Depending on the source, a raw food diet is either a path to perfect health or to serious under-nourishment. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Devotees insist that a diet consisting mainly of uncooked, unprocessed plant foods leads to a leaner body, clearer skin and higher energy. What exactly is a raw food diet?
The fundamental principle behind raw food diet also sometimes called rawism, is that plant foods in their most natural state – uncooked and unprocessed – are also the most wholesome for the body. The raw food diet is a lifestyle choice. It is not a weight loss plan. Sticking to a raw food diet isn’t easy.
Most raw foodists spend a lot of time in the kitchen peeling, chopping, straining, blending and dehydrating. That’s because the diet is typically made up of 75% fruits and vegetables.
Staples of the raw food diet include: Seaweed, Sprouts, Sprouted seeds, Whole grains, Beans, Dried fruits, Nuts. Alcohol, refined sugars and caffeine are taboo.
Most raw foodists are raw food vegans, who eat no animal products, but some do eat raw eggs and cheese made from raw or unpasteurised milk.
How do raw foodists prepare meals?
Raw foodists do not cook using a hob or cooker. They use food dehydrators that lend crunch to vegetables and cookies. Food dehydrators also dry out fruits and other raw food recipes, but cooking food at low temperatures may not kill harmful, food-borne bacteria.
Is the raw food diet healthy?
The verdict on whether raw food diets are healthy is mixed.
Researchers who studied the impact of a raw food diet found that participants had low cholesterol and triglycerides. They also had a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is found naturally only in animal products. It is critical for nerve and red blood cell development, and deficiencies can lead to anemia and neurological impairment. A German study of long-term raw foodists showed that they had healthy levels of vitamin A and dietary carotenoids, which comes from vegetables, fruits and nuts and protect against chronic disease.
Yet the study participants had lower than average plasma lycopene levels, which are thought to play a role in disease prevention. They are found in deep-red fruits such as tomatoes. Lycopene content is highest, however, when tomatoes are cooked.
Low bone mass in the lumbar spine and hip may be another risk for raw foodists, who tend to be slim. Researchers concluded, however, that the raw foodists studied had “good bone quality”.
Finally, another study showed that a raw food diet can interrupt the menstrual cycle, because of drastic weight loss.
Raw foodism and nutrition
The British Dietetic Association named the raw food diet as one of its top five worst celebrity diets in 2011. It says Demi Moore, Natalie Portman and Woody Harrelson are reportedly fans of this diet. The BDA warns a raw diet can be low in calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and protein.
It says the diet is unsuitable for pregnant women, children and other at risk groups. It points out some foods are more nutritious if they are cooked, such as carrots and tomatoes.
It offers this ‘food for thought’: “This diet is time consuming, socially isolating and you’ll have an awful lot of chewing to do. For those who use meat in a raw diet, they put themselves at risk of food poisoning and gastroenteritis.”
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