The raw food diet consists of unprocessed and completely raw foods as a general rule. “Raw” includes foods that have never been heated over 40-48°C and that are not refined, pasteurised, or treated with pesticides. (1)
The foods can be juiced, blended, dehydrated, soaked or sprouted as these methods don’t include cooking the food. Usually, this diet will be vegan, but some people choose to have raw eggs and fish as these are commonly safe to consume raw.1
Some people believe that cooking food makes it toxic, although this is heavily disputed. Those that follow a raw food diet often think it can clear up headaches and allergies, improve memory, arthritis and diabetes and boost the immune system.2
Is the Raw Food Diet Safe?
The drawback of eating a completely raw diet is that getting enough calories and nutrients can be challenging, as the foods that are suitable to eat are generally deficient in these areas.
Protein is tough to get on a raw diet, so it’s essential to be conscious of your nutritional needs and the nutritional content of the foods you are consuming when on a raw diet to ensure you do not become deficient in essential nutrients.2
A poorly planned raw diet can leave you deficient in iron (namely, Vitamin B12), Vitamin D, calcium, iodine, and zinc, to name a few. By limiting the food groups you can consume, you are limiting your access to some vitamins that are hard to get in the right quantities on a plant-based diet.2
What are the Health Benefits of the Raw Food Diet?
Some health benefits are associated with following the raw food diet when you eat healthily, including a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Although there is a risk of being deficient in some nutrients, you are likely to consume far more of some nutrients due to eating more fruits and veg in your everyday diet.
Studies have shown vegan diets, including raw diets, often contain more fibre, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds, which all have a significant impact on the gut.3
Upping your intake of fruits and vegetables as much as you need to sustain a raw food diet can help control blood pressure. The diet is particularly low in sodium, so it can help lower the possibility of stroke, heart failure, some cancers, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.2
Although the raw food diet is not recommended for any specific health conditions, it can help you to lose weight due to the lower calorie intake. This can help with many health conditions linked to obesity - so if weight is part of your health issue, this diet could help.2
Who Shouldn’t Try the Raw Food Diet?
It is not recommended that children follow a raw food diet, as our brains need a lot of energy to grow and develop. It is suggested that limiting calories and the diversity of the nutrients consumed can negatively impact the development of kids.
At any age, it is imperative to do your research if you want to change to a raw diet. You must ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need to survive and thrive, or you could become unwell.
Which Foods Should I Avoid on the Raw Food Diet?
It is essential only to eat foods that are safe to eat when raw. Chicken can be contaminated with harmful bacteria when raw, so it is not considered safe to eat.
Potatoes contain starch, which can lead to digestive issues when left uncooked. Green potatoes can also contain the poisonous toxin solatine, which can lead to headaches and nausea when consumed by humans.4
Aubergines also contain solatine, and solatine can restrict calcium absorption, causing a deficiency that is harmful to humans.4
Be careful with rhubarb; although the stalk is safe and edible raw, the leaves can be poisonous, leading to difficulty breathing, burning of the mouth and throat and seizures.4
Lima beans are also not considered safe to eat raw by humans due to a compound called linamarin contained within the beans that breaks down into cyanide. This is only present when the beans are raw, making them unsafe on a completely raw diet.4
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this one - but our advice is that eggs shouldn’t be eaten raw. Eggs can potentially be contaminated with the bacteria salmonella, which can make you extremely ill.4
Cauliflower and Broccoli are two vegetables that our bodies struggle to digest when consumed raw. Although there isn’t necessarily any safety risk, you may experience severe discomfort and trouble throughout the digestive tract if you eat these uncooked foods.4
Does Cooking Food Kill Nutrients?
This is one of the main conversation topics surrounding the raw food diet. Yes, cooking can reduce the benefits of some nutrients within the food. However, other nutrients are brought out by cooking food that you can’t access when they are raw.5
Cooking foods can reduce certain chemicals within vegetables that inhibit the body's ability to absorb minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. So although vitamin C and some B vitamins are lost through the cooking process, there's nothing to say you can’t mix up your diet between cooked foods and raw foods to get the best of both worlds.5
The Bottom Line
There can be many drawbacks to the raw food diet, particularly if it is poorly planned. We absolutely recommend speaking to a specialist to create an inclusive meal plan that ensures you do not become deficient in any essential nutrients if you consider this diet.