More people are eating a diet exclusively of raw food, but is it safe?
Every other month, some new diet is trending. Remember that time when South Beach was huge? Or when you walked into a CrossFit box and heard the word “paleo” 32 times within five minutes? Sure, buzzy diets go in and out of the limelight, but one recent GrubHub study reveals that the raw food diet is soaring in popularity. With a 92 percent increase in raw food orders over the past year, it appears that customers like their food uncooked and with a lack of preservatives.
But why? Well, eating a slew of raw foods means you’re getting an abundance of good-for-you minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, and fiber in your diet. One University of Giessen study of 200 people eating a raw food diet found that they had higher levels of beta-carotene, which is commonly associated with disease prevention. But what other reasons are there to hop on board the raw food diet train? Here’s everything you need to know about the raw food diet.
The Rules of a Raw Food Diet
The raw food diet involves exactly what it sounds like: a whole lot of raw food. The foods you consume can be raw (cold) or slightly warm, but nothing can be over 118 degrees. While some followers of the raw food diet allow raw fish, eggs, meat, and unpasteurized dairy into their ingredients list, it’s more common to stick to mostly organic, uncooked, and unprocessed foods. Think vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, and some sprouted grains. Vegans and vegetarians may feel right at home on this plan.
Off-limits? A whole lot. Essentially anything on the inside aisles of your grocery store is out of the picture here, like pasta, junk food, salt, flours, sugars, juices, and anything processed or pasteurized.
And although everything is raw, you’ll need to channel your inner Martha Stewart if you want to do this diet well and not just eat salad after salad. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Through preparation techniques involving blending, dehydrating, and food processing, you can make loads of meal options. For example, you can make zucchini chips that fall into the green zone of this diet by slicing zucchini thinly and dehydrating for about 24 hours until they’re dry.
The Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
Cooking food may decrease the amount of certain water-soluble vitamins and minerals. Plus, a diet high in fruits and vegetables can be great for digestion and lower blood pressure, according to one University of Southern California study. It can also lower your chance of stomach cancer and stroke, and halt the progression of kidney disease.
And there are some unique benefits of consuming produce raw: “Raw foods require more chewing than cooked food,” says Deanna Minich, Ph.D., C.N., author of The Complete Handbook of Quantum Healing. “And when we chew, we stimulate different parts of the brain that correspond to learning and memory.” One Cardiff University study of 133 volunteers zeroed in on the benefits of chewing gum (which isn’t allowed on the raw food diet, FTR) during a testing period. Those who chewed gum reported a more positive mood, greater alertness, and improved selective and sustained attention than those who didn’t.
Plus, eating a raw food diet means you’re slashing the consumption of processed foods. That’s a good-for-you idea whether or not you’re following the raw food diet, as cutting them out could prevent weight gain, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 120,000 Americans over two decades, and they found that people who consumed sugary drinks, processed meat, and chips regularly were most likely to put on the pounds.
The Negatives of the Raw Food Diet
First off, it’s really restrictive. Limiting yourself to raw foods means you unfortunately need to cut out some healthy non-raw foods, like a lot of whole grains (think quinoa, brown rice, freekeh). No one wants to feel frustrated when they walk into their kitchen, and just like with any diet, that’s possible here when you’re tired of eating the same things day after day. If that’s not enough, you’ll likely have to skip out on the restaurants. As with any diet, it’s tough to eat out when you have so many limitations.
It’s also pretty pricey. Shopping organic can cost an average of 47 percent more than standard produce. While you can follow a raw diet without going organic, most traditionalists would say you’re not doing it right because, well, chemicals. The pesticides applied to food can have detrimental effects on the body (ruining some of the purposes of going raw in the first place).
Eating raw or undercooked foods can also put you at risk for food poisoning, as bacteria, molds, and parasites might be in your eats (eeek!). Just because you may not be cooking your food doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself, though. The FDA recommends you run both fruits and vegetables under water before eating or cutting them.
And although losing excess weight can be great for your health and a major reason why most women choose diets in the first place, this meal plan may take you a step too far. Dieter, beware: In the numerous studies done on the raw food diet, experts agree that weight loss should be monitored. One University of Giessen study cautions fans of the trend, saying that 30 percent of the 297 women under age 45 who were involved in the study developed partial or complete amenorrhea (aka losing your period, which isn’t a good thing). Make sure to continually check in on your progress. Evidence shows that people who lose pounds gradually and steadily (at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off, according to the CDC.
Is the Raw Food Diet for You?
First and foremost, Minich recommends that anyone who is interested in starting a raw food diet consult with a health professional. If you get the go-ahead and feel like you have all the tools to execute this new diet safely, make sure to do a pulse check every once in a while and gauge how you’re feeling.
“Always be in tune with your body,” says Minich. “You’re not supposed to feel horrible, and if you do, the diet isn’t for you.”
If you want to give it a try, consider not going 100 percent raw. Instead, try eating high raw (80 to 99 percent raw foods) or what is commonly referred to as “raw until dinner.” Making a gradual transition to raw can help ease into a new habit and make it easier to maintain.