Raw food diet is a generic name for several diets. Other names include the raw foodie diet and the raw vegan diet. For the purposes of this article, I will use only raw food diet to represent all three. While there are some differences between them, they are all based on the idea of eating mainly raw foods. Included are vegetables, fruits, raw nuts, and seeds. Grains and dried beans, legumes are accepted by some versions as long as they are soaked or sprouted. |
Raw Food Diet: Basic Claims Made
All versions of the raw food diet make some interesting, if unfounded, claims. Not to say that one of the claims is actually true. The raw food diet will produce dramatic weight loss. The zealots that promote the raw food diet claim other benefits. Taken together, there are three main claims made.
1. Raw food is healthier than cooked food. 2. Raw food is more nutritious than cooked food. 3. Raw food safe and sustainable.
Let's take each of these claims separately.
Raw Food Diet: Raw Food is Healthier than Cooked Food
This claim is overwhelmingly not supported by available evidence. There are a small number of studies that support the claim of improved health. The vast majority do not. Some findings point to lower blood lipids with the HDL (good cholesterol) levels were unusually low. This led to dangerously low levels of vitamin B12. Other studies suggest that following a raw food diet leads to significant tooth enamel erosion. Studies affirmed that followers of the raw food diet had lowered body fat and body weight. This led to bone density loss associated with low body fat. Additionally, these studies showed low calorie and protein intake. The bone loss was explained as a lack of calcium in the diet. Protein is also not readily available in the raw food diet either.
In all, the evidence shows that long-term adherence to a raw food diet is harmful to one's health. Clearly, the risks are real and harmful.
Raw Food Diet: Raw Food is more Nutritious than Cooked Food Within this larger claim, there are a few separate claims. A few sound reasonable. One sounds like a psychedelic hallucination. One claim is that cooking destroys nutrients. Well, this is only partly true. Yes some nutrients are leached out of foods while cooking. It is, however, also true that cooking is a transformative process. One of the transformations is that cooking releases nutrients and enzymes that require heat to be released. In all, this claim is a stand-off.
Another claim is that enzymes are destroyed in cooking. True again, but those same enzymes are destroyed in the stomach after eating raw food. This one is also a wash.
Finally, and this one truly makes me laugh, cooking destroys the 'life force' of the food. The 'life force' is a mysterious attribute of raw foods. The mystery, however, is not defined beyond the tautological, "It's a mystery, man." This is not evidence. Rather it is some kind of new age spiritual thought that requires faith to accept. As many already know, I am skeptical of claims made without evidence to support the claim. There is no support for the 'life force' of a plant. Oh, and by the way, when you eat the plant why is that not harmful to this 'life force?'
Taken as a whole, the claim that raw foods are more nutritious than cooked food, the evidence does not fully support the claim. At best nutrition is neutral as to raw or cooked foods.
Raw Food Diet is Safe and Sustainable
Proponents of the raw food diet claim that the diet is both safe and sustainable. We have already called into question the safety of the diet. A solution to the safety issue would be to take protein and vitamin supplements. Good idea but sadly supplements are taboo on the purist version of the raw food diet.
Sustainability is really a question of meeting a rather harsh challenge. The list of acceptable foods is far shorter than the list of banned foods. The variety of choice on a raw food diet is quite limited. People report being bored when the talk about why they dropped the raw food diet and returning to cooked food. Another issue is that the preparation of raw food is highly limited when compared to cooked food diets. Again a factor of boring affects sustainability.
Raw Food Diet: Some Final Words
It seems that the only real benefit of the raw food diet is rather rapid weight loss. But, when considering a diet for yourself, it pays to think about both results and risks. In my mind, the risks of a raw food diet far outweigh (pun intended) the benefits. The claims made are simply not supported by evidence. Faith is not enough to select a diet plan for life.
Sara Dawson is the managing partner at The Science of Permanent Weight Loss. Her personal journey going from ‘chubby’ and unhealthy to thin and healthy is one that anyone who suffers from being overweight or in poor health, or both should know. Sara encourages you to visit her Weight Loss Blog where she shares her story along with tips and ideas for healthy weight loss.
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