Disadvantages of raw diets

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

In my last column, we discovered some of the benefits of various raw food diets. Today, I’d like to share with you some of the profits and disadvantages of this approach to eating. At first glance, raw diets are low in caloric content, high in fiber, and based primarily on healthful whole foods. That sounds great…right? Not so fast. While there is a definite presentation of healthful perks related to this eating method, there are drawbacks associated with each raw-type eating plan. Let’s examine some of these diets and their possible hindrances.


Since the bulk of foods consumed on the raw vegan diet is fruits and vegetables, some folks on this eating plan may not take in enough calories. That might seem great to those trying to lose a few pounds, but caloric deprivation can present a real problem, especially for older individuals. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that decreased body mass index (BMI) and malnutrition in older adults can contribute to frailty and high mortality rates. 

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Those who follow the raw vegan diet usually don’t get enough high-quality protein. Remember, a complete protein and a high-quality protein are not the same. Many plant-based proteins are incomplete, but that’s just half the story. Even a “complete” plant-sourced protein simply means that all 20 amino acids are present. Animal-based proteins are considered to be high-quality. That means animal proteins have a different amino acid profile than that of plant-sourced proteins, and animal proteins contain more of the “essential” amino acids we need.  


Like the raw vegan diet, those on the raw vegetarian diet may not be taking in enough calories. Also, both these diets are associated with low vitamin and mineral levels. Vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium are primarily animal-based nutrients in concentrations suited for proper nutrition. Lacto-vegetarians who consume milk-based items should not indulge in raw milk or raw milk products, as they can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as brucella, campylobacter, and cryptosporidium. Ovo-vegetarians shouldn’t eat raw eggs either, as they contain a glycoprotein called avidin. This protein binds to biotin making it unavailable for use by the body. Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is crucial for cellular growth and is necessary for healthy hair, skin, and nails. Cooking eggs deactivates avidin. 


Those who follow raw omnivorous may experience many of the same drawbacks as those who practice raw vegan and vegetarian diets, with the added danger of consuming raw meats which may contain harmful bacteria like salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, and E. coli. Bacteria are destroyed when meats or meat products are cooked to proper temperatures. This eating approach can also be quite expensive, as some raw food diets tend to avoid non-organic foods. 


Raw diets can also be problematic in that they may cause an unhealthy relationship with food. These diets eliminate foods that are otherwise healthful, such as cooked beans, grains, and vegetables. In fact, did you know some foods are more healthful and nutritious when cooked? For example, cooking asparagus boosts its cancer-fighting vitamins A, C, and E capacity by 16-25%. Cooked tomatoes and tomato products supply significantly higher levels of the powerful antioxidant lycopene than raw ones. Cooked mushrooms have higher levels of potassium, niacin, and zinc than raw ones (mushrooms are classified under the kingdom fungi, but for purposes of discussion, we’ll refer to them as vegetables). Cooking carrots enhances their beta-carotene levels.       


Also, cooking some foods can be crucial to proper digestion. The action of cooking food breaks down fibers, making it easier for the body to digest and absorb nutrients as well as generally improving food’s taste and aroma.


Some variations of raw food diets reduce or eliminate salt and oils, reducing the amount of essential sodium and healthful fats in the diet. The body requires small amounts of sodium to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when blood sodium levels fall below the normal range. 


My recommendation is to use moderation. Raw foods certainly have their place and should be incorporated into every diet, but cooking certain foods not only compliments their nutrient value, but makes them easier to enjoy and digest. 


David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com or text to 864-494-6215.