For us omnivores who prefer our food well grilled, it's considered an extreme diet - but people on the raw food diet don't just eat their greens for weight loss, but also for health. Raw foodism or a diet that consists of largely uncooked, unprocessed, organic foods is believed by some to be the best way to get all the nutrients found in food.
The case for raw foodism
Some of the major beliefs in the raw food diet revolve around the fact that the heat in cooking destroys a large amount of beneficial nutrients. For example, many vegetables and fruit contain digestive enzymes, good bacteria and micro-organisms, but heating food above 40 to 50 degrees Celsius destroys these. By eating raw unprocessed vegetables, fruit and even dairy (raw milk or yogurt), one is able to reap the benefits of these natural immune-building symbiotic parasites and bacteria. The theory is that by exposing oneself to infectious agents early in life 'trains' the body to build a defence to these organisms and decreases the risk of allergies, immune-system disorders and other illnesses. Another advantage to raw foods is that heat-sensitive vitamins and compounds such as vitamin C and other antioxidants are not destroyed by cooking. Raw foodists also have a reduced risk of exposure to the carcinogens and other toxins found in overheated and highly processed oils and trans fats.
Another belief is that the body is naturally slightly alkaline (the pH level of blood is between 7.35 to 7.45) - and raw foods, which are alkaline, help to maintain this balance. The phytonutrients found in raw vegetables - especially cruciferous ones such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts - can have a powerful antioxidant effect in the body to stave off free radicals and prevent aging.
While many raw foodists are vegetarian or vegan, a number may include raw meat and fish in their diet. This can take the form of sashimi (entirely raw fish), steak tartare (minced raw beef) or carpaccio (raw sliced beef/fish). One benefit of raw meat and fish and dairy is that it contains vitamin B6, a heat sensitive compound that is often destroyed in the cooking and pasteurising process. Deficiency in B6 is linked with diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and other problems.
Raw foodists find that their diets lead to better energy levels, clearer skin, weight loss and even fewer allergies. A study in the United States has found that vegetarian raw foodists did not suffer from ill health or weak bones as commonly thought. The study of 18 people who followed strict 'high raw' diets for about 10 years found that they had a lower BMI and total body fat than those who ate a typical American diet. While the bones of the vegetarians were lighter, they did not have any markers of a higher osteoporosis risk.
Making raw food a part of your life
Looking to increase your raw food intake? You can start with small steps and slowly increase the amounts of raw food according to your preference and lifestyle. Here are some ways to do it: