raw foods optimal diet

Is a Raw Food Diet the Perfect Human Diet?

When I first heard about the raw food diet it made perfect sense. I thought I had finally found the perfect human diet after years of being confused.

After all, every other animal in the wild eats only raw foods, though domesticated animals eat cooked foods and are often fat and unhealthy because of it.

I knew diet was a big part of the answer to my chronic fatigue and inflammation along with other lifestyle issues.

I had been searching high and low and tried many diets. I took to raw foods like a religion learning everything I could about raw foods and health and preparing raw foods recipes and trying out all kinds of new fruits and veggies I had not tried before.

I went to lectures and food prep classes and heard David Wolfe and a lot of other prominent speakers. I went to all the raw food restaurants in the Los Angeles area.

It is understandable to be drawn to a raw food diet when you are searching for answers to health concerns and want to be as healthy as possible. There are tons of anecdotal stories of miraculous healings with raw foods so what could go wrong as long as you supplement with B12?

But when you consider the size of the human brain versus the size of our digestive tract compared with other primates you get a different story. Look at human teeth, jaw, and mouth size compared with monkeys and apes and you begin to see that we have become adapted to some cooked and slightly processed foods.

Types of raw foods diets

There are many different raw foods diets and this diet draws perfectionists, those with eating disorders, as well as those who have chronic diseases. Also, spiritual people tend to want to eat as cleanly as possible. There are sensible people who are drawn to raw foods diets and some nut cases too.

But often the raw food diet is extreme. In many raw foods circles, the goal is to stay 100 percent raw no matter what.

High-fat gourmet raw vegan

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Gourmet raw foods recipes and restaurants to mimic the flavors and mouth-feel of cooked foods. These are raw high-fat junk-food recipes. They are sometimes healthier than the cooked versions with less saturated fat and more fiber. But a steady diet with too much of this stuff is not healthy in the long term.

Gourmet-raw was the first type of raw food diet I experienced. Lots of smoothies full of young coconut meat avocado and nuts along with fruits and greens and spices, nut loaves, nut, and grain patties, desserts, pies, cakes, cookies, and frozen treats made with cold-pressed oil, fruits, dates, nuts, and honey.

There were highly flavored dishes, raw “pizza” made with a crust of ground nuts, seeds, and soaked grains that had been dehydrated to mimic the texture of pizza dough. Everything is laden with nuts, avocado, and coconut meat, and cold-pressed oil to evoke the familiar flavors of cooked foods.

Healthy just because it’s raw?

The rationale was that even though these dishes are high in fat they were a way to encourage people to eat a healthier diet by creating foods that had familiar flavors and textures. As long as it was raw and organic it is considered to be healthier than cooked foods.

The idea was to eat a lot of salads and lighter fare as you transitioned to raw foods. But after trying these high-fat recipes along with lots of expensive superfoods, fresh plain fruits, and greens I got fed up. 

I lost about 40 pounds rapidly and was very skinny at around 105 lbs. at 5 ft 3, but I didn’t feel any better. So after about 6 months on this diet, I turned to low-fat fruitarian raw vegan and gained a lot of weight that I have not been able to take off since.

Super-foods raw vegan

A subgenre of this high-fat raw diet was David “Avocado” Wolfe and his superfood concoctions for longevity. Many of the ideas make sense but this diet is unbalanced and hard to maintain long term and leads to nutrient deficiencies and cost a fortune.

Wolfe sees superfoods like blue-green algae, goji berries raw cacao, and flowers as actual food groups that should be eaten every day.

I went to one of his talks way back in 2003 and was surprised at how chubby he was. Many of the raw food high fat gourmet cooks could not maintain a healthy weight on this high-fat diet.

Low-fat raw vegan: 80-10-10

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The 80-10-10 diet was developed by Doug Graham. The idea is to eat 80 percent whole raw carbohydrates in the form of higher-calorie fruits like tons of bananas as your main source of calories along with raw veggies. the diet consists of only 10 percent protein and 10 percent fats.

This 80-10-10 ratio is managed by staying away from all overt fats and getting your protein from the small percentage that is in the fruits and veggies naturally.

With the 80-10-10 diet, you have to blend a lot of fruits and veggies together to eat the huge volumes of food to get enough calories every day.

A new take on raw foods

Well-meaning but a bit strident, Doug Graham rebelled against the high-fat raw gourmet movement with a new take on raw. After his evening salad, he began eating tons of fruit and began to omit the high levels of nuts and seeds he had been eating to get enough calories.

If you are not planning to eat a diet high in raw fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, durian-fruit, and coconuts, eating a ton of fruit is the only way to get enough calories on a raw foods diet for most people.

Raw veggies are only around 100 calories per pound. Bananas are one of the few fruits that supply you with enough calories without having to eat 6 or 8 pounds of food per day.

Thirty bananas a day version of low-fat raw vegan

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Thirty Bananas a Day is a social media platform that took the Doug Graham, 80-10-10 theory to an extreme. This membership site is full of people who have chronic illnesses and have turned to raw foods to look for answers. There are also many athletes and insane extremists.

The site was developed by two Australians, Harley and his girlfriend Freelee the Banana Girl. She has since changed to a “high-raw diet” with some cooked whole foods. I am convinced that she has aged so poorly due to a lack of nutrients from abstaining from so many different foods over a long period of time.

The extreme low-fat diet with a lack of essential fatty acids and other beneficial nutrients from beans grain and cooked veggies may have done a lot of damage to some fruitarian eaters who often refuse to take any supplementation.

Ann Wigmore style living foods diet

Ann Wigmore was one of the original raw food gurus who specialized in “living foods” and cultured foods. Wigmore touted the power of wheatgrass juice and “rejuvelac”, which is this vile tasting drink made from fermented wheat berries.

Wigmore founded the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston and a Natural Health Center in Puerto Rico. She encouraged people to eat a lot of sprouted legumes and microgreens, which makes sense because these are extremely high in nutrients. But like other raw diets, her protocol leaves out so many beneficial cooked foods that it is hard to sustain without going to extremes.

Juice feasting

I heard David Rainoshek the founder of Juice Feasting talk at the last raw food conference I went to in 2008. David actually thinks that as we get cleaner and evolve more that the goal is to live on juice alone. To do his 30-day juice diet there are a lot of additives, fancy green powders, cleanses, colonics, etc.

The goal is to go from a cooked plant diet to a raw solid food plant diet to the final perfection stage of only juice. If this was so why are there no juicers in nature and why do we have teeth?

This seems like a perfectionist dream of how life should be based on some crazy ideal rather than a balanced scientifically based diet. There is a lot of good information mixed with the crazy. But you must sort through it and be sensible.

Instincto Mono-raw foods diet

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Developed by Guy Claude Burger the Instincto diet is a “paleolithic” diet based mono-eating of one food at a time sequentially.

The instincto diet can include all raw foods that would be found in nature in their original state including sprouted legumes, nuts, grains, and all fruits, veggies, and even dead animals that humans might have found or hunted. 

Burger noticed that hunger ceases when you eat mono foods by choosing the ones that smell good to you, and stop after the taste changes and becomes less desirable. There is no seasoning, cooking, or mixing of foods allowed.

Dr. Greger mentions studies were done on mono diets and taste perception in his book How Not to Diet. We get weary of one taste after a while and will eat less the more often we are given the same food.

While introducing another food will cause us to eat more food in general. The instincto diet takes this to the extreme and though a mono-diet can be helpful for the short term doing a daily instinctive diet wastes food and time and does not provide the balance and energy that human beings need to function optimally.

Raw carnivore diet, ugh!

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There is a small movement of people who eat mostly raw meat, eggs, and butter along with a few fruits and veggies claiming they have cured all their ills this way. I can’t even mention any of the books by these people in good conscience. Raw meat-eaters do extremist activities like going into restaurants and demanding to be fed raw steak, and they will insist on signing a waiver saying that they won’t sue the owner if they fall ill.

The unhealthy side of raw foods

Cooked foods of all kinds are considered to be poisons by many raw foodists. Even whole steamed veggies, cooked beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and whole grains are seen as evil because of a study in the 1920s that showed an increase in the production of white blood cells (digestive leukocytes) after eating a cooked meal.

This reason for a 100% raw food diet does not hold up because digestive leukocytes do not increase when 10% of the food eaten is raw.

Some foods including kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions are more easily absorbed when lightly cooked. And cooking gets rid of the lectins.

Raw foodism is rampant with perfectionism, Isolationism, and religious cult-like zeal. Some raw foodists spend most of the day prepping food or if they eat only unprocessed foods they spend the day grazing and chewing.

Many fruitarians spend so much money on exotic tropical fruit they must leave society and move to the tropics to grow as much food as they can just to afford the diet. Not that there is anything wrong with growing your own food. But you could grow a lot more food in a shorter amount of time if you are willing to cook some of it.

Some people do well on a raw food diet. But many people who attempt to stay 100% raw develop unhealthy food obsessions.

Some people ending up binging on cooked foods, and developing eating disorders, gaining more weight, and becoming less healthy than they started.

A raw food diet can be great for a cleanse but as a lifestyle it is rarely sustainable.

100% raw foods is not recommended for kids

I arrived at one raw food retreat to find the mom feeding the kids raw rolled oats with cold-pressed oil, honey, and sea salt as they cried for cooked food.

Their mom explained that they had just been to visit their grandmother and had gotten a taste for cooked foods. The concoction she was feeding them didn’t seem very appetizing and I could see why the children were unhappy.

Will a raw foods diet make you perfect?

A whole foods plant-based diet with some cooked foods is considered healthy for people of all ages including pregnant women, by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But a strictly raw diet is missing too many nutrients from legumes, grains, tubers, and other cooked veggies to keep kids happy and healthy.

Crazy raw food stories

There was a huge scandal with one raw food guru who beat his wife for feeding their children cooked foods behind his back.

I got a warning from one of the moderators that I would be banned from 30-bananas a Day for suggesting that a person might be eating too many calories when they complained that they were not losing weight eating 6000 calories per day on raw smoothies. The site is so illogical that I erased my profile and never went back.

I have long since left the 100-percent raw diet behind after finding that some cooked plant-based foods are so nutritious that it doesn’t make sense to leave them out.

The case for a whole plant-based diet

mixed Beans photo
Photo by Jan Nijman Pix

Scientists who put it to the test find that a 100% raw food diet just doesn’t add up. The scientific research is just too compelling to ignore. No matter how much I wanted a raw food diet to be the best diet, it just wasn’t making sense.

100-percent raw foods diet is not supported by scientific data

I found a raw foods diet unsatisfying in the long run because it was too limited. A lot of the claims of this being the best natural diet, because of enzyme theories, etc. are unsubstantiated or simply bad science.

The enzyme theory behind raw foods

One of the main principles of the raw foods diet is that the enzymes in the food are destroyed by cooking things over 116 degrees. Enzymes are a type of protein used for many bodily processes. The Enzyme theory was developed by Dr. Edwin Howell MD back in the 1920s. He thought that by eating food raw we would deplete less of our own enzymes and thus live longer.

But it is not accurate that we deplete enzymes by eating some cooked foods. The enzymes in raw foods are actually broken down and digested by us when we eat them, so they do not help us digest the food. And we create ample amino acids to digest our food in any case.

Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are an exception to the rule and should be chopped well and let sit for 40 minutes before cooking to maintain sulforaphane levels.

Humans are biologically adapted to eating some cooked foods

Many questions about cooked foods and the human brain versus gut size ratio are answered in the book Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham.

Eating a lot of our plant-based foods raw is a good idea because it is hard to maintain an overweight body on raw fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds.

But our ape cousins spend up to 6 or 8 hours per day chewing and digesting. The human mouth and digestive tract were allowed to become much smaller as we learned to process foods with heat and other methods.

This new knowledge gave us the ability to eat a wider range of foods and flourish in many different locations around the globe while apes are limited to a few varieties of fruits, tubers, and leafy green plants and must stay in temperate climates.

By adopting a diet of some cooking and processing of foods with heat, fermenting, grinding, and pounding, humans freed up a lot of time and digestive energy for other things. The ability to get all of our chewing down to an hour or two per day allowed us to develop bigger brains and smaller intestinal tracts and become human.

Raw foods are often processed for better assimilation

Humans who survive on 100% raw foods often do so by using a lot of blending, grinding, and mechanical drying techniques to concentrate nutrients, and they often use a lot of nuts and oils and coconut products.

Often this diet still does not allow people to maintain their weight and they turn to eating a diet high in avocados, huge amounts of honey, or superfoods to compensate or they must eat constantly or obsess about food preparation.

I have met only 2 people who seem to thrive on a 100% raw foods diet. They both live in relative isolation in the country and do lots of yoga and meditation. They have time to graze all day to get adequate calories into their bodies.

The difference between processed and ultra-processed foods

By processing foods by heating, soaking, aging, combining, fermentation, pounding, and light grinding we make food more digestible. These are things we have been doing for many thousands of years and are physically adapted to.

We are not adapted to ultra-processed foods like finely-milled flour, sugar, oil, highly salted foods, and artificial flavors that have only come to be used in the last few decades.

In Conclusion

The optimal diet for humans includes some cooked foods. A 100% Raw foods diet can be very helpful in the short term over a few weeks or months, for healing chronic illnesses or as a remedy for weight issues. But in the long term, a raw food diet is not a sustainable diet for humans. We have adapted over the last few hundred thousand years to heating some of our foods.

By using heat and other processing techniques we cut down on absorption time and make a broader range of foods available for digestion and assimilation. A diet high in raw fruits and veggies with some cooked whole-plant foods is probably the optimal diet for human beings.

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