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Ultimate Guide to the Raw Food Diet

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The raw food diet is a lifestyle that demands consciousness and dedicated eating habits. See more vegetable pictures.“The raw food diet is a lifestyle that demands consciousness and dedicated eating habits. See more vegetable pictures.iStockphoto/Maksim Shmeljov

­For cavemen, the raw food diet was nothing new. More than 1.5 million years ago, prehistoric people had no fire — everything they ate was raw, even the mastodons they sometimes managed to catch. So the raw food diet wasn’t just a popular diet — it was the only diet. And then humans harnessed fire, and all things culinary changed.

Today, supporters of the raw food diet believe that a diet of raw, unprocessed natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other supple­ments (with little or no meat) provides the most vitamins and nutrients of any diet and also helps the body detoxify itself naturally [source: DietTV]. This should make it the healthiest, easiest and best diet for everyone, right? Maybe for some, but the raw food diet can be taken too far.

­A close cousin to veganism, which forbids the consumption of any animal-based food, like meat and­ its byproducts (cheese, yogurt, eggs), raw foodism follows basic guidelines but can be tempered with the addition of fish or eggs, depending on the raw foodist’s preference. Because of its focus on food that is still in its natural state, or "alive," the raw food diet is also sometimes referred to as the living food diet [source: Sunfood].

Many crash diets involve a few days, weeks or months of restricted eating, but the raw food diet goes beyond a relatively short time commitment to an investment in a lifestyle of consciousness and dedicated eating habits [source: Conscious Choice].

Fad diets have sprung up through the centuries, from the Puritans to Dr. Atkins, but are they really all that they’re "cooked up" to be [source: Kaufman]? And is the raw food diet really as healthy (and safe) for you as it claims to be? In this article, we’ll sample the basic menu of raw foods, cover the benefits and risks of such a restrictive diet, and give you a taste of what it means to be a raw foodie. Let’s start with the menu.

Contents

  1. Raw Food Diet Menu
  2. Benefits of the Raw Food Diet
  3. Dangers of the Raw Food Diet

Raw Food Diet Menu

The basics of the raw food menu include the fruit, nut, vegetable a­nd seed staples of the vegetarian diet, with the addition of enzymes and supplements to replace meat. As long as it’s not cooked, it fits. But what that means is that fried tofu, heated tempeh, broiled broccoli, baked potatoes and slices of seared squash are out. Here’s what’s in:

  • natural fruits (but no seedless hybrids)
  • green-leafed veggies (no hybrids)
  • melons and sweet sugar fruits
  • avocadoes and other fatty foods
  • citrus fruits like orange and lemon to detoxify
  • nuts in moderation
  • rice (if soaked in water and "cooked" with natural heat from the sun) [source: Wolfe]

As you can see, raw food can be as normal or as imaginative as you can make it as long as it’s unprocessed and natural. Let’s take a look at the advantages of living (and eating) like this.

Hungry For Change

When chef Juliano opened his first Raw restaurant in 1994, he was a raw-food die-hard. Now he’s one of the leaders of the movement, with several restaurants and books to his name. He also leads cooking classes, detox programs and raw-food education programs. One of the signature drinks at Raw is the “Summer High,” a concoction of bee pollen, green apples, pecans, raspberries, honey and white wine. Because wine doesn’t need to be cooked, it’s safe to include in the raw food diet, although beer (with its cooked hops) is a no-no. [source: Juliano’s Raw].

For something more substantial, you may want to delve into the sushi menu, which offers mushroom or pumpkin pate maki rolls (among other interesting varieties of vegetarian sushi) and other inventive dishes. At Karyn’s in Chicago, another longtime member of the raw food community, the menu includes typical salads and soups, along with unique raw pizzas and pastas any food lover could enjoy [source: Karyn’s]. ­

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Benefits of the Raw Food Diet

­Clear skin, lots of energy and a slimmer, sexier you? What’s not to love about a lifestyle that promotes­ that? Many followers of the raw food diet say that when you eat raw, unprocessed foods, you’re getting the full nutritional content of the plant without the chemicals, colors and other additives often pumped into the foods we eat today [source: Books].

When you heat your spinach in the microwave or cook any veggie in water, it loses a certain amount of minerals and nutrients. Raw vegetables retain their nutrients, especially eaten with the skin, and are easier to digest because the fiber content remains intact [source: Virginia Cooperative Extension]. But if something must be cooked, 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (43 to 49 Celsius) is the generally accepted high temperature [source: Williams].

What else is possible on this diet if perfect hair, skin and weight are just the beginning? With the right amount of planning and experimenting, you can invent creative new meal ideas. But, of course, there are plenty of naysayers who believe the raw food diet is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Learn about raw-food criticisms on the next page.

Talkin’ Detox

Fruits, veggies, even some booze — sounds like a raw diet might not be too weird after all, especially for someone looking to shed a few pounds and jump-start the day with a frothy shake or smoothie. But is it something that you can — or want to — commit to long-term? If a quick pick-me-up is more your style, why not try a weekend detox? There are several choices on the detox market, and thousands of believers drop big dollars and pounds while using special detox powders, drinks, meal plans and cleansers [source: Ellin]. However, be warned that if you choose a detox diet program, you might feel sluggish, hungry and moody while you’re on it. The days afterward might find you feeling more clear-headed and energized.

Dangers of the Raw Food Diet

Now that you’ve noshed on the idea of raw food and its history, we’ll examine the dangers of a lifestyle lived raw. Think living on nothing but apples, seaweed and leafy greens sounds like a good way to get in shape? In moderation, it can be. But the risks and dangers of limited nutrition are very real with this diet.

Raw food diet devotees argue that nutrients are absorbed easier when they enter the bloodstream in their natural, uncooked state, but our bodies already make all of the enzymes we need, and our digestive systems have been biologically designed to process the stuff we’re already eating [source: American Dietetic Association].

Another danger of undercooked or raw food is that food-borne illness can become a larger problem. Raw milk can lead to disease, as can other under- or noncooked foods [source: NPR].

Yes, you’ll probably lose weight on the raw food diet, but how much is too much? That’s just another risk association with this lifestyle — a diet low in fats can lead to, well, a body low in fats. Bone loss has been questioned in raw foodists, and researchers are studying the long-term effects of the diet [source: BBC News].

If you’re still interested in living raw, consult your doctor first to make sure it’s the right move for you. You’ve got the basics — now it’s time to get cookin’ (or not!).

Bacteria Bites Back

In recent years there have been outbreaks of salmonella traced back to tomatoes and other greens, and also E.Coli found on spinach [source: Reuters]. Because these bacteria can wreak havoc on your insides, it’s always best to know where your food comes from, know that it’s clean, and see that it’s been cooked to temperatures high enough to kill these bacteria. But the raw food diet allows food to be “cooked” at temperatures no higher than about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius), and the bacteria are killed at about 145 F (63 C). [source: Schmutz]. ­

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Did Marco Polo bring pasta from China?
  • How to Make Homemade Baby Food
  • Top 5 Celebrity Chefs
  • How Campfire Cooking Works

Sources

  • "About Sunfood." Sunfood. (01/26/09) http://sunfood.com/MyPages/about-sunfood.aspx
  • Aschan, Stefan. "A Healthy New Year: Myths and Mantras for 2008." ABC News. 12/31/07 (01/26/09) http://a.abcnews.com/Health/NewYearNewYou/Story?id=4069654&page=1
  • Books, Regan. The Raw Food Detox Diet." Detox The World. 05/05 (01/26/09) http://www.detoxtheworld.com/books-the-raw-food-detox-diet.php
  • "Diet Description and Ratings." DietTV (01/26/09) http://www.diettv.com/DietTelevision/diet/raw-food-detox-diet/description.html
  • Ellin, Abby "Flush Those Toxins! Eh, Not So Fast. The New York Times. 1/21/09 (1/26/09) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/fashion/22skin.html?ref=fashion&pagewanted=all
  • Kaufman, Frederick. "Gut Issues." The Los Angeles Times. 02/03/08 (01/26/09) http://articles.latimes.com/2008/feb/03/books/bk-price3
  • "Milk Cow Blues." Enthusiasts Seeks the Raw Stuff." NPR. 12/17/04 (01/26/09) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4230005
  • "Raw Fine Dining Menu." Karyn’s. (01/26/09) http://www.karynraw.com/Gourmet-Menu/
  • "Raw Food Eaters Thin But Healthy." BBC News. 03/25/05 (01/26/09) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4389837.stm
  • "Raw Food Menu." Karyn’s (01/26/09) http://www.karynraw.com/Raw-Cafe/
  • Rincon, Paul. "Bones hint at first use of fire." BBC News. 03/22/04 (01/26/09) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3557077.stm
  • Schmutz, P.H."Food borne Illness: Bacteria." Clemson Extension University. 05/06 (01/26/09) http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC3740.htm
  • "Signature Elixers and Smart Drinks." Planet Raw. (01/26/09) http://www.planetraw.com/Elixers-alcoholic.html
  • "The Raw food diet." American Dietetic Association. (01/26/09) http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/home_4089_ENU_HTML.htm
  • "US Salmonella probe expands to Mexico." Reuters. 07/04/08 (01/26/09) http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N03261822.htm
  • "Vegetarian Diet: How to get the Best Nutrition." The Mayo Clinic. (01/25/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vegetarian-diet/HQ01596
  • "Ways to protect the Nutrients in Food." Virginia Cooperative Extension Office. 02/02. (01/26/09) http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/foods/348-723/348-723.html
  • "Welcome To Conscious Choice." Conscious Choice. (01/26/09) http://conscious-choice.com/
  • Williams, Gisela. Resorts Are Refining the Raw Food Scene." The New York Times. 04/02/06 (01/26/09)http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/travel/02heads.html
  • "Wolfe, David "The Sunfood Diet Success System." Nature’s First Law. 1998 (01/26/09) http://web.archive.org/web/20030304175738/http://www.rawfood.com/sfmenu.html

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