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By Leigh Goessl

What is the raw food diet?

People who follow the raw diet do not cook any of their foods. While controversial in some circles, advocates of the diet feel that keeping to a diet consisting of uncooked and unprocessed plant foods leads to feeling healthier and having a better physical appearance.

History of the raw food diet

The raw diet lifestyle is not a new fad, not by a long shot. According to U.S. News & Report, the raw food diet’s roots trace back to the late 19th century. It was at this time that Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a doctor who had jaundice, discovered that he was able to cure it through the consumption of raw apples. This led to additional experimentation with eating only raw foods and, over time, the diet has evolved.

More lifestyle than diet

While the word “diet” may sound like a weight loss program, according to WebMD, the raw food diet is not related to losing weight, despite the fact that is a low-calorie diet. This type of eating pattern is a lifestyle choice that some people make – it does not put its focus on weight loss. Losing weight on this approach to eating is a natural side effect.

What’s involved?

Adhering to a mostly vegan diet, although some individuals may instead lean toward a vegetarian slant, a daily meal plan for raw foodists will consist mostly of vegetables and fruits that are uncooked and completely unprocessed. Sometimes food hydrators are used, but these are used at low temperatures to dry out the foods and make them crunchy.

While this lifestyle is largely promoted as uncooked, U.S. News notes that “very few people follow a 100 percent raw diet,” and those people will cook foods at a low temperature, never allowing it to rise above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

The “staples” of a raw food diet for purists primarily consist of foods such as seaweed, sprouts, whole grains, beans, nuts and dried fruits. No sugar, caffeine or alcohol (although wine is an exception since it doesn’t need to go through a heating process) is consumed in this lifestyle choice; many followers choose to drink herbal tea, water and fresh fruit (or vegetable) juice as a choice of beverage. Other foods include herbs, berries and other fruits eaten in their natural state.

Followers that allow a little bit of flexibility will sometimes drink raw milk or consume cheese from raw milk, raw eggs, raw fish and sashimi. A few may eat certain types of raw meat. If it’s pasteurized or cooked, it’s off the menu.

Why no cooking?

No cooking of foods is involved in the raw diet, as hardcore followers of this lifestyle believe that the high heat that is often used to prepare cooked meals harms valuable enzymes, immune-boosting nutrients and vitamins that are present in the foods in their raw state. Many people may find success in eliminating processed foods, which are often ladled with excess fat, sugar and salt, not to mention preservatives and other manufactured ingredients, all of which can lead to negative health effects and/or weight gain.

Check with your health care provider or nutritionist

One of the biggest drawbacks to this diet is a lack of protein, calcium and vitamin B12, to name a few. Additionally, many of the foods that can provide these, such as lean proteins, whole grains and beans, cannot be eaten raw. While there are some benefits to this diet, it’s important to remember that cooking food aids in digestion and kills many bacteria that might be present. Some experts recommend it should not be a long-term diet due to it being highly restrictive.

Thinking of going to a raw food diet? Keep in mind, it’s not for everyone. In addition to being hard to follow, experts generally agree that this diet is not appropriate for infants, children and pregnant women. If you do not fall into one of these categories, it’s still a good idea to first consult with your health care provider or a nutritionist to ensure you’ll be getting enough of the nutrients needed to be healthy and avoid getting sick. This way, you are armed with the right information and can make an educated decision on the best approach for you.

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