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A raw food diet consists of uncooked and unprocessed, and often organic foods.

The term "raw food diet" is primarily used to describe a diet consisting fully of raw vegan food, including raw fruits, raw vegetables, and nuts, seeds. Some people interpret raw food diet in different ways, and include in their diet raw (unpasteurized) dairies and raw meat or raw eggs. A well-known example of a diet that is raw and includes animal products is paleolithic diet. This latter type of diet is

Living Food Diet

typically referred to as a "raw animal foods" (RAF) diet.

The exact definition of raw food varies, but the general consensus is that a raw food is a food that has not been altered by any method that would change its basic chemical structure. The most common methods of altering foods are through cooking, freezing, or the use of chemical preservatives, which raw foodists eschew.

A raw foodist is a person who consumes primarily raw food. Most raw foodists believe that the greater the percentage of raw food comprises the diet, the greater the resultant health benefits.

Live foodist or living foodist are alternative terms for a raw foodist, as the food is full of life energy.

Advocates claim that a decrease of raw foods in our diet has caused an increase in the incidences of many forms of malaise, including asthma, allergies, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, learning disabilities, depression, candida, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions.


Proponents of a raw food diet believe it dates to prehistoric eras, before humans discovered fire. Those who believe that prehistoric humans were largely non-carnivorous vegetarians believe that the human digestive system is largely configured to eat a mainly raw, mainly vegetarian diet, while those who believe their primitive ancestors to have been chiefly hunters, believe the opposite to be true. There are as many shades of variance between the two positions as there is historical evidence for a wide range of hunter gatherer activities, ranging from a low intake of animal product, such as with some tribes of Australian Aborigines, to an almost exclusively meat and fish diet, as was the situation for the Inuit peoples of the Arctic coasts. Incidentally, both the Aborigines and the Inuits were raw foodists, to a certain extent. The Aborigines would eat certain animal products raw to obtain maximum nutritional benefit, and the Inuit would eat much of their meat and fish raw.

Artturi Virtanen (1895 d. 1973), a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, is often quoted as supporting a Living Foods diet. He showed that enzymes in uncooked foods are released in the mouth when vegetables are chewed. These enzymes interact with other substances, notably the enzymes produced by the body itself, to produce maximum benefit from the digestion process. This research was unrelated to his Nobel Prize.

It gained more prominence throughout the 1900s, as proponents such as Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton claimed that a diet of raw fruits and vegetables could cure various diseases. Raw food diets continued to exist as radical off-shoots of the vegetarian diet until 1975, when computer programmer-turned-nutritionist Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival Into the 21st Century. It is considered to be the first modern publication that deals with a raw food diet.

The publication of Leslie Kenton's book 'The New Raw Energy' in 1984 was the first book to popularise the types of food, such as sprouts, seeds and fresh vegetable juices, that are now moving into the mainstream. The book brought together a lot of research into instances of raw foodism and how it has been used to support health, from the sprouted seed enriched diets of the long lived Himalayan Hunza people to Max Gerson's raw juice cure for cancer. The book advocates a diet where 75% of food is taken raw to prevent degenerative diseases, retard ageing, provide enhanced energy and make people feel more emotionally balanced.

The raw food lifestyle has gained some recent acceptance, though not all nutrition experts condone it. Restaurants catering for this way of eating have opened up in many cities, and numerous all-raw cookbooks have been published. It has also received celebrity endorsements from entertainers like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, who have been known to follow a raw food diet.

Invididuals such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Gillian McKeith and Professor Colin Campbell (see the China project) advocate diets high in raw, unprocessed foods. They claim that social trends over the past several centuries that have diverged from this diet, together with increasingly less active lifestyles, have contributed in large measure to the development and continued increase of noncommunicable diseases and obesity-related illnesses which are prevalent in developed countries. These include cardiovascular illnesses, some cancers, diabetes and some auto-immune diseases.

Proponents of raw animal foods such as Aajonus Vonderplanitz advocate the consumption of fatty meats, suet, and unpasteurized whole milk and cream. Others, such as Guy Claude-Burger, promote the concept of "instinctive nutrition" which explicitly excludes dairy and allows only raw meats, fruits, and vegetables.


Food preparation
Most foods in raw food diets are simple in preparation, and can be eaten immediately. These include fruit and salads. Other foods can require considerable advanced planning to prepare for eating. Rice and some other grains, for example, require sprouting or overnight soaking to become edible.

Preparation of gourmet raw food recipes usually call for a blender, food processor, juicer, and dehydrator. Depending on the recipe, some food (such as cakes) may need to be dehydrated. These processes, which emulate cooked food, are lengthy: some adherents of the diet consequently dispense with these foods, feeling that there is no need to emulate the non-raw diet.

Care and medical consultation is required in planning a raw food diet, especially for children. There is little research on how to plan a nutritionally adequate raw food diet, especially for children: however, dietitians are usually willing to provide professional advice.

The Tree of Life Foundation in Arizona , which advocates a vegan raw food diet, is currently conducting a survey of babies and children on a diet of 75% raw food or more. Raw foodists claim that with sufficient food energy, essential fatty acids, variety and density, people of all ages can be successful at eating raw foods.


Beliefs and research
Those who follow this way of eating generally believe that:

  • Raw foods contain enzymes which act as catalysts to regulate the digestive process in the body.
  • Heating (or freezing) food degrades or destroys these enzymes in food.
  • Food without enzymes is thought to lead in the longer term to toxicity in the body, to excess consumption of food, and therefore to obesity.
  • Living and raw foods are thought to usually have much higher nutrient values than foods which have been cooked.
  • Raw foods contain bacteria and other micro-organisms that stimulate the immune system and enhance digestion by populating the digestive tract with beneficial flora.

A main idea behind raw food diets is that cooked food is supposedly toxic. Another idea is that cooked food is less digestible than raw food because cooking destroys the enzymes contained in food. One source for this belief is the work of Artturi Virtanen, a biochemist.

Another source sometimes mentioned is Dr. Edward Howell, an Illinois physician born in 1898, who was interested in how enzymes played a role in a person's diet. He concluded that eating cooked food leads to health problems. In 1985, at the age of 87, Howell published a book called "Enzyme Nutrition". Some raw food diet proponents believe that Howell's book gives evidence that the pancreas is forced to work harder on a diet of cooked foods and that food enzymes are just as essential to digestion as the body's self-generated enzymes.

Additional research was conducted by Dr. Francis Pottenger in 1932, who conducted an experiment to determine the effect of cooked foods in cats. For 10 years, Pottenger fed half of the cats a diet of raw foods, the other half a diet of cooked foods. At the conclusion of his study, he reported that the cats who were fed raw foods appeared to be in better health. In addition, the exclusively cooked diet led to congenital problems including birth defects and deformities, after several generations. Research was also conducted by Dr Weston A Price as embodied by the Weston A. Price Foundation and The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.

In 1930, under the direction of Dr. Paul Kouchakoff, research was conducted at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry in Lausanne , Switzerland . The effect of food (cooked and processed versus raw and natural) on the immune system was tested and documented. It was found that after a person eats cooked food, his/her blood responds immediately by increasing the number of white blood cells. This is a well-known phenomena called 'digestive leukocytosis', in which there is a rise in the number of leukocytes (white blood cells) after eating. Since digestive leukocytosis was always observed after a meal, it was considered to be a normal physiological response to eating. No one knew why the number of white cells rises after eating, since this appeared to be a stress response, as if the body was somehow reacting to something harmful such as infection, exposure to toxic chemicals or trauma.

Around the same time Swiss researchers at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry found that eating raw, unaltered food did not cause a reaction in the blood. In addition, they found that if a food had been heated beyond a certain temperature (unique to each food), or if the food was processed (refined, chemicals added, etc.), this always caused a rise in the number of white cells in the blood. The researchers renamed this reaction 'pathological leukocytosis', since the body was reacting to highly altered food. They tested many different types of foods and found that if the foods were not refined or overheated, they caused no reaction. The body saw them as 'friendly foods'. However, these same foods, if heated at too high a temperature, caused a negative reaction in the blood, a reaction found only when the body is invaded by a dangerous pathogen or trauma.

Anthropologist Peter Lucas of George Washington University in Washington DC, US, was reported in NewScientist magazine on 19/2/2005 as having the theory that man being the only mammal with chronic poor dentition, and the only mammal to significantly process and cook his food, are causally linked. He believes that the adoption of food processing and cooking reduced the size of our jaw through evolutionary processes, but not the size of our teeth. Hence the expanding science of orthodontics. Conversely, the research suggests that a diet of unprocessed and uncooked food is more likely to promote health

Lucas is not the first anthropologist to observe physical degeneration with increasing use of food processing technology. In a 1936 work entitled Nutrition And Physical Degeneration, dentist Weston A. Price observed dental degeneration in the first generation who adopt diets high in processed and cooked foods. Price claimed that the parents of such first generation children had excellent jaw development and dental health, while their children had malocclusion and tooth decay.

Raw food proponents claim that a raw food diet consisting of enzyme-rich raw foods will prevent many health problems, promote health and strengthen the immune system. The benefits of the diet are said to include: a stable body mass index; clear skin; more energy; and minimising a range of common illnesses, from the flu to obesity-related illnesses.

Foods cooked at high heat contain toxins not found in raw or boiled foods, such as acrylamide, benzopyrene, and methylcholanthrene. There is no consensus as to whether these toxins introduced by high-heat cooking methods are cause for alarm, and the World Health Organisation is sponsoring continued research.

German research [Nutr Cancer. 2003;46(2):131-7] on the effects of raw food on cancer incidence, has shown significant benefits in reducing breast cancer risk when large amounts of raw vegetable matter are included in the diet. The authors attribute some of this effect to heat labile phytonutrients.


Raw food movement
Leading proponents of the raw food movement currently include Aajonus Vonderplanitz, Doug Graham, Nora Lenz, Victoria Boutenko, Jinjee and Storm Talifero, Gabriel Cousens, Brian Clement, Shazzie and Alissa Cohen. They have led thousands of people to become more aware of raw foodism through their lectures, books and web sites.

Early proponents include Ann Wigmore (founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute), Arnold Ehret (author and authority on fasting), A Hovannessian and Norman Walker (who advocated the consumption of juices). It's reported that Walker lived to 118 and died in an accident. Guy Claude-Burger, a controversial figure in France , was an early advocate of a raw animal foods diet, and who coined the term anopsology to describe his system.

The principles of Natural Hygiene promote a mainly raw vegan diet. Famous Natural Hygienists have included TC Fry, Herbert Shelton, Harvey Diamond and Anthony Robbins.

Raw foodists argue that since no other animals cook their foods, and (according to some) they don't get the extensive degenerative diseases that humans do, it is therefore not logical to cook or process food. Some argue, however, if it were true that animals do not get degenerative diseases, this could be because animals in the wild are usually killed by predators before the diseases would manifest themselves.


Raw food diets have been criticized in the mainstream medical community as being too harsh and restrictive. Critics of the diet argue that a raw food diet requires special care to include the recommended amounts of several important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin B-12 and protein, unless raw animal products are included. They say that any restrictive diet can lead to nutritional deficiency, if adopted for an extended period of time without special attention to essential nutrients.

Much of the research advocating raw food diets has been criticized. Many raw foodists argue that the cooking process changes the enzyme profile of foods in such a way as to render them less nutritious or even actively toxic. It should be noted that enzymes are a specific subset of proteins However, food enzymes are rarely utilized in their natural form since they are destroyed or significantly altered during the digestive process. Additionally, the nutritive potential of some foods are only fully realized by cooking. This would include the lycopene in tomatoes, beta carotene in carrots, and much of the caloric content of starchy foods such as corn, potato, manioc, palm, and casava. It is also argued that humanity has been cooking for such a long time that the human body can hardly be ill-adjusted to cooked food. Fossil evidence indicates that humans have been cooking food since before modern homo sapiens even evolved. Evolutionary evidence indicates that the musculature and bone structure of the jaw evolved away from forms most suited for eating raw foods. As such the evidence, these critics would say, indicates that modern humans have actually evolved to eat cooked foods. Furthermore, many claims of enhanced "enzyme activity" ignore the vast and specific roles that enzymes play in physiological processes.

Many have been drawn to the raw food craze as a means to achieve dramatic weight loss, especially since the advent of Gillian McKeith’s UK TV programme ‘You are what you eat’. However, the proscription of saturated fat, alcohol and refined carbohydrates amongst others is shared with most other leading diet plans and it is therefore difficult to assess any resultant weight loss after following a diet of this nature. The main point of difference seems to be in the specific foods the diets prescribe; foods which are taken anyway from a (common for most diets) list of whole grains, meat, beans, seeds and fresh fruit and vegetables all known to be good for health.

In response, advocates point to studies which show that some nutrients in food are either damaged or made indigestible through the heating involved in cooking (see McKeith 2000 p 165 ff for references). Some respond that since cooking does not create any nutrients, claims that raw food eating causes deficiency are illogical. However, these claims ignore the fact that cooking is necessary to make the nutrients available or more digestible from some foodstuffs. They also assert that since no other species cooks its food, it is impossible to estimate how long it would take to adjust to such a diet, or even to know whether it is possible. Unfortunately, this ignores the large amount of fossil evidence which clearly shows the change in human dentition and its releation to the controlled use of fire. Some will then point to the above referenced Pottenger feline nutrition study which demonstrated that cooked food caused long term health problems in cats. However, this study was conducted in the 1930s before the nutritional needs of cats were understood - especially the role of taurine in the diet. Since cats cannot synthesize taurine they must get taurine from the diet. As heat does render taurine inactive cooked food without taurine supplements can cause health problems in cats. However, this finding does not apply to humans as humans, and most other animals, make the own taurine.


As the consumption of raw foods gains popularity, some unsafe foods have occasionally entered human diets. The following should be consumed with caution:

Buckwheat greens, particularly if juiced or eaten in large quantities by fair skinned individuals. The chemical component fagopyrin is known to cause photosensitivity of the skin in animals and some serious human side effects have been reported anecdotally.

The following is only a concern for those on a raw animal foods diet:

  • Raw meat/fish/poultry/eggs: The heating to an adequately high temperature of animal products will normally destroy bacteria and parasites. It is therefore possible that eating a diet which includes raw meat/fish/poultry/eggs would run the risk of being infected. Raw eggs can contain many microorganisms, including salmonella. Wild animals have found methods of ridding themselves of or avoiding parasites; such as by swallowing certain leaves or just shifting their habitat over time. However, these do not lead to an immunity or resistance to parasites, as the conditions which cause them remain the same. Controversially, many raw animal foodists, whether Primal Diet adherents or other, believe there to be an intrinsic benefit attributed to the intake of various microorganisms, believing that the parasites serve a useful purpose in detoxifying dead, decaying or diseased tissues, and that they should be allowed to run their course.



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