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Is A Raw Foods Diet Healthy?

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photo by Martin Cathrae via Flickr.com Creative Commons

A diet trend in recent years has eliminated the need to know how to cook and has gained popularity for its simpleness: the raw food diet. Proponents of the raw food craze claim superior health, less allergies, clearer skin, more energy, and of course, weight loss. Those opposed to this trend point out possible issues with undernourishment and even exposures to several dangerous bacteria, which can cause numerous foodborne illnesses.

The premise behind the raw food diet, also known as raw foodism or simply, rawism, is to consume foods in their natural, unprocessed state. Eating foods without any cooking or processing is believed to be the most wholesome way for the body to obtain vital nutrients. A raw food diet is commonly used as a quick, albeit ineffective, weight loss tool. Truly, it is a lifestyle choice — not a quick fix or just something to try because it’s trendy.

While this style of eating is simple, it is far from easy. Just because you aren’t turning on the stove doesn’t mean this diet will get you out of the kitchen any sooner. Since the majority of this diet is comprised of raw fruits and vegetables, lots of food preparation is involved: chopping and peeling will become second nature if you are a raw foodist.

True raw food diets do not include animal products like meat, fish or chicken; however, many do include consuming raw eggs, raw milk, and dairy products made from raw or unpasteurized milk. Consuming these protein-foods in their raw state greatly exposes you to harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing foodborne illnesses and are critically dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Cooking, especially at high temperatures and for long periods, may damage some of the nutrients in foods; however, many foods become more nutritious when heat, via cooking, is added. Cooking eggs and tomatoes, for example, improve the digestion and availability of their nutrients in the body. Additionally, excessive mechanical processing, such as chopping, juicing and straining, mainstays on the raw food program, may not only lower the food’s fiber content but can rob the food of essential nutrients via increased oxidation from air exposure.

Obvious benefits from the raw food diet come from the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Simply increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet, raw or not, is always a good idea for better heath. Possible health risks of following a strict raw food diet are vitamin B12 deficiency from the lack of animal products consumed, reduced bone density from low levels of vitamin D and calcium, and low levels of HDL or good cholesterol.

Lacking some essential nutrients doesn’t really make the raw food diet dangerous; however, the consumption of raw dairy can make it sometimes lethal. Not all raw food diets include raw milk or dairy products, but you should steer clear of those that do. Raw milk is from cows, goats, or sheep that has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. These bacteria can seriously impact the health of anyone consuming these products, especially the young, old, sick, or pregnant.

The bottom line is this: an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is always a good idea and offers a plethora of health benefits. A raw food diet isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it must be done carefully to ensure all essential nutrients are obtained. However, raw milk and its products should be strictly avoided, as the risks far out-weigh any anecdotal claims. If you enjoy spending time in the kitchen, then adding extra raw foods to your diet may increase variety and the enjoyment of your meals. Also incorporating raw-food principles like no caffeine or alcohol may improve health benefits. As for me, taking away my coffee may endanger the lives of others!

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