Surely, you’ve heard about veganism by now. After all, the media is espousing its benefits, and as more and more people begin living the lifestyle, it’s becoming mainstream. But what about a raw vegan lifestyle? How it does it compare to a typical vegan diet?
You may be wondering if it's a healthy approach to eating. Surely, the experts have weighed in. Many researchers have looked closely at the trend, and you may find yourself surprised by what they've discovered.
Let’s learn all about this rapidly-expanding food craze.
WHAT IS A RAW VEGAN?
A raw vegan diet consists of raw foods or foods that you cook at temperatures below 115 Fahrenheit. People who eat raw food diets do it differently. For example, some people eat a 75 percent raw food diet, which means that 75 percent of their foods are vegan and raw. Others adhere to a 90 percent raw food diet, while others only eat raw foods only some of the time. For instance, the "Raw Till 4" diet is popular among people who want to eat mostly raw, but after 4 p.m., they cook their foods.
VEGAN, RAW VEGAN, VEGETARIAN: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
With all the focus on meat-free diets, you’ve probably heard some terms thrown around like vegan, raw vegan, and vegetarianism. How do you distinguish between them?
Here’s an easy way to think of each diet that will help identify them in your mind:
WHAT DO RAW VEGANS EAT?
At this point, you may wonder what in the world raw vegans eat. Do they live like rabbits and nibble on lettuce all day, or is there a hidden method to their madness?
The truth is, they eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. But there’s a little more to it than that. Most raw vegans eat an 80/10/10 diet. That means their diet consists of 80 percent carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, 10 percent fat from things like coconut and avocados, and 10 percent protein from nuts and seeds.
Here’s a list of the most common food staples for a raw vegan diet. Keep in mind that not all raw vegans will eat even slightly processed foods such as fermented foods or dried food. But we included them on our list because many do.
Here’s what a raw vegan food pantry looks like:
WHAT FOODS DO RAW VEGANS AVOID?
A raw vegan avoids all of the foods that other vegans do such as meat, eggs, dairy, and anything else that’s made from or by animals like honey and bee pollen. They also adhere to the vegan lifestyle of not wearing animal skins, not using products made from animals, and doing everything possible to ensure that their lifestyle doesn’t harm another living creature.
But raw vegans take things one step further.
They also only eat those things in a vegan diet that are raw. They don’t cook their food, plain and simple.
Here are some of the things excluded from a raw vegan diet.
POSSIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS OF A RAW VEGAN DIET
By now you may be wondering why anyone would choose to eat a raw food diet. After all, the benefits of the diet must be pretty good to forego hot, cooked meals, right?
Proponents say yes, the health benefits make the lifestyle well worth it. Let’s take a look at the health benefits raw vegans claim to get from their diet.
A BETTER HEART
While it’s true that vegans are kind people who are concerned about not harming other living creatures, that’s not the kind of heart benefits we’re talking about.
Raw vegans claim that because they eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains — all heart-healthy foods — that they experience a lower risk of heart disease. And while studies confirm that vegan diets produce lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and less risk of dying from heart disease, there aren’t enough studies to substantiate the claim for raw vegans.
But because a raw vegan eats the same type of food as a vegan, it’s entirely possible that they see the same heart benefits.
DON’T SUGARCOAT IT
Diabetes is a growing problem in our society, but people on a vegan diet have a lower risk of developing it. That’s because they eat a lot of fiber, which lowers blood sugar levels and increases insulin sensitivity. Vegans also eat a lot of nuts, seeds, and sprouts, which also helps lower blood sugar levels. And studies show that vegan diets lower the risk of developing diabetes by 12 percent.
But, a raw vegan doesn’t quite eat the same foods. For instance, vegans eat a lot of legumes, which are full of fiber and protein. And scientists haven’t yet studied whether a raw vegan diet produces the same insulin results as a standard vegan diet.
But proponents point out that raw vegans eat more fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts than their cooked foods vegan counterparts. And they say that it’s likely that the diet provides the same diabetes benefits.
THE WEIGHT OF IT ALL
IT GETS THINGS MOVING
Vegans feel blessed with a robust digestive system because of all the fiber they eat. And because they eat both soluble and insoluble fibers, the diet also feeds the good bacteria in their gut, which strengthens the immune system.
There is no reason to believe that a raw food diet doesn’t produce the same results as a regular vegan diet.
RISKS OF A RAW VEGAN DIET
Along with all the possible benefits of a raw food diet comes some risks. As with any diet, if you’re going to start this one, planning is essential. Without it, you may not be able to get all the nutrients you need to keep your body strong and healthy. You may also want to consult a doctor to make sure it's for you.
Here are a few risks to starting a raw vegan diet:
WAKING A TIGHTROPE
When you eat only raw foods, you may not be able to get all the nutrients that your body needs, and that will leave you nutritionally unbalanced. For example, many vegans — raw or those who cook their food — struggle to get enough vitamin B12. But you can add this vital nutrient by taking supplements. (Regular vegans can add fortified foods such as cereal and bread to their diet, but raw vegans don’t eat processed or cooked foods.)
Without enough vitamin B12, you run the risk of nervous system damage, anemia, weak bones, infertility, and heart damage.
A raw food diet can also lack calcium and vitamin D — two vitamins that you need to stay healthy. Also, some people on a raw vegan diet don’t eat salt because it’s processed food. But avoiding all salt in your diet can put you at risk for an iodine deficiency.
Some people who follow a strict raw vegan diet believe that they can get everything they need from the foods they eat, so they refuse to take supplements. But it’s important to get informed on the issue. In fact, one study shows that 100 percent of the people who followed a raw vegan diet didn’t get enough vitamin B 12. And a third of them were deficient in it.
NOT SO STRONG
Protein, calcium, and vitamin D are important for healthy muscles and bones, and people who eat a raw vegan diet may not get enough of any of them — especially if they refuse to take supplements.
One study shows that people on this type of diet have a lower bone mineral density and content that people who eat standard American diets. And while some people can get enough vitamin D with sun exposure, others with dark skin or not enough access to sunny days, cant.
DON’T CHEW THAT
Although they haven’t proved it conclusively, researchers believe that a raw vegan diet may lead to tooth decay. And that’s especially true if you eat a lot of fruits like berries.
One reason for this belief is that fruit contains a lot of acids, and that can erode tooth enamel. One study showed that almost 98 percent of people eating a raw vegan diet had some tooth erosion. Compare that to about 87 percent of the people in the control group.
ALL EYES ON THE BABY
In some instances, women eating a raw vegan diet may become infertile. One study shows that 70 percent of women who regularly eat a raw vegan diet had menstrual cycle irregularities. And about a third of them developed amenorrhea, which it's called when women stop menstruating.
Because a raw vegan food diet is so low in calories, women lose enough weight that they stop menstruating, and that can lead to infertility.
SCIENCE VS. RAW FOOD DIETS
Now that you’ve seen the possible health benefits of a raw food diet and the possible complications let’s take a look at what science has to say about the myths of this type of diet.
MYTH NO. 1: COOKING DESTROYS NUTRIENTS
Many proponents of a raw vegan diet say that the reason they don’t cook their food is that cooking kills the food. They say that by eating foods that are alive, they can absorb more nutrients when they eat them.
But science isn’t on their side.
In fact, some vegetables become more nutritious when you cook them. Cooked tomatoes, for example, have five times the bioavailability of lycopene, an important antioxidant. And when you cook carrots, beta-carotene becomes more bioavailable for your body to absorb. And cooking spinach releases more iron and calcium from its leaves.
While it’s true that overcooking vegetables will deplete the nutrients, but lightly steaming or sautéing them will not reduce the nutrients your body absorbs.
MYTH NO. 2: COOKING DESTROYS ENZYMES — AND THAT IT MATTERS
In the 1940s, a doctor named Edward Howell published a book about enzymes that cited research from the 1920s and 30s. In it, he said that cooking destroys enzymes, but humans need these enzymes to live healthy lives.
He was right — humans do need enzymes. But here’s the thing: Our bodies produce plenty of them.
In fact, whether we eat a raw vegan diet or one full of cooked foods, as soon as the food hits our stomach, the acids there destroy any enzymes in the food.
But not to worry, because your body produces all the enzymes you need.
MYTH NO. 3: RAW FOODS CAN DETOX YOUR BODY
Some people believe that by eating a raw vegan diet, they will release stored toxins in their body. But others think that’s just wishful thinking.
The theory goes like this: when you eat a diet with fewer calories, the fat cells that store toxins will release them and they will flush out of your body.
But scientists disagree with that. They say that if a fat cell does release toxins, they will simply cling to another cell or organ in your body.
MYTH NO. 4: IT’S A NATURAL WAY OF EATING
Finally, some people who stick to a raw vegan diet say that it’s a natural way of eating and that makes it right.
But is it really?
No other human civilization attempts to eat only raw foods. And scientists say that cooking food is what enables us to have the brain power that we do.
For example, they say that for a plant-eating gorilla to evolve a brain like ours, it would need to eat raw plants for at least 12 hours a day. In other words, eating raw vegan foods may make you thinner and somewhat healthy, but it won’t provide your brain with the energy and nutrition it needs.
IS A RAW VEGAN DIET RIGHT FOR YOU?
Now that you’ve learned the truth about a raw vegan diet, what do you think? Will you join the movement and become a raw vegan, or will you approach the diet more moderately and cook some or all of your food?
Have you started a raw vegan diet? If so, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!