If you’ve heard about raw food diets, you probably have mixed feelings. On one hand, it sounds intriguing to consider eating fresh foods (primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts) that haven’t been cooked at high temperatures, if at all. In fact, many say that such a diet has the ability to restore health. On the other hand, some question its effectiveness and suggest that it may be more harmful than beneficial.
Here’s a closer look at both sides of the raw food diet.
Why a raw food diet is good for you
People often turn to a raw food diet to jump on the “better health” bandwagon. Whether they want more energy or are suffering from a life-threatening disease, a raw food diet has been found to cleanse the body of potentially debilitating problems.
For example, Australian Janette Murray-Wakelin made headlines in the early 2000s when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and told she had six months to live. However, she refused chemotherapy and turned to a raw food diet, reasoning that it made more sense to put pure, healthy foods in her system instead of harmful chemicals. She embraced a raw food lifestyle, drinking mostly juices and thriving on living foods like carrots and apples. Some 10+ years later, she’s still alive and enjoying the raw food lifestyle. In fact, she and her husband are even avid marathoners. She says that the raw food diet improved her condition and created a body that’s fueled only by essential nutrients.
Further, a raw food diet can seemingly do wonders for overall health, beyond fighting life-threatening ailments. It is said to flush toxins from the body and is known to fight inflammation, improve skin, jumpstart a weight loss regimen, boost energy, and even increase mental clarity.
Advocates of this way of eating maintain that it’s beneficial because it supplies your body with nutrients in the way nature intended: pure, raw, and unprocessed. Cooking foods is therefore frowned upon, as raw food experts say that doing so destroys nutrients and alters food, in turn destroying and altering the body. They say that over time, all of that baking, microwaving, and eating processed, additive-filled foods wreak havoc on your health, interfering with everything from mental health to proper cell function.
The cons of a raw food diet
While it sounds logical that raw foods may help restore health by providing the body with adequate nutrients, some experts note that you shouldn’t be so fast to adopt this diet. They say that while it’s fine to put raw carrots in a salad or eat an apple, it can be problematic to flat-out refuse to cook any foods.
In fact, in some cases, cooking foods can actually bring about certain nutrients that otherwise wouldn’t be obtained as fully if eaten raw. For example, cooking tomatoes increases the concentration of lycopene, the antioxidant that’s responsible for their bright red color. It’s not harmful to enjoy them raw, but interesting to know that cooking them improves your ability to obtain their antioxidants. Additionally, cooking foods—even if you only lightly steam them—can assist with digestion; it’s often more challenging to digest foods on a raw foods diet, which leaves more nutrient bulk in the body.
Another fascinating finding: while raw foodists feel that their lifestyle provides them with a variety of nutrients, published studies have found that they do indeed often suffer from vitamin deficiencies. They’re generally low in iron, B-12, vitamin D, and zinc and are therefore urged to take supplements.
Then there’s the issue of food contamination. Researchers have discovered links between consumption of raw foods and food poisoning, which can be life-threatening. At the very least, you may end up with stomach discomfort and a need for antibiotics. In particular, experts have often warned about raw produce.
They say that foods such as lettuce, raspberries, baby spinach, cantaloupe, and peppers have been found to be especially concerning, often causing E. coli outbreaks. Of course, undercooked eggs and meats are of concern too, but a person on a raw foods diet typically consumes a plant-based diet. In many instances, they’re vegan as well, which means they abstain not only from eating animals but from eating animal-derived products such as milk and eggs.
Finally, as with any drastic dietary shift, maintaining this lifestyle may prove to be very challenging both mentally and physically. Compared to the typical way of Western eating, it’s quite strict and limiting. It may also create other changes such as headaches, loss of libido, sleep problems, low body temperature, and intense cravings for other foods. However, these feelings may subside as your body adjusts to a raw food lifestyle.
Do what’s right for you
Before adopting any new diet, be sure to speak with your doctor. It may also be wise to consult with a nutritionist—both professionals can assess your dietary needs and address existing health concerns, overall goals, and possible interaction with medications.
Diet results vary between individuals; what works for you may not work for a friend. So, a raw food diet may well be the best thing you’ve ever done to flush toxins from your body and improve your health. Then again, it may upset your digestive system and be too challenging to follow in the long-term. Do what you feel is best for you.