If you've ever considered switching to a new diet, make sure you have all the facts first. What exactly is a raw food diet? Michelle Lau, Registered Nutritionist (MSc.) of Nutrilicious explains what a raw food diet is and whether it's actually as healthy as it claims.
Raw food isn’t just about eating salad (or more of it!). The raw-food diet focuses on eating unprocessed, whole, plant-based foods that have not been heated above ~116 degrees Fahrenheit (~46 degrees Celsius). Heating food above this temperature is believed to destroy its nutrients and natural enzymes, which is not preferable since enzymes boost digestion and help fight chronic diseases. Although weight loss is likely on a raw food diet due to the diet's low-calorie status and the elimination of high-calorie processed food, cooked food offers nutritional and safety benefits as well.
What you can eat
Think uncooked, unprocessed, and preferably organic foods; you can use blenders, food processors, and dehydrators to prepare foods:
- soaked and sprouted beans, grains, and legumes
- dried fruits and vegetables
- raw nut butters
- fresh fruits and raw vegetables
- freshly made fruit and vegetable juices
- coconut milk, nut milks
- raw nuts and seeds
- green food powder (eg. dried wheatgrass or algae)
- fermented foods (eg. kimchi and sauerkraut)
- other organic, natural, or unprocessed foods
Depending on the type of diet (raw vegetarian, raw vegans, raw omnivores, or raw carnivore), a raw food diet may also contain:
- fish, (eg. sushi or sashimi)
- milk and dairy products, but these should be un-pasteurized and non-homogenized
What you can't eat
- refined sugars and flours
- table salt
- pasteurized juice/milk
- Cooking food may decrease the amount of certain heat-sensitive vitamins nutrients like Vitamins B and C. Some nutrients actually benefit from cooking. For example, cooking carrots and tomatoes makes it easier for our bodies to benefit from their protective antioxidants such as beta-carotene and lycopene.
- A diet high in natural fruits and vegetables can be great for digestion and lower blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- Eating a raw food diet means you are cutting out processed foods. That's a good-for-you idea whether or not you're following the raw food diet, as slashing them could prevent weight gain and promote better skin health.
- Consuming raw foods require more chewing than eating cooked food. When we chew, we stimulate different parts of the brain that correspond to learning and memory, promoting positive mood, greater alertness, and improved selective and sustained attention.
- 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). While all that filling fiber is great for keeping your appetite in check, promoting regularity and reducing your risk of heart diseases, it can also lead to some pretty uncomfortable bloating and gas for some. As with any diet, it's not easy to eat out when you have so many limitations.
- While raw food diets certainly have a good premise, it isn't necessary to only eat raw foods to be healthy or lose weight, if that's your goal. And if it is, cutting out major food groups may not be a healthy or sustainable approach, not to mention that other factors also contribute to weight loss, including physical activity, good quality sleep, stress management, and hormones.
- Eating organic can be expensive, especially in Hong Kong. While you can follow a raw diet without going organic, most raw food advocates would say you're not doing it right because of the chemicals. The pesticides and herbicides applied to food can have detrimental effects on the body, which ruin some of the intentions 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. So be sure to rinse and wash both fruits and veggies thoroughly before consumption.
For those of you who are interested in starting a raw food diet should consult with a health professional. Don’t forget to be in tune with your body because you are supposed to feel great and energized, and if you don’t, this diet might not be for you.
If you want to give it a try (that is, after consulting with a nutritionist and got a green light and tools to execute the diet), consider not going 100% raw. Instead, try eating high raw (80-90% raw foods) and to include cooked food as part of a well-balanced and varied diet because making a gradual transition to raw can help ease into a new habit and make it easier to maintain.
About blog contributor Michelle Lau
Michelle Lau is a Certified Nutritionist and Nutrition Educator (MSc. in Human Nutrition, Canada) specializes in sports nutrition, weight management, and pregnancy nutrition and the founder of Nutrilicious, a Hong Kong based nutrition consultancy company. Her work has been published in newspapers, magazines, and online media in Hong Kong and Asia and she has also contributed unbiased nutritional views on TV and radio. As an avid runner and obsessive home baker, she appreciates and prioritizes balance in all areas of life.
For more nutrilicious tips, follow her on Instagram and Facebook!