Raw foodism, or “rawism,” is perhaps one of the less common approaches among today’s modern diet ideologies; nonetheless, it still has its fair share of expounders worldwide—Woody Harrelson being a well-known example.
In the following text I offer an overview of rawism, as well as a look at a number of its oft cited pros and cons.
Overview of Rawism
Indicative by moniker, raw foodists maintain diets of uncooked, unprocessed, and generally organic fare. Rawists come in three differentiae:
- Raw Vegetarians / Vegans: By far the most populated sect of rawists, Vegetarians and vegans who practice raw foodism maintain “raw” diets devoid of meat. Vegetarians augment their plant-based fare with dairy; vegans do not. Typical fare includes vegetables and fruits (usually organic), seaweed, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, and legumes—plus non-homogenized / pasteurized dairy, eggs, and honey for vegetarians.
- Raw Omnivores: Raw omnivores eat both plant and animal foods. Usual fare includes raw meat and organs from grass-fed animals, fish, non-homogenized / pasteurized dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruits (usually organic), nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, and many fermented items.
- Raw Carnivores: Raw carnivores typically stick to diets of uncooked fatty meats, organs, dairy, and honey. On rare occasion they will eat small quantities of fruits and vegetables.
Rawists eschew foods that are cooked beyond 104 degrees Fahrenheit, believing that heat degrades, and sometimes destroys, beneficial enzymes and bacteria. Additionally, they abstain from processed foods, maintaining that they often contain excitotoxins—undesirable agents that attach themselves to nerve cell receptors.
Dissimilar to diets like “Weight Watchers,” “The Zone,” etc., that include structured elements of calorie and or macronutrient measure, a raw foods diet is generally more “lifestyle” based. Rarely do rawists count calories; rather, they eat to satiety when hungry.
Frequently Cited Pros and Cons of Rawism
Any popular diet ideology comes with controversy. Doctors, zealots, members of social media, uniformed politicians—they all have their opinions. Rawism is particularly polarizing as it is a bit more alternative. Following are a few of its many cited pros and cons.
- Rawists’ abstention from processed foods is, ostensibly, very beneficial.
- A raw food diet has been shown to lower plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. An abstract posted on the Journal of Nutrition website entitled “Long-Term Consumption of a Raw Food Diet Is Associated with Favorable Serum LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides but Also with Elevated Plasma Homocysteine and Low Serum HDL Cholesterol in Humans” states the following:
“We investigated the effects of an extremely high dietary intake of raw vegetables and fruits (70 –100% raw food) on serum lipids and plasma vitamin B-12, folate, and total homocysteine (tHcy) … this study indicates that consumption of a strict raw food diet lowers plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations …”
- Anecdotal evidence suggest that raw foodism reliably leads to weight loss.
- Most of the foods predominant in a rawist’s diet have enormously high nutrient values.
- A raw food diet has been shown to lower HDL cholesterol (the good type of cholesterol) and raise tHcy (plasma total homocysteine). The aforementioned abstract, “Long-Term Consumption of a Raw Food Diet Is Associated with Favorable Serum LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides but Also with Elevated Plasma Homocysteine and Low Serum HDL Cholesterol in Humans,” states the following:
“… raw food diet lowers plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, but also lowers serum HDL cholesterol and increases tHcy concentrations due to vitamin B-12 deficiency”
- Certain nutrients are less bioavailable in foods that are not cooked. Lycopene in tomatoes, and carotenoids in carrots, are both more available when the foods are cooked.
- Many find a raw foods diet to be limiting from a standpoint of food selection. There are fewer foods on a rawists menu than there are on those of conventional dieters, and said foods are usually harder to source.
- While taste is subjective, many find the flavors of cooked foods preferable to their raw counterparts—particularly in the case of meat.
A raw foods diet has many positives. Undoubtedly it includes some of the healthiest fare on the planet. Unconventional as it is though, it will certainly continue to receive its fair share of condemnation. I am personally neutral toward it. I think its foods are excellent, but its push for “everything raw” is a bit radical in my opinion. I question the importance of trying to preserve a food’s enzymes for the purpose of aiding digestion. I have researched the subject extensively, and while I have come across a few studies that suggest there are synergies between some food enzymes and our digestive enzymes, I have yet to find any proof that nutrient-rich denatured (cooked) food digests any differently than foods with their enzymes intact.