Exploring The Benefits Of A Raw Food Diet

  • Duyen NguyenMaster in Science - MSci Human Biology, University of Birmingham


In today’s world, diet culture is prevalent in society. So, it comes as no surprise that various fad diets and diet myths continue to change, develop, and gain momentum. In addition to this, there is toxic fear-mongering surrounding which food to eat or avoid. One particular diet that has appeared on social media recently is the raw food diet, based on the belief that raw, unprocessed food is more nutritious. 

Many health and fitness social media ‘influencers’ advocate the raw vegan or raw carnivore diet. Followers of these diets believe that a more “natural” approach to eating offers significant benefits over processed food. These benefits include reduced risk of developing a health condition, improved well-being, and weight loss. Despite these advantages, it’s important to remember that this diet type has potential health risks. This article will provide an overview of the raw food diet and explore its pros and cons. 

What is the raw food diet?

True to its name, the raw food diet consists of only uncooked and unprocessed food. This eating plan differs from other popular diets because it not only restricts the type of foods consumed but also limits how the food is prepared. For these reasons, it can be one of the most difficult eating plans to maintain. Nonetheless, while some followers adopt strict versions of the diet, by excluding meat, others follow a more flexible alternative that incorporates raw or dehydrated meat products.

How to follow a raw food diet

Although there are several variations of the raw food diet, the consensus is the consumption of raw and unprocessed food. Food is raw if it has not been:

  • Heated to above 104–118°F (40–48°C)
  • Treated with pesticides 
  • Processed or cooked

Minimal preparation is required for fruit and vegetables, but some plant and animal products may require additional preparation. Several alternative preparation methods can be used, such as:

  • Blending
  • Drying with a dehydrator up to 104–118°F (40–48°C)
  • Juicing
  • Soaking
  • Sprouting

Types of raw food diets

Most raw food diets primarily focus on consuming plant-based foods. However, some followers of these diets incorporate raw or dried animal products.

The three main types of raw food diet are:

  • A raw vegan diet comprises exclusively of plant-based food, with no animal-based products
  • A raw vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but allows raw eggs and unpasteurised dairy products
  • A raw omnivorous diet incorporates unprocessed plant-based and animal-based food (raw or dried)

Health benefits of a raw food diet

Source of essential nutrients

This diet contains a high intake of fresh, raw fruit, vegetables, and legumes—all of which are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are fundamental to a healthy lifestyle, support the immune system, and reduce inflammation and the risk of cancer.

Supporters of this diet also suggest that cooking methods destroy nutrients. They argue that eating raw food will provide nutrients that are otherwise destroyed through cooking. For example, water-soluble vitamins (e.g., B vitamins and vitamin C) are deactivated when food is cooked, especially when boiled.1,2 

Retention of enzymes

Another core belief behind the raw food diet is that cooking destroys vital enzymes important for improving your digestion. Raw food enthusiasts believe unprocessed foods retain these “naturally occurring” enzymes and nutrients. However, these claims are only partially true. Yes - high temperatures cause enzyme denaturation (a process where enzymes are altered and destroyed).3 But enzyme denaturation is a process that always occurs in digestion (regardless of whether food is raw or cooked), as a result of the stomach's acidic environment. Moreover, the human body already produces the enzymes required to digest and absorb food, making these claims redundant. 

Reduced intake of ultra-processed foods

Processed food, especially ultra-processed food, often contains higher levels of salt, additives, and saturated fat than unprocessed food. Multiple research studies demonstrate that higher consumption of processed foods is associated with an increased risk of chronic illness, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.4,5 Therefore, eliminating processed foods from the diet may reduce these health risks, as described in a 2019 study that found plant-based diets to be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.6

A potential weight loss tool

Weight loss is not necessarily the main purpose or motivation for followers of a raw food diet. Nevertheless, this regimen may help weight loss, as plant-based foods are generally lower in calories and higher in fibre. That said, the diet is not recommended in the long term. The raw food diet is both unsustainable and highly restrictive. This eating plan excludes entire food groups, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and disordered eating. 

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) includes the raw food diet among its list of fad diets. The BDA suggests “the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to consider your diet as a whole”. Fad diets are described by marketing information as a rapid weight loss plan that promises miraculous results with little effort. However tempting this may be, these restrictive diets should be avoided, as they pose long-term nutritional and health risks. Instead, the BDA suggests a safer weight-loss plan, by “making healthier choices, including variety and balance”, and contacting a doctor to request a dietetic referral for further guidance.

Further potential benefits

Other reasons people may follow the raw food diet include:

  • Environmental sustainability 
  • Clearer skin
  • Increased energy

To note, the benefits listed above are based on anecdotal evidence. Further research is required to confirm the significance of these proposed additional benefits. 

Drawbacks of a raw food diet

Nutrient deficiency

Although cooking decreases the availability of some nutrients (e.g., B and C vitamins) it can increase the availability of other nutrients and antioxidants. These include lycopene (a phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red fruits) and beta-carotene (a red-orange pigment found in fruits and plants) which are released from fruit and vegetables when cooked.7 

Cooking removes antinutrients (e.g., phytic acid, lectins, and oxalates).8 Antinutrients are plant compounds found in grains and legumes. They can be detrimental when consumed in large volumes because they reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. 

Excluding dairy and meat products may also lead to the following nutrient deficiencies:

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D

In a study in 2005, it was suggested that a lower nutrient intake was observed in the raw vegetarian diet, with participants recording a low body mass index (BMI) and low bone mass.9 

Foodborne diseases

Some foods can be harmful to eat when unprocessed, meaning that cooking is a vital and required process to ensure food safety. Cooking kills toxins and harmful bacteria, minimising the risk of foodborne illnesses such as food poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages the consumption of raw animal products (i.e., meat, poultry, eggs, unpasteurised milk, and seafood) due to the increased likelihood of contracting foodborne diseases. Eating these foods raw can cause food poisoning due to contamination from harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Listeria.


Is it healthier to eat raw foods?

While increasing your intake of plant-based foods is encouraged, eliminating entire food groups is not. Yes - a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in ultra-processed food is beneficial. However, the raw food diet falls short as it is highly restrictive, difficult to sustain, and can lead to nutrient and calorie deficiencies. 

Research suggests that raw foods are not healthier than cooked foods. Instead, both raw and cooked foods are necessary for a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Although cooking decreases the availability of some nutrients, it increases the availability of others. To optimise a healthy diet, incorporating raw and cooked food is crucial.

What happens when you only eat raw food?

Multiple research studies have suggested that people who follow a raw food diet have lower body mass indexes (BMI) and lower bone mass.9 Additionally, people assigned female at birth (AFAB) experience menstrual cycle disruption such as amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods).10

What foods should not be eaten raw?

This is an inexhaustive list of foods you should avoid eating raw:

  • Meat and poultry (i.e., beef, pork, chicken, and turkey)
  • Potatoes
  • Cassava
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Unpasteurised milk


Increasing your consumption of raw fruit and vegetables has many nutritional benefits. Nonetheless, following a diet that promotes the exclusion of whole food groups can be detrimental to health and may do more harm than good. A healthy diet is varied, balanced, and sustainable. For these reasons, the raw food diet is not an ideal eating plan. The take-home message is to combine raw and cooked foods in a balanced diet to ensure the best of both worlds.


  1. Agte V, Tarwadi K, Mengale S, Hinge A, Chiplonkar S. Vitamin profile of cooked foods: how healthy is the practice of ready-to-eat foods? International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition [Internet]. 2002 Jan [cited 2024 May 7];53(3):197–208. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09637480220132814
  2. Kimura M, Itokawa Y, Fujiwara M. Cooking losses of thiamin in food and its nutritional significance. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1990;36 Suppl 1:S17-24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2081984/
  3. LaPelusa A, Kaushik R. Physiology, proteins. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555990/ 
  4. Pagliai G, Dinu M, Madarena MP, Bonaccio M, Iacoviello L, Sofi F. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 7];125(3):308–18. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7844609/
  5. Chang K, Gunter MJ, Rauber F, Levy RB, Huybrechts I, Kliemann N, et al. Ultra-processed food consumption, cancer risk and cancer mortality: a large-scale prospective analysis within the UK Biobank. eClinicalMedicine [Internet]. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2024 May 7];56:101840. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9985039/
  6. Kim H, Caulfield LE, Garcia‐Larsen V, Steffen LM, Coresh J, Rebholz CM. Plant‐based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality in a general population of middle‐aged adults. JAHA [Internet]. 2019 Aug 20 [cited 2024 Jan 8];8(16):e012865. Available from: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865 
  7. Lee S, Choi Y, Jeong HS, Lee J, Sung J. Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food Sci Biotechnol [Internet]. 2017 Dec 12 [cited 2024 Jan 8];27(2):333–42. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049644/ 
  8. Shi L, Arntfield SD, Nickerson M. Changes in levels of phytic acid, lectins and oxalates during soaking and cooking of Canadian pulses. Food Res Int. 2018 May;107:660–8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29580532/
  9. Fontana L, Shew JL, Holloszy JO, Villareal DT. Low bone mass in subjects on a long-term raw vegetarian diet. Archives of Internal Medicine [Internet]. 2005 Mar 28 [cited 2024 May 7];165(6):684–9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  10. Koebnick C, Strassner C, Hoffmann I, Leitzmann C. Consequences of a long-term raw food diet on body weight and menstruation: results of a questionnaire survey. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism [Internet]. 1999 Jul 23 [cited 2024 May 7];43(2):69–79. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1159/000012770
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Duyen Nguyen

Master in Science - MSci Human Biology, University of Birmingham

Duyen is a creative and enthusiastic writer with an MSci in Human Biology. She has an extensive scientific background and is highly proficient in cancer biology and Drosophila genetics. Her research project investigated the importance of calcium transporters, Itpr and SERCA, in the regulation of apoptosis-induced proliferation. She is an aspiring medical writer and strives to create accessible and engaging content that effectively translates research to a range of audiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818