A raw food diet is usually strictly vegetarian, although some in the raw food movement allow unpasteurized dairy products, raw meat, raw eggs, and sushi.
A basic belief is that you should restrict food that is cooked or heated above 116 to 118° Fahrenheit. Advocates of raw food diets believe that the typical American diet of processed foods, animal products, pasteurized foods, and chemical additives contributes to diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Another raw food movement concept is that when we cook our food we break down the food’s enzymes and lose many of the food’s nutritional benefits.
The Raw Food Diet: Sample Menu
On a raw food diet, you can eat:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts, grains, and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Coconut milk
When a raw food diet allows some meat, it is usually fish or poultry. Raw foods can be blended, dehydrated, or juiced. Although 75 percent of your food should be uncooked in a raw food diet, some in the raw food movement allow for some boiled pasta or a baked potato.
If you stick to the raw foods diet, it's hard to overeat. As long as it is raw and vegetarian, there are no restrictions. You can eat as much as you want, as often as you want. Here is a sample diet:
- Breakfast: A typical breakfast would be a fruit salad topped with chopped nuts. If some animal products are allowed, you might have organic sheep's milk yogurt.
- Lunch: As much mixed salad as you want with lentil sprouts, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, plus a variety of vegetable-based dishes.
- Dinner: Vegetable soup, a sunflower seed cheese, and avocado and other vegetables, with fruit sorbet for dessert.
- Drink: Water, coconut milk, or all natural fruit juices with meals or snacks.
The Raw Food Diet: Pros
"The best things about the raw food diet are the amount of whole foods and fresh produce you eat. Cutting out processed foods is also a plus," explains dietitian Yvette Quantz, RD, a sports and lifestyle nutritionist at Food Therapy LLC in Lafayette, La.
- Fiber. "The raw food diet includes plenty of fiber, which fills you up and is great for your digestion," says Quantz.
- Antioxidants. "Because the diet relies heavily on fruits and vegetables you will get plenty of antioxidants, substances that help protect your cells from damage," adds Quantz.
- Weight loss. Because the raw food diet is so different from the typical American diet of animal fat and carbohydrates, you will almost certainly lose weight.
- Heart health. The raw food diet is low in saturated fats, high in antioxidants, high in magnesium, and low in sodium. All of these factors make this diet healthy for your heart.
The Raw Food Diet: Cons
“On the negative side, the raw food diet is very hard to sustain," says Erika Schwartz, MD, a life coach in New York City and author of several best-selling books on nutrition and wellness. Here are some drawbacks you should know about:
- Time consumption. "In order to make a raw food diet appetizing, a lot of time needs to go into special shopping and preparation," notes Quantz.
- Nutritional deficiencies. "You may have to supplement vitamins in this diet to keep from getting too low on B vitamins and calcium," warns Quantz. The absence of any animal products can also leave you low on protein and iron.
- Uncooked meat and dairy. For those raw food diets that do include some meat and dairy, eating these products uncooked can expose you to bacteria that might make you sick.
- Exclusions. "I would not consider this diet nutritionally safe for children, nursing mothers, or women who are pregnant," says Quantz.
The Raw Food Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
"There are a lot of things to like in the short term for the raw food diet. It is filling, low-calorie, and contains a good quantity of healthy food choices," says Quantz. "But for most people the diet is just too hard to maintain over the long term."
Dr. Schwartz agrees that a raw food diet is not a realistic long-term option. "Most people will just not be able to stay on raw foods and they become confused about how to integrate cooked foods into the diet," Schwartz says.
Quantz offers an alternative. "The raw food diet is a weight-loss program you can try for a short term and then use as a modified diet strategy over the long term. For instance, it might make sense to set aside a few days a week to go with a raw food diet and then fill in the other days with a healthy, more traditional diet," she advises.