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Raw Food Diet 101: How to Start, Pros and Cons

Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA

Written by Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA. Updated on March 12, 2023.

Recent years have witnessed a sharp rise in the popularity of the raw food diet. It is a unique form of diet, which, just as the same suggests, involves consuming raw foods.

This diet is believed to be ideal for human health and offers many benefits, including faster weight loss, improved vitality, and increased energy.

However, eating only a raw diet could also lead to adverse health consequences. Hence, it is important to be aware of what a raw diet means and its pros and cons.

What Is a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet is composed of completely or mostly raw unprocessed foods. It is sometimes referred to as raw veganism to raw foodism.

The raw food diet is similar to veganism, as it is usually plant-based, comprising mostly fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

It involves eating foods that have never been heated above 40 to 48° (104 to 118°F).

Also, the food should not be treated with pesticides, pasteurized, refined, or processed in any way.

It allows alternative methods of preparation, including juicing, dehydrating, blending, sprouting, and soaking foods in their natural forms.

Supporters of the raw food diet believe that the heating and processing of raw foods can harm human health as it destroys the nutrients and natural enzymes in them.

On the other hand, a raw food diet preserves the nutrients in foods.

It is also associated with several health benefits such as weight loss, increased energy, improved vitality, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and improved general health.

How to Follow a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet typically comprises fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Legumes and grains are also permitted, although they need to be sprouted or soaked so that they can be chewed, swallowed, and digested easily.

You can start following the raw food diet by eliminating refined, cooked, and processed foods from your diet and replacing them with foods in their most natural forms.

Here is a list of food you can or cannot eat while on a raw food diet.

Foods to Eat on a Raw Food Diet

  • Fresh fruits
  • Raw vegetables
  • Plain nuts and seeds
  • Raw legumes and grains, sprouted or soaked
  • Nut milk
  • Dried fruits and meats
  • Cold-pressed coconut and olive oils
  • Raw nut butter
  • Seaweed
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Most of the foods included in the raw food diet are vegan. However, you may also include eggs, dairy, fish, or meat in their raw forms in your diet.

Foods to Avoid a Raw Food Diet

  • Cooked fruits and vegetables
  • Baked items
  • Table salt
  • Roasted seeds and nuts
  • Refined sugars
  • Refined oils
  • Refined flour
  • Pasteurized dairy and juices
  • Tea and coffee
  • Pasta, chips, and pastries
  • Cooked eggs, fish, meats, and grains
  • Alcohol
  • Other processed foods

Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet

Health Benefits of a Raw Food Diet

Eating a raw food diet is associated with several health benefits.

Certain components of this diet can be beneficial for improving general health.

This diet has the potential to help you lose excess weight and prevent obesity, which is a major risk factor for several chronic conditions.

Eliminating processed foods from your diet can also allow you to avoid exposure to unhealthy additives, preservatives, pesticides, and other chemicals.

The health benefits of a raw food diet are discussed beneath.

Increases Lifespan

Studies have revealed that a higher intake of raw foods can increase the lifespan.

This benefit could be associated with the consumption of a high amount of fruits and vegetables that improve the supply of key nutrients to the body thereby improving its natural disease-fighting potential.

A raw food diet can also reduce inflammation in the body and thus, minimize the risk of inflammatory diseases including cancer, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

Reduces Sugar Intake

A raw food diet can limit the intake of refined sugars that are known to contribute to the development of diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Improves Nutrition

Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds offer a rich source of several vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are needed for the optimal functioning of the vital organs.

Eating these foods in their raw forms can preserve the nutrients by inhibiting their destruction, which tends to occur when they are exposed to heating or other methods of cooking or processing.

Promotes Weight Loss

A raw food diet supports faster weight loss as it is low in calories.

Eating foods in their raw forms can lower your intake of refined sugars and healthy fats, which can otherwise contribute to weight gain and even prevent you from losing excess pounds.

Prevents Heart Disease

A dietary pattern heavy on raw fruits and veggies but low on unhealthy saturated or trans fats and salt offers the best way to keep your cholesterol levels in control.

It can also reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart diseases linked to hypertension.

One study has revealed that the raw food diet could help to lower the cholesterol and triglyceride levels in patients who have severe hyperlipidemia.

A raw food diet reduces the intake of fats or cholesterol thus keeping the cholesterol levels in check.

It can inhibit the development of cholesterol plaques in the blood vessels. This can prevent the blockages in the arteries in the heart and brain thus reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, respectively.

Controls Diabetes

Eating a raw food diet could be beneficial for patients with diabetes.

There is evidence suggesting that a raw food diet could improve diabetes control by reducing the intake of refined sugars added to cooked or baked foods such as cakes, pastries, ice creams, and chocolates.

This effect of the raw food diet can reduce your blood sugar level and prevent the complications of diabetes.

Moreover, the lower sugar intake associated with the raw food diet can also promote weight loss and prevent fat gain.

This can reduce inflammation and thus, inhibit the development of insulin resistance, which is a common cause of type 2 diabetes.

Improves Brain Health

A raw food diet might positively impact brain health and support a person’s cognitive performance.

Studies have also revealed a possible improvement in the mental health of patients with depression from consuming raw foods.

It has been found that eating raw fruits and veggies can create a favorable balance of hormones in the nervous system. It would improve the secretion of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin in the brain while reducing the secretion of stress hormones like cortisol.

Improving the balance of hormones in the brain can relieve the symptoms of depression and promote positive moods and overall life satisfaction.

The favorable changes in the hormonal balance in the brain may also promote the cognitive functions of the brain, and thus, improve memory, attention span, and focus of the person.

Health Risks of a Raw Food Diet

Although a raw food diet can offer several benefits, it also comes up with a few risks.

It is important to be aware of the cons associated with the raw food diet in order to ensure you can make the right dietary choices.

Here are some health risks linked to the consumption of a raw food diet.

Increased Risk of Infections

Raw or unpasteurized milk often harbors harmful pathogens. Hence, milk, when consumed in raw forms, can put you at a risk of infection.

Also, cooking and heating vegetables can result in the destruction of bacteria and other pathogens present in them.

When these vegetables are consumed in their raw forms, the bacteria gain entry into the body causing serious infections.

Irregular menstruation

Following a raw food diet strictly may cause the menstrual periods to stop, possibly because of insufficient calories and weight loss.

The condition, known as amenorrhea, is also linked to other serious complications such as uterine cancer.

Toxic Impact

Some fruits and vegetables, when eaten raw, can cause toxic effects. For example, raw taro, cassava, and rhubarb may contain compounds that are harmful to health.

Similarly, raw potatoes that have sprouted or turned green may contain a toxin called solanine, which could cause harm even consumed in a small amount.

These facts point to the need to eat these vegetables in cooked forms instead of consuming them in their raw forms.

Difficult to Digest

Eating a raw food diet can restrict your choice of foods because most foods need to be cooked or processed to be edible.

Cooking improves the digestibility of foods while also making it easier for the body to break them down and absorb the nutrients from them.

So, the body may lose some nutrients if the food is eaten in its raw form.


A raw food diet is associated with several health benefits. It can prevent the loss of nutrients that occurs due to heating, cooking, or the processing of foods, and thus, improve the overall nutritional profile of your diet.

However, the human body needs both raw and cooked foods as both of these provide unique health benefits. Eating only raw foods might deprive you of certain food groups and also put you risk of infections.

Hence, being aware of the pros and cons of a raw food diet is important to be able to make the right dietary choices.

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