Does a "raw" vegan diet really enhance health and weight loss?
The "raw" foods diet is a strict vegetarian (vegan) diet that excludes all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.) and processed foods. It is high in raw fruits and vegetables, but can also include some grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts, and dehydrated foods. Raw foodists believe that heating foods over 116 degrees Fahrenheit destroys health properties, enzymes, vitamins, etc. and makes food "toxic" to the body. Most raw food advocates also believe in eating only organically grown foods.
While adding more raw foods to your diet is healthy for most people, please keep in mind that the benefits that raw foodists tout about their diet are all claims that have NOT been backed up by scientific evidence.
Here are a few more of the myths and truths of the raw food diet:
Claim: A raw food diet will result in weight loss. Following a raw food diet will allow you to eat as much food as you want and still lose weight. Fact: Too much of anything, raw food or not, will lead to weight gain.
Claim: Raw foods contain all the nutrients, protein, and vitamins you need. Fact: When you limit your choices to only raw foods, you are eliminating a tremendous amount of other types of foods, some of which are healthy, and others that are not healthy. Yes, fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of protein, but it's very difficult to meet your protein needs, let alone your needs for vitamins (such as B12, which only occurs naturally in animal products) and minerals like calcium and iron.
Claim: Heat can destroy health-enhancing properties of food. Fact: While it's true that heating can destroy some vitamins, heat can also ENHANCE certain properties. Clinical research shows, for example, that lycopene (the healthy phytochemical found in red foods like tomatoes that protects against certain cancers) is greater in processed foods and better absorbed by the body from heated foods.
This is no miracle diet. Not only is it extremely difficult to stick with, but it really limits the foods and variety that you can get. The raw food diet is also risky and can result in nutrient deficiencies, food poisoning (from sprouts and uncooked produce), and lower bone density.
Your best bet for weight loss and overall health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes all foods in moderation. A much safer and healthier approach is to avoid or limit highly processed foods. A diet without these foods is high in the raw fruits and veggies, but also in healthy grains, breads, cereals, lean protein sources, and calcium-rich foods like dairy or fortified soy milk.
A great book that dispels many of the claims of the raw food diet is The Raw Secrets: The Raw Vegan Diet in the Real World. Be sure to discuss this diet with your health care provider first, in addition to getting plenty of unbiased research about its effects.
If you want to try adding more raw foods to your diet in general, a fun raw cookbook is Raw: The Uncook Book: The New Vegetarian Food for Life by Juliano Brotman. His recipes are both beautiful and tasty, but many are time-consuming and contain obscure ingredients.
Written by Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian and Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
SparkPeople, SparkCoach, SparkPages, SparkPoints, SparkTeams, SparkDiet, SparkAmerica, SparkRecipes, DailySpark, and other marks are trademarks of SparkPeople, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
SPARKPEOPLE is a registered trademark of SparkPeople, Inc. in the United States, European Union, Canada, and Australia. All rights reserved.