A raw food diet consists of uncooked and unprocessed, and often organic foods.
There is no universal consensus over what exactly constitutes a raw food diet. Historically the term was primarily used to describe a raw vegan diet consisting fully of raw fruits and raw vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds. Yet, in the latest years some people interpret raw food diet more literally, and include in their diet raw (unpasteurized) dairy products (such as raw milk) and raw meat or raw eggs. A well-known example of a diet that is raw and includes animal products is the paleolithic diet. This latter type of diet is typically referred to as a “raw animal foods” (RAF) diet.
The exact definition of raw food varies, but the general consensus is that a raw food is a food that has not been altered by any method that would change its basic chemical structure through heating it over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Raw foodists do not believe in the use of chemical preservatives. Freezing food is generally considered to be okay by most raw foodists. In fact, many raw foodists keep nuts and seeds in the freezer to preserve their freshness.
A raw foodist is a person who consumes primarily raw food. Raw foodists believe that the greater the percentage of raw food in the diet, the greater the health benefits.
Advocates say that a decrease of raw foods in our diet may cause an increase in the incidences of many forms of malaise and chronic disease, including asthma, allergies, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, learning disabilities, depression, candida, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions.
Proponents of a raw food diet believe it dates to prehistoric eras, before humans discovered fire. Those who believe that prehistoric humans were largely non-carnivorous vegetarians believe that the human digestive system is largely configured to eat a mainly raw, mainly vegetarian diet, whereas those who believe their primitive ancestors to have been chiefly hunters believe the opposite to be true. There are as many shades of variance between the two positions as there is historical evidence for a wide range of hunter gatherer activities, ranging from a low intake of animal product, such as with some tribes of Australian Aborigines, to an almost exclusively meat and fish diet, as was the situation for the Inuit peoples of the Arctic coasts. Incidentally, both the Aborigines and the Inuits were raw foodists, to a certain extent. The Aborigines would eat certain animal products raw to obtain maximum nutritional benefit, and the Inuit would eat much of their meat and fish raw.
Artturi Virtanen (1895 d. 1973), a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, is often quoted as supporting a Living Foods diet. He showed that enzymes in uncooked foods are released in the mouth when vegetables are chewed. These enzymes interact with other substances, notably the enzymes produced by the body itself, to produce maximum benefit from the digestion process. This research was unrelated to his Nobel Prize.
Raw foods gained more prominence throughout the 1900s, as proponents such as Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton claimed that a diet of raw fruits and vegetables is the ideal diet for humans. Raw food diets continued to exist as radical off-shoots of the vegetarian diet until 1975, when computer programmer-turned-nutritionist Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival Into the 21st Century. It is considered to be the first modern publication that deals with a raw food diet.
The publication of Leslie Kenton’s book ‘The New Raw Energy’ in 1984 was the first book to popularise the types of food, such as sprouts, seeds and fresh vegetable juices, that are now moving into the mainstream. The book brought together a lot of research into instances of raw foodism and how it has been used to support health, from the sprouted seed enriched diets of the long lived Himalayan Hunza people to Max Gerson’s raw juice-based supposed cure for cancer. The book advocates a diet where 75% of food is taken raw to prevent degenerative diseases, retard ageing, provide enhanced energy and make people feel more emotionally balanced.
The raw food lifestyle has gained some recent acceptance, though not all nutrition experts condone it. Restaurants catering to this way of eating have opened up in many cities, especially in New York City and the state of California, and numerous all-raw cookbooks have been published. It has also received celebrity endorsements from entertainers like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, who have been known to follow a raw food diet.
Invididuals such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Gillian McKeith and Professor Colin Campbell (see the China project) advocate diets high in raw, unprocessed foods. They claim that social trends over the past several centuries that have diverged from this diet, together with increasingly less active lifestyles, have contributed in large measure to the development and continued increase of noncommunicable diseases and obesity-related illnesses which are prevalent in developed countries. These include cardiovascular illnesses, some cancers, diabetes and some auto-immune diseases.
Proponents of raw animal foods such as Aajonus Vonderplanitz advocate the consumption of fatty meats, suet, and unpasteurized whole milk and cream. Others, such as Guy Claude-Burger, promote the concept of “instinctive nutrition” which explicitly excludes dairy and allows only raw meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Many foods in raw food diets are simple in preparation, and can be eaten immediately. These include fruit and salads. Other foods can require considerable advanced planning to prepare for eating. Rice and some other grains, for example, require sprouting or overnight soaking to become edible. Many raw foodists believe it is best to pre-soak nuts before eating them or using them in recipes, in order to activate their enzymes. And it can take several days to dehydrate such foods as cookies.
Preparation of gourmet raw food recipes usually call for a blender, food processor, juicer, and dehydrator. Depending on the recipe, some food (such as crackers, breads and cookies) may need to be dehydrated. These processes, which produce foods with the taste and texture cooked food, are lengthy, but the foods they produce can be spectacular and satisfying to even the most ardent omnivore. Some adherents of the diet dispense with these foods, feeling that there is no need to emulate the non-raw diet.
Care is required in planning a raw food diet, especially for children. There is little research on how to plan a nutritionally adequate raw food diet, especially for children: however, nutritionists and raw MDs are usually willing to provide professional advice.
The Tree of Life Foundation in Arizona, which advocates a vegan raw food diet, is currently date? conducting a survey of babies and children on a diet of 75% raw food or more. Raw foodists claim that with sufficient food energy, essential fatty acids, variety and density, people of all ages can be successful at eating raw foods, although whether the diet works for any one person depends on their unique metabolism.
Beliefs and research
Those who follow this way of eating generally believe that:
Raw foods contain enzymes which act as catalysts to regulate the digestive process in the body.
Heating food degrades or destroys these enzymes in food.
Food without enzymes is thought to lead in the longer term to toxicity in the body, to excess consumption of food, and therefore to obesity and chronic disease.
Living and raw foods (particularly those that are organically grown) are thought to usually have much higher nutrient values than foods which have been cooked.
Raw foods contain bacteria and other micro-organisms that stimulate the immune system and enhance digestion by populating the digestive tract with beneficial flora.
A main idea behind raw food diets is that cooked food is supposedly toxic because cooking the food creates harmful chemicals. Another idea is that cooked food is less digestible than raw food because cooking destroys the enzymes contained in food. One source for this belief is the work of Artturi Virtanen, a biochemist.
Another source sometimes mentioned is Dr. Edward Howell, an Illinois physician born in 1898, who was interested in how enzymes played a role in a person’s diet. He concluded that eating cooked food leads to health problems. In 1985, at the age of 87, Howell published a book called “Enzyme Nutrition”. Some raw food diet proponents believe that Howell’s book gives evidence that the pancreas is forced to work harder on a diet of cooked foods and that food enzymes are just as essential to digestion as the body’s self-generated enzymes.
Additional research was conducted by Dr. Francis Pottenger in 1932, who conducted an experiment to determine the effect of cooked foods in cats. For 10 years, Pottenger fed half of the cats a diet of raw foods, the other half a diet of cooked foods. At the conclusion of his study, he reported that the cats who were fed raw foods appeared to be in better health. In addition, the exclusively cooked diet led to congenital problems including birth defects and deformities, after several generations. Research was also conducted by Dr Weston A Price as embodied by the Weston A. Price Foundation and The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
In 1930, under the direction of Dr. Paul Kouchakoff, research was conducted at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry in Lausanne, Switzerland. The effect of food (cooked and processed versus raw and natural) on the immune system was tested and documented. It was found that after a person eats cooked food, his/her blood responds immediately by increasing the number of white blood cells. This is a well-known phenomena called ‘digestive leukocytosis’, in which there is a rise in the number of leukocytes (white blood cells) after eating. Since digestive leukocytosis was always observed after a meal, it was considered to be a normal physiological response to eating. No one knew why the number of white cells rises after eating, since this appeared to be a stress response, as if the body was somehow reacting to something harmful such as infection, exposure to toxic chemicals or trauma.
Around the same time Swiss researchers at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry found that eating raw, unaltered food did not cause a reaction in the blood. In addition, they found that if a food had been heated beyond a certain temperature (unique to each food), or if the food was processed (refined, chemicals added, etc.), dramatic weight loss, especially since the advent of Gillian McKeiths UK TV programme You are what you eat. However, the proscription of saturated fat, alcohol and refined carbohydrates amongst others is shared with most other leading diet plans and it is therefore difficult to assess any resultant weight loss after following a diet of this nature. The main point of difference seems to be in the specific foods the diets prescribe; foods which are taken anyway from a (common for most diets) list of whole grains, meat, beans, seeds and fresh fruit and vegetables all known to be good for health.
In response, advocates point to studies which show that some nutrients in food are either damaged or made indigestible through the heating involved in cooking (see McKeith 2000 p 165 ff for references). Some respond that since cooking does not create any nutrients, claims that raw food eating causes deficiency are illogical. However, these claims ignore the claim that cooking is necessary to make the nutrients available or more digestible from some foodstuffs. In reality, no one has scientifically compared the bioavailability of nutrients in cooked produce vs. those in blended raw produce.
Advocates also assert that since no other species cooks its food, it is impossible to estimate how long it would take to adjust to such a diet, or even to know whether it is possible. Unfortunately, this ignores the large amount of fossil evidence which clearly shows the change in human dentition and its relation to the controlled use of fire. Some will then point to the above referenced Pottenger feline nutrition study which demonstrated that cooked food caused long term health problems in cats. However, this study was conducted in the 1930s before the nutritional needs of cats were understood – especially the role of taurine in the diet. Since cats cannot synthesize adequate amounts of taurine, they must get taurine from the diet. As heat does render taurine inactive, cooked food without taurine supplements can cause health problems in cats. However, this finding does not apply to humans – since humans, like most other animals, synthesize their own taurine.
As the consumption of raw foods gains popularity, some unsafe foods have occasionally entered human diets. The following should be consumed with caution:
Buckwheat greens, particularly if juiced or eaten in large quantities by fair skinned individuals. The chemical component fagopyrin is known to cause photosensitivity of the skin in animals and some serious human side effects have been reported anecdotally.
The following is only a concern for those on a raw animal foods diet:
Raw meat/fish/poultry/eggs: The heating to an adequately high temperature of animal products will normally destroy bacteria and parasites. It is therefore possible that eating a diet which includes raw meat/fish/poultry/eggs would run the risk of being infected. Raw eggs can contain many microorganisms, including salmonella. Wild animals have found methods of ridding themselves of or avoiding parasites; such as by swallowing certain leaves or just shifting their habitat over time. However, these do not lead to an immunity or resistance to parasites, as the conditions which cause them remain the same. Controversially, many raw animal foodists, whether Primal Diet adherents or other, believe there to be an intrinsic benefit attributed to the intake of various microorganisms, believing that the parasites serve a useful purpose in detoxifying dead, decaying or diseased tissues, and that they should be allowed to run their course.
A raw food diet consists of uncooked and unprocessed, and often organic foods.