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7-Day Plan to Start a Raw Food, Vegan Diet

Health + Wellness
7-Day Plan to Start a Raw Food, Vegan Diet

By Taylor Jones

The raw food diet has been around since the 1800s, but has surged in popularity in recent years.

Its supporters believe that consuming mostly raw foods is ideal for human health and has many benefits, including weight loss and better overall health.

However, health experts warn that eating a mostly raw diet may lead to negative health consequences.

This article reviews the good and bad of the raw food diet, as well as how it works.

What Is the Raw Food Diet?

The raw food diet, often called raw foodism or raw veganism, is composed of mostly or completely raw and unprocessed foods.

A food is considered raw if it has never been heated more than 104–118 F (40–48C). It should also not be refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides or otherwise processed in any way.

Instead, the diet allows several alternative preparation methods, such as juicing, blending, dehydrating, soaking and sprouting.

Similar to veganism, the raw food diet is usually plant-based, being made up mostly of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

While most raw food diets are completely plant-based, some people also consume raw eggs and dairy. Less commonly, raw fish and meat may be included as well.

Additionally, taking supplements is typically discouraged on the raw food diet. Proponents often claim that the diet will give you all the nutrients you need.

Supporters also believe that cooking foods is harmful to human health because it destroys the natural enzymes in foods, reduces their nutrient content and reduces the "life force" that they believe to exist in all raw or "living" foods.

People follow the raw food diet for the benefits they believe it has, including weight loss, improved vitality, increased energy, improvement to chronic diseases, improved overall health and a reduced impact on the environment.

Summary: The raw food diet is made up mostly of foods that have not been processed or heated over a certain temperature.

How to Follow the Raw Food Diet

To follow the raw food diet, make sure at least 75 percent of the food you eat is raw.

Most raw food diets are made primarily of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Grains and legumes are often permitted as well, but usually need to be soaked or sprouted before you eat them.

Foods to Eat

  • All fresh fruits
  • All raw vegetables
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Raw grains and legumes, sprouted or soaked
  • Dried fruits and meats
  • Nut milks
  • Raw nut butters
  • Cold-pressed olive and coconut oils
  • Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Seaweed
  • Sprouts
  • Raw eggs or dairy, if desired
  • Raw meat or fish, if desired

Foods to Avoid

  • Cooked fruits, vegetables, meats and grains
  • Baked items
  • Roasted nuts and seeds
  • Refined oils
  • Table salt
  • Refined sugars and flour
  • Pasteurized juices and dairy
  • Coffee and tea
  • Alcohol
  • Pasta
  • Pastries
  • Chips
  • Other processed foods and snacks

Summary: The raw food diet is made up of foods that have never been cooked. Processed and refined foods are discouraged.

Is Raw Food Healthier Than Cooked Food?

Raw food diet supporters believe that eating mostly or all raw food is ideal for human health.

However, like many of the core beliefs behind the raw food diet, this idea is not backed by science.

In fact, research shows that both cooked and raw foods have health benefits.

One of the main reasons the raw food diet discourages cooking is because of the belief that cooking destroys the natural enzymes in foods. The diet's advocates believe that these enzymes are vital to human health and digestion.

High heat does cause most enzymes to denature—that is, to unravel or change shape. However, many enzymes denature in the acidic environment of the stomach anyway (1, 2).

In fact, the body already produces its own enzymes to facilitate chemical processes including digestion and energy production (3).

Another core belief behind the raw food diet is that cooking destroys the nutrient content of foods.

Cooking can indeed decrease certain nutrients in food, especially water-soluble ones like vitamin C and B vitamins (4, 5).

However, cooking actually increases the availability of other nutrients and antioxidants, such as lycopene and beta-carotene (6, 7, 8).

Cooking also helps inactivate or destroy some harmful compounds in food. For example, cooking grains and legumes reduces lectins and phytic acid. In large quantities, these can block your body from absorbing minerals (9, 10).

Additionally, cooking also kills harmful bacteria (11).

For these reasons, it's important to eat a variety of both raw and cooked foods. To learn more about the benefits of raw versus cooked foods, check out this article.

Summary: Raw food is not any healthier than cooked food. Cooking decreases some nutrients, yet increases others. It also destroys certain harmful compounds and kills bacteria.

Nutrition Review: Pros and Cons

A raw food diet has some positive points. Mainly, it is very high in fresh fruits and vegetables. It also incorporates other foods that are high in nutrients and fiber.

To its credit, a raw food diet limits the intake of foods known to contribute to poor health if you eat them in excess, such as processed junk foods and added sugar.

Additionally, a raw food diet nearly guarantees weight loss because it is low in calories. Yet despite this, there are also many cons to a raw food diet.

When someone switches from a mostly cooked diet to a mostly raw diet, their calorie intake is likely to decrease dramatically. Some people may not find it possible to eat enough raw food to meet their daily calorie needs (12, 13).

This is partially because fruits and vegetables, though healthy, simply don't provide enough calories or protein to make up the majority of the diet.

Additionally, cooking increases the digestibility of foods, making it easier for your body to get calories and nutrients from them. In some cases, your body gets significantly fewer calories from a food if it's raw (14, 15).

Cooking also increases the amount of certain nutrients and antioxidants your body absorbs (6, 7, 8).

Finally, raw diets tend to be nutritionally unbalanced because they must be mostly made up of either fats or fruits to meet calorie needs (13).

This means raw diets may be deficient not only in calories, but also in some vitamins, minerals and protein (13).

Summary: Raw food diets are made up of healthy foods and are likely to cause weight loss, but they are often too low in calories and some nutrients.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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