The raw food movement is more popular than ever, but there are a few things to consider before you step away from the stove entirely.
Raw food is hot right now (not literally). Raw food recipes are popping up everywhere, and raw food cafes are popular places to catch up for a cold-brewed coffee and an unbaked treat. Search #rawfood on Instagram and you’ll find millions of posts: gorgeous green smoothies, acai bowls, cacao mousses, decadent cakes and bliss balls.
Raw foodies swear by this way of eating, in which nothing is heated above 49 degrees C (120 degrees F). They believe cooking leaches enzymes and vitamins from food, diminishing its nutritional value. Raw food diets typically consist of lots of fruit and vegetables, sprouts, sprouted seeds and beans, dried fruit and nuts. Some raw foodists are also vegan, so they don’t eat any meat, dairy or eggs. Some eat raw fish and meat and/or unpasteurized dairy.
With its healthy and glowing image, it would be easy to assume a raw diet is nothing but health-promoting. And it certainly can be. Eating everything raw, by necessity, will likely mean a true plant-based diet, heavy on vegetables, fruit and nuts – for those of us not eating enough plants, this would be a step in a healthy direction. There is some evidence that eating vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli raw can have a greater anti-cancer benefit than eating them cooked. And over-cooking vegetables, especially boiling them, can mean a lot of useful nutrients stay in the cooking water.
Before you go completely raw though, be mindful of the potential downsides. Depending on what flavor of raw diet you adopt (which can include fruitarian and “sproutarian”, apparently) eating a solely raw diet could leave you short of essential nutrients.
By necessity, you’re likely to eliminate foods that can’t be eaten raw – including some healthy grains and legumes (although some can be eaten sprouted) and potatoes, inedible in their raw state. Fruit like rhubarb and quince would be off the menu too. In some cases, cooking a food can make useful compounds available to us. For example, lycopene – an extremely useful antioxidant – is much higher in cooked tomatoes than in raw ones.
Some raw foodists eliminate milk, which is briefly heated during pasteurization. That means cheese, yoghurt and other dairy foods are out too. And animal protein, some of which can be eaten raw (think sushi or tartare) can be on or off the list. If you’re eliminating all animal products,