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Raw Food Diet

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated April 04, 2014

raw food diet Oli Kellett/Taxi/Getty Images

Why Eat Raw Food?

The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most healthful food for the body is uncooked. Although most food is eaten raw, heating food is acceptable as long as the temperature stays below 104 to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (the cutoff temperature varies among those in the raw food community).

Cooking is thought to denature the enzymes naturally present in food. According to raw foodists, enyzymes are the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb nutrients. If we overconsume cooked food, our bodies are forced to work harder by producing more enzymes. Over time, a lack of enzymes from food is thought to lead to digestive problems, nutrient deficiency, accelerated aging, and weight gain.

Cooking food can diminish its nutritional value. For example, the cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli, sulforaphanes, are greatly reduced when broccoli is cooked. Certain vitamins, such as vitamin C and folate, are destroyed by heat. Other foods, however, become more healthful after cooking, because the fibrous portion is broken down. For example, cooked tomatoes contain three to four times more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

Cooking also promotes the formation of potentially harmful compounds in food during high heat cooking, such as advanced glycation end products and heterocyclic amines.

What Do I Eat on a Raw Food Diet?

There are different ways that people follow a raw food diet. Most people who follow a raw food diet are vegan. Some consume raw animal products, such as raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi, ceviche (raw fish), or carpaccio (raw meat). Some people eat only raw foods, while others include cooked food for variety and convenience. The percentage of raw food is usually 70 percent or more of the diet.

Raw food detox diets or cleanses are entering the mainstream. People typically go on a detox diet for 3 to 21 days. After the detox diet or cleanse, they may continue a raw food diet, return to their regular diet, or try to improve their daily diet by consuming more raw foods.

To find out what foods are typically eaten on a raw food diet, read the List of Foods to Eat on a Raw Food Diet.

How is Raw Food Prepared?

  • Soaking and Sprouting

Raw beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors that are normally destroyed with cooking. The nutrients can be released by soaking them (germination) or sprouting them.

Germination involves soaking in water for a specific amount of time. Although the recommended germination times vary from 2 hours (for cashews) up to one day (for mung beans), some raw foodists say that soaking overnight is sufficient and more convenient. It's important to start with dried, raw, preferably organic seeds, beans, legumes, or nuts.

Rinse beans, nuts, legumes, or seeds and place in a glass container. Add room temperature purified water to cover and soak at room temperature overnight. Mung beans, however, require a full 24 hours. Rinse a couple of times prior to use.

  • Sprouting

After germination, seeds, beans, and legumes can be sprouted. After they are drained during the final step of the germination process, place them in a container for sprouting. Leave them at room temperature for the recommended time. The seed, bean, or legume will open and a sprout will grow from it. Rinse the sprouted nuts or seeds and drain well. They can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

  • Dehydrating

Foods can be heated, never above 118 F, using a piece of equipment called a dehydrator to simulate sun-drying. They are enclosed containers with heating elements to warm at low temperatures. A fan inside the dehydrator blows the warm air across the food, which is spread out on trays. Dehydrators can be used to make raisins, sundried tomatoes, kale chips, crackers, breads, croutons, and fruit leathers.

  • Blending

Foods can be blended or chopped using a food processor or blender, to make recipes for smoothies, pesto, soup, hummus.

  • Fermenting
  • Pickling
  • Juicing

What Equipment is Used to Prepare Raw Food?

  • Blender - to make smoothies, soup, nut milks
  • Thermometer - to ensure during heating that food stays below 118 F
  • Dehydrator - a piece of equipment that can blow air through food at low temperatures.
  • Juicer
  • Mini-blender - for chopping or grinding small amounts of food
  • Food processor
  • Spiral Slicer - cuts vegetables into spiral shapes
  • Large containers or trays to soak and sprout seeds, grains, and beans
  • Mason jars or sprouters

Besides Cooked Food, What Else Should I Avoid?

Some raw beans can be eaten after they have been soaked and sprouted, but others are considered unsafe to eat, such as kidney beans, soy beans, and fava beans. Other foods that are avoided include:

  • Buckwheat greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Taro
  • Cassava and cassava flour
  • Parsnips

On a raw food diet, people usually avoid food grown with pesticides or made with preservatives, additives, food color or food dye.

Benefits of the Raw Food Diet

People who follow a raw food diet believe it has numerous health benefits, including:

  • Increased energy
  • Clearer skin
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced risk of disease

The raw food diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fat than the typical Western diet. It is also low in sodium and sugar and high in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, vitamin A, and health-promoting antioxidants. These properties are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations.

The raw food diet is also thought to have a favorable acid-alkaline balance, being low in acid-forming food. Too much acidity in the body is thought to result in disease.

Besides the immediate benefits, the raw food diet may theoretically slow the aging process and reduce inflammation, because it contains fewer advanced glycation end products and other potentially damaging compounds.

Next page: concerns, side effects and tips

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