Demi Moore’s hot figure in Charlie’s Angels rocketed raw food diet to mainstream attention. Similarly, Donna Karen, the women’s clothing designer, sings to the raw tune after losing 20 lbs. on a raw food diet. And it’s not only celebrities, even us normal folk shave pounds with raw food diet. Just look around the net and you’ll find amazing weight loss and transformation stories.
So, can you trade your pots and pans for a slim figure? Sit back as we venture into the world of carrots and apples, and take an objective look at raw food diet for weight loss.
What is raw food diet
To ‘go raw’ usually means to eat 75% or more of calories from raw foods. In most cases people eat fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds. Some people also choose to include raw dairy products, grains and animal foods into their diet.
Raw food diet makes pounds fly off your body – really?
When you browse raw food websites you are bound to come across with several miracle weight loss stories. Such as this one: Woman goes raw, loses more than half herself.
It’s true that many people will lose a lot of weight when they start eating more raw foods. One reason is that raw food diet is almost always a low calorie diet. Raw foods aren’t very energy dense. Most people are surprised how much fruits and vegetables you have to eat just to meet your energy requirements. When I was raw (yes, I’ve done this) I ate 15+ bananas, 2 pounds of vegetables, and many other fruits a day. So when people start they almost always eat much less than they should. And low calorie diet always leads to weight loss – even if it’s Twinkies diet!
Another reason is that raw food diet has very little salt. When you reduce salt intake your body releases a lot of water, and that shows up as weight loss.
Finally, many of the ‘success stories’ complained of digestive and bowel issues. This can mean that these people had problems eating grains. Raw food diet, in most cases, doesn’t contain grains. So it’s normal that these people would feel much better and lose a lot of weight after eliminating grains.
So yes, it’s true that many people will lose a lot of weight on a raw food diet. But it’s not because of any inherent ‘goodness’ of raw food diet. Take the woman who lost half of her when she went raw. She replaced meat, processed and junk food with fruits and vegetables. Is it any wonder she lost weight?
Weight loss happens because people drastically drop caloric intake and eliminate many of the less than healthy foods they normally ate.
Pros and cons of raw food diet
What’s good about raw food diet for weight loss:
- Nutrient dense. Raw food diet by definition is highly nutritious. You will be eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds – all of which are considered to be good for your health.
- Low in calories. Going raw almost always leads to reduction in caloric intake. Because you have to eat a lot of food to meet your caloric needs. Most people under eat without even realizing it.
What’s not so good about raw food diet:
- Incredibly difficult to stick to for more than a few months. Imagine going out with your friends and not being able to eat anything cooked. What would happen to your social life?
- Can lead to nutrient deficiencies in long term. I talked about this in the vegetarian diets for weight loss article. But the problem is even more pronounced with raw food diet as it’s far more restrictive. Luckily most people can’t stick to raw food diet for more than a month or two so this doesn’t become an issue.
- Can lead to psychological harm. Nobody likes failure. Raw food diet leads to more failures (falling off the wagon) than any other diet. Repeated failure can take a toll on your self-esteem; especially when you read about many high-profile success stories online. But the ugly truth is that those few success stories are built on mountains of failures.
- Excessively restrictive. The best weight loss evidence today says that moderation, rather than elimination, is the key to sustainable weight loss. Raw food diet requires elimination of most, if not all, of your comfort foods. Evidence clearly states that in most cases this leads to yo-yo dieting and weight regain as people fall of the wagon and gorge on their comfort foods.
- Raw food diet can lead to hormonal disturbances. One study found that 30% of long-term raw fooders partial or complete loss of menstrual cycle.
Raw food diet for weight loss: Bottom line
Nobody denies that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding caloric-dense junk food is good for health and weight loss. Doctors have been saying that for decades. Raw food diet is a low-calorie and nutrient-dense diet. Like any low-calorie diet, it will help you to lose weight, if you can stick to it.
Are you really ready to give up your comfort foods? Are you ready to make the necessary sacrifices to your social and family life to accommodate extremely restrictive raw food diet? If so, then by all means go for it.
When you objectively look at the pros and cons of raw food diet it doesn’t look like such a great idea. By all means eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds. They are very good for you. But there’s no evidence that including cooked food in your diet has any negative health effects. In fact it’s probably good for you because it widens your food choices (and thus diversifies your nutrient intake). Raw food diet is promoted more often for ideological than scientific and evidence-based reasons. So by all means eat healthy, but don’t let naïve ideologies restrict yourself too much. There is nothing you can get by eating all raw than you couldn’t get while also eating moderate amounts of cooked food. And that’s the raw truth.
Making overcooked claims about raw foods
Proponents of raw food diets have an unfortunate tendency to make absurd and outrageous claims. Without a decent understanding of human physiology, it may be hard to separate facts from fiction. So I took some time to answer some of the most absurd claims some raw food proponents make. As I mentioned before, there is a lot of good in eating raw foods, but you are better off avoiding many of the more ideological and absurd corners of the domain.
CLAIM: You can eat anything you want and as much as you want as long as it’s raw.
Energy balance is what determines whether you gain or lose weight, not whether you eat cooked or raw food. Your stomach doesn’t know/care whether the food is raw or cooked; it will digest it in either case.
CLAIM: Raw foods are full of enzymes that are the sources of life. Cooking destroys enzymes and thus renders your food dead.
Enzymes in plants are there to ripen them. All enzymes are destroyed by the stomach acid, and therefore all food is ‘dead’ after passing through the stomach. Humans make their own digestive enzymes, and enzymes in foods don’t play any role in digestion (as they are destroyed by the stomach acid).
CLAIM: Cooked food is dead and hard to metabolize, so it’s stored as fat in your body. Raw foods are full of life and easy to metabolize thus your body can use them for energy.
The body doesn’t absorb food. It absorbs amino acids (building blocks of proteins), fatty acids (building blocks of fat) and glucose and fructose (simple sugars all carbohydrates are broken down). Once the food passes the stomach and into the small intestine, where most of it is absorbed and metabolized, there is no difference between cooked and raw food.
The vast majority of people eat cooked food. Some of them are fat, and some of them are slim. Millions of people lose weight eating mostly cooked food. It’s absurd to claim that cooked food is stored as fat and raw food is used for energy. How much food is stored as fat depends on how much you eat.
CLAIM: Cooking makes food harder to digest and destroys nutrients. Therefore eating cooked food depletes your body from nutrients.
It’s true that cooking destroys some nutrients. But how much is destroyed depends on how you cook the food. The lower the temperature and the shorter the cooking time the fewer nutrients are destroyed. Furthermore, cooking improves availability of some nutrients. All things considered, there is not a significant nutritional difference in raw and steamed broccoli.
For the most part cooking makes food easier to digest. It starts breaking down tough fibers; for example, compare eating raw broccoli to cooked broccoli.
CLAIM: Cooking creates toxins that harm your body
It’s true that cooking does change the food to some degree. The higher the cooking temperature the more drastic the changes are. That’s why public health officials warn against charring meat as you BBQ it. But creation of toxins in less intensive cooking methods (such as steaming and short sautéing) is not really an issue; the body is very effective at cleaning these out. What raw food proponents fail to tell you is that cooking also deactivates many toxins and anti-nutrients in raw foods.
CLAIM: Because of health damaging effects of cooking humans die well before their potential lifespan of 120 to 140 years.
This one is outright science fiction. There are no documented cases of any raw fooders living beyond 100 years of age. There are many people eating cooked food who live longer than 100 years. Furthermore, two high-profile raw food and natural health proponents, TC Fry and Herbert Shelton, aren’t outstanding examples of wellness and longevity. TC Fry died at the age of 69 and Shelton was completely bedridden at the age of 77 by Parkinson’s disease, and died at the age of 90.
The lesson here is that humans are susceptible to disease and degradation. Eating healthy helps, but no amount of raw lettuce will give you outstanding longevity.