Raw food diets come in three variations: vegan, vegetarian and Paleolithic (popularly referred to as the “caveman” diet). Proponents of the raw food diet believe that foods cooked above 116°F lose nutritional value, impede digestion and may actually be harmful to health. Vegan raw food diets typically prohibit animal products and focus on fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, and legumes; vegetarian diets may add fish, dairy and eggs to the mix; and Paleolithic-diet followers focus primarily on a “hunter-gatherer” diet of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts.
Benefits of Raw Food Diets
The most obvious benefit of raw food diets is the prominence of unprocessed whole foods and fresh produce, which are rich in both fiber and antioxidants, nutrients that can prevent and repair cell damage. Raw food diets are generally heart-healthy and low in calories. Preliminary studies indicate that raw foods may be beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis, and in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Risks of Raw Food Diets
The potential for food poisoning presents the greatest risk to those who follow raw food diets, especially for diets that include meat, dairy, fish, and shellfish, which may contain bacteria and their associated bacterial toxins. Dieticians also warn of nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and protein. Many stress that the diet may not be appropriate for young children and pregnant or nursing women. While many raw foods are easy to prepare, a varied and appetizing raw food diet can require shopping for specialty products and spending significant time on food preparation.
Can we survive on only raw foods? The answer depends upon whom you ask. Raw food enthusiasts emphatically insist that you can, while traditional science and medicine offer some objections against it. Both camps can produce statistics and research, arguments and counterarguments, to back up their claims. Understanding what exactly is entailed in following a raw food diet, including the potential risks and benefits, is the best way to come to an informed and, ultimately, personal conclusion.