Raw Food Diets Are Gaining In Popularity
In the push to eat more and more fresh food, some people are taking the message to the limit, by adopting raw food diets. Whether driven by health concerns, or concerns for the environment, the raw food movement is definitely picking up some steam.
The definition of a raw food diet is a bit of a moving target. It's usually assumed to be an uncooked vegan diet, meaning there are no animal products at all.
Raw foodists believe that living foods contain benefits that cooked foods don't. So, they don't use traditional methods to prepare them, since the goal is to avoid heating foods above a temperature of about 115 degrees. Rather than stoves or ovens, they use food dehydrators to make fruit leathers, or to add a crunchy texture to vegetables or sweets. Blenders, food processors and juicers are also a must. And typical meals include lots of raw fruits and veggies, seaweed, raw nuts, and sprouted beans and grains.
There's no question that a diet full of raw plant foods is bulky and filling, with fewer calories 'per bite' than a diet that includes cooked foods. So it should come as no surprise that a living foods plan could lead to a substantial weight loss. And its high fiber content will definitely keep the digestive tract busy.
But along with the draw of raw, there may be some drawbacks that should be considered. It's may be hard to get enough iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids on a raw vegan plan, and vitamin B12 – which is found only in animal foods – is likely to be in short supply. Getting enough protein could also be a challenge, too, so plenty of high quality soy protein should figure prominently.
Also, cooking releases certain compounds that are bound up in foods, like the brightly colored carotenoids that give foods like tomatoes, carrots and spinach their beautiful colors. So cooking makes these healthy plant compounds more readily available for use by the body.
Likewise, the minerals magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc are bound to a compound called phytic acid that's naturally present in uncooked grains and beans. Cooking allows these minerals to be utilized by the body more effectively, but soaking and sprouting does help to release them, too.
If you're considering a living foods diet, it might be wise to consult with a Registered Dietitian who can help you plan your meals in order to meet your nutritional needs. Although a raw food diet can be nutrient-rich, the American Dietetic Association recommends supplementing with omega-3 fats, calcium and a multivitamin-multimineral, just to be on the safe side.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.