You might be intrigued by the raw food diet. After all, people who support it believe that cooking food destroys nutrients, so by eating food raw, you’re maximizing the health benefits. It sounds compelling—what could be healthier than food that’s as close to nature as possible? But before you sell your Instant Pot and air fryer on eBay, here are a few things you should know about the raw food diet.
1. “Raw” can mean “warm”
First, what does “raw” mean, exactly? Ashley Amaral, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, said, “Raw food is anything unprocessed that has not been heated over 118° F.” Raw food proponents say that higher temperatures than that destroy enzymes that can help you digest and absorb nutrients.
Raw foods also include foods that are unrefined and have not been pasteurized. You can juice, blend, or sprout raw foods.
On a raw food diet, you can eat fresh fruits, vegetables, cold pressed plant oils, nuts and nut butters, and sprouted or soaked legumes. Most people choose a plant-based raw food diet, but you can include meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
2. You’ll probably lose weight
You won’t eat any highly processed foods on a raw food diet, and that can lead to weight loss. But it may not be a healthy way to lose weight. Most raw food diets are low in calories, which could sap your energy. They are typically also low in protein, which could lead you to lose lean muscle mass.
3. Nutritional deficiencies can crop up
On a raw food diet, you might not get enough vitamin B12 or vitamin D, since you likely won’t be eating many foods that contain them. In addition, your body absorbs some nutrients and antioxidants better when the foods that contain them are cooked.
4. You need to be careful with raw milk, meat, and eggs
“There are several food safety concerns,” Amaral said. Unpasteurized dairy can cause a serious infection from Listeria that’s especially dangerous for pregnant women. Raw meat can contain E. coli, and raw eggs can contain Salmonella—these germs can make you sick and can sometimes cause death.
5. You might have problems with your teeth
“There was a study that found that people who followed the raw food diet long-term have an increased risk of tooth erosion,” Amaral said. That’s because a lot of raw foods are acidic.
6. Heating foods destroys some nutrients and makes others more available
Vitamin C in particular doesn’t stand up well to heating. “But there are many benefits to cooking foods that enhance nutrient availability,” Amaral said.
The bottom line
Lots of raw foods are healthy choices, and on a raw food diet you’ll cut out highly processed foods—that’s a positive change. But if you try going raw, Amaral recommends that you mix in some cooked foods as part of a balanced diet and take vitamin B12 and D3 supplements to avoid deficiencies.
If you’re looking to optimize your diet to support your wellness goals, Banner Health can help. Learn how our nutrition services can help you feel better and do more.
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