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Enzymes, Vitamins, Alfalfa Sprouts: Is Raw Food Really Good For You?

Updated on November 6, 2015

If you have any interest in health and nutrition then you’ve almost certainly already heard of the raw food diet, or possibly the high-raw diet. If not these, then you’ll be familiar with juice fasts, detoxes or liver flushes. But what are these strange concepts all about, and why are people so obsessed with them?

Tropical Fruits - Original Oil Painting

Credit: wizan Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Credit: wizan Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Enthusiasts for the raw food diet will tell you that human beings are naturally designed to eat only, or primarily, raw foods. They believe that thousands of years of human development and adaptation to eating cooked foods are merely the blink of an eye in evolutionary timescales, not nearly long enough for our alimentary systems to truly adapt. I do wonder about this: it makes me think of the Henry Rollins DVD 'Talking From The Box'1 in which he reminisces about working in a pet shop as a kid. He would send people off with their new rabbit pets, and strict injunctions about not feeding the bunnies raw carrots as their highly selectively bred digestive systems couldn't cope with raw foods and it would make them sick. Are we really less developed than fancy breeds of rabbit, and all able to subsist on an unfired stone-age diet? Or, considering all the 21st century comforts we've grown used to, are we the equivalent of fancy, soft-living pure-breeds who would be hard put to it to extract sufficient nutrients from raw turnip and sashimi?

Many raw foodists – but not all – are also vegans. The two need not necessarily co-exist, and some raw foodists advocate the consumption of raw meats, eggs and dairy products. This is a prospect I find a little alarming, possibly more due to our knowledge of commercial farming practices in relation to livestock than to inherent or automatic dangers.

Is Raw Food Good Or Bad For You?

There are dangers to some raw foods apart from possible bacterial concerns relating to animal products. I'm certainly not going to be eating raw soaked kidney beans in a hurry, although I have eaten certain pulses raw and sprouted e.g. pea and lentil sprouts. Really you need good information and medical advice regarding any major change of diet, especially one as drastic as a totally raw food diet. Seek appropriate information when adding new items and products to your diet, or preparing them in unaccustomed ways!

Is there any hard science behind the raw foodist viewpoint? Raw foodists view raw food as providing more available and digestible nutrients than cooked food, often describing the protein in cooked foods as ‘denatured’. However, this has been disputed by other sources, including by those who point out that some nutrients are actually more available to the body from cooked food, e.g. the lycopene (a betacarotenoid) in tomatoes is better absorbed from tinned tomatoes or tomato puree than from raw tomatoes.2

Raw foodists will also say that a raw food diet is more natural to human beings than a cooked food diet – that our teeth and digestive systems are uniquely designed to cope with raw food. This presupposes, however, that ‘natural’ is automatically a synonym for ‘good’ and ‘preferable’. Living in caves or makeshift shelters might be deemed more natural than bricks and mortar, but I am not in a great hurry to go out and camp in the woods, nor to cease the use of the devil’s tools such as mobile phones and computers. Antibiotics aren't exactly natural, despite their biological source, but I prefer to use them rather than to have died of a kidney infection a few years back.

I don't dispute that some people may do very well on a raw food diet: but digestion is a thing that varies so much from person to person that it's not surprising if a diet that suits one person might not prove so beneficial for another. Having tried it once, I won't be in any hurry to go back to a raw food diet, as it made me sicker than I can ever remember being in my life (and that's without any animal food component). I lost all normal hunger and had no sense of my body's nutritional requirements through desire for particular foods until I returned to eating cooked food.

What about going on a partially raw diet? Well, aren't we all on that already? (Except a couple of friend's kids I know who won't touch fruit even if you coat it in chocolate.) I suppose if it leads to the consumption of more fruit and vegetables then it could be a good thing in a roundabout way, but aiming for a specific ratio of raw to cooked food, rather than relying on taste, hunger and desire, seems a tad artificial and unnatural to me. However, whatever floats yer boat!

I had a friend who was very keen on juice fasts, fasting in general and eating raw, arguing from the position that it 'gave your liver a rest'. My answer to him was to ask, “How often do you give your brain a rest? Or your heart? And what do you think the result would be if you did?' He didn't have a good answer for that!

My own dietary philosophy is to eat a quasi-peasant style omnivorous diet, on the basis that if we weren't meant to try everything that's edible, it all wouldn't taste so good. And I'm sorry, but I'm not getting rid of my microwave any time soon.

Photo credit: wizan


1. Rollins, H. 'Talking From The Box'. Imago, 2001.

2. Bendick, A., Deckelbaum, R.J. 'Preventive Nutrition: The Comprehensive Guide for Health Professionals'. New York: Humana Press, 2010.

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    • eatingright profile image

      eatingright 7 years ago

      I like your sense of humor in your writing! Enjoyed reading it. Well-written hub. Thanks for sharing your take on the raw food diet. Thumbs up!