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.

What Is a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet involves eating foods that haven’t been cooked in any form. There are many variations of the raw food diet, some of which eliminate foods that have been processed, genetically modified, or non-organic.

The 2022 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks a raw food diet number 32 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 2.3/5.

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

The 7-Day Diet Plan

A raw food diet follows an eating pattern that can be restrictive. Here is a sample plan that gives you an idea of the limitations of a raw food diet.

  • Day 1: Green smoothie; Greek salad; taco lettuce boats with cashew-based “sour cream”
  • Day 2: Green juice, almonds, orange; mung bean salad; lettuce-wrapped dehydrated veggie patties 
  • Day 3: Fruit bowl with date syrup and hemp seeds; vegetable platter with cashew-based onion dip; sprouted quinoa with veggies
  • Day 4: Overnight muesli, blueberries, almond butter; red pepper and tomato gazpacho; raw pad Thai
  • Day 5: Strawberry, banana, and chia pudding; cucumber vegetable rolls; mushroom “pizza”
  • Day 6: Berry smoothie; vegetable and hummus tray; no-fry cauliflower rice
  • Day 7: Banana nice cream; raw “sushi” (no rice); zucchini noodles with cashew-based alfredo sauce

What You Can Eat

All raw foods — in their natural state or prepared using special techniques like sprouting or dehydrating — are permitted on a raw food diet. Here are some foods that you can eat on a raw food diet.

Grains

Whole grains are part of a raw vegan diet as long as they are germinated or sprouted.

  • Millet
  • Buckwheat groats
  • Kamut
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Wheat germ
  • Spelt
  • Wild rice

Beans and Legumes

Many legumes are omitted from a raw food diet since they require cooking. Some types of beans, such as red kidney beans, may cause digestive distress when eaten raw, and should be avoided. However, the nutrients in some pulses may become more easily digested and bioavailable after being soaked and sprouted.

Fats and Oils

Raw food diets tend to be low in fat. Some avoid oils altogether. Depending on the variation, the following fats can be part of a raw diet.

  • Avocados
  • Raw coconut oil
  • Raw coconut butter
  • Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • Chia oil
  • Nut butters
  • Nuts
  • Raw flaxseed oil
  • Raw hempseed oil
  • Seed butters
  • Seeds

Beverages

Aside from water, several other drinks are permitted on a raw diet.

  • Barley grass juice
  • Raw vegetable or fruit juice
  • Young coconut water
  • Wheatgrass juice

Fermented Foods

Fermentation is one of the techniques used to add variety to a raw diet. Fermented foods are also a good source of probiotics for the gut.

  • Coconut kefir
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Miso paste
  • Sauerkraut

Herbs, Spices, and Condiments

Table salt is not permitted on a raw food diet, but Himalayan salt, Celtic sea salt, and other seasonings are allowed.

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Basil
  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Cayenne 
  • Chives
  • Raw chocolate
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Cumin, ground or seeds
  • Curry powder
  • Dill
  • Ginger root
  • Nama shoyu (raw soy sauce)
  • Parsley
  • Vanilla beans
  • Vinegar

Sweeteners

Raw sweeteners are limited on this diet, but the following are permitted.

  • Coconut nectar
  • Raw agave nectar
  • Raw honey
  • Maple syrup

Note that some sweeteners are heated and processed, so depending on what your definition of raw is, they might not fit.

What You Cannot Eat

A raw food diet has a lot of limitations and restrictions. Cooked foods are eliminated. Foods that are heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit are prohibited, though dehydrated foods are permitted in some raw food diet variations. Raw diets tend to be vegan by nature since most animal products are unsafe to consume in their uncooked forms. Here is a list of foods that aren’t recommended on a raw vegan diet.

Animal Protein

Raw animal protein is not recommended since it needs to be cooked to be consumed safely. Many raw foodists are also vegans who avoid animal protein in any form.

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Cooked fish and seafood (some raw food followers eat sushi-grade raw fish)
  • Eggs

Beans and Legumes

Some beans are safe to sprout and eat raw, but some are not.

Caffeine and Herbal Teas

Caffeine is not permitted on a raw food diet, which eliminates coffee and many teas. Herbal tea is not considered raw because tea leaves are usually heated during the manufacturing process.

  • Black or green tea
  • Coffee
  • Herbal teas

Processed Sweeteners

  • Sugar
  • Pasteurized honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners

Refined, Processed, or Pasteurized Foods

Refined, processed (using heat), or pasteurized foods are excluded.

  • Dairy
  • Refined flours
  • Processed snacks, canned, or boxed foods
  • Baked goods
  • Pasta

How to Prepare the Raw Food Diet & Tips

A raw food diet contains a lot of foods you’re likely familiar with and consider nutritious choices, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted legumes, sprouted grains, and fermented foods. However, you have to get creative to avoid getting bored of eating the same or similar foods repeatedly.

While cooked foods aren’t allowed, some followers of a raw diet get around this limitation by using techniques like soaking, sprouting, dehydrating, fermenting, juicing, and blending to add variety to their meal plan.

Using a high-speed blender for several minutes can increase the temperature of foods like gazpacho and raw soup without going above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Dehydrating fruits and vegetables has a similar effect, making it a go-to method to make foods like raw veggie “burgers” and “pizzas.”

Smoothies, salads, and nut- and seed-based dressings, sauces, and dips are popular on this diet. You may find yourself preparing smoothies and salads on a daily basis, but the ingredient combinations are nearly endless. 

Smoothies are an excellent breakfast choice on a raw food diet since they are full of fruits, nuts, seeds, and nut butter. You can mix it up by changing the ingredients in your smoothies. Try variations like tropical, green, berry, and cocoa. If you enjoy smoothies, you can also try smoothie bowls and “nice cream” made from frozen fruit.

Salads and bowls are staples for lunches and dinners. They are a great way to incorporate multiple food groups: vegetables, grains, legumes, and sources of healthy fats like avocado, nut-based dressings, and olive oil.

A raw food diet is simplest when you use unprocessed foods in their raw, whole form. Processed foods may be eliminated in some variations of a raw food diet, but if they are permitted, you’ll need to pay close attention to product labels. Avoid foods that have been “roasted” or “baked” as these are not raw. Canned foods are also not raw. On a traditional diet, whole grains and legumes are usually cooked, but they can be compliant on a raw diet if they are soaked or sprouted.

Starting with a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a natural transition to a raw food diet since it’s usually plant-based. Some followers of a raw food diet may include raw animal products like raw milk, raw fish, or raw meat, but this is not recommended.

Pros of the Raw Food Diet

The benefits of a raw food diet are associated with the type of foods the diet recommends. However, these benefits can be achieved by incorporating these foods into a balanced diet that includes all food groups. There are pros of a raw food diet, but they may not be worth the health risks.

  • Emphasizes unprocessed foods: Diets that involve large amounts of processed food may result in overeating and weight gain. These diets tend to be high in calories, sodium, sugar, and fat. A raw food diet encourages eating unprocessed food, which is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline. However, this isn’t exclusive to a raw food diet.
  • Low in added sugar: A raw food diet may be high in natural sugar from fruit but is likely to be low in added sugar that is usually found in processed foods. The relationship between added sugar consumption and the risk of chronic disease has been confirmed. Those following a raw food diet may be at reduced risk of diseases linked to high intakes of added sugar, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • High in fiber: Staples on a raw food diet, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, are naturally high in fiber. Diets high in fiber are associated with healthy digestion and lowered risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and certain cancers. However, an estimated 95 percent of the U.S. population fails to meet the recommended amount of dietary fiber.
  • Low in sodium: A raw food diet is not a significant source of sodium. Low-salt diets may help reduce the risk of hypertension, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease. However, a raw food diet may be too low in sodium since it’s still an essential nutrient.

Cons of the Raw Food Diet

A raw food diet is generally not recommended. It’s associated with many health risks and disadvantages since it’s a restrictive diet.

  • May not be balanced: The bulk of foods consumed on a raw diet are fruits and vegetables. These foods tend to be low in calories. When calorie intake hasn’t been met, it’s very difficult to meet your nutritional goals. The diet also eliminates food groups like dairy and most proteins. Some variations of a raw food diet reduce or eliminate consumption of salt and oil, reducing the amount of essential sodium and healthy fats in the diet.
  • Can be expensive: Purchasing only whole foods can be costly. Some raw food diets avoid non-organic food, which can also increase the cost.
  • Associated with low vitamin and mineral levels: Followers of a mostly raw vegan diet may have difficulty consuming enough vitamins, including vitamin B12, zinc, iron, vitamin D, calcium. Supplementation might be necessary if levels are low. Additionally, cooking certain foods can increase the bioavailability of nutrients as well as increase absorption. For example, roasting pumpkin seeds in canola oil increases absorption of fat soluble vitamin A. And cooking tomatoes increases lycopene.
  • May cause an unhealthy relationship with food: Restrictive diets can encourage unhealthy eating patterns. Raw food diets eliminate foods that are otherwise healthy, such as cooked beans, grains, and vegetables. This could lead to disordered eating patterns.
  • Increased risk of food-borne illness: Raw foods, especially raw animal products, are more likely to cause food poisoning. Sprouted foods can also allow for germs to grow since warm, humid conditions are required for sprouting. Cooking sprouts reduces the chance of food poisoning, but this isn’t compliant with a raw food diet.

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

Is the Raw Food Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends multiple servings of the following food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods, and oils. A raw food diet may contain all of these foods, though some variations omit all animal products and oils. 

On a 2,000-calorie diet, the guidelines recommend 2.5 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruit, 6 servings of grains, 3 servings of dairy, and 5.5 servings of protein foods. A raw food diet easily meets the recommended amount of vegetable and fruit servings but may struggle to get enough grains, dairy, and proteins.

Followers of a raw food diet may consume a variety of protein, carbohydrates, and fat but struggle to meet the recommended amount of daily calories. Staples of a raw food diet, namely fruits and vegetables, tend to be low in calories. 

Since a raw food diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, followers are likely to meet the guidelines’ recommendation for 25-38 grams of fiber per day. Other nutrients, like B vitamins, iron, and calcium, may be more difficult to achieve.

A raw food diet meets the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables but followers may find it difficult to meet the requirements for grains, dairy, and protein foods. The diet tends to be high in fiber but may be low in calories and other nutrients.

A Word From Verywell

The Standard American Diet is low in fruits and vegetables, which explains why much of the population struggles to meet the recommended amount of dietary fiber. While a raw food diet may be lacking in some nutrients, it’s fairly easy to get enough fiber on this meal plan.

There are several nutritional benefits of a raw food diet, such as low intakes of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, but these benefits could be accomplished with a balanced diet that incorporates cooked food. A raw diet tends to be low in calories, which can make it difficult to meet nutritional requirements.

If you’d like to eat more raw foods without eliminating cooked foods completely, start slowly. Start by introducing more vegetarian and vegan options, such as smoothies, salads, and soups, into your meal plan. It’s important to find the balance that works best for you, even if that means having a mix of raw and cooked foods on the menu.

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, 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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