Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC
In a Nutshell
- Foods are never heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit (boiling is 212 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Cooking foods is harmful because it reduces nutrient content and beneficial enzymes
- Allows meats, dairy, and eggs – in a certain way
This diet excludes foods that have been heated, pasteurized, refined, or otherwise processed or treated. It is a diet consisting of whole foods that are completely or mostly raw.
- All fresh and naturally dried fruits and vegetables
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Grains and pulses (beans, lentils, legumes)
- Nut milks
- Raw nut butters
- Cold-pressed oils
- Fermented foods
- Raw honey
- Naturally dried meat (if desired)
- Raw eggs or dairy (if desired)
- Raw meat or fish (if desired)*
*Note that sushi rolls containing rice would not be considered a raw food.
- Anything cooked (heated over 118o Farenheit)
- Roasted nuts and seeds
- Refined oils (heat-pressed, filtered)
- Pasteurized dairy and juices
- Baked goods
- Table salt
- Refined grains
- Coffee and tea
- Any other processed foods and snacks
Rather than cooking, the raw food diet supports alternative preparation methods like juicing, blending, dehydrating, soaking, and sprouting. Soaking and sprouting are used to make raw grains and pulses edible by increasing bioavailability and breaking down toxic compounds.
Can significantly impact socializing and dining out, as many people do not know how to cater to raw food dieters other than offering raw fruits, and restaurants have just now made small, slow strides to accommodate vegetarians and vegans – raw foods accommodations are not even on the radar, save establishments that serve sashimi or steak tartare.
As there is no cooking, food preparation takes much more planning, time, and effort.
Because of the restrictive nature of this diet and the rather large nutritional learning curve for those making the switch, a lot of education, exploration, and possibly nutritional supplements are needed.
Some people also have difficulty digesting raw vegetables.
Scientific & Expert Support
While cooking foods does reduce some vitamins, it makes other nutrients such as antioxidants more bioavailable (easier for the body to absorb and use). And we don’t need the enzymes in the food we consume for digestion, as our own digestive enzymes work just fine for food breakdown.
There is great concern that the raw food diet lacks adequate calcium, vitamin D, and protein, and there is evidence that people following a raw diet over a long period of time have an increased risk of low bone density.
Fresh, raw foods are a valuable part of a healthy diet. It’s good to eat raw vegetables, though science has established that the greatest nutrition comes from eating a combination of raw and cooked vegetables.
There can be food safety issues with consuming raw foods because of dangerous germs like botulinum, salmonella, listeria, E. coli, cryptosporidium, brucella, and campylobacter that can result in not only “food poisoning” but severe acute or long-term illness, hospitalization, and even death.
You should always consult with your physician, and ideally a registered dietician (RD) or nutritionist, before radically changing your diet or eating habits. Especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are taking prescription medications, or have existing health conditions.
Strength of Evidence: D
There is only one study conducted directly on a raw foods diet, the results of which showed only negative health impacts. There is no other evidence supporting the raw food diet. There is an abundance of quality, patient-centered evidence that supports eating more plant foods for many health reasons, but not raw only approaches.
Preferring your olive oil extra virgin and your honey raw, as well as enjoying occasional sushi and maybe even meat tartare, is one thing… But adopting a raw food diet is likely to be more harmful than healthful.
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- Foods that can cause food poisoning; CDC
- Harvard University – Harvard Medical School. (2020). Special health report – The diet review. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Health Publishing.
- Do raw foods have more nutrients? Cleveland Clinic
- A skeptical look at popular diets: Stanford Medicine
- Is juicing healthier than eating whole fruits or vegetables? Mayo Clinic