Ask the Dietitian – Eating Raw Right
Q: What is a raw diet?
A: While the answer to that may seem simple, “foods that are not cooked”, successfully eating raw involves meeting several objectives.
1. Achieving nutritional completeness with regard to carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
2. Decreasing your vulnerability to inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
3. Limiting the intake of foods that may be counterproductive to eat in their raw state.
In order to meet these three important nutritional needs, the focus of a healthy raw diet needs to be on what variety of foods is available to you, rather than merely on eating food that have not been heated. In other words, it’s not just about eliminating, it’s about building up.
The “official” definition of raw varies within the raw community. Some people define it as food preparation that does not exceed a specific temperature threshold (anywhere from approx.104◦F to 118◦F), while others define it as food that is prepared without being heated, using techniques such as soaking, sprouting, juicing, dehydrating, fermenting, and pickling. What matters most is what definition works for YOU and having concrete plans for successfully acting on that definition.
While most raw foodists are also vegan, raw food technically includes foods like raw milk, sashimi, ceviche, and carpaccio.
Raw Lifestyle Expert Blythe Metz, one of Growing Naturals’ Gurus, has a very flexible definition of raw, in which she refers to the percent of your diet that is raw. While eating a 100% raw diet may be so challenging, costly, and impractical that it may not work, a 50% or 75% raw diet may be perfectly workable. The important thing is that you define for yourself what you would like to achieve, then map out practical steps for how you can get there.
Q: Should I be eating raw?
A: Whether or not you eat raw is a personal choice. If your choice to eat raw makes it easier to avoid processed foods that may be interfering with your health, and/or to eat more fruits and vegetables, then raw eating may benefit you. If you are already balancing other food sensitivities and medical conditions with nutritional considerations, increasing your consumption of raw food may be compatible, but a 100% raw diet may be counterproductive. It is important if you have medical conditions to work closely with someone supportive of your raw food choice who is also qualified to help you manage your medical condition to be sure the choice is promoting the best health possible for your individual situation.
Q: What are vegan protein sources that can be eaten raw?
A: See below for our Vegan Protein Chart
Q: What can I expect when starting or considering a raw food diet?
A: Depending on your planning, time, and level of devotion, following a raw food diet can fortunately lead to a slew of health benefits or unfortunately lead to severe undernourishment. The raw food diet can be very restricted especially if you are a highly dedicated enthusiast. Despite this fact, it should be known that by excluding or restricting certain foods from any diet, you risk the potential of eliminating some nutrients necessary for normal biological functioning. It is extremely important if this is the case, to ensure that all your nutrient needs are being met by consuming alternative sources of those nutrients. Remember, it’s not just about eliminating; it’s also about building up.
Q: What are the most common nutrient deficiencies seen in raw foodists?
A: The most common nutrient deficiencies seen in persons following a raw food diet are B12, calcium, iron, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Though not always, these deficiencies may be strongly associated to lack of protein intake (which would ordinarily be obtained from animal products) so it is imperative to take precautionary measures by consuming sufficient raw, plant-based proteins instead. B12, iron and vitamin D are commonly sourced in animal proteins, which are usually avoided by raw foodists. A B12 deficiency can lead to serious conditions like anemia and neurological problems.
Calcium and vitamin D are necessary for bone growth and formation. A decrease in bone mass may occur during the beginning stages of this diet change, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis development. Additionally, this diet is high in sulfur-containing amino acids, which can increase bone calcium loss. Some calcium-rich plant foods you may consider consuming are figs and bok choy. Vitamin D can be obtained from a vitamin D supplement or vitamin D-fortified foods, including soy milk, rice milk, some breakfast cereals, and margarine.
Omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can be obtained by eating plenty of flaxseed, walnuts and walnut oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Q: What foods should not be eaten raw?
A: Certain foods, most notably meat and poultry are not consumed raw by raw foodists. Although other protein sources like raw eggs and cheese made from raw or unpasteurized milk are consumed by some. The issue with raw foods like these is that they run a higher risk of food-borne pathogens.
Foods like eggplants, potatoes, certain mushrooms, beans and grains are not eaten raw because of texture, taste and some toxic and digestive issues. Cooking these foods improves taste, texture and allows the body to utilize its nutritional content properly. For example, cooking tomatoes improves their lycopene content—a powerful antioxidant. Cooking may also help to remove small quantities of naturally occurring toxins. In other words, some foods may be toxic in their raw form and not in their cooked form. For animal proteins especially, cooking at high temperatures ensures the death of harmful pathogens.
Q: What are the benefits of consuming a 50% vs. 75% vs. 100% raw food diet?
A: The benefits of consuming a 50, 75 or 100% raw food diet will be based on your individual beliefs and whether or not all nutritional needs are being met. If properly planned and followed, a raw food diet—being that it is heavily based on fruits and vegetables, will likely provide increased health benefits. Not only does this diet provide a good amount of fiber, raw produce is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and several antioxidants and phytonutrients. Though medical research on raw food diets is scarce, some studies have shown raw foodists do tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than other people.
Additionally, other studies do show that some raw foods contain more antioxidants than cooked versions do. However, the antioxidant capacity of foods is only measured in test tube experiments, which cannot explicitly ascertain the effects it will produce in a human body. The benefits of consuming a lower rather than a high level of raw food will also be affected by the types of foods consumed in the remainder of the diet as well as how well all nutrient needs are met.
Q: Why would a 100% raw food diet NOT be necessary or beneficial?
A: Though it may be possible to obtain all nutrients from a carefully planned raw food diet, a poorly planned 100% raw food diet may provide a plethora of antioxidants and phytochemicals, while lacking (as mentioned above) in essential nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, omega 3 fats, iron, and caloric needs in general. Protein needs may also fall below requirements especially for raw foodists not consuming animal products. A deficiency in any of these may impede in normal biological function and ultimately lead to poor health and/or decreased quality of life.
Considering the staples of a raw food diet (fruits and vegetables) are naturally low in calories, this may lead to higher, sometimes unsustainable levels of intake. In other words, it takes a greater quantity of produce alone to meet your energy (caloric) needs for the day. To experienced raw foodists this may not be a problem. To others, it may lead to under consumption of calories and excessive weight loss.
Q: Why is heating foods above this typical range (104-118 degrees F) not ideal?
A: Raw diets are based on the belief that raw foods are ideal for human consumption largely because they contain beneficial enzymes to improve health and aid in digestion. Since enzymes are sensitive to temperature, it is estimated that temperatures above 118 F will damage the beneficial enzymes as well as vitamins. Although enzymes are known to be denatured at excessive temperatures, at least for now there is limited evidence-based research which exists regarding the exact nutrient loss of specific fruits and vegetables after cooking or processing. Most research on fruit and vegetable consumption has focused on the abundance of health benefits from a plant-based diet regardless of it being in cooked or raw form.
It cannot be assumed that the extent of enzyme damage is 100% due to temperatures above 104-118 F. However, it should be noted that the duration and way foods are cooked determines the extent to which nutrients are retained or lost rather than temperature alone. In general, yes, the longer a food is exposed to heat, the greater the nutrient loss will be. Also, boiling will result in greater nutrient loss than steaming because the nutrients are likely to leech out into the water. Depending on the food, careful, minimized heat and water exposure is expected to limit nutrient loss to <15%.
Source Serving Size Grams Protein
Blackeyed peas 1 cup 14
Cannellini 1 cup 17
Cranberry bean 1 cup 17
Fava bean 1 cup 13
Garbanzo beans 1 cup 15
Great Northern 1 cup 15
Green peas 1 cup 9
Kidney beans 1 cup 15
Lentils 1 cup 18
Lima beans 1 cup 15
Mung beans 1 cup 14
Navy beans 1 cup 16
Pink beans 1 cup 15
Pinto beans 1 cup 14
Soybeans 1 cup 29
Split peas 1 cup 16
Amaranth 1 cup 7
Barley flakes 1 cup 4
Barley pearls 1 cup 4
Buckwheat groats 1 cup 5
Cornmeal 1 cup 3
Millet 1 cup 3
Oat groats 1 cup 8
Oat bran 1 cup 6
Quinoa 1 cup 7
Brown rice 1 cup 5
White rice 1 cup 4
Wild rice 1 cup 4
Rye berries 1 cup 7
Rye flakes 1 cup 7
Spelt berries 1 cup 6
Teff 1 cup 5
Triticale 1 cup 6
Wheat berries 1 cup 25
Cous cous 1 cup 6
Bulgur wheat 1 cup 5
Boca burger 1 13
White wave seitan 3 oz 31
Corn grits 1/2 cup 6
7 grain cereal 1/2 cup 8
Bob’s 8 grain 1/2 cup 8
Bob’s 10 grain 1/2 cup 12
Bob’s Kamut 1/2 cup 10
Bob’s Triticale 1/2 cup 8
Cream of Rye 1/2 cup 10
Kashi 1/2 cup 12
Mother’s Multigrain 1/2 cup 10
Quaker Oats 1/2 cup 10
Quinoa Flakes 1/2 cup 6
Roman Meal 1/2 cup 10
Wheatena 1/2 cup 10
Q: Can raw eating treat my diabetes and help me lose weight?
A: Numerous studies have reported that including raw fruits and vegetables in the diet helps to promote weight loss in obese persons. This finding has not specifically been studied in obese persons embarking on a raw food-only diet. Equally as important as how much weight is lost, is the type of weight that is lost. For example, a diet that is deficient in protein (because animal proteins have been eliminated but not adequately replaced by plant proteins), may promote muscle loss and increase total body fat. This shift has been associated with the development of insulin resistance and diabetes. Before embarking on a raw food diet, be sure you know how much protein is recommended daily for your body size, and have a good idea of where you can obtain these foods and in quantities they will need to be eaten in order to promote the right kind of weight loss.
Q: What kinds of food can I include in a raw diet?
A: In general, most fruits, vegetables, avocados, herbs, seeds, nuts, and grains are considered raw. In addition to Growing Naturals products, add beans, lentils, split peas, and nuts as your primary sources of protein. Other non-plant-based raw options include raw milk, cheese, fish, beef, prosciutto ham, and eggs. Cold pressed oils and raw oils, like olive and coconut oil are additional sources of fat. If a product is not fresh off of the farm, ask the manufacturer if raw preparation techniques were used.
If you do choose to include raw animal-based foods in your diet, exercise caution in storage and preparation in order to minimize the risk of food poisoning.
Q: Are there any foods I should avoid eating that are raw?
A: Several types of beans contain toxins in their raw state, and should be avoided. Raw alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms, and celery, in large amounts, may be toxic in their raw form. Protein foods, if not properly stored, can lay the groundwork for food poisoning.
Q: Are there supplements I should be taking?
A: The best way to know this is to monitor your nutritional status. You may want to get regular vitamin D and omega-3 testing, since these nutrients are challenging to get without seafood, dairy, and mushrooms in the diet. Vitamin B12, most commonly found in animal foods, is also a good assessment to get during your regularly scheduled physicals. If these are found to be deficient, then a supplement is not a bad idea. Calcium levels are a little bit more challenging to measure, but since bone density has been found to be lower than recommended in raw foodists, a supplement would be prudent.
About Our Dietitians
All of your questions are answered by Registered Dietitians (RD),some of whom are part of Growing Naturals’ Guru program or who volunteer to contribute to the website. They take turns answering questions most relevant to their area of expertise.
We thought we’d ask our Dietitians some of the most commonly asked questions about being a Dietitian and here were their answers.
Q: What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
A: The words “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. A dietitian is a Registered Dietitian (RD), which means the person has a degree, usually in Dietetics & Nutrition, thus their advice is based on current nutrition science.
Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts who have to follow specific educational and professional requirements from an accredited program to attain their title, including a bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree, completion of a Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) program, which includes classes in biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology plus a dietetic internship for a minimum of 900 hours. Before becoming an RD, they also have to pass a standardized national exam and complete continuing education credits to maintain their title — meaning RDs are required to stay abreast of current trends and issues, while Nutritionists do it voluntarily.
Q: What are the types of licensed Nutritionists?
A: They include:
– Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). Does entail specific educational requirements but does not require intensive clinical hands-on training.
– Certified Dietetic Nutritionist (CDN). Does involve specific educational and professional requirements to attain, but not all states require it to practice.
Q: Do Dietitians prescribe diets?
A: No. Registered Dietitians assess what a client’s/patient’s current dietary status is and provides help by counseling them how to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle .