Basically, a raw food diet features fresh, uncooked, plant-based foods, heavy on leafy greens, nuts, legumes and vegetables. It is permissible to heat foods up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit and still retain the benefits of the diet. Some raw food devotees eat raw animal products, cheese, raw fish and sashimi.
Followers of this regimen believe that heating food above 116 degrees Fahrenheit destroys the essential food enzymes that they consider the life force of food. Left intact, these enzymes help the body process food without using the body’s own digestive acids. Utilizing natural enzymes lessens toxins left in the body by cooked food and preserves most of the plant’s immune-boosting nutrients. The cooking process may also be destructive to some vitamins and minerals. But cooking also boosts absorption of beta-carotene and kills bacteria. Without that safeguard, it becomes essential to be extra vigilant about washing food thoroughly.
It is a long-held belief that a diet heavy on fruits and vegetables, but light on saturated fats, is beneficial to the heart and helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol. In that regard, raw foods naturally help promote this way of eating. Followers report having more energy, improved digestion and better skin tone. Weight loss is also noted, although this is not considered a weight loss program.
There are some concerns, such as the slight risk of food poisoning because of undercooked meat, fish and eggs. Some nutrients, like calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D are difficult to get within the restrictions of the protocol. It is not recommended that infants and children be fed this way because the extreme restrictions may affect growth.
It is not easy to follow such a tightly controlled program. Food preparations are tedious and time-consuming, relying on Dehydrators, blenders and hard to find ingredients. Raw dishes aren’t standard fare at restaurants, so finding something on the menu could be a challenge. Since organic ingredients tend to cost more, this diet can be pricey.
Some people swear by this way of life and report life altering benefits. Skeptics claim that what cooking does to enzymes happens naturally once they reach the acid in your stomach. The improved quality of life may just be a benefit of eating a plant-based, low fat diet. A compromise solution might be to just eat raw fruits and veggies more often, limit meat and dairy and don’t overcook your food.