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Raw Food Diet: What It Is, Pros & Cons

Is cooking food a thing of the past? This is what health experts want prospective followers of a raw foods diet to know.

Raw Food Diet: What It Is, Pros & Cons

It is widely known that eating more fruits and vegetables offers numerous health benefits. So a diet based mainly on raw fruits and vegetables should be healthy, right? 

Even if from healthy foods, though, most restrictive diets may not always be the best option. Learn more about the potential risks and benefits of a raw food diet here.

What Is a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet encourages uncooked, unprocessed, and mostly whole, organic foods. Despite the numerous variations of a raw food diet, most of its followers practice veganism and consume a plant-based diet. Staples include raw fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and sprouted grains. 

Raw food diet goers who include animal products may consume raw (unpasteurized) milk, raw meats, raw fish, and uncooked eggs. Though the temperature of these products must never reach 115°F, a dehydrator is a common appliance to dry out food at a low temperature. Other methods of food preparation include juicing, blending, sprouting, germinating, cutting, and chopping.

You may be wondering, "Why go raw?"

Founder of the raw food diet, Maximillian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss physician and nutritionist, believed that raw foods were more nutritious. This belief was because raw foods contained direct energy from the sun. 

Dr. Bircher-Benner's nutritional hierarchy included raw fruits and vegetables as the most nutritious, cooked and commercially processed produce less nutritious than raw, and meat as the least nutritious. 

Followers then and now are encouraged to eat fruit, vegetables, beans, and nuts and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco. The decision on meat and animal product consumption varies among individuals.

3 Pros of a Raw Food Diet

Any diet that is based on high consumption of fruits and vegetables is bound to provide some health benefits. Here are some pros, with some caveats, for following a raw food diet.

1. High in Fiber and Antioxidants

While most adults in the US struggle to get adequate daily fiber, those following a raw food diet should get more than enough fiber. Additionally, antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes are also often lacking in the traditional American diet. 

Because the raw diet is based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, it is naturally high in fiber and antioxidants. However, keep in mind there are many other ways to get more fiber and antioxidants in the diet besides strictly following a raw food diet.

2. Low in Sugar and Processed Foods

Processed foods get a bad rap for being high in sugar, fat, and preservatives. They also tend to lack the most nutritional substance compared to whole, unprocessed foods. 

Following a raw food diet severely limits processed foods. This can be good for limiting sugar and other undesired ingredients in the diet. However, it also means following a raw food diet is not convenient and can be difficult to follow (see con #3).

3. May Help Weight Loss

Because the raw food diet is based on low-calorie foods and has a restricted list of foods allowed, it can be considered a low-calorie diet that may help people lose weight. However, this does not mean it is necessarily the best road for weight loss or maintenance. 

Rather, incorporating aspects of a raw food diet, like eating more raw fruits and vegetables, can help with a more balanced, sustainable approach to weight maintenance and healthy eating.

5 Cons of a Raw Food Diet

While there are potential benefits of a raw food diet, there are also some strong concerns as to why a raw food diet is not widely recommended. In fact, some concerns about a raw food diet are similar to those with fad diets.

1. Risk of Contamination

Raw foods do hold an increased risk of holding a foodborne illness, especially animal and meat products. Raw meats, not cooked to a recommended internal temperature, may house harmful bacteria and lead to illness. Such bacteria include E. coli and Salmonella, possibly evoking unpleasant and dangerous side effects if introduced into the body.

2. Difficult to Follow

Especially if new to the diet, following the guidelines and practices can be difficult. Learning the techniques and tedious preparations can be a challenge to some. 

Eating raw foods does require high motivation to practice the processes of sprouting, germinating, germinating, and dehydrating.

3. Lack of Convenience

It does take time and structure to adequately follow the raw food diet guidelines, which can make it hard to sustain. Additionally, partaking in the raw food diet limits outings to restaurants, as menus may be absent of a raw dish.

4. Costly

Though the raw food diet can be financially feasible, it may be harder on the wallet than other diets. Organic, raw ingredients do in fact tend to cost more, and those cooking appliances? High-end blenders, juicers, and processors may go for hundreds of dollars.

Keep in mind there are many ways to eat healthy on a budget that is not constrained to the limits of a raw food diet.

5. Too Restrictive

Particularly for vegans, the diet can be quite restrictive. Though raw diet foods supply nutrients, such food restrictions can lead to nutritional gaps. 

Vegans are at an increased risk of a wide variety of deficiencies including protein, vitamin B12, and iron. If there are questions about a raw vegan diet, a nutrition professional can further help address individual concerns with these diets.

A raw diet is also too restrictive due to limiting cooking methods. While some nutrients are lowered during the cooking process, others actually increased or remain unchanged. Therefore, limiting all use of heat above 115°F is needlessly restrictive in many health experts' opinions.

Conclusion: Is a Raw Food Diet Healthy?

When it really comes down to the healthfulness of the diet, it does supply the body with nutrients and fiber. However, taking the steps towards a raw foods diet may be a feat for some. And though convenience, prepackaged, and processed foods should be limited among the general population, sticking to only raw foods may not be the best direction to take by all. 

For this reason, choosing to embrace the raw foods diet is completely individualized and recommended only at people's own discretion. When contemplating such a diet, consult with a healthcare professional to help guide you to a healthful lifestyle and limit nutritional deficiencies.