The primary benefit of following a raw food diet is that it diminishes the amount of processed foods eaten and provides the opportunity of eating more fruits and vegetables, important for fighting diseases. Eating more fruit and vegetables works wonders for your triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well as cutting down your risk of heart disease.
Are There Any Downsides to Following a Raw Food Diet?
According to nutritionists, following a raw food diet can have its downsides. This is because food that is raw does not necessarily provide more nutrients than food that is cooked. Although heat breaks down some of the antioxidants found in raw food, other elements like potassium, lycopene and zinc actually receive a boost through cooking.
The restrictions created by eating nothing but raw food can lead to a nutrient deficiency. It’s difficult to maintain a 100% raw food diet and get all of the nutrients you need,” says Robin Fourutan, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Missing out on milk, fish and meat diminishes the amount of healthy protein fats and sources like fatty acids, omega-3, as well as vitamins such as B1, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D and selenium. Additionally, if you skip eating grains and beans, which are much more enjoyable when cooked, you will be missing out on an important source of fibre.
Gas and bloating are other unwanted side effects caused by raw food diets. “A lot of raw vegetables are rich in insoluble fibres that we don’t digest, which get fermented in the gut by bacteria, causing gas. Cooking helps to soften those fibres,” says Abbey Sharp, a dietitian and blogger from Toronto. “People with IBS especially may find that a raw diet is particularly hard on their gut and causes digestive distress.”
It can even be dangerous to add uncooked animal products to your diet. “There’s a reason why Louis Pasteur invented pasteurisation: So, we don’t get sick,” says Sharp. Unpasteurised dairy can cause all kinds of diseases as they often carry listeria, whereas raw eggs and meat can hold food-born pathogens that are especially dangerous if you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant.
Should You Try the Diet?
The raw food diet is not necessarily backed by nutritionists. “We have healthy cooking methods for a reason,” says Sharp. But raw food doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all. “As long as your digestion can handle it, including raw fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and fermented foods is really healthy without committing to a 100% raw vegan diet,” says Fourutan.
Eating raw fruit and vegetables is a good thing, but your diet shouldn’t be limited to them. There are plenty of foods that provide essential nutrients that need cooking, so don’t shy away from the stove.