Raw food diet is considered an extreme way of eating which can hold extreme benefits too, at least for some people. This article covers a summary of key topics to do with raw foods and summarizes all you need to know, based on eight years of research and personal experience.
I got interested in raw food diets when moving from Europe to study at the UC Berkeley, California. I wanted to try a raw food restaurant just out of interest and was fully expecting to be served salads and nothing else. To my surprize the menu at Cafe Gratitude contained pizzas, pastas, cakes, crackers, cheeze - and the dishes were very tasty, although unusual. The staff at the restaurant appeared very healthy and had an energetic manner and a sun-kissed 'glow' to them (more than in other Californian restaurants!).
Despite insufficient scientific evidence and research, there is much evidence from testimonials that the raw food diet can be a powerful healer of disease and help people 'grow younger', at least in appearance and energy. It may not suit everyone, as different people thrive on different diets, but there is enough data to suggest that raw foods can trigger excellent health! Further scientific research is much overdue.
Topics discussed in this article:
Raw food diet consists of eating a high percentage of your food raw and uncooked. The dishes are typically made from fruit, vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, herbs, and some more exotic 'superfoods', such as algaes, seaweeds, mushrooms, etc. Raw foodists often include dried, frozen, blended, juiced, pickled, sprouted, and fermented foods in their diet. Some of the dishes a raw foodist might eat on a daily basis include smoothies, salads with various dressings, sprouted grains and seeds, such as 'raw porridge' or 'chia seed pudding', various pastes and nut cheezes, cold or slighly warmed soups, freshly-squeezed juices, ice creams, nut mylks, pizzas, kale crisps, etc. Some raw foodists include raw alcoholic beverages, syrups (such as agave nectar from a cactus plant), raw unpasteurized dairy products or even raw meat in their diet. Eating raw meat, eggs or fish is less common, however.
There are various versions of the raw food diet. Most raw foodists don't eat 100% of their food raw but are 'high-raw', where typically some 70-90% of the food is eaten raw. Many raw foodists choose to eat fully vegan and plant-based whereas others eat dairy, eggs, insects, sushi fish, steak tartar, honey and other animal products raw. Fruitarians eat 80-90% of their food as fruit, including only small quantities of greens, nuts and seeds.
Although raw foodists can process their own foods by blending, juicing, dehydrating, freezing, pickling, etc., they typically shun industrially processed foods, especially where high temperatures are involved. Food is considered raw if it hasn't been heated to over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celcius). Therefore foods can be eaten warm but a higher heat that would damage the cellular structure of the food, some nutrients, enzymes and bacteria is avoided.
Hygiene is important when following the raw food diet because heat cannot be used to kill pathogens. Foods can be preserved by using freezing, pickling, salt, syrup, refrigeration, alcohol, antibacterial plants (such as ginger and garlic) or dehydration, however.
There are many reasons why eating a raw food diet can be very healthy. A summary of the key points is provided below.
A raw food diet is naturally high in fruit and vegetables since they form the basis of all meals. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK recommends a minimum of five servings of fruit or vegetables per day. NHS also agrees, however, that there is enough research evidence to prove that 10 portions of fruit per day have greater health benefits. (One portion is approximately what you can fit in the palm of your hand.) Research on the 'Blue Zones', which are the areas of the world with the longest living people, showed that those with highest life-spans tend to eat mainly plant-based, with up to 95% of their diet made up of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.
Certain nutrients in foods can be damaged by cooking and the raw food diet avoids this problem. Among the nutrients that can be damaged by heat are: Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K; certain minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium; as well as Omega 3 and other beneficial fatty acids. While cooking at lower temperatures and for shorter periods helps to reduce the nutrient loss, fresh raw foods retain all the nutrients in an undamaged form.
The Journal of Nutrition reports that proteins and amino acids can also become 'less digestible' as a result of heating.
On the other hand, lycopene in tomatoes, which is an anti-oxidant, can become more bio-available to the human body when the tomatoes are cooked, so raw is not automatically better for every nutrient. In fact, other antioxidants can become more available to the human body through cooking also, so "comparing the healthfulness of raw and cooked foods is complicated, and there are still many mysteries surrounding how the different molecules in plants interact with the human body", as the Scientific American reports.
There is a tendency for people to eat more and more processed foods, which tend to be low in fiber. "Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation", as summarized on the Harvard University, School of Public Health website. Diets high in plant-based foods, such as the raw food diet, tend to be much higher in fiber than the average Western diet today.
While the main principle of raw foods is that food should never be heated to higher level than 40-48 degrees Celcius (104-118 degrees Fahrenheit), most processed foods are typically avoided also, including canned foods, mainly because they may include non-raw ingredients, contaminants (e.g. aluminium from the can) and/or preservatives and additives. Therefore most food is eaten raw.
Pasteurized foods - such as juices, milk and cheese - are avoided because the process of pasteurization involves heating the food to a high temperature. These foods can be found unpasteurized also, however, in which case they would be considered raw foods. Foods that have been dried in high temperatures are considered damaged also, but foods dried in low temperatures or sun-dried are considered healthy. Processing methods where the food is greatly altered or gone through a chemical process are usually avoided, since they tend to be more difficult for the body to utilise. Raw foodists typically consider most lab-made preservatives, flavourings, colourings and other food additives to be either harmful to the body or not proven safe.
Due to lack of processing and preservation, most raw foods have to be eaten fresh or within a few days of preparation. (Exceptions are pickles, ferments, frozen and dried foods, as well as some other more traditional ways of preserving food.) Fresh and unprocessed foods tend to be higher in nutrients than older/processed foods. Also, industrial processing and food additives have been shown to cause sensitivity and allergies in some people.
Raw food diets tend to exclude refined sugars, refined flours (e.g. white flour), white rice, rolled oats, wheat pasta, and many other foods considered too 'processed', the diet is mainly a wholefood diet which brings its own benefits. For example, wholefoods don't tend to spike blood sugar as quickly as 'white' grains and sugar do.
It is very difficult to think of a food that could be considered 'junk food' in its natural, wholefood, raw form. The more 'industrial' foods which can be difficult to digest and have unhealthy ingredients are completely avoided on a raw food diet. This fact alone can be a big part of the reason why many people experience raw food diets as 'healing'.
The antioxidant content of raw, fresh plant based foods is typically high. In addition, plants have within them many phyto-nutrients (i.e. plant-nutrients), which have been proven beneficial to human health. Some phyto-nutrients include: carotenoids, curcuminoids, flavonoids and lignans, while more will be discovered over time. The Mayo Clinic explains that phyto-nutrients in blueberries, for example, "may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers."
For example, allicin in garlic - which is responsible for garlic's anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic effect - is destroyed by cooking.
Plant-based foods, when grown in clean nature, can have beneficial bacterial on their surface which can help improve gut health and strengthen the immunity and digestion. Bacterial diversity in the gut has even been linked to good mental health.
Heat above 44 degrees Celcius can burn human skin and in a similar way it can harm other living things, including plants. While it is generally accepted that deep-frying or barbequing food can create carcinogenic compounds and dangerous 'free radicals', it is less well-known that even 'gentler' forms of cooking, such as boiling or steaming, can make some nutrients in food more difficult to digest, or even create toxins in foods.
Personally, I have found that my body can tolerate raw sugars and carbohydrates in foods fine, while cooked sugars and carbohydates cause various problems, such as bloatednes, gas, bags under eyes, tiredness, and quick weight gain. Therefore I've come to believe that the sugars are somehow damaged when the food is heated.
Digestive enzymes are produced by the human body and are used for digesting food, as confirmed by the Harvard University's Harvard Health Letter. The article also explains that digestive enzyme supplements have helped with digestive complaints when a person's body is not producing enough enzymes naturally. Some of the enzymes needed for digestion are amylase, protease, lipase and lactase.
Raw foods also have enzymes in them (plant enzymes), which are made ineffective by heat above 117°F (47°C). Many raw foodists believe, following Edward Howell's work in the 1980's, that the plant enzymes are an important help for human digestion, help us produce less digestive enzymes in the pancreas and therefore preserve energy. Furthermore, raw food diet proponents believe that the enzymes in raw foods make them easier to digest, therefore reducing the burden on human digestive system (especially important when this system is compromised) and resulting in better absorption of nutrients.
Critics of this theory believe that plant enzymes are destroyed by the stomach acids and therefore won't help with digestion. Some of the digestive enzymes supplements that have been shown to help digestion, on the other, have coatings which protect them from the stomach acid.
As mentioned earlier, I find that my body struggles with digesting carbohydrates properly when cooked, but the same problems completely disappear when the carbs are eaten raw - whether starchy carbs such as banana or sweet potato - or sugary fruits. The enzyme theory would be one possible explanation for this situation but there are other possible explanations as well - for example, that the carbohydrates are altered by cooking and not suitable for my system at this point in time, due to imbalances.
If the enzyme theory could be conclusively proven, it would be a major breakthrough in understanding the raw food diet, and I look forward to hearing more about this.
People following the raw food diet not only report amazing health benefits but many (not all) also tend to look healthier, younger and more energized after following the diet for some time.
The most commonly reported benefits are higher energy levels, reversal of various health conditions, more youthful appearance, better exercise performance, more mental clarity and quick weight loss.
I experienced all of the above but among some of the most powerful raw food benefits in my experience was the diet's influence on my moods. My mind felt more balanced, my focus was better and I felt a notch happier through all the day's challenges and joys when practising raw foodism.
I keep a more detailed list of all the different benefits I and others have experienced through eating raw foods here: Raw Food Diet Benefits.
Unfortunately there are dangers to following the raw food diet also, which are important to know about. While almost everyone in the world eats some raw foods, too high quantities of them will not suit everyone. Others may be able to succeed on high raw diets and avoid the below dangers by careful research, planning and experimentation.
The answer to the raw vs cooked food debate may therefore not be clear cut. Most things in the real world do not fall into neat categories the way the human mind would like them to. While the raw food diet can clearly trigger huge health benefits in some or many people's health, it may not be suitable for everyone. Transitioning to raw foods slowly and including some high-quality, cooked wholefoods may be the safest option if you are interested in trying the raw food diet, while also taking into account the above points.
The raw food diet takes in many forms but these are some of the foods that can be included into a raw food diet:
As a raw foodist you will either have to eat very simply, e.g. fruit, nuts, seeds and green leaves through the day - or you have to spend some time preparing 'gourmet' raw food dishes. 'Gourmet' raw foods can be purchased in restaurants and many health food shops but they tend to be a fair bit more expensive than other products.
There are many restaurants which cater either exclusively for raw foodists or include both raw and cooked vegan foods in their menu. At the same time, most 'ordinary' restaurants will be able to serve you salads and/or fruit. You may just have to customise your dishes, e.g. to ask for a lemon slice instead of dressing, leave the cheese out, etc. Many restaurants and food shops now offer smoothies and juices also, but as a raw foodist you would only choose those if you knew the ingredients were fresh and no sugar, milk etc. had been added. Frozen fruit and berries can sometimes be pasteurized also.
Some restaurants which cater for those on a raw food diet, include:
Cafe Gratitude - Los Angeles & San Diego, California, USA
Wildfood Cafe, London, UK
Vantra Loungevity - London, UK
Juicebaby - London, UK
Afterglow by Anglow - Singapore
Frunatic - Singapore
The Living Cafe - Singapore
The Raw Kitchen - Perth, Australia
Maui Kombucha Cafe & Raw Vegan Fusion Cafe - Maui, Hawaii
Pixie Retreat - Portland, Oregon, USA
Senzafiamma - Rome, Italy
My favourite raw food recipe book is Any Phyo's Raw Food Essentials. You can see some additional raw food diet books (recipes and otherwise), on to right hand site of this website, with links to view reviews on Amazon.
Many people who eat a very clean natural food diet start looking younger than they did before. The raw food diet has especially been credited for making people 'grow younger', both in looks and how they feel. However, according to the Blue Zones study, most of the people currently living longest on the planet eat majority plant-based diet with some animal products, and include both raw and cooked foods in their diets. I doubt, however, that a similar study has been done on long-term raw foodists and therefore we can't know whether they would live even longer.
I started quickly looking younger when eating raw foods during my past raw food trials. Many raw foodists are disease free even late in life. There are, however, at least two people I know of who were very long-term raw foodists and both conducted cancer. One has sadly passed away and the second one underwent chemotherapy and gave up raw foods. Therefore raw foods alone are definitely a cure-all, although the diet can have an clear youthening effect on many people, myself included.
Diet is only one aspect of longevity, however, and other things can have a big impact also, i.e. happiness, good social life, sufficient amount of challenges in life but not too much stress, staying active, keeping the mind active, spending time in nature, exercise, drinking plenty of fresh water and breathing fresh air, etc. Natural health has always been about balancing the whole body-mind entity and while raw foods can help many people on this journey there will be other challenges to overcome also, and imbalances to correct.
So the answer to whether raw food diet can reverse aging is: Maybe.
To read a promotional magazine on the topic (for free) by the Hippocrates Health Insitute, click on the image below:
Raw foodists often follow a vegan diet but not always. Raw vegans eat plant-based foods only whereas other raw foodists may include raw, unpasteurized dairy, raw eggs (measures must be taken to prevent salmonella), raw fish (not advised, note that sushi is usually not raw), raw honey (note that honey is often heat treated, read the label), insects, and some very few people even eat raw meat (definitely not recommended).
Strict vegans don't wear wool because it comes from animals, don't use bees wax products, check E-numbers in foods for animal-based products, and don't wear leather. Some raw vegans might be less strict and e.g. eat honey and wear animal-based clothes despite being vegan otherwise.
The raw food diet, just as any ideology, attracts fundamentalists as well as those with a more balanced view. Despite the huge potential in raw foods to change many people's lives for the better, those who believe that it's a cure-all or almost a 'holy' doctrine with no faults will run into trouble sooner or later. Raw foods are not perfect, just as nothing in life is, and in my view the great controversies surrounding the raw food diet have to do with the more fundamentalist viewpoints, such as:
Frederic Patenaude is a long-term raw food enthusiast and the author of a book called 'Raw Food Controversies'. Please see the link below for more information.
We have collated some of the best raw food documentaries in a separate article, with embedded video of trailers, or full documetaries when available:
Some magazines which specilise in or regularly cover the raw food diet, include:
Most Popular Articles
Collection of Best Raw Food Articles
Juice Fasting Articles
Natural Remedy Library A-Z
Edition 2.2: Cheap Revolutionary Health Ebook: 68 Natural Tricks and Methods - The Amazing Power of Small Everyday Tasks
Ulla is the Editor of Cheap Health Revolution, covering natural remedies and health solutions. Read more about Ulla and this website here: "About CHR"