Does A Raw Food Diet Work In The Long Run?
Raw food diets are becoming more popular, but I’m not sure the movement has succeeded in quieting its most persistent skeptics.
Its detractors are quick to point out the following drawbacks about the raw food regime:
- You don’t get enough protein
- You eventually become undernourished
- You’ll lack other vital nutrients like vitamin B, among other things.
Somewhat surprisingly, there aren’t too many long-term studies done on the health benefits of raw foodists. Surveys that rely on self-reporting show a very high level of satisfaction for people who stick with the diet. Their proponents are quick to point out that a raw food diet shields you from most of the drawbacks of the western diet and insist it’s the best way to consume the rich variety of micronutrients needed for long-term health.
That’s probably true. But do their detractors have a point?
Pros and Cons of the Raw Food Diet
By and large, the raw food diet consistently scores well for certain biological markers. Weight loss, plasma cholesterol, plasma carotenoids, and plasma triglycerides consistently move in the right direction for people who adopt a fairly strict raw food regime over the long run. This isn’t surprising since a raw food diet by necessity consists mostly of raw fruits and vegetables, and the stuff in raw fruits and veggies is highly correlated with those markers!
The long term health benefits of caloric restriction are widely proven, and it’s likely that a raw food diet shoehorns you into that sort of eating regime. Of course, that might be an argument for caloric restriction moreso than a raw food diet.
People skeptical about the nutritional benefits of a raw food diet are likely to point out the nutrients that you don’t get by just eating raw plants, mainly vitamin B and protein. Admittedly, they might have a point.
Vitamin B and Protein Deficiency
This critique is especially true for Vitamin B intake. A long-term epidemiological study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that raw food diets are strongly correlated with high plasma levels of homocysteine, a biomarker that’s symptomatic of inadequate vitamin B intake. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition examined the health status of 200 people who followed a strict raw food diet and found that 38 percent of the participants had vitamin B-12 deficiency. Another study that studied only women found an even stronger result.
The argument about protein intake has less validity. Mostly because any food that isn’t processed has some protein content, and getting enough protein is simply a function of getting enough calories. There are also a variety of plant foods that are excellent sources of protein: spirulina, hemp, soy, etc.
However, there’s no reason the nutritional deficiencies of a raw food diet can’t be overcome with adequate supplementation. All sorts of B-12 supplements exist, and protein powders are easy to come by. A study published in the Annals of Nutrition found that most of the deficiences of the raw food diet go away if you take the necessary supplements (vitamin B, protein, probiotics).
It’s also worth mentioning that not all raw food diets are created equal. They’re often conflated together, but going raw is not the same thing as being vegan, and some raw fooders drink raw milk, certain types of sushi, and even beef and other conventional meats.
I honestly don’t know of any evidence that describes the long term health benefits of that particular type of raw food diet, but reason would dictate that they wouldn’t suffer from the traditional drawbacks of most raw food diets.
So Does A Raw Food Diet Work?
So can the raw food diet work? Yes!…..but it takes a certain amount of attention. That reason itself might be why most self-identifying raw-foodists love their diet. It has very unique benefits to it, and hence selects for people with pre-existing inclinations to try it. If nothing else, it requires a more delicate arrangement of lifestyle constellations to make it work. Enthusiasm, an ability to prepare food, and perhaps complimentary social networks are all necessary to be a successful raw foodist.
If you can weave that together, then you probably have a fantastic eating regime that provides benefits which extend beyond the plate.