Your oven gets a rest on this diet. You’ll mostly be eating raw fruits, vegetables, and grains.
The idea is that heating food destroys its nutrients and natural enzymes, which is bad because enzymes boost digestion and fight chronic disease. In short: When you cook it, you kill it.
Some fans of raw food diets believe cooking makes food toxic. They claim that a raw food diet can clear up headaches and allergies, boost immunity and memory, and improve arthritis and diabetes.
What You Can Eat and What You Can’t
Think uncooked, unprocessed, mostly organic foods. Your staples: raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains. Some eat unpasteurized dairy foods, raw eggs, meat, and fish.
Your food can be cold or even a little bit warm, as long as it doesn’t go above 118 degrees.
You can use blenders, food processors, and dehydrators to prepare foods.
Level of Effort: High
You may need to ramp up your kitchen skills. Eating out can be tricky, and if you go organic, you may need to go to specialty stores for a wider selection than your usual grocery store.
Cooking and shopping: Prep work can be extensive. Many raw food fans become experts at blending and dehydrating foods. Some germinate nuts and sprout seeds.
Because some uncooked and unpasteurized foods are linked to food-borne illness, you’ll need to wash your food thoroughly and be extra careful with risky foods like sprouts, raspberries, unpasteurized juices, green onions, and lettuce.
Due to the risk of food poisoning, a raw foods diet isn’t recommended for pregnant women, young children, seniors, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic medical conditions like kidney disease.
Packaged foods or meals: No.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Not required.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarians and vegans: This diet works well for you. Just make sure your diet meets your nutritional needs. A dietitian can help you with that.
Gluten-free: Most raw foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, are naturally gluten-free.
What Else You Should Know
Eating lots of veggies and fruits helps control blood pressure. The diet is low in sodium, so it might help lower your chance of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. Losing weight and keeping it off can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
But because most people who eat raw foods exclude animal products, you may need to take vitamin supplements to make up for any gaps in your diet.
Cost: You don’t have to pay for meetings, memberships, or prepackaged foods, but this diet can give your wallet a workout. Organic ingredients tend to be more expensive. Kitchen appliances like juicers, blenders, and dehydrators are another expense.
Support: You can do this diet on your own or find online resources, like recipes.
What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
You’ll probably lose weight on this diet, since most of its foods are low in calories, fat, and sodium, and high in fiber. One study found that people who followed a raw foods diet lost a significant amount of weight.
You’ll also get nutritional perks. Most of what you eat will be high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
But there are lots of drawbacks. The diet is difficult to follow and inadequate in many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and more.
Plus, contrary to the claims of many raw food fans, cooking does not make food toxic but instead makes some foods digestible.
Cooking also boosts some nutrients, like beta-carotene and lycopene, and kills bacteria, which helps you avoid food poisoning. There is no scientific evidence that raw foods prevent illness.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
It is not recommended for any specific health conditions. But losing extra weight is good for general health.
If you are considering a raw diet, talk to your doctor before starting the plan.
The Final Word
A raw food diet is low in calories, high in fiber, and based on primarily healthy whole-plant foods, so eating this way will lead to weight loss.
But the diet is a nutritionally inadequate and highly restrictive plan that will be hard to stay on for the long-term. The risk of food poisoning from eating raw or undercooked foods outweighs the benefits of this plan.
In general, cooking makes your food more easily digestible and safer.
There are some nutrient-rich super foods that can’t be eaten raw, such as beans, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- New York University Langone Medical Center: “Do Raw Food (Living Food) Diets Promote Good Health?”
- University of California Health: “The raw vs. the cooked.”
- Koebnick, C. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 1999.
- American Heart Association: “The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations,” “Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride).”
- American Diabetes Association: “Diabetes Basics.”
- Celiac Disease Foundation: “What Can I Eat?”