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Raw Foods Diet

Definition

The raw food diet is a lifestyle diet where at least 75% of all food consumed eaten raw and never commercially processed or cooked.

Origins

Raw food has its origins in prehistory. As humans gradually developed tools and learned to control fire, a raw food diet gave way to a diet of cooked food. Modern interest in a raw food diet began in the 1930s. Ann Wigmore (1909–1994) was an early pioneer in using raw or “living” foods to detoxify the body. Herbert Shelton (1895–1985) was another early advocate of the health benefits of raw foods.

Shelton founded a school and clinic in Texas that promoted the practice of Natural Hygiene. Natural Hygiene is an offshoot of naturopathic or alternative medicine. Shelton believed that conventional medicines were poison, fasting would cleanse the body, and that only one type of food should be eaten at each meal. Shelton's philosophy has influenced both the raw food movement and Harry Diamond, founder of the Fit for Life diet.

Since the 1980s, several raw food diets have been promoted as cures for cancer. However, although the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute support a diet high in vegetables, including raw vegetables, they do not support a raw foods diet as prevention or a cure for cancer. Raw food began to develop a more high-profile following in the 1990s, as celebrities such as Demi Moore and Woody Har-relson embraced a raw food diet, and in the 2000s raw food restaurants and cafes began showing up in some trendy urban areas, especially in Northern California.

Description

The raw food diet is more of a philosophy and lifestyle choice than a conventional weight-loss diet. A raw food diet is one in which 75% or more of the food a person eats is uncooked. Generally, raw foodists believe that the closer a person can come to eating a diet that is 100% raw, the better that person's health will be.

Raw food, as defined by many raw foodists, is unprocessed food whose temperature has never reached above 116° F (47° C). Some raw foodists make a distinction between “raw” and “living” foods. Raw foods, they define as uncooked foods, while living foods are uncooked foods that contain more enzymes because they have been “activated.” As an example, an unsprouted almond would be considered raw, but an almond soaked in water that has begun to sprout would be considered living. For discussion here, raw and living are used interchangeably to mean food that has not been processed or heated above 116° F (47° C).

Raw foodists can be vegans and eat no animal products, vegetarians, who eat dairy products and eggs but no meat, or omnivores who eat both vegetables and meat, so long as their food is raw. The majority tend to be vegetarians or vegans who prefer to eat uncooked, unheated, unprocessed organic food. Some go so far as to advocate that the raw foodist grow his or her food instead of purchasing it from commercial growers.

Some foods that are mainstays of the raw food diet include:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • whole grains
  • dried fruits and vegetables
  • unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices

Raw foods preparation techniques

  • Blending
  • Chopping, shredding, and grinding
  • Dehydrating foods
  • Juicing
  • Soaking nuts and dried fruits
  • Sprouting seeds, grains, and beans
  • Equipment for preparing raw foodsBlender
  • Coffee grinder
  • Dehydrator (less than 116° F)
  • Food processor
  • Juice extractor
  • Large glass containers and jars for soaking and sprouting

(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)

  • young coconut milk
  • seaweed and sea vegetables (not acceptable to all raw foodists)
  • wheatgrass
  • sprouts of all kinds
  • purified or bottled water
  • unpasteurized milk and dairy products made with unpasteurized milk (non-vegans)
  • raw eggs (non-vegans)

Although a raw diet eliminated the time it takes to cook food, food preparation can be quite time consuming. Meal planning is essential to get a proper balance of vitamins and minerals from this limited diet. Raw foodists may need to take dietary supplements to meet their nutritional needs. In addition, many raw foods need to be soaked, ground, chopped, mixed, or handled in other ways before being eaten. Raw food preparation often requires a blender, food processor, juicer, and food dehydrator whose temperature does not exceed 116° F (47° C).

Function

Although weight loss is not a goal of a raw food diet, weight loss inevitably occurs because this diet is very low in fats, protein, and calories. More importantly, raw food tends to be part of a lifestyle choice that involves a desire for purity, rejection of conventional medicine, and an effort to be closer to nature.

Raw foodists believe that raw food contains enzymes that help digestion. In their vies, cooking inactivates or kills (denatures) these enzymes, making it harder for the body to digest cooked food. Some raw foodists go so far as to claim that cooked foods are toxins. Raw foodists also believe that living food contains bacteria and microorganisms that are beneficial to digestion and that raw foods contain more nutrients than cooked foods.

Benefits

Raw foodists claim that the raw food diet offers the following benefits:

  • weight control. It is difficult, if not impossible, to become obese on a raw food diet
  • increased energy
  • better digestion
  • a stronger immune system
  • more mental clarity and creativity
  • improved skin
  • a reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases

For the most part, these benefits are what followers of the raw food diet report rather than benefits proven by research that would be accepted by nutritionist and practitioners of conventional medicine.

Precautions

Some foods are unsafe to be eaten raw.

  • Buckwheat greens are poisonous if eaten raw and cause photosensitivity in fair-skinned people.
  • Rhubarb leaves can be poisonous if eaten raw. The stalks can be toxic if they are not harvested when they are young.
  • Raw kidney beans and kidney bean sprouts are poisonous.
  • The greenish skin that develops on some potatoes is poisonous. The toxin is neutralized by cooking at high temperatures.
  • Raw foods, especially meats and seafood, can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites that would be killed with cooking.

It is generally recommended that traditional eaters who wish to practice a raw food diet move gradually toward a higher percentage of raw food in their diet rather than making a sudden change. Initially, people switching to a raw food diet may experience what raw foodists called detoxifying symptoms— headaches, nausea, cravings, and depression.

Risks

KEY TERMS

Alternative medicine—A system of healing that rejects conventional, pharmaceutical-based medicine and replaces it with the use of dietary supplements and therapies such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, massage, and cleansing diets. Alternative medicine includes well-established treatment systems such as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as more-recent, fad-driven treatments.

Body Mass Index (BMI)—A measurement of fatness that compares height to weight.

Carotenoids—Fat-soluble plant pigments, some of which are important to human health.

Cholesterol—A waxy substance made by the liver and also acquired through diet. High levels in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Conventional medicine—Mainstream or Western pharmaceutical-based medicine practiced by medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and other licensed health care professionals

Dietary fiber—Also known as roughage or bulk. Insoluble fiber moves through the digestive system almost undigested and gives bulk to stools. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps keep stools soft.

Dietary supplement—A product, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or enzyme, that is intended to be consumed in addition to an individual's diet with the expectation that it will improve health

Enzyme—A protein that change the rate of a chemical reaction within the body without themselves being used up in the reaction

Mineral—An inorganic substance found in the earth that is necessary in small quantities for the body to maintain a health. Examples: zinc, copper, iron.

Naturopathic medicine—An alternative system of healing that uses primarily homeopathy, herbal medicine, and hydrotherapy and rejects most conventional drugs as toxic.

Osteoporosis—A condition found in older individuals in which bones decrease in density and become fragile and more likely to break. It can be caused by lack of vitamin D and/or calcium in the diet.

Toxin—A general term for something that harms or poisons the body

Triglycerides—A type of fat found in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of coronary artery disease

Vitamin—A nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to remain healthy but that the body cannot manufacture for itself and must acquire through diet

eating ‘proper,’ ‘pure,’ or ‘superior’ foods.” People with orthorexia allow their fixation with eating the correct amount of properly prepared healthy foods at the correct time of day to take over their lives.

This interest in correct eating only becomes an eating disorder when the obsession interferes with relationships and daily activities. For example, an orthorectic may be unwilling to eat at restaurants or friends’ homes because the food is “impure” or improperly prepared. The limitations they put on what they will eat can cause serious vitamin and mineral imbalances. Orthorectics are judgmental about what other people eat to the point where it interferes with personal relationships. They justify their fixation by claiming that their way of eating is healthy. Some experts believe orthorexia may be a variation of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In addition potential psychological harm, without rigorous meal planning, raw foodists are at high risk of developing certain vitamin deficiencies, depending on whether they follow a vegan, vegetarian, or meat-eating raw food diet. Vegans are at highest risk. The most common deficiencies are of vitamin B12 and protein.

Research and general acceptance

The public does not generally accept a diet of raw food. Many medical practitioners and nutritionists also express skepticism about the ability of people on the raw food diet to get an adequate balance of vitamins, minerals, and protein to maintain long-term health. However, this diet undeniably reduces many of the risks (e.g. obesity, high cholesterol, high trigly-cerides) associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE DOCTOR

How does cooking affect the nutrient value of foods I commonly eat?

  • Can I get the nutrients I need on this diet?
  • Is this diet safe and healthy for my entire family?
  • Will I need to take dietary supplements if I become a raw foodist?
  • Do you believe the cardiovascular benefits of this diet outweigh the potential risk of not getting a balance of nutrients?
  • Where can I get meal planning advice about a raw food diet?

standard American diet. They found that the raw foodists were thinner and had a lower average body mass index(BMI) than volunteers and that their bones were lighter. However, they found no sign that the bones of the raw foodists were more likely to fracture or that they had a greater degree of osteoporosis than those of people on the standard diet. The researchers concluded that the bones of the raw foodists were lighter because they ate fewer calories and had lower body weights, but that they were healthy bones.

Other research shown that some nutrients, such as carotenoids in carrots and lycopene from tomatoes, are absorbed into the body much more easily from cooked foods than from raw foods. The enzyme theory of digestion promoted by some raw foodists is also not substantiated by any scholarly research, nor are claims that a raw food diet will prevent cancer.

BOOKS

Alt, Carol with David Roth. Eating in the Raw: A Beginner's Guide to Getting Slimmer, Feeling Healthier, and Living Llonger the Raw-food Way. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2004.

Bijlefeld, Marjolijn and Sharon K. Zoumbaris. Encyclopedia of Diet Fads. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Icon Health Publications. Fad Diets: A Bibliography, Medical Dictionary, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2004.

Rose, Natalie.The Raw Food Detox Diet: The Five-step Plan to Vibrant Health and Maximun Weight Loss. New York: ReganBooks, 2005.

Scales, Mary Josephine. Diets in a Nutshell: A Definitive Guide on Diets fromAto Z.Clifton, VA: Apex Publishers, 2005.

PERIODICALS

Nick, Gina L. “Consuming Whole Foods in Their Raw, Uncooked State: A Personal Interview with Raw Food Nutrition Expert, David Wolfe.” Towsend Letter.240 (2003):50-2. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ISW/is_2003_July/ai_104259135>

ORGANIZATIONS

American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>

Living and Raw Foods Support Groups. <http://www.living-foods.com/resources/support.html>

Living Nutrition. <http://www.livingnutrition.com>

OTHER

Brotman, Juliano. “The Living and Raw Foods F.A.Q.” LivingFoods.com, undated, accessed April 20, 2007. <http://www.living-foods.com/faq.html>

Harvard School of Public Health. “Interpreting News on Diet.” Harvard University, 2007. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/media.html>

Hobbs, Suzanne H. “Raw Food Diets: A Reviews of the Literature.” Vegetarian Resource Group October 28, 2002. <http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2002issue4/rawfoodsdiet.htm>

“The Raw Food Diet.” iVillage.com <http://www.ivillage.co.uk/dietandfitness/experts/nutrexpert/articles/0,,282_598387,00.html>

“Raw Food Eaters Thin but Healthy.” BBC News, March 29, 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/g0/pr/fr/-/1/hi/health/4389837.stm>

Wong, Cathy. “The Raw Food Diet.” About.com, March 31, 2006. <http://altmedicine.about.com/od/popularhealthdiets/a/Raw_Food.htm>

Tish Davidson, A.M.


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