Raw Food

This article is about raw food consumption in humans. For a raw diet for cats or dogs, see Raw feeding.

Raw foodism (or rawism) is a diet consisting of uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods or wild foods.

Depending on the type of lifestyle and results desired, raw food diets may include a selection of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds (including sprouted whole grains such as gaba rice), eggs, fish (such as sashimi), meat (such as carpaccio), and non-pasteurized/non-homogenized dairy products (such as raw milk, raw milk cheese, and raw milk yogurt).[1]

Varieties of raw foodism

Raw foodism can include any diet of primarily unheated food, or food cooked at less than 40 °C (104 °F) to 46 °C (115 °F). Raw foodists can be divided between those that advocate raw veganism or vegetarianism, those that advocate a raw omnivorous diet, and those that advocate a 100% raw carnivorous diet.[2]

Raw veganism

Main article: Raw veganism

A raw vegan diet consists of unprocessed, raw plant foods that have not been heated above 40 °C (104 °F). Raw vegans such as Dr. Brian Clement, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Thierry Browers a.k.a. "Superlight", and Douglas Graham[3] believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost much of their nutritional value and are less healthful or even harmful to the body. Advocates argue that raw or living foods have natural enzymes, which are critical in building proteins and rebuilding the body, and that heating these foods destroys the natural enzymes and can leave toxins behind. However, critics point out that enzymes, as with other proteins consumed in the diet, are denatured and eventually lysed by the digestive process, rendering them non-functional. Typical foods included in raw food diets are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains and legumes.

Among raw vegans there are some subgroups such as fruitarians, juicearians, or sproutarians. Fruitarians eat primarily or exclusively fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts. Juicearians process their raw plant foods into juice. Sproutarians adhere to a diet consisting mainly of sprouted seeds.

Raw vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is a diet that excludes meat (including game and byproducts like gelatin), fish (including shellfish and other sea animals) and poultry, but allows dairy and/or eggs. Common foods include fruit, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs and honey. There are several variants of this diet.[4]

Raw animal food diets

Main article: Raw animal food diets

Included in raw animal food diets are any food that can be eaten raw, such as uncooked, unprocessed raw muscle-meats/organ-meats/eggs, raw dairy, and aged, raw animal foods such as century eggs, fermented meat/fish/shellfish/kefir, as well as vegetables/fruits/nuts/sprouts/honey, but in general not raw grains, raw beans, and raw soy. Raw foods included on such diets have not been heated above 40 °C (104 °F).[5] Raw animal foodists believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost much of their nutritional value and are much less helpful to the body. They believe that raw meats should come from sources such as grassfed meats or wild game rather than grainfed meats.

Examples of raw animal food diets include the Primal Diet,[6][7] Anopsology (otherwise known as "Instinctive Eating" or "Instincto"), and the Raw Paleolithic diet[8][9] (otherwise known as the "Raw Meat Diet").[10]

The Primal Diet[7] consist of fatty meats, organ meats, dairy, honey, minimal fruit and vegetable juices, and coconut cream, all raw. The founder is Aajonus Vonderplanitz. He estimated that there are 20,000 followers of his raw-meat-heavy Primal Diet in North America alone.[11] Books by Vonderplanitz include The Recipe for Living Without Disease[12] and We Want To Live.[13]

There are those who follow the "Raw Meat Diet", otherwise known as the "Raw, Paleolithic Diet",[9][14] which is a raw version of the (cooked) Paleolithic Diet, incorporating large amounts of raw animal foods such as meats/organ-meats, seafood, eggs, and some raw plant-foods, but usually avoiding non-Paleo foods such as raw dairy, grains, and legumes.[9][10]

A number of traditional aboriginal diets consisted of large quantities of raw meats, organ meats, and berries, including the traditional diet of the Nenet tribe of Siberia and the Inuit people.[15][16][17]


Raw foods as a dietary health treatment was first developed in Switzerland by medical doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner, inventor of muesli. After recovering from jaundice while eating raw apples, he conducted experiments into the effects on human health of raw vegetables. In November 1897, he opened a sanatorium in Zurich called "Vital Force," named after a "key term from the German lifestyle reform movement, which states that people should pattern their lives after the logic determined by nature". It is still treating patients today.[18]

Weston A. Price, in a 1939 work entitled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, observed dental degeneration in the first generation abandoning traditional nutrient-dense foods, which included unprocessed raw milk. Price claimed that the parents of such first-generation children had excellent jaw development and dental health, while their children had malocclusion and tooth decay and attributed this to their new modern diet insufficient in nutrients.[19] Price also noted, in his book, that the healthiest tribes he visited all incorporated some raw animal foods in their diets.

Leslie Kenton's book Raw Energy - Eat Your Way to Radiant Health, published in 1984, popularized food such as sprouts, seeds, and fresh vegetable juices.[20] The book brought together research into raw foodism and its support of health. It cites examples such as the sprouted-seed-enriched diets of the long-lived Hunza people and Max Gerson's use of a raw juice-based diet in conjunction with detoxification methods to cure cancer.[21] The book advocates a diet of 75% raw food to prevent degenerative diseases, slow the effects of aging, provide enhanced energy, and boost emotional balance.

Other notable proponents from the early part of this century include: Ann Wigmore, Herbert Shelton, and Norman W. Walker (inventor of the Norwalk Juicing Press).

Common beliefs

Beliefs held by raw foodists include:

  • enzymes in raw foods (such as amylases, proteases, and lipases) aid digestion.[22] Heating food above 104-120 °Fahrenheit (40-49 °C) degrades or destroys these enzymes in food.[23] A few raw foodists such as Dr. Douglas Graham dispute the importance of enzymes in foods.[24]
  • Raw foods include bacteria and other micro-organisms that affect the immune system and digestion by populating the digestive tract with beneficial gut flora. In addition, many raw-foodists, particularly primal-dieters, are believers in the hygiene hypothesis, a concept that promotes the health benefits of exposure to natural, symbiotic bacteria like those found in unpasteurized fermented foods.
  • Raw foods have higher nutrient values than foods that have been cooked.[25][26][27]
  • Processed food and convenience food often contain excitotoxins (such as flavor enhancers) that can cause excitotoxicity. Foods with added chemicals, preservatives, additives, colouring agents/dyes of any kind are frowned upon by most raw-foodists.
  • Raw foods are the ideal food for human consumption, and the basis of a raw food lifestyle. Irritants or stimulants like coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are not recommended. Also heated fats and proteins like fried oils and roasted nuts are to be avoided on a raw-food diet, as they are deemed by raw foodists to be carcinogenic.
  • Wild foods followed by organic whole foods are more nutritious than conventionally domesticated foods or industrially produced foods.[28]
  • Cooked foods contain harmful toxins, which can cause chronic disease and other problems,[29][30] Heating oils and fats can produce trace amounts of trans fats.[31] Cooking foods produces advanced glycation end products ("glycotoxins", see also Maillard reaction).[32]
  • Raw foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which raw-foodists believe can help to stifle signs of aging.[33] Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of "Eat To Live", says that uncooked cruciferous vegetables have the most powerful anti-cancer effects of all foods. He also says that most of the phytonutrients function as antioxidants in the body, meaning they neutralize free radicals, rendering them harmless and reducing cancer risk. Raw foodists believe that this property found in alkaline living foods or raw food, which neutralizes free radicals, makes green smoothies a powerful antioxidant drink.
  • Because raw seeds and nuts are vulnerable to moldiness and rancidity,[34] raw products made from these ingredients should stay refrigerated to maintain optimum nutritional value and flavor, as well as to minimize oxidation caused by the nut and seed oils' becoming rancid.[35]
  • Air-pollution and smoking are extremely harmful to health. They also believe that recycled tapwater is harmful, especially fluoridated or chlorinated tapwater.[36][37][38]

Food preparation

Many foods in raw food diets are simple to prepare, such as fruits, salads, meat, and dairy. 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 digestible. Many raw foodists believe it is best to soak nuts and seeds before eating them, to activate their enzymes, and deactivate enzyme inhibitors.[39] The amount of soak time varies for all nuts and seeds.

According to some cookbook authors, preparation of gourmet raw food recipes usually calls for a blender, food processor, juicer, and dehydrator.[40] Depending on the recipe, some food (such as crackers, breads and cookies) may need to be dehydrated. These processes, which produce foods with the taste and texture of cooked food, are lengthy. Some raw foodists dispense with these recipes, feeling that there is no need to emulate the other non-raw diets or increase sales of kitchen appliances.

Freezing food is acceptable, even though freezing lowers enzyme activity. This view is only held by some raw-foodists, with many raw-foodists actually viewing freezing as harmful,[41][42] though not as unhealthy as cooking.

Several raw food preparation books have been published including:

  • Raw: The Uncook Book: New Vegetarian Food for Life by Juliano Brotman and Erika Lenkert (Regan Books, 1999)
  • Raw by Charlie Trotter, Roxanne Klein, Jason Smith, and Tim Turner (Ten Speed Press, 2003)
  • The Complete Book of Raw Food Lori Baird, Ed., and Julie Rodwell, Con. Ed., (Healthy Living Books, 2004)
  • Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis (William Morrow, 2005)
  • RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine by Matt Amsden (William Morrow, 2006)
  • Transitioning to Living Cuisine by René Oswald (2008)
  • Everyday Raw and Entertaining in the Raw by Matthew Kenney (Gibbs Smith, 2009)
  • Everyday Raw Desserts by Matthew Kenney (Gibbs Smith, 2010)
  • Everyday Raw Express by Matthew Kenney (Gibbs Smith, 2011)
  • Going Going Gone Raw by Chef Be*Live, Douglas van Duyne and Cintia van Duyne (G. Normous, 2012)
  • RAW by Josefine Andrén, Anne-Lise Marø Høiback and Jenni Mylly (Funky Fresh Foods, 2012)
  • Gorilla Food: Living and Eating Organic, Vegan, and Raw by Aaron Ash (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012)
  • The RAWvolution Continues: The Living Foods Movement in 150 Natural and Delicious Recipes by Matt and Janabai Amsden (Atria, 2013)

Raw food movement

Early proponents include St. Louis Estes, Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, Johnny Lovewisdom, Ann Wigmore and Viktoras Kulvinskas (co-founders of the Hippocrates Health Institute), Arnold Ehret (author and advocate of fasting), Aris Latham (of Sunfired Foods, Inc., known as the godfather of raw food), Arshavir Ter Hovannessian[43] and Norman W. Walker (who advocated the consumption of vegetable juices).

Notable contemporary proponents include several chefs, published authors and lecturers, such as Dr. Douglas Graham, Lou Corona, Dan the Man McDonald, Harley DurianRider Johnstone, Freelea Love, Matt and Angela Monarch, Juliano Brotman, Dara, Markus Rosenkranz, Paul Nisson, Tonya Zavasta, Alissa Cohen, Chef Be*Live, David Wolfe, Aris La Tham,[44] Aajonus Vonderplanitz, Sarma Melngailis and Elijah Joy.

Celebrity proponents include Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Jason Mraz, Ben Vereen, and Carol Alt. Woody Harrelson has published books on raw food, starred in a raw food film, created a raw food website[45] and also opened O2, a raw food restaurant and bar. Model and actress Carol Alt includes raw animal products in her diet; she has written several books on her version of the raw diet and lifestyle. Her last one, The Raw 50, includes many chefs like Melissa Mango, celebrity Chef Be*Live and more.

Interest in the "Raw Foods Movement" continues to grow today[46] and is especially prevalent in Australia and the western United States,[47] like California.[48] In Europe, it has remained a novelty, although a few restaurants have opened in the UK,[10] Germany,[49] and other large cities.[50] Numerous all-raw cookbooks have been published.[51]

Supercharge Me! 30 Days Raw is a feature-length documentary film about the raw foods diet, made by Jenna Norwood, a former public relations consultant turned independent filmmaker, health educator and raw food chef.[52] In the film, inspired by Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, Jenna ate only raw foods for thirty days, to document the effect it would have on her health.


To date, scientific literature describing health and nutrition aspects of raw foods or living foods diets is limited, and most studies focus on vegetarian diets, most of which excluding all animal products and deriving the majority of calories from uncooked plant matter.[53] A meta-analysis of scientific studies from 1994 to 2004 concluded there to be an inverse correlation between the risk of developing certain types of cancer and eating both raw and cooked vegetables. Consumption of raw vegetables tended to be associated with decreased cancer risks somewhat more often than consumption of cooked vegetables.[54] The majority of studies included show an inverse association between both raw and cooked vegetables and cancer. On the other hand, certain studies have indicated detrimental health effects stemming from raw vegan diets.[55][56][57] A 2005 study has shown that a raw vegan diet is associated with a lower bone density.[58] One study of raw vegan diets shows amenorrhea and underweightness in women.[59] Another one indicates an increased risk of dental erosion with a raw vegan diet.[60]

Other medical studies on raw food diets have shown some positive and negative health outcomes.[55] According to one medical trial, "long-term consumption of a 70% raw-plant-food diet is associated with favorable serum LDL cholesterol and triglycerides but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol" as well as vitamin B12 deficiency.[61] Another study from Germany found that a "long-term strict raw food diet is associated with favourable plasma beta-carotene and low plasma lycopene concentrations".[62] A study mentioned benefits of a raw vegan diet for lowering obesity and hypertension[63] A study has also shown reduced fibromyalgia symptoms for those on a raw vegan diet[64] as well as reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to another study.[65]

German research in 2003 showed significant benefits in reducing breast cancer risk when large amounts of raw vegetable matter are included in the diet. The authors attribute some of this effect to heat-labile phytonutrients.[66]

One study comparing pasteurized and unpasteurized breast milk, showed that pasteurizing breast milk for hospital use and milk banks is unnecessary.[67] Another study showed a link between consumption of unpasteurized milk and a lowered prevalence of allergies.[68]

Artturi Virtanen showed that enzymes in uncooked foods are released in the mouth when vegetables are chewed. Raw foodists extrapolate from such research the supposition that the enzymes found in living foods interact with other substances, notable ones being the enzymes produced by the body itself, to aid in digestion. Promoters of raw foods, such as the Weston-Price Foundation, support the idea that, since no digestive juices are secreted in the upper stomach, the enzymes in the raw foods last for about 30 minutes in the upper stomach before being destroyed in the lower stomach, thus giving them enough time to break down the raw foods, to some extent.[69]

Columbia University research in 2008 showed significant improving of mental and emotional quality of life for participants using raw vegan diet in raw vegan institute.[70] Another American research in 2001 showed Fibromyalgia syndrome improved in observational study using a mostly raw vegetarian diet[71]

One of the problems in researching microorganisms in the digestive system is that many of them cannot live outside the digestive system and can be analysed only by their genetic material. Steven R. Gill did some of this analysis and showed that in the "collective genome" of the human intestinal flora there is a high percentage of genes connected with synthesis of some vitamins and essential amino acids.[72]

Toxins created by cooking

Several studies published since 1990 indicate that cooking muscle meat creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs).[73] High rates of HCA can cause cancer in animals; whether such an exposure causes cancer in humans remains unclear.[74] Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that human subjects having eaten beef rare or medium-rare had less than one-third the risk of stomach cancer as those having eaten beef medium-well or well-done. While eating muscle meat raw may be the only way to avoid HCAs fully, the National Cancer Institute states that cooking meat below 212 °F (100 °C) creates "negligible amounts" of HCAs. Also, microwaving meat before cooking may substantially reduce HCAs.[74]

Although microwave cooking may lead to reduced HCA levels in cooked meat products, Raw Foodists do not consider it any more favorable than other forms of cooking. Microwaving has been shown to cause a great decrease in all studied antioxidants in broccoli, compared to other cooking methods.[75] Microwaving has also been shown to reduce vitamin B12 levels in beef, pork, and milk by 30-40%.[76] Breast milk is commonly stored cold, and reheated before use. Using the microwave for this purpose has been shown to significantly reduce the anti-infective factors in human milk.[77][78]

Nitrosamines, formed by cooking and preserving in salt and smoking, have been linked to colon cancer and stomach cancer.[79][80]

Cooking also creates certain heat-created toxins, advanced glycation end products, otherwise known as AGEs. This reaction occurs both within the body and external to the body. Many cells in the body (for example endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and cells of the immune system) from tissue such as lung, liver, kidney, and peripheral blood bear the receptor for advanced glycation end-products (RAGE) that, when binding AGEs, contributes to age- and diabetes-related chronic inflammatory diseases,[81][82] such as atherosclerosis, renal failure,[83][84][85] arthritis,[86] myocardial infarction,[87] macular degeneration,[88] cardiovascular disease,[89] nephropathy,[90] retinopathy,[91] or neuropathy.[92] Excretion of dietary AGEs is reduced in diabetics and lowering AGE intake may greatly reduce the impact of AGEs in diabetic patients and possibly improve prognosis.[32]

Also, toxic compounds called PAHs,[93] or Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are formed by cooking.[94][95] They are known to be carcinogenic and an industrial pollutant.[96][97]

Acrylamide, a toxin found in roasted/baked/fried/grilled starchy foods, but not in boiled or raw foods, has been linked to endometrial and ovarian, but not breast cancers.[98] Ingested acrylamide is metabolised to a chemically reactive epoxide, glycidamide.[99] The HEATOX (Heat-Generated Food Toxins) project has published a report on acrylamide.[100]

Effect of cooking on digestibility and allergy

There are various scientific reports, such as one by the Nutrition Society,[101] which describe in detail the loss of vitamins and minerals caused by cooking.[25][26][27]

Another study has shown that meat heated for 10 minutes at 130 °C (266 °F), showed a 1.5% decrease in protein digestibility.[102] Similar heating of hake meat in the presence of potato starch, soy oil, and salt caused a 6% decrease in amino acid content.[103][104]

Frying chickpeas, oven-heating winged beans, or roasting cereals at 200–280 °C (392–536 °F) reduces protein digestibility.[105]

One study, comparing the effects of consuming either pasteurized, or homogenized/pasteurized, or unpasteurized milk, showed that pasteurized and homogenized/pasteurized milk might increase allergic reactions in patients allergic to milk.[106]

Potential harmful effects of cooking

It has also been pointed out that cooking food, directly or indirectly, requires energy and may thus release gases associated with global warming.[107] It is also worth noting that the act of heating food consumes energy in general, no matter what form that energy is coming from I.E. wood, coal, natural gas, turbine. Raw diets mitigate the use of nonrenewable resources in general, and this aspect results in raw diets being a more environmentally friendly form of eating versus cooking foods with non-renewable forms of energy.

Nutritional deficiencies in raw vegan diets

Care is required in planning a raw vegan diet, especially for children.[108] Raw foodists believe that with sufficient food energy, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, variety, and density, people of all ages can be successful at eating raw foods. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Disease-Proof Your Child, says there may not be enough vitamin B12, enough vitamin D, and enough calories for a growing child on a totally raw vegan diet. Fuhrman fed his own four children raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, and occasionally eggs.[109] However, this nutritionist has made it clear in his books that he advocates 80 percent of our food should be raw, vegetable based, and that more than ten percent based on animal produce increases the risk of disease.

A study surveying people practicing raw vegan diets of varying intensities found that 30% of the women under age 45 had partial to complete amenorrhoea and that "subjects eating high amounts of raw food (> 90%) were affected more frequently than moderate raw food dieters". The study concluded that since many raw food dieters were underweight and exhibited amenorrhoea "a very strict raw vegan diet cannot be recommended on a long-term basis".[110]

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a health risk for all people eating raw foods, and increased demand for raw foods is associated with greater incidence of foodborne illness,[111] especially for raw meat, fish, and shellfish.[112][113] Outbreaks of gastroenteritis among consumers of raw and undercooked animal products (including smoked, pickled or dried animal products[112]) are well-documented, and include raw meat,[112][114][115] raw organ meat,[114] raw fish (whether ocean-going or freshwater),[112][113][115] shellfish,[116] raw milk and products made from raw milk,[117][118][119] and raw eggs.[120]

Food poisoning attributed to contaminated raw produce has risen tenfold since the 1970s.[121] Salad, lettuce, juice, melon, sprouts, and berries were most frequently implicated in outbreaks.[121]

Many raw plant foods have been contaminated by dangerous and even deadly microorganisms,[122] including jalapeño and serrano peppers,[122] alfalfa sprouts and other sprouted seeds,[123][124] green onions,[125] spinach,[126] lettuce,[126] orange juice,[127] apple juice and other unpasteurized fruit juices.[128]

Demand for unpasteurized, or raw, milk is growing among consumers concerned about chemicals, hormones, and drugs.[129] Some believe that pasteurization denatures enzymes and proteins, and kills beneficial bacteria.[130] According to the FDA, some of the health benefits claimed by some raw milk advocates do not exist.[131]

Raw dairy advocates have claimed that government agencies are heavily biased against raw dairy, providing incomplete facts or erroneous statistics.[132]

Many plant foods contain naturally occurring lectins which the plant uses for defense against pests.[citation needed] Lectins may have harmful effects in humans if consumed in large enough quantities.[citation needed] Cooking these foods can destroy lectins.[citation needed]


Richard Wrangham, a primate researcher and professor of anthropology, has suggested that eating cooked food is more "natural" for the human digestive system, because the human digestive system may have evolved to deal with cooked foods.[133][134] Wrangham thinks that cooking explains the increase in hominid brain sizes, smaller digestive tract, smaller teeth and jaws and decrease in sexual dimorphism that occurred roughly 1.8 million years ago.[133][134] Most other anthropologists oppose Wrangham,[135] stating that archaeological evidence suggests that cooking fires began in earnest only c.250,000 years ago, when ancient hearths, earth ovens, burnt animal bones, and flint appear across Europe and the Middle East. Two million years ago, the only sign of fire is burnt earth with human remains, which most other anthropologists consider to be mere coincidence rather than evidence of intentional fire.[136] The mainstream view among anthropologists is that the increases in human brain-size occurred well before the advent of cooking, due to a shift away from the consumption of nuts and berries to the consumption of meat.[137][138]

See also

Food portal


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