As society becomes increasingly health-conscious, more and more people are becoming interested in alternative diets like vegetarian, vegan, and raw food options. We at Wonderful Cook have created a helpful guide to raw foods that answers the most frequently asked questions to consider when opting for a raw food diet. Keep reading to learn more.
1. What is Raw Food?
Put simply, raw food is minimally heated or processed food. Refined or pasteurized foods, foods grown with pesticides or chemicals, or food heated in excess of 118°F/48°C are prohibited. Raw foods can include fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grains. While most people who eat raw are typically vegan, you can safely eat meat, fish, eggs, and dairy as well if veganism isn’t for you.
Even though you won’t be cooking per se, you still have to prepare your food. Invest in a good blender, a juicer, a dehydrator that operates at a temperature under the threshold, and mason jars for sprouting and storing food.
2. Why Eat Raw Food?
Proponents of raw foods believe that cooking foods for any reason strip them of their nutrients and enzymes. These enzymes help you digest your food, fight inflammation, and stave off chronic diseases.
A popular saying among some raw foodists is, “You cook it, you kill it.” They claim that cooking food actually makes it toxic. While not precisely scientifically sound, raw food is indeed living food that maintains living energy. Minerals are easier to absorb, and vitamins are not cooked out.
3. What Are the Health Benefits of Eating a Raw Food Diet?
Even if it includes animal products, a raw diet is naturally low in sodium, refined sugar, bad-for-you fats, and calories. Acceptable foods are high in fiber, and fruits and vegetables are chock full of vitamins and nutrients. You will surely experience weight loss on a raw diet, which can help better manage conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is known to lower blood pressure, so going raw might decrease your chance of stroke or heart disease. Anecdotally, a raw diet has been reported to help with migraines and allergies. It can reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease, among others. Additionally, raw foods can boost your immunity and help your brain health. Your memory will improve, and you will find that you can better process new information. Your skin and hair will also reap the benefits of clean eating by becoming soft and luxurious.
4. Why Is Eating a Raw Food Diet Good for the Planet?
A raw food diet is the most sustainable diet out there. Eating raw:
- decreases demand for all the resources taken by animal and large-agriculture corporate farms
- conserves water
- reduces fossil fuel emissions
- eliminates carcinogens in food that are produced through cooking
- preserves forested land
- reduces carbon dioxide emissions
Clean produce is grown without pesticides or chemicals. Not utilizing these harmful substances means that there is less contaminated soil and groundwater. Reduced meat consumption means less demand for resource-heavy feed grains like corn and soy. Farmers can turn to more sustainable crops, and big agriculture will no longer need to clear-cut forests for fields. Raw food is local food – it may even be food that you grow yourself. Interrupting the corporate food supply chain means reducing air and noise pollution and wear and tear on roads.
5. What Can You Eat on a Raw Food Diet?
Any raw, unprocessed food heated to less than 118°F/48°C is acceptable on a raw food diet. Most raw foodists are vegan. They eat a combination of fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. Some people prefer to blend or juice their food for easier nutrient absorption. Grains, seeds, and legumes can be germinated or sprouted. Non-pasteurized raw dairy products and eggs can be aged or fermented into cheese, kefir, or yogurt. Kombucha and sauerkraut are other raw food favorites. In fact, some non-pasteurized fermented or pickled foods are easier to digest because they re-introduce good gut flora.
But not every person who eats raw is vegan or even vegetarian. You can eat a meat-based raw diet with some planning and work. Lean raw beef can become steak tartare. Fish can be prepared as ceviche and sushi. Raw milk, cheeses, and eggs are all welcome.
6. How Do You Get Enough Vegan Protein?
Our society is focused on animal-based proteins over vegetable-based ones. This would lead you to think that giving up meat and dairy in favor of a raw vegan diet would be detrimental to your health. After all, protein is touted as a miracle food that will keep you full and cure the ills of carbohydrates. This attitude ignores that you need a little bit of everything in your diet to keep balanced and that there are other protein sources besides meat.
Did you know that you can get as much protein from green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts as you can from meat? And vegan protein is easier to absorb. You can make vegan “dairy” products like milk and cheese from protein-rich germinated nuts and seeds. Add wheatgrass to your green juice, or use your homemade cheese as a dip, spread, or salad topper. Other raw sources of high protein include:
- hemp seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- flax seeds
7. Where Do You Get Your Calcium and Iron on a Raw Food Diet?
As with protein, we are told that animal products are the best sources of iron and calcium. But that is simply not true. All raw foods are high in minerals, but calcium and iron have specific importance.
Iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells. If you have a low intake of iron, you can become anemic. Your organs won’t get the oxygen they need to survive, so your biological functions can become impaired. Eat lots of leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, and swiss chard. Beet greens are also high iron foods that go well in salads or juices. Broccoli, flax and other seeds, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, and seaweed are all excellent sources of iron, too. Sprinkle cashews on your salad or enjoy watermelon as a naturally sweet treat for added iron.
Calcium is a dietary powerhouse necessary for healthy teeth and bones. It’s also vital for nerves and muscles. Many foods that are good sources of iron are also high in calcium, so you don’t have to go out of your way. Sesame seeds are the absolute best raw provider of calcium, so go ahead and boost your morning juice or smoothie with an extra handful. Cabbage and collard greens can also go in juices, and dandelion greens make a nice calcium-rich addition to your evening salad.
8. Is It Safe to Eat Food Raw?
The short answer is yes, it is safe to eat a raw diet. Raw foods pose less risk of foodborne illnesses simply because most raw foodists are vegan, which reduces the risk of animal-borne bacteria. However, some raw foods tend to carry salmonella, e.coli, and listeria naturally. Always wash fruits, vegetables, and sprouts well before preparing meals. You can add one teaspoon of food-grade hydrogen peroxide to your water to disinfect your produce instead of cooking.
If you also use animal products, then take care to avoid cross-contamination. Use fresh meat and dairy, and don’t use the same cutting boards and utensils as you use for produce. Make sure that you wash your hands before and after prepping food, as well as between handling meat, produce, and nuts or seeds. Follow good food safety, even if you’re not cooking your food. Don’t leave food sitting out for more than two hours, and refrigerate things like cut tomatoes, sprouts, and seed and nut patés immediately. These specific foods are highly susceptible to bacteria when uncooked. Other risky foods that need special care and handling include raspberries, green onions, lettuces, and unpasteurized juices.
A raw food diet is indeed safe for most populations. However, some people shouldn’t eat raw because of the risks of foodborne illness or the specific dietary needs they may have. Very young children under a year of age, the elderly, people who are pregnant, and the immune-compromised should avoid a raw diet or should use extra care if they do pursue one. In these sensitive groups, the complications of foodborne illness are much higher than in the general population.
Additionally, people suffering from chronic medical conditions like kidney disease have to balance protein, sodium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous between dialysis treatments. Most of the foods compatible with a raw diet are too high in one or more of these nutrients. Eating a raw diet could send a dialysis patient into a crisis.
There are many benefits to changing your diet to a raw food one. Raw foods are the remedy for scores of mild to moderate health problems, and going raw can help undo some of the damage to our planet. It is surprisingly easy to follow a raw food plan, so do your research and then get started. You won’t regret it!