The raw food diet has been popular for quite a few years, with proponents believing it can increase energy and promote better health. Raw food diets for beloved pets have also been all the craze, but today, we will focus on the raw diet for humans!
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of the raw food diet and what you can eat on a raw food diet.
We will cover:
- What Is the Raw Food Diet?
- Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
- What Can You Eat On a Raw Food Diet?
Let’s jump in!
What Is the Raw Food Diet?
As the name describes, a raw foods diet involves consuming only raw foods, though the definition of “raw food” isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Although most people assume that all foods consumed on the raw foods diet must be completely uncooked, nutrition experts suggest that the food is considered “raw“ if it has never been heated over 104–118°F (40–48°C) during its preparation.
This range exists because different sources cite slightly different temperature values, and there isn’t a hard science as to what is considered cooked vs. raw.
Besides eating foods in their completely natural state, the definition of raw foods also extends to include alternative preparation methods aside from the very low-temperature cooking to include things like dehydrating, juicing, sprouting, soaking, and fermenting.
Using a dehydrator, which is a cooking appliance that blows hot air over fresh foods and eventually evaporates the moisture out of them, is typically the only type of heating allowed since this device does not exceed the temperature range under which food is still considered “raw.”
A dehydrator can be used to dry fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, etc.
Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
The purported raw foods diet benefits center around the fact that foods in their uncooked state or when kept below temperatures in this relatively low range help retain the nutrients and allow the natural digestive enzymes contained within the food product to survive.The heating process used in most traditional cooking methods, whether boiling, steaming, baking, frying, microwaving, etc., can denature some of the proteins in the foods, uncoiling their three-dimensional structures. This includes digestive enzymes, which can help your body break down the nutrients in fruits, vegetables, and proteins for better absorption.
Enzymes are a type of protein. Certain foods contain digestive enzymes. These can help increase the bioavailability of the nutrients and antioxidants contained in the food.
If these enzymes are denatured or destroyed during the cooking process, some of the nutrients contained in the vegetable may not be absorbed by your body.
Furthermore, the cooking process can change the structure of the carbohydrates contained within the vegetable or grain.
Vegetables store carbohydrates as polysaccharides, which are long chains of sugar molecules and various forms of fiber, such as cellulose and inulin.
Almost all raw vegetables, and many raw fruits, are low glycemic foods, which means that they release glucose (blood sugar) slowly into the bloodstream because it takes the body a long time to break down the complex carbohydrate structures (long polysaccharide molecules and fiber).
This is in stark contrast to food that is composed primarily of simple carbohydrates, such as fruit juice, fruit snacks, refined grains, sweetened breakfast cereals, etc.
These foods already contain their sugar molecules in a nearly broken-down state, ready to hit the bloodstream quickly. This causes a sudden spike in blood sugar, which is met with a compensatory release of a lot of insulin in order to trigger the cells to take up the glucose that is in circulation.
Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates are considered high glycemic foods due to their ability to rapidly increase blood sugar levels. This raises insulin levels, causing a crash in energy levels and rebound hunger and fatigue.
Raw fruits and vegetables are lower glycemic foods compared with the cooked version.
Much in the same way that a ripe banana is sweeter and has a higher glycemic index value than a green, unripe banana, the cooking process artificially “ages“ the vegetable by breaking down some of the complex carbohydrates and fiber within the vegetable, making it less starchy and fibrous and sweeter.
Therefore, when you eat a cooked vs raw fruit, vegetable, legume, or grain, the digestive process is already somewhat underway.
The long polysaccharide molecules and complex fibrous compounds have already begun to degrade due to the application of heat. This means that the sugars will be easier to break down, allowing them to enter your bloodstream faster, increasing the glycemic response and blood sugar spike after eating cooked grains and vegetables vs raw ones.
Not only will this affect your blood sugar and insulin levels and decrease some of the normal benefits of eating raw fruits and vegetables in terms of the minimal impact on blood sugar and insulin, but it will also potentially decrease the satiety or the amount of fullness you feel after eating the fruits and vegetables as well as the amount of fiber that you are getting.
For these reasons, eating raw vs cooked vegetables, fruits, and grains can be better for blood sugar regulation and appetite control.
With that said, certain vegetables—such as leafy greens—contain so little natural sugar that they still will not become what would be classified as high-glycemic foods even if you cook them.
The change in glycemic load pertains more to sweet vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and yams. However, the changes in fiber content will apply to all raw vs. cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains.
What Can You Eat On a Raw Food Diet?
Although some diners take a little bit of latitude when following a raw food diet in that they do consume some amount of cooked food, ideally all, or at least the vast majority of the foods that you eat on a raw foods diet should be whole unprocessed natural foods.
These foods are predominantly plant-based, and if possible, you should strive to eat organic foods, particularly when it comes to fruits, vegetables, and heavily sprayed crops like soy and certain grains.
It’s important to note that not all raw diets are necessarily vegan diets and that there are some versions of the raw food diet that consume meat and/or raw (unpasteurized) dairy and eggs.
When only plant-based foods are consumed, it is considered a raw vegan diet. When raw eggs and unpasteurized dairy products are also eaten, it is considered a raw vegetarian diet. A raw omnivorous diet includes all of these foods plus the addition of raw, cured, or dried meat.
Some of the primary foods consumed on a raw food diet include the following:
- Raw fruits, dried fruits, and freshly pressed or squeezed fruit juices
- Raw vegetables, dried vegetables, or fresh vegetable juices, and greens powders like wheatgrass powder, or fresh green juices like wheatgrass juice and barley grass juice
- Raw nuts and seeds, raw nut butters, raw seed butters, nut milks like almond milk and coconut milk, young coconut water
- Soaked and sprouted legumes such as mung beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Soaked and sprouted grains
- Nutritional yeast
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso paste, and pickled vegetables
- Kelp, nori, and other seaweed
- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, raw avocado oil, raw flaxseed oil, raw coconut oil, raw hemp seed oil, etc.
- Purified water (not tap water)
- Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt (but not table salt)
- Vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, Nama shoyu (raw soy sauce)
- Herbs and spices like basil, oregano, cayenne, ground cinnamon, dill, cumin, and curry powder
- Raw cacao
Raw food diets that permit animal products may also include raw fish such as sushi and sashimi, raw meat, dried meat like jerky, cured meat as long as it has not been heated in the process, raw eggs, and unpasteurized milk, yogurt, and cheese.
All cooked food is avoided as long as it has been heated to over 104-118 degrees. You should also avoid all processed foods, refined oils, table salt, refined flours and sugars, pasta, caffeinated beverages, coffee, tea, and alcohol.
It’s also important to avoid eating certain raw foods due to the risk of toxins and bacteria. Examples include kidney beans, buckwheat, cassava, eggs, chicken, and potentially milk.
If you are interested in trying the raw food diet, it’s advisable to speak with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider for important safety tips and supplements you may need to support optimal health.
If you are still researching a variety of different diets to see what works best for you, try out our guides on Fasting and Keto!