Is a Raw Food Diet the Right Diet For You

raw vegetables
Sometimes called the living food diet, the raw food diet is a way of eating for many people. Recently, celebrities have touted the health benefits of eating only raw foods. Actually, the idea of eating only raw food goes back to the early 19th century. But, is eating raw foods every day actually that healthy for us?

What is the Raw Food Diet?

The raw food diet is when a person only eats raw foods. This means no cooking of foods, no heating of food and no processed foods. The raw food diet is also known as the living food diet because raw foods are live foods; they have not been cooked or processed. Cooking and processing food takes away the vital nutrients and enzymes, which is why a raw food diet is believed to be healthy.

You might wonder, what exactly is defined as raw food. Raw food is defined as food that has not been heated above about 117° F (48° C) or basically uncooked food. Organic raw foods are considered healthy because they should contain all of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and the actual life force of the plant.

These foods will have no added in hormones, pesticides, herbicides and should contain all of the nutrients we need to eat to be healthy. Of course, much of this can depend on the condition of the soil the foods were grown in, since plants get many of their nutrients from the soil and these foods have to be organic.

The Foods of the Raw Foods Diet

A strict raw food diet does not include many foods, but the foods that are included are as you would think, very healthy. A list of the more common foods that a person can eat on the raw foods diet includes:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Herbs and spices
  • Leafy greens, wild greens and indoor greens like wheatgrass
  • Dried fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Mushrooms
  • Sea vegetables
  • Sprouted grains and beans
  • Algae like spirulina
  • Oils like olive and sesame oil
  • Sweeteners like honey cacao
  • Spices

As you can see, that is not a very long list of foods that a person can eat on a raw food diet. A few raw food proponents also list prepared and prepackaged raw foods like flax crackers.

Disadvantages with a Raw Food Diet

I can see how eating this way for a week or two would be healthy and beneficial and I can certainly see how someone eating this way would lose weight. But eating this way all of the time sounds like a very limited way to eat that could be lacking in some nutrients.

A raw food diet at first might sound similar to a vegan or vegetarian diet, but in reality, there is a big difference. With a vegan diet, you can cook vegetables, beans, legumes, potatoes and eat baked whole wheat products, like bread.

Plate of carrots
I also love carrots, just not all the time / source

The Advantages of Cooking Food

Cooking vegetables causes certain food to lose at most 10% of their nutrients and it is known that cooking many foods can destroy some of the photochemical nutrients and enzymes in plant foods. But there are ways to cook without destroying the nutrients, like steaming and boiling and some foods like carrots and tomatoes release more nutrients when cooked.

Cooking also has its advantages. Many raw food proponents say that animals like cows eat nothing but growing plants. What they do not mention is that cows have a different anatomy than we do, such as two stomachs for example to break down all of that tough fiber they eat.

By cooking certain vegetables, the fiber is broken down therefore making it more digestible for us. When a food is hard to digest, we might not get all of the nutrients from the raw food, so in a way, not cooking certain foods defeats the purpose of eating raw foods with all of those nutrients.

Some foods are more nutritious when cooked than eaten raw. A report from Journal of Nutrition states that when we eat raw carrots, we only absorb about 3-4% of the carotenoids, but when cooked, we absorb 15-20%. Cooking tomatoes increases the bioavailability of another important nutrient, lycopene by five times as much as compared to eating raw tomatoes.

Another concern for some people is eating raw vegetables in the cruciferous family like broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower. These vegetables contain goitrogens, a naturally occurring compound that is believed to inhibit thyroid functions. By steaming these vegetables, you can eliminate much of these compounds.  

Streaming, heating or boiling can raise the levels of some nutrients and can lower the levels of other nutrients. It would seem that to get the most nutritional benefits from our food is to eat a mix of both raw and cooked foods. The advantage of getting nutrients from raw and cooked foods is the main disadvantage of the raw food diet.

The Yin and Yang of Food

Macrobiotics believes that everything is either yin or yang. This also applies to each food, temperature of the food and if the food is cooked or raw. According to macrobiotics, the key to healthy eating is balance and that means you have to balance your food with both yin and yang foods.

In macrobiotics and Traditional Chinese Medicine, raw food is considered yin and yin is considered cold. Eating an entire diet every day of nothing but yin foods is not balanced and would be considered far too yin and an unbalanced diet.

Eating for the seasons is also a balanced diet where a raw food diet would most likely be healthy during the hot summer months. Eating for the seasons means that eating a raw food diet would be perfect when the vegetables are locally grown, fresh and in season. Not to mention, I think it would be disheartening to only eat cold or room temperature vegetables during an entire winter. Most raw food advocates don’t even drink hot tea since it is heated.

snowy night


Everyone is Different. I know people that have eaten nothing but organic wild meat their entire lives and I know vegetarians and they are all very healthy. I do believe that the key to a healthy diet is one that is void of processed foods full of chemicals.

It is possible that many of those that claim extraordinary health benefits from a raw food diet, switched to eating raw foods from a diet full of unhealthy processed foods and junk foods. They might have found the same health benefits if they had switched to a vegan or macrobiotic diet that does include cooked foods, which is something I discovered when I switched from eating the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet as outlined by Dr. John McDougall.

If you do not like the way you feel, the first thing you should do is look at your diet. Unfortunately, too many people will reach for the Rolaids before they will even consider changing their diet.

Copyright © 2014 Sam Montana