Raw food diet

From Academic Kids

The raw food diet (or living foods diet) consists of uncooked and unprocessed organic foods.



Most of the foods consumed on this diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some followers of the diet also consume raw meat and dairy products, although most follow a vegan diet, as animal products normally need to be cooked or otherwise prepared in order to be safe for consumption. (Dairy products are pasteurized, eggs are cooked to avoid salmonella, and many meats need to be cooked, smoked, or cured in order to avoid parasites or diseases.) The exact definition of raw food varies, but the general consensus is that a food is considered raw if it has not been heated to more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), and if it has not been frozen.

A raw foodist is a person who consumes only raw food. There is some debate over what quantity of raw food intake actually identifies one as a raw foodist. Most can agree that if someone eats 75% or more of their food as raw, they are a raw foodist.


Proponents of the raw food diet believe it dates to prehistoric eras, before humans discovered fire. They also (controversially) believe that a humans digestive system is largely configured to eating a mainly raw, mainly vegetarian diet.

The earliest modern examples of the raw food diet date to the 1800s.

Artturi Virtanen, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, is often quoted as supporting a Living Foods diet. He showed that enzymes in uncooked foods are released in the mouth when vegetables are chewed. These enzymes interact with other substances, notably the enzymes produced by the body itself, to produce maximum benefit from the digestion process.

It gained more prominence throughout the 1900s, as proponents such as Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton advocated the belief that a diet of raw fruits and vegetables could cure various diseases. The raw food diet continued to exist as a radical off-shoot of the vegetarian diet until 1975, when computer programmer-turned-nutritionist Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival Into the 21st Century. It is considered to be the first modern publication that deals with the raw food diet.

The diet has gained recent mainstream acceptance. Restaurants catering for this way of eating have opened up in California and New York City, and numerous all-raw cookbooks have been published. It has also received celebrity endorsements from entertainers like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, who have been known to follow the diet.

Doctors and nutritionists such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Gillian McKeith and Professor Colin Campbell (see the China project) advocate diets high in raw, unprocessed foods. They see this as a remedy, together with an active lifestyle, for obesity-related illnesses which are prevalent in developed countries. These include Cardiovascular illness, cancer, diabetes and some auto-immune diseases.

Food preparation

Most foods in the raw food diet are simple in preparation, and can be eaten immediately. Other foods can require considerable advanced planning to prepare for eating. Rice and some other grains, for example, require sprouting or overnight soaking to become edible. Depending on the recipe, some food (such as cakes) may need to be dehydrated. These processes, which emulate cooked food, are lengthy: some adherents of the diet consequently dispense with these foods, feeling that this way of eating does not need to emulate others.

Preparation of raw food recipes usually call for a blender, food processor, juicer, and dehydrator.

Care and medical consultation is required in planning a raw foods diet, especially for children. There have been some recent cases in the United States of children on inadequate raw foods diets developing serious health problems and even dying of malnutrition. There is little research on how to plan a nutritionally adequate raw foods diet, especially for children: however, dietitians are usually willing to provide professional advice.

The Tree of Life Foundation in Arizona, which advocates a vegan raw food diet, is currently conducting a survey of babies and children on a diet of 75% raw foods or more. Raw foodists claim that with sufficient calories, essential fatty acids, variety and density, people of all ages can be successful at eating raw foods.

Beliefs and research

Those who follow this way of eating generally believe that:

  • Raw foods contain enzymes which act as catalysts to regulate the digestive process in the body.
  • Heating (or freezing) food degrades or destroys these enzymes in food.
  • Food without enzymes is thought to lead in the longer term to toxicity in the body, to excess consumption of food, and therefore to obesity.
  • Living and raw foods is thought to usually have much higher nutrient values than foods which have been cooked.

The main idea behind the raw food diet is that cooked food is supposedly toxic, because cooking destroys the enzymes contained in food. This belief is based on the work of Artturi Virtanen, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, and on the research of Dr. Edward Howell, an Illinois physician who researched how enzymes played a role in a person's diet. He concluded that eating cooked food leads to health problems. In 1985, Howell conducted further research, and cited a study where laboratory rats that were fed cooked foods had an increased pancreatitis. Raw food diet proponents believe this shows that the pancreas is forced to work harder on a diet of cooked foods and that food enzymes are just as essential to digestion as the body's self-generated enzymes.

Additional research was conducted by Dr. Francis Pottenger in 1932, who conducted an experiment to determine the effect of cooked foods in cats. For 10 years, Pottenger fed half of the cats a diet of raw foods, the other half a diet of cooked foods. At the conclusion of his study, he reported that the cats who were fed raw foods appeared to be in better health. In addition, the exclusively cooked diet led to congenital problems including birth defects and deformities, after several generations. Research was also conducted by Dr Weston A Price as embodied by the Weston A. Price Foundation and The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.

Anthropologist Peter Lucas of George Washington University in Washington DC, US, was reported in NewScientist magazine on 19/2/2005 as having the theory that man being the only mammal with chronic poor dentition, and the only mammal to significantly process and cook his food, are causally linked. He believes that the adoption of food processing and cooking reduced the size of our jaw through evolutionary processes, but not the size of our teeth. Hence the expanding science of orthodontics. Conversely, the research suggests that a diet of unprocessed and uncooked food is more likely to promote health.

Raw food proponents believe a raw food diet consisting of enzyme-rich raw foods will reverse many health problems, promote health and strengthen the immune system. The benefits of the diet are said to include maintaining stable body mass index, clear skin, more energy, and minimising a range of common illnesses, from the flu to obesity-related illnesses.

Foods cooked at high heat contain toxins not found in raw or boiled foods, such as acrylamide, benzopyrene, and methylcholanthrene. There is no consensus as to whether these toxins introduced by high-heat cooking methods are cause for alarm, and the World Health Organisation is sponsoring continued research. It stated that 'Acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals. Also, certain doses of acrylamide are toxic to the nervous system of both animals and humans.' [1] ('

Raw food movement

Leading proponents of the raw food movement currently include David Wolfe, Doug Graham and Gabrielle Cousins in the USA and Shazzie in the UK and Piers & Sheryl Duruz in Australia. They have helped thousands of people become more aware of raw foodism through their lectures, books and web sites. A leading voice of the RAF diet is Aajonus Vonderplanitz, who claims to have cured himself and many of his patients from cancer.

Latter day proponents include Ann Wigmore (founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute), Arnold Ehret (author and authority on fasting), TC Fry (natural hygienist), A Hovannessian and Norman Walker (a man big into juices). It's reported that Walker lived to 118 and died in an accident.

Raw foodists argue that since no other animals cook their foods, and (according to some) they don't get the extensive degenerative diseases that humans do, it's clearly logical to not cook or process food. However, even if it were true that animals don't get degenerative diseases, this could be because animals in the wild are usually killed by predators before they are old enough to develop degenerative diseases.


Raw food diets have been criticized by some in the mainstream medical community as being too harsh and restrictive. A raw food diet requires special care to include the recommended amounts of several important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin B-12, calcium, and protein. If adopted for an extended period of time without special attention to essential nutrients, any restrictive diet can lead to nutritional deficiency.

Much of the research advocating raw food diets has been criticized. Critics say that food enzymes cannot be fully utilized by the human body, since they are destroyed during the digestive process. Also, some nutrients are only fully released in cooking, including lycopene in tomatoes, and beta carotene in carrots. It is also argued that humanity has been cooking for such a long time that the human body can hardly be ill-adjusted to cooked food.

In response, advocates point to studies which show that some nutrients in food are either damaged or made indigestible through the heating involved in cooking (see McKeith 2000 p 165 ff for references). They also assert that since no other species cooks its food, it is impossible to estimate how long it would take to adjust to such a diet, or even to know whether it is possible. Indeed, they claim, there is evidence from Pottenger and Lucas [2] ( that eating cooked food can have genetic effects which are undesirable.

Critics also say that the research supporting the raw food diet is out-of-date. In response, advocates point to support from eminent researchers who are professors and Nobel Prize winners in their field, and that modern research supports the inclusion of a high amount of raw food and vegetables in our diet.


As the consumption of raw foods gains popularity, some unsafe foods have occasionally entered human diets. The following should be consumed with caution:

  • Buckwheat greens, particularly if juiced or eaten in large quantities by fair skinned individuals. The chemical component fagopyrin is known to cause photosensitivity of the skin in animals and some serious human side effects have been reported anecdotally.

See also

Further Reading

  • Raw-Pleasure:Loving Living Foods by Piers & Sheryl Duruz (Pleasure Publishing, 2004) ISBN 0-9736539-0-6
  • The Raw Truth by Jeremy A Safron, (Celestial Arts, Toronto, 2003) ISBN 1-58761-172-4 (pbk.)
  • On the synergistic effects of enzymes in food with enzymes in the human body. A literature survey and analytical report Prochaska LJ and Piekutowski WV, Medical Hypotheses 42: 355-62 (1994).
  • Rebuilding the Food Pyramid by Walter C. Willett and Meir J. Stampfer, Scientific American January 2003.
  • Detox Your World by Shazzie, (Rawcreation Ltd, Cambridge, UK, 2003) ISBN 0-9543977-0-3 (pbk, 382pp)
  • The effects of heat-processed food... on the dento-facial structure of animals by E.M.Pottenger, American Journal of Orthodontics and Oral Surgery August 1946, p467
  • Living Food for Health, Dr G. McKeith 2000, Piatkus Books ISBN 0-7499-2540-X
  • Eat More Raw, A Guide to Health and Sustainability by Steve Charter, Permanent Publications, 2004
  • Human 'dental chaos' linked to evolution of cooking, John Pickrell New Scientist ( 29 April 2005

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