The raw food diet, which has recently hit the headlines after being adopted by actor Woody Harrelson, designer Donna Karan and various other Hollywood figures, could be described as a 'back to the future' diet.
Proponents say that our modern, highly processed, nutrient rich diet is responsible for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even bad jaw development, until recently believed to be genetic. Based partly on the belief that cooking destroys plant enzymes important in digestion,the raw food diet reconstructs ancient eating habits and claims to bring about natural weight loss as part of a gradual return to a healthy metabolism.
The diet is claimed to increase energy, improve skin appearance, improve digestion and reduce risk of heart disease.
This is a strict vegetarian, even vegan diet, with the extra condition that nothing is cooked. However, that doesn't mean that food must be cold, and there are even soup recipes using the raw food rules.
Food can be heated to 116°F, dehydrated, blended into shakes and juiced, and gourmet recipes like pesto and olive spreads lend themselves well to the diet. Eggs, meat of all kinds and milk are off limits, which means that all protein comes from nuts, legumes, seeds and raw fermented soy products like miso. There is no limit to the amount of calories which can be eaten, as long as everything is raw and vegetarian.
Approved foods are;
Although at least ¾ food should be eaten uncooked or heated to less than 116°F, a small amount can be cooked, so that if you crave pasta or a baked potato this need not be a cardinal sin. Other ways of varying the diet include sprouting seeds, grains and beans, and dehydrating, which can be used to make crunchy snacks. Grains can be stone ground after sprouting, and there are recipes for raw crackers too.
There is little doubt that highly processed foods do contribute to many of the diseases common in the Western world. It's no secret that we tend to ingest too many calories, too much saturated fat and too much sugar.
The raw food diet is low in sodium and saturated fat, and high in magnesium, potassium, folate, fiber and antioxidants, making it a heart healthy diet.
On the other hand, it can easily be lacking in protein, and is not recommended for people who need a high calorie diet, such as nursing mothers, pregnant women and children. The debate on osteoporosis is still inconclusive, with some studies seeming to show that a diet rich in non dairy sources of calcium can be even better in prevention than a high dairy diet.