Raw food diets have been around for years now, and their staying power is due to the purported health benefits of eating only raw foods. And while it’s true that eating more raw fruits and vegetables — and fewer ultra-processed foods — can lead to better health, there are some things to consider (and some myths to dispel) before you commit to a raw food diet. (And as with any drastic dietary changes, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor first.)
A raw food diet typically includes only (or mostly) uncooked and unprocessed foods. These diets are often plant-based, though some people do include raw dairy products or raw fish in their diets. A raw food diet typically includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some raw food diets include lightly processed foods, such as some types of sprouted seeds, some cheeses, and some fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.
People who follow a raw food diet avoid food that has been homogenized or produced with synthetic pesticides, and any food that has added sugars, stabilizers, or preservatives.
Although most raw-food adherents prefer to eat only raw foods, some do blend, warm, or lightly sauté their food before eating.
Because it eliminates processed foods, a raw food diet can significantly reduce your intake of excess sodium and sugar, as well as unhealthy saturated fats. A 2019 review reported that following a plant-based diet can have significant health benefits.
A raw food diet typically contains a lot of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Eating a range of these foods will provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins. Raw fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which aids in digestion and may help prevent certain chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
In addition, some cooking or processing methods can eliminate or reduce nutrients in food — many foods do have more health benefits when eaten raw.
The nutritional benefits of raw food diets are frequently touted. However, no diet is a cure-all, and not all diets are right for everyone. Before making the transition to a raw food diet, be sure to talk with your doctor about possible side effects. For some people, a solely raw food diet may lead to vitamin, mineral, or protein deficiencies. Because these diets are often dense in fiber, they may also lead to digestive difficulties such as excessive bloating and gas. Also, some raw dairy products, fish, and meats carry a risk of food-borne pathogens and even serious illnesses such as gastroenteritis, sepsis, and parasites.
Myth: Raw foods are always more nutritious. Uncooked foods are not always healthier or more nutritious. Your digestive system (with some help from your gut microbiome) works to break down food into simple nutrients that can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine, and then on to the cells of your body. Cooking makes some foods — many grains, for instance — easier to break down. Studies have also shown that in some cases, simple cooking methods actually release more of some nutrients in some foods (such as broccoli and tomatoes).
Myth: Eating a raw food diet is simpler. While some raw foods may be ready to eat after a quick rinse, others are not. Learning how to prepare many different kinds of raw foods requires time and effort. And avoiding cooked or processed foods may require lifestyle changes that are not possible for some people: raw foods have a short shelf life, so a raw food diet will require diligent meal planning and more frequent shopping. Further, avoiding cooked or processed foods at events, restaurants, and social gatherings can be difficult.
A raw food diet isn’t for everyone, but incorporating plenty of raw fruits and vegetables into your diet is key to good nutrition — they have been shown to boost immunity, improve digestion, and increase energy. (And eating fewer ultra-processed foods will certainly benefit you.) Here are some simple ways to start eating more fruits and vegetables:
• The first step is making a conscious choice to keep them on hand, perhaps replacing a go-to processed snack.
• Dedicate a little bit of time each week to learning about new ways to prepare raw foods and experimenting with flavors. Keeping your taste buds interested and tracking your favorites is a good way to make the transition fun.
• Stay motivated by focusing on your nutrition goals, and not so much on restrictions.
The key to ensuring good health is to make sure you eat a balanced diet with all the necessary fats, proteins, carbs, and vitamins.
Thinking about transitioning to a raw food diet or making another lifestyle change? Talk about the implications with a Carbon Health healthcare provider — make a virtual or in-person appointment at carbonhealth.com or via the Carbon Health app.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.