The raw foods diet is based entirely on the consumption of uncooked foods as a majority of an individual's entire nutritional intake. A person who consumes a raw foods diet is sometimes referred to as a raw foodist. Followers of the raw foods diet may eat fresh or dehydrated vegetables, nuts, and fruits, as well as sprouted seeds, grains, and legumes. Some individuals may also consume unpasteurized dairy products or raw eggs, fish, and meat. Pasteurization heats foods and liquids to about 63°C (145°F), which is over the food temperature limit observed by most raw foodists.
The primary rationale behind following the raw foods diet is that the enzymes present in uncooked foods become inactive when heated. Raw foodists believe that these uncooked food enzymes aid digestion, thereby potentially allowing the body to devote more of its energy towards other bodily processes, such as immune system functioning.
The publication of Leslie Kenton's book, "The New Raw Energy" in 1986 popularized the consumption of sprouts, fresh vegetable juices, and seeds as a dietary option.
Advocates of the raw foods diet claim that eating uncooked foods may help to prevent a variety of diseases, including diabetes, fibromyalgia, acne, migraines, back pain, neck and joint pain, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypoglycemia, colitis, diverticulitis, yeast infection, arthritis, allergies, depression, anxiety, mood swings, heartburn, gas, bloating, skin diseases, obesity, chronic fatigue, and various types of cancers. Many adherents believe that in addition to destroying enzymes, which assist in digestion, cooking food may also change the chemical structure of foods in a way that makes them more toxic.
There is a lack of available high quality clinical trials evaluating the raw foods diet for any medical condition. The statements by advocates about cooked foods being toxic or more difficult to digest are largely theoretical.
An increasing amount of medical research encourages Americans to consume a larger amount of fruits and vegetables, as well as lower fat sources of protein, such as from soy and beans. The methods used by many who follow the raw foods diet, such as growing and preparing foods at home, may serve as an inexpensive and convenient way to keep nutritious foods on hand.
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Although fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and salads may be easy to prepare, many raw foodists rely on sprouted seeds, grains, or legumes for variety and nutrition, and this may comprise the majority of a raw foodist's diet. Usually, large quantities of sprouts are grown, which are harvested after a few days. Having enough sprouts depends on the individual's dedication to growing, harvesting, and storing sprouts at appropriate times. A majority of the seeds used for sprouts are from plants in the Brassica (mustard) family, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, and mustard greens.
Because sprouts are usually consumed in large amounts, most raw foodists grow them at home. The seeds may be grown in trays, and the resulting sprouts are cut off above the soil level and consumed. Whole, unpasteurized seeds may also be placed in a jar with a lid that allows water to drain. The jar is filled with water and then set at a 45 degree angle tilt, so that water can drain out. The seeds are rinsed twice or more daily until small shoots emerge. At this point, the shoots are kept in the refrigerator until they are ready to be eaten.
Many raw foodists believe that all nuts should be soaked overnight in order to remove the enzyme inhibitors that prevent seed germination. In the absence of these enzyme inhibitors, it is thought that the vitamins and minerals of the nuts are released in the body for easier digestion.
Carbohydrate sources such as rice and grains must be also soaked and rinsed overnight, sometimes up to a week, before they are available to eat. Soaking is thought to activate enzymes in food and make food more soft and palatable.
The raw food diet forbids the heating of foods beyond a very low temperature. This temperature varies among raw food adherents from 92ºF to 118°F (33°C to 48°C). Any cooked foods or foods prepared from a cooked ingredient using temperatures higher than these are unacceptable. Pasteurized foods are also considered unacceptable because they have been heated to about 63 °C (145 °F).
Some raw foodists consider freezing as an acceptable method of food storage. Nuts and seeds that are not intended for sprouting may be stored using this method. While heating foods is thought to inactivate food enzymes, freezing the foods is not thought to alter these enzymes.
Raw foodists vary their diet with the use of blenders, food processors, and food dehydrators. For instance, crackers may be created by blending wheat sprouts and then putting them into a food dehydrator. The consistency of food is varied by blending and very fine chopping.
Although some raw foodists are vegans because they consume no animal products, others do consume dairy. Unpasteurized dairy foods, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, are considered acceptable because they have not been heated, and the enzymes present have not been inactivated. These products may be available in some health food stores; other raw foodists buy these products from local farms.
Some raw foodists choose to consume raw eggs, fish, and meat. These are usually prepared by a process known as ceviche, where the food is soaked in lemon juice for a period of time to cook the food without raising its temperature. The acidity of the citrus juice causes the proteins in the food to unfold so that they are no longer active. As a result, the food is broken down and more palatable, without actually being cooked.
Most mainstream beverages, such as soda, pasteurized juice, and coffee are unacceptable for raw foodists. Coconut milk and homemade juice are frequently consumed because these beverages are not typically pasteurized.
Following the raw foods diet may require a significant amount of planning and preparation. Most mainstream eating establishments and groceries do not offer foods that would be acceptable to a raw foodist.