Raw Food Diet
Is the Raw Food Diet Healthy?
The verdict on whether raw food diets are healthy is mixed.
Researchers who studied the impact of a raw food diet found that participants had low cholesterol and triglycerides. They also had a vitamin B12 deficiency. This finding is consistent with another study of raw foodists in Finland. B12 is found naturally only in animal products. It is critical to nerve and red blood cell development. Deficiencies can lead to anemia and neurological impairment.
A German study of long-term raw foodists showed that they had healthy levels of vitamin A and dietary carotenoids, which comes from vegetables, fruits and nuts and protect against chronic disease. Yet the study participants had lower than average plasma lycopene levels, which are thought to play a role in disease prevention. They are found in deep-red fruits like tomatoes. Lycopene content is highest, however, when tomatoes are cooked.
Low bone mass in the lumbar spine and hip may be another risk for raw foodists, who tend to be slim. However, more research is needed to determine if raw foodists are at risk of low bone mass. Variations in bone mass may be due to weight loss.
Finally, another study showed that a raw food diet can interrupt the menstrual cycle, again because of drastic weight loss.
Raw Foodism and Nutrition
The raw food diet is rich in nutrients. It’s full of fiber and it’s low in fat and sugars.
But raw foodists, along with vegans, need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, most of which are found naturally in animal products.
The American Dietetic Association offers these guidelines for raw foodists:
- Eat almost twice the iron as nonvegetarians. Good sources of iron are tofu, legumes, almonds and cashews.
- Eat at least eight servings a day of calcium-rich foods like bok choy, cabbage, soybeans, tempeh, and figs.
- Eat fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and fortified soy milk for B12. Take a B12 supplement too.
- Eat flaxseed and walnuts. Use canola, flaxseed, walnut, and soybean oil. These are all sources of omega-3 fatty acids. You may also want to take an omega-3 supplement.
Raw foodists typically get the same amount of protein as nonvegetarians through plant foods eaten throughout the day. But because plant protein is less digestible, the ADA recommends raw foodists eat plenty of soy and bean products.
Nutritionists at the ADA also recommend that raw foodists increase their calcium intake. That's because their diets are high in sulfur-containing amino acids – nuts and grains, for example -- which can increase bone calcium loss.
Zinc is better absorbed by the body through meat. The ADA recommends soaking and sprouting beans, grains, and seeds. Doing this may help the body better absorb the nutrients from these foods.
Finally, people who do not eat meat or dairy products should be vigilant about their vitamin D intake -- especially for people who live in northern climates. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to weaker bones. The ADA recommends vitamin-D fortified foods, including some brands of soy milk and rice milk, some breakfast cereals and margarines. You also may want to take a vitamin D supplement.