressure. Another study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society tested 574 adults aged 80 years on average, and concluded that higher homocysteine levels are associated with greater risk of mobility decline.

In 2005, the Toronto Star published a review of the raw food diet, consulting Toronto-based dietitian Rosie Schwartz; she stated that while she “would recommend components of the diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables,” a strict raw food diet omits “important nutrients.” Moreover, there are proven advantages to cooking in some cases; cooking tomatoes, for example, increases the absorption of lycopene, a carotenoid responsible for the red colour in tomatoes, which protects the body against heart disease and cancer.

Eating a Variety of Raw Foods

Raw Oatmeal Cookies: Photo by Kari Sullivan.

Large bowls of salad lacking both dressing and flavour may be the image that comes to mind when thinking of the raw food diet. While greens do play a role in the raw food diet, there are many other vibrant, flavourful options. Principle foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts. Secondary ingredients include oils, spices, and other condiments.

The raw food diet entails high-quality, seasonal, preferably organic ingredients; these ingredients are more expensive than canned, frozen, and highly processed foods. However, the raw food diet does not require boundless financial investment. In fact, time spent grocery shopping takes place primarily in the fresh produce and dry goods areas, while meat, dairy, pastry, and prepared food ­departments are usually excluded.

In a raw food diet, nut milks replace dairy and other pasteurized milks. They may be unfamiliar, but they are easy to prepare, and they are full of protein. Find out how to easily make almond milk at home.

Raw tostada salad: Photo by John Hritz.

Sprouts are sources of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and proteins. Sprouts come pre-packaged at your grocery store, but they are also easy to grow in your home. Alfalfa, broccoli, lentil, and radish seeds can all be sprouted. Read our instructions for sprouting seeds.

Important Tools for a Raw Food Diet

One advantage of a raw food diet is the energy saved by omitting the oven and skipping the stove. However, the money saved will be put towards other tools. As with other diets, kitchen gadgets can range from minimal basics to extensive catalogue orders and custom kits.

A dehydrator will be helpful when preparing raw meals. Dehydrators can take days to make breads, crackers, and chips, but their purpose is to preserve nutrients.  Other helpful tools include blender, sharp knives, cutting boards, mandolines, spice grinders, and food processors. These tools aide in preparation, and can help to inspire creativity; for example, with blenders, countless combinations of smoothies, soups, mousses, and sauces can be created. Another purpose of these tools is to ensure the rawness of ingredients.

Raw Quiche: Photo by Cstrom.

Beginning a Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet need not be extreme, expensive, or inconvenient. Some raw foodists do not eat raw food 100 per cent of the time. The raw food diet has the potential to become a lifestyle; however, aspects of the diet may be adopted for a season or incorporated into another diet. The benefits of increased fruit and vegetable intake are time-tested, but ultimately, the medical community is mixed about the benefits of a 100% raw food diet.

Read the Complete Book of Raw Food

The Complete Book of Raw Food edited by Julie Rodwell includes over 400 raw food recipes, and advice about choosing ingredients and purchasing tools.

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  • Judith R.

    After eating a heart-healthy diet for five years and gaining 5 kg despite exercising regularly, I inadvertently switched to a raw food diet when I suddenly developed an aversion to cooked food.  All cooked food seemed to me to be spoiled while raw food tasted fresh and delicious.  Within one month of starting the raw food diet, I lost 5 kg without even trying. 

  • Mardi

    I am trying to switch over to an alkaline diet because of health concerns and am having a very difficult time; mainly because I do not have a lot of time to prepare new dishes with the hours I have to work.  I am looking for something that would provide practical recipes that are fast, easy, tasty and healthy.  I am hoping that a raw diet would do this for me.

  • Katherine

    Sounds like a great book.  I can’t see myself eating completely raw but I think it would be good to start eating more raw foods. 

  • Erin

    I have always wondered about raw food diets and how they’re beneficial, and I think this is useful information to share with others who may be considering switching or trying it out even just for a while. Another “myth” I think that holds me back personally is thinking that it will be extremely expensive, but it seems like there are ways to make it affordable. I’ll have to check out that book! Great article! – Erin at ComfortLife

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