Ultimate Guide to the Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet is a lifestyle that demands consciousness and dedicated eating habits. See more vegetable pictures.
iStockphoto/Maksim Shmeljov

­For cavemen, the raw food diet was nothing new. More than 1.5 million years ago, prehistoric people had no fire -- everything they ate was raw, even the mastodons they sometimes managed to catch. So the raw food diet wasn't just a popular diet -- it was the only diet. And then humans harnessed fire, and all things culinary changed.

Today, supporters of the raw food diet believe that a diet of raw, unprocessed natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other supple­ments (with little or no meat) provides the most vitamins and nutrients of any diet and also helps the body detoxify itself naturally [source: DietTV]. This should make it the healthiest, easiest and best diet for everyone, right? Maybe for some, but the raw food diet can be taken too far.

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­A close cousin to veganism, which forbids the consumption of any animal-based food, like meat and­ its byproducts (cheese, yogurt, eggs), raw foodism follows basic guidelines but can be tempered with the addition of fish or eggs, depending on the raw foodist's preference. Because of its focus on food that is still in its natural state, or "alive," the raw food diet is also sometimes referred to as the living food diet [source: Sunfood].

Many crash diets involve a few days, weeks or months of restricted eating, but the raw food diet goes beyond a relatively short time commitment to an investment in a lifestyle of consciousness and dedicated eating habits [source: Conscious Choice].

Fad diets have sprung up through the centuries, from the Puritans to Dr. Atkins, but are they really all that they're "cooked up" to be [source: Kaufman]? And is the raw food diet really as healthy (and safe) for you as it claims to be? In this article, we'll sample the basic menu of raw foods, cover the benefits and risks of such a restrictive diet, and give you a taste of what it means to be a raw foodie. Let's start with the menu.

Raw Food Diet Menu

The basics of the raw food menu include the fruit, nut, vegetable a­nd seed staples of the vegetarian diet, with the addition of enzymes and supplements to replace meat. As long as it's not cooked, it fits. But what that means is that fried tofu, heated tempeh, broiled broccoli, baked potatoes and slices of seared squash are out. Here's what's in:

  • natural fruits (but no seedless hybrids)
  • green-leafed veggies (no hybrids)
  • melons and sweet sugar fruits
  • avocadoes and other fatty foods
  • citrus fruits like orange and lemon to detoxify
  • nuts in moderation
  • rice (if soaked in water and "cooked" with natural heat from the sun) [source: Wolfe]

As you can see, raw food can be as normal or as imaginative as you can make it as long as it's unprocessed and natural. Let's take a look at the advantages of living (and eating) like this.

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Benefits of the Raw Food Diet

­Clear skin, lots of energy and a slimmer, sexier you? What's not to love about a lifestyle that promotes­ that? Many followers of the raw food diet say that when you eat raw, unprocessed foods, you're getting the full nutritional content of the plant without the chemicals, colors and other additives often pumped into the foods we eat today [source: Books].

When you heat your spinach in the microwave or cook any veggie in water, it loses a certain amount of minerals and nutrients. Raw vegetables retain their nutrients, especially eaten with the skin, and are easier to digest because the fiber content remains intact [source: Virginia Cooperative Extension]. But if something must be cooked, 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (43 to 49 Celsius) is the generally accepted high temperature [source: Williams].

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What else is possible on this diet if perfect hair, skin and weight are just the beginning? With the right amount of planning and experimenting, you can invent creative new meal ideas. But, of course, there are plenty of naysayers who believe the raw food diet is not all that it's cracked up to be. Learn about raw-food criticisms on the next page.

Dangers of the Raw Food Diet

Now that you've noshed on the idea of raw food and its history, we'll examine the dangers of a lifestyle lived raw. Think living on nothing but apples, seaweed and leafy greens sounds like a good way to get in shape? In moderation, it can be. But the risks and dangers of limited nutrition are very real with this diet.

Raw food diet devotees argue that nutrients are absorbed easier when they enter the bloodstream in their natural, uncooked state, but our bodies already make all of the enzymes we need, and our digestive systems have been biologically designed to process the stuff we're already eating [source: American Dietetic Association].

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Another danger of undercooked or raw food is that food-borne illness can become a larger problem. Raw milk can lead to disease, as can other under- or noncooked foods [source: NPR].

Yes, you'll probably lose weight on the raw food diet, but how much is too much? That's just another risk association with this lifestyle -- a diet low in fats can lead to, well, a body low in fats. Bone loss has been questioned in raw foodists, and researchers are studying the long-term effects of the diet [source: BBC News].

If you're still interested in living raw, consult your doctor first to make sure it's the right move for you. You've got the basics -- now it's time to get cookin' (or not!).

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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