This article looks a what raw food is and who it’s good for.
The dictionary definition of the word ‘raw’ is:
Unrefined, unfiltered and untampered with.
A raw food diet in its purist form is about preparing foods without heating them above 42 degrees C (115 degrees F).
The idea is that to maintain the nutritional quality of the vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes in their most natural and healthy form. That means no cooking, at least not in the way you’re used to.
Those who are into raw food and a raw food diet tend to also be very into natural health and organic whole foods (also eaten cooked). They often come to the diet because of some health concern or event, in search of healing. Anecdotally there are many incredible stories of people that have used raw foods to heal themselves.
Enzymes in raw food
Raw and living foods have their enzymes intact. Raw foodists believe enzymes can be thought of as the life force of the food, helping your body digest it. Enzymes are also a catalyst for every function in the body.
The most fragile of enzymes start to die off at that 42C/115F degree mark. So when cooking food, you not only denature those enzymes, but also some of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and proteins.
What is a raw food diet?
Raw foodists find they do really well with a high amount of raw food in their diet. But not everyone considers themselves a raw foodist. People who are into a raw food diet, but don’t consider themselves a purist make up the rest of their diet with ‘as raw as possible’ or ‘raw-centric’ foods. This means their diet may be made up of whole foods, including cooked food that are unrefined, unfiltered and untampered with.
There’s a whole variety of ways to cook foods, from steaming at the ‘gentle’ end of the spectrum, to deep fat frying and the other. For this reason it’s not true to think of all cooked foods as the same, putting them into the ‘bad’ category, which some tend to do. I like to have a more balanced view. So I love raw food, I think home cooked whole foods are also wonderful for health. However, on this site we just focus on the raw food diet. If you want to see what we do with cooking foods, head over to Eat Like An Adult.
Some cooked foods do release more nutrition when cooked. For example, cooking tomatoes makes the licopene more bioavailable, but destroys the vitamin C.
Some foods are obviously more nutritious raw. If I put a fresh, crispy apple and a baked apple in front of you, it’s very intuitive as to which one has more nutritional benefit.
For these reasons, I like a mix of both cooked and raw, with amount of raw food based on how you feel, in terms of your health.
Your aim should be to find the level of raw food that is right for you and your health. Even with all the science about what should be working best for you, the ultimate measure is how you feel. General nutrition guidelines although useful, don’t acknowledge you as an individual.
If you have specific issues, working with a naturopath or naturopathic doctor, who will be able to do blood tests and tailor things for your body and your health concerns is the best course of action.
Who isn’t raw food good for?
Raw food, even in small amounts, seems to have huge benefits for just about everyone. However, there are some types that do better than others.
If you’re naturally a ‘fast burner’ with a colder constitution, as it would be described in Ayurvedic or Chinese Medicine, then you will probably not do well on high amounts of raw food. In this case you can mix your raw foods with mostly cooked foods.
Can I still eat cooked food?
I’m still a huge fan of cooking whole foods. If you enjoy cooking, trying out raw foods doesn’t mean you have to give up something you love (both the cooking and the eating). Ultimately everyone has to find their own way to a raw diet that works for them. It’s not so much about finding out what the rules of a raw diet are and then sticking to them, but about listening to your body. That way you’ll find the amount of raw food in your diet that’s right for you.
You may find that by avoiding an ‘all or nothing’ diet mentality, you’ll find a place that doesn’t feel restrictive and that not only helps you reach your health goals, but also feels fun and enjoyable. Focus on what you’re adding in to your diet, rather than what you’re taking away.
Do I have to be vegan?
Raw food is also sometimes know as raw vegan, so this diet in its most popular form doesn’t include raw meat. Many people find raw food through having been vegetarian and vegan, because by default, raw food is vegan.
But we are also finding people that consider their diets to be ‘mostly plants’ are becoming more and more interested in the burgeoning raw food lifestyle, because of how they feel when eating this way.
We’re also finding that people becoming interested in raw foodism don’t always see themselves as raw foodists, vegan, vegetarians, or anything in particular. They just want to see what a raw food diet, or parts of it, can offer them. Whether that be for weight loss, skin improvements, energy or general health.
Mostly raw and plant-based with some animal products occasionally, such as eggs and fish seems to be a sweet spot for a lot of people who come to us as omnivores and can’t seem themselves being fully vegan. Some people also do enjoy raw dairy if available.
If you are vegetarian, you’ll see that all our recipes are veggie, and in almost all cases cases vegan. There are some recipes that will use a little honey and one or two recipes that use bee pollen.
Raw food for weight loss
Many people come to raw food for its weight loss potential. One of my favourite examples of this is my friend Philip McCluskey, who lost half of his body weight (200 pounds) using a raw food diet.
For those who find they experience too much weight loss with raw food, supplementing with cooked, healthy whole foods is a great way to get the benefits or a raw food diet and find a balance.
I found out about raw foods when I was on a fast in Thailand to clear up my acne. I didn’t really have the weight to lose, so I was glad when some of it came back after that fast. But I also had to find the right raw diet for me to not lose any more weight. This changes and evolves over time, which is completely normal. My experience is that my body will want different foods at different stages in my life, so I follow that rather than any set in stone raw food diet rules.
Raw food recipes
Maybe you found our site looking for raw food recipes? You’re in the right place! First of all, you can find our full raw vegan recipe index here.
For the raw-curious and more adventurous, you can also use a dehydrator to make things like raw breads and raw pizzas. On the other end of the scale, one of the simplest raw foods is fruit, which can be used as a healthy raw snack.
A raw food diet also includes fermented foods. Fermented foods are fantastic for health and best eaten raw, since heating and cooking them can destroy their beneficial probiotic qualities.
How do I start eating raw?
Raw food diets can seem quite daunting to get started with. There are many different raw food diets in the same way there are food diets of any other kind.
A great way to start on a raw food diet, or raw vegan diet is to start with breakfast. This could be something as simple as a raw smoothie. You could also go with something a little more adventurous, such as a granola, or if this simple 5 Minute Muesli.
I put together a one day raw food diet menu. It features recipes that can all be made simply, with just a blender and food processor. For breakfast we have Ambrosia Fruit Salad Breakfast Bowl. For lunch there’s this Asian Chopped Salad with Peanut Sauce. And finally for dinner we have this Curried Tomato Fettuccine.
Some people suggest making a massive change and eating a 100% raw food diet from day one. This assumes that 100% raw food diet is right for everyone, which is not true. No one way of eating is right for everyone.
But there’s also an issue with practicality. Anybody staring a raw food diet may not have the knowledge they need to get off to a flying start and keep it going. That can lead to disappointment and ultimately giving up. I come from the perspective that a 100% raw diet isn’t perfect for everyone, so there’s little point starting there. I’d much rather you start slowly and easily bring these new food ideas into your diet. Doing it at a pace you can can sustain, because you enjoy it, not because of any ideas of perfection you have about what you eat.
If you want a deeper dive into all aspects of raw food, including raw chocolate and desserts, we have structured courses designed to take you step-by-step through the process. Click here for our raw food online courses