The Raw Deal: Diet Or Ideology?


Feel like a diet change? If you’re looking to fuel your body with healthy food, attain a balanced diet that offers nutritional completeness as well as holistic benefits for disease prevention, there are many ways you can go. In fact, for every health guru, there seems to be an ideology behind the diet to try to justify why it should be followed.

A new trend that has been spotted in cutting edge, alternative restaurants of late has been rawism, wherein one’s diet is comprised of at least 75% raw foods. Those on the diet define raw foods as being unprocessed, or having been processed at under 118 degrees F. While many rawists consume only a vegan raw diet, there are others who will also consume raw dairy, seafood, or eggs as well.


Nutritionally, the wisdom behind the raw food diet is that cooking food breaks down many of the nutrients and minerals that our bodies need, rendering the food useless. There are also benefits to the digestive system, as rawists claim that raw foods are more easily digestible, enabling your body to use the energy from raw food more efficiently.

Another benefit of the raw diet is that it is a very good weight loss plan. Because a raw diet mostly consists of raw vegetables, fruits and sprouted seeds, it is automatically a very low fat diet (whatever fat there is in fruit is almost entirely “good” unsaturated fat). Also, because of the balance of water, nutrients, and fibre in raw foods, you often feel satisfied and energized eating smaller portions.

Because raw foods have more flavour than cooked foods, the use of added salt, sugar, spices or other processed condiments is reduced, thereby reducing the need to add processed foods that might affect your heart, organs, or digestive system adversely.

Because rawism is a fairly new phenomenon, there have been no studies on the long term effects of the raw diet. Most of the information in this article comes from anecdotal evidence among long-time practitioners of the diet. According to rawists, a raw food diet will give you more energy and provide better weight loss than a cooked-food diet.


If incorporating your diet intro your belief system is important to you, rawism, like many fringe diets, has a particular ideology that is attached to it. Disillusioned by our processed way of life, especially in so-called developed countries, early rawists wanted to go back to a more “instinctual” way of eating.

To them, this meant looking at what our ancestors ate and mimicking their diet as closely as we can to return our bodies to a “purer” form. To them, this meant looking at what our closest mammal relative, primates, consume in the “wild” and adopting that way of eating to promote good health.

While the ideology does have some outlandish and unprovable propositions (rawism will make you live longer, it is the “natural” and “proper” way to approach nutrition), some of the radicals propagate outright lies in order to push their ideology. For example, some radicals claim that cooked food is “poison” and that eating a raw diet will prevent all disease from entering your body, basing this on proclamations that animals do not suffer form disease and illness. This is obviously false.

Also false are claims that wild animals (specifically our primate relatives) never eat cooked food or living things. This is also false, as wild animals of all sorts eat what is available to them, including the inclusion of insects in primates’ diets, an important source of protein and vitamin B12.

Thomas E. Billings, a rawist of some 30 years, debunks many myths propagated about rawism on the website. He warns that there are many wrong reasons to try a rawist diet, and is very honest about the pros and cons of a raw food diet. His biggest concern, however, is ideological zealots. He warns that of the many reason to become a rawist , there are motives that are not as healthy.

Billings cites hatred or fear of mucus (an obsession with perceived “toxins” in the body); fear of protein or cooked foods and those who consume them; a desire to feel morally superior; those searching for a guarantee of perfect health; and finally, as a justification or cover for an eating disorder as unhealthy reasons to follow a rawist diet. He goes as far as to consider these reasons cause for concerns about mental wellness.

Transitioning To Rawism

It is suggested that when transitioning to a raw-food diet, you do so gradually. Any sudden changes in your diet tend to set your body off balance. It will not be as drastic if you already enjoy a largely vegetarian or vegan diet, however.

Once you have transitioned into rawism, make sure that you are getting as balanced a diet as possible. It will consist mostly of raw fruit and vegetables and fresh sprouts. If you can, choose organic foods, as non-organic means you will be consuming more toxins (like insecticides), that would normally be cooked off.

Include as well nuts and seeds (in shell when possible), young coconuts, sun-dried fruits (commercially dried fruit is often dried in ovens over 200 degrees F), dates, sea weeds, raw olives, raw honey, and frozen fruit, if fresh fruit availability is limited. Avoid or minimize salt, Braggs, Maple syrup, agave nectar, wine, apple cider vinegar, bottled oils, and frozen vegetables (they are usually blanched before frozen).

Many people find that certain vitamins and minerals are difficult to get from a vegan rawist diet. You may want to consider the following supplements to make sure your body is getting its nutrients: vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, chromium, and copper.

When you transition to a rawist diet, you might experience some common physical effects. One of the big ones is a detoxification process. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, diarrhea, acne, body odour, bad breath, and disrupted sleep (insomnia or overtiredness).

These should subside within a few weeks. If they do not, consult a doctor because there is something else going on.

Other side effects could include: weakness or fatigue (due to detox, B12 deficiency, sugar withdrawal); always feeling cold (this could be due to being underweight and not having enough body fat to keep you warm); hyperactivity; reduced sex drive; cravings for cooked foods and seasonings you are used to; and loss of weight.

Weight loss fine if you have the weight to lose, but make sure that you do not slip underweight. Being too thin is not healthy, and your health should be your primary motivation to be on a rawist diet, as with any nutritional regimen. If you are considering the rawist diet, whether it is in line with your nutritional or spiritual beliefs, always remember that good health is more important than dogma when it comes to staying healthy.

If you are underweight, or continue to experience ill effects for an extended period of time, work with your diet to provide the nutrients your body needs. It will tell you if you listen.

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