What Is a Raw Food Diet?

Raw diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff


At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The raw food diet is based on the theory that eating uncooked and unprocessed food can help you to achieve better health and prevent chronic diseases. Proponents of the raw food diet suggest that cooking breaks down the enzymes in uncooked or "live food" which aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, but research supporting this claim is lacking. The human body produces its own enzymes to break down food, whether it's raw or cooked.

The raw food diet has roots as far back as the late 1800s when Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, MD cured his own case of jaundice by eating raw apples. The diet has evolved over the years to include a variety of raw foods, though it has not always been popular, even in its current iteration.

Some followers of the raw food diet might have started as vegetarian or vegan before making the switch to mostly raw foods. While most people who are on a raw food diet plan are vegan, some may eat raw animal products such as raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, or raw fish or meat.

On a raw food diet, typically about 70% or more of the diet consists of raw food. Staples of the raw food diet are fruitsvegetables, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, and beans. Gently heating food is considered acceptable—the temperature just cannot go above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the raw food diet number 32 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 2.2/5. Learn more about what you can eat on the raw food diet and whether it's a healthy choice for you.

What Experts Say

"The raw food diet encourages people to eat only raw (never heated), unprocessed foods. While eating more produce is advantageous, experts say there’s no reason to avoid cooking it. This diet may put people at risk for food-borne illness if raw meat and dairy are consumed."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are easy to identify as raw. Other ingredients, such as nut butter, agave nectar, almond milk, olive oil, soy sauce, and cocoa, aren't always raw.

You can use vegetables in salads, smoothies, blended dressings, and soups. It's also possible to pickle your veggies or make them into noodles. Frozen vegetables that have been blanched or boiled before being frozen are not considered raw. You can also look for sea vegetables, such as arame, dulse, kelp, wakame, and unroasted nori sheets.

Fruit can be eaten whole, dried, dehydrated, or used in juices or smoothies. Frozen fruit is considered raw. Superfoods such as raw cacao powder, cacao nibs, carob powder, and goji berries are all permitted on a raw food diet.

Look for raw and preferably organic nuts and seeds. They are easy additions to smoothies, pesto, butter, non-dairy milk, cheeses, gravy, cream, and ice cream. You can also use a dehydrator to make raw chia or flaxseed crackers.

You may need to read labels and take the time to find brands that comply with a raw food diet. Foods that have the words roasted, dry-roasted, toasted, cooked, or baked on the label are not raw. Neither are canned foods. Whole grains and legumes are still considered raw when they're sprouted instead of cooked.

Cooking protects from food-borne illnesses (such as E.coli). A raw food diet isn't recommended for pregnant women, children, older adults, people with weak immune systems, and those with medical conditions.

What You Need to Know

There are no particular guidelines for when to eat on this diet. It is low in calories, which means you might want to eat more often. However, since it is full of filling high-fiber foods, you may not feel as hungry. A raw food diet is compatible with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.

Following a raw food diet usually means learning a whole new way to prepare foods. Here are some of the most common methods used.

Soaking and Sprouting

Raw beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors that are normally destroyed with cooking. The nutrients can be released by soaking them (germination) or sprouting them.

Germination involves soaking in water for a specific amount of time. Although the recommended germination times vary from two hours (for cashews) up to one day, some raw foodists say that soaking overnight is sufficient and more convenient.

It's important to start with dried, raw, preferably organic seeds, beans, legumes, or nuts.

  • Rinse the beans, nuts, legumes, or seeds and place them in a glass container.
  • Add room temperature, purified water to cover.
  • Soak at room temperature overnight (mung beans require a full 24 hours).
  • Rinse a couple of times prior to use.

Once they have germinated, seeds, beans, and legumes can be sprouted.

  • After they are drained during the final step of the germination process, place them in a container for sprouting.
  • Leave them at room temperature. The seed, bean, or legume will open and a sprout will grow from it.
  • Rinse the sprouted nuts or seeds and drain well.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.


Foods can be gently heated using a dehydrator to simulate sun-drying. Dehydrators are enclosed containers with heating elements that warm food at low temperatures. A fan inside the dehydrator blows warm air across the food, which is spread out on trays.

Dehydrators can be used to make raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, kale chips, crackers, bread, croutons, and fruit leathers.

Blending and Juicing

Foods can be blended or chopped using a food processor or blender to make smoothies, pesto, soup, and hummus. Vegetables and fruit can also be juiced.


Fermented foods include sauerkraut, raw coconut yogurt, raw macadamia nut cheese, and kimchi.

People with a history of eating disorders or those who are underweight should consult their healthcare provider before trying a raw food diet because it tends to be very low in calories.

What to Eat
  • Whole, unprocessed foods

  • Organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts

  • Sprouted or germinated beans and grains

  • Recipes prepared from raw ingredients

What Not to Eat
  • Foods heated above 118 degrees F

  • Refined, processed, or pasteurized foods

  • Foods treated with pesticides

  • Caffeine


Whole grains, such as millet, buckwheat groats, kamut, quinoa, oats, wheat germ, spelt, and wild rice are all permitted on the raw food diet but need to be germinated or sprouted.

Beans and Legumes

Some raw beans (such as chickpeas, adzuki beans, mung beans, and lentils) can be eaten after they have been soaked and sprouted. Others, such as kidney, soy, and fava beans, are considered unsafe to eat raw.


Raw sources of fat include avocados; raw coconut oil and butter; cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil; chia oil; raw flaxseed oil; and raw hemp seed oil.


Aside from purified water, raw foodists drink barley grass juice, vegetable or fruit juice (freshly squeezed or frozen, unpasteurized), young coconut water, and wheatgrass juice. Caffeine is not permitted, which means black or green tea, and coffee are excluded from the diet. Herbal tea (even if it's made with water heated to less than 118 F) is not considered raw because the leaves are usually heated during the manufacturing process.

Fermented Foods

Foods produced by fermentation are permitted on the raw food diet. These could include coconut kefir and yogurt, kimchi, miso paste, and sauerkraut.

Herbs, Spices, and Condiments

While table salt is not permitted on the raw food diet, Himalayan salt and Celtic sea salt is allowed, along with other seasonings:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Basil
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Cayenne 
  • Chives
  • Chocolate, raw
  • Cinnamon, ground
  • Cumin, ground or seeds
  • Curries
  • Dill
  • Ginger root
  • Nama shoyu (raw soy sauce)
  • Parsley
  • Vanilla beans, raw
  • Vinegar


Most sweeteners are processed and not truly raw, but the following are permitted:

  • Coconut nectar
  • Date sugar
  • Mesquite powder
  • Raw agave nectar
  • Raw honey
  • Stevia powder
  • Yacon syrup

Pros and Cons

  • Emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods

  • Low in saturated fats and sodium

  • Effective for weight loss

  • Too restrictive

  • Risk of nutrient deficiencies

  • Risk of food-borne illness

  • Impractical

Overall, this diet is very low in calories. And some foods are actually less nutritious when they're uncooked. Some foods become more digestible after cooking because the fibrous portion is broken down.

For instance, cooked tomatoes contain three to four times more lycopene than raw tomatoes. The levels of a compound in broccoli called sulforaphane are maximized when the broccoli is steamed at 140 degrees F.

It might seem easy to eat nothing but uncooked foods, but in fact, it takes a good deal of time and effort to prepare foods so that they can be safely eaten raw. It can also be expensive to purchase only whole and organic foods. Additionally, restrictive diets of this nature can create an unhealthy relationship with otherwise healthy foods and lead to disordered eating.

This diet is very low-calorie and will almost certainly promote weight loss. However, it is often too effective and followers end up underweight.

Is the Raw Food Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for American recommends a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy products for a healthy, balanced diet. In terms of macronutrient proportions (the amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat), the raw food diet is somewhat within USDA guidelines. The eating plan would eliminate dairy and other animal products, though some people on a raw food diet do consume raw milk, meat, seafood, and eggs.

The raw food diet is on the low end of the recommended protein consumption with about 13% of calories coming from protein sources. The USDA guidelines also suggest that 10% to 35% of a person's daily calories come from fat. People on a raw diet will eat a lot of nuts and seeds, which can be higher in fat and calories.

The diet also includes low-calorie fruits and vegetables, which can make it hard to consume enough calories (roughly 2,000 a day for weight maintenance). If you are looking to lose weight, consider using this calculator to determine a sensible daily calorie goal.

The raw food diet does not adhere to federal guidelines for a balanced diet and is not considered a healthy eating plan by experts.

Health Benefits

Whole, Nutritious Ingredients

The raw food diet is lower in calories and sugar than the standard American diet and encourages the consumption of real, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. It is also higher in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants. The fiber in the diet may help keep you feeling full and prevent constipation.

Low in Saturated Fats and Sodium

The diet is also lower in sodium and saturated fat than a standard diet, because table salt, processed foods, and (usually) meats are excluded.

Some proponents of the diet say that it may reduce inflammation because of the antioxidants in plant foods and fewer advanced glycation end-products in uncooked food.

Health Risks

Could Make You Underweight

Recent research on the raw food diet is lacking, but a study conducted back in 1999 examined the relationship between long-term raw food diets and body weight. Researchers found that body mass index (BMI) was below the normal weight range in 14.7 % of men and 25% of women. Approximately 30% of the women under the age of 45 years had partial to complete amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods), particularly those eating 90% or more raw foods.

May Lead to Nutrient Deficiencies

One of the main concerns people have with the raw food diet is the risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Food-Borne Illness is Possible

Cooking helps kill harmful bacteria, so eating raw foods increases the risk of food-borne illnesses. This is especially true in people on a raw diet who eat raw fish, eggs, or meat, or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.

Many fruits and vegetables may carry bacteria. A few, such as taro and rhubarb, are toxic if consumed raw.

Similar Diets

The raw food diet is a unique eating plan, but it shares some characteristics with other restrictive plant-based diets. Here's how they compare:

Raw Food Diet

  • General nutrition: Consume only whole foods that have not been heated above 118 degrees F.
  • Safety: This diet carries a risk of food-borne illness and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Practicality: It's very challenging to prepare foods that meet the standard set by raw food advocates, and buying whole, organic foods can be expensive.
  • Sustainability: Following this diet for a long time could result in losing too much weight and other health consequences.

Okinawan Diet

  • General nutrition: The traditional diet of Okinawa is mostly plant-based, with a little seafood. It includes lots of vegetables, seaweed, and legumes, and no sugar or refined carbohydrates.
  • Safety: This diet can be safe (scientists have long studied the Okinawan people because of their robust health and longevity) but it is quite restrictive. It is also high in sodium.
  • Practicality: Some of the main ingredients of this diet, such as seaweed and bitter melon, may be challenging to find and prepare. And its restrictiveness could make the diet tough to follow for people used to a standard American diet.
  • Sustainability: Of course, many Okinawans eat this diet for their entire lives. But for those who don't live in the Okinawa region, it may be too difficult to adhere to.

Ayurvedic Diet

  • General nutrition: People on an Ayurvedic diet eat according to their body type, or dosha, so included and excluded foods can vary greatly. There are many rules and guidelines about how, when, and what to eat.
  • Safety: This diet is generally safe and may have some health benefits.
  • Practicality: It can be difficult to determine your dosha and then complicated to understand which foods are OK for you and which aren't.
  • Sustainability: Many people can and do follow an Ayurvedic diet for a long time, once they are comfortable with the requirements.

Fruitarian Diet

  • General nutrition: Followers of a fruitarian diet get 50–75% of daily calories from fruit (sometimes even more). Nuts and seeds are considered fruits, and they may also eat some vegetables—but never animal proteins, grains, or any processed food.
  • Safety: This diet is risky. It could lead to nutrient deficiencies, health complications, and/or disordered eating.
  • Practicality: Purchasing lots of organic fruit, and specialty products such as nut milk, could be expensive.
  • Sustainability: It's not wise to follow this diet for any length of time, due to the health risks.

A Word From Verywell

The typical American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and has large amounts of animal products and processed food. But getting more fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods into your diet may protect you against certain diseases.

While most of us could benefit from eating more plants, adhering to a 70% or more raw food diet requires a lot of effort. It can also have some serious drawbacks and risks. If you are thinking of trying the diet, consult your health care provider to see if it is the right eating plan for you.

If you'd like to eat more raw plant foods but don't want to go on a full-fledged raw food diet, start slowly by integrating one or more servings of raw vegetables into your meals and find the balance that works best for you.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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