What Is the Raw Vegan Diet?

Raw vegan food preparation
Raw vegan food preparation photo by Muntz / Getty Images

A raw food vegan diet consists of unprocessed raw vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 F (46 C). Adherents of this diet, called "raw foodists," believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost their enzymes and thus a significant amount of their nutritional value, becoming harmful to the body. Uncooked foods, on the other hand, provide living enzymes and proper nutrition.

Proponents of a raw food diet claim that there are many benefits to eating raw foods, including weight loss, added energy, clearer skin, better digestion, deeper and more restorative sleep, and improved overall health.

Some followers of the diet eat a "high raw" diet, or above a certain percentage of raw foods in their diet, such as 75 to 90 percent of raw unprocessed ingredients. A few include unprocessed dairy products in their diet, but most follow a raw vegan diet.

What Is Allowed in a Raw Food Diet?

The raw diet has seen an increase in popularity in recent years with raw food restaurants open in most major cities, yet there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about what a raw food diet is. In brief, a raw food vegan diet allows the following items:

  • All raw fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sprouts (uncooked beans and legumes)
  • Roots, root vegetables, and squashes
  • Fresh herbs and raw spices
  • Seaweeds

The raw foods diet includes these foods in their unprocessed and uncooked state and omits most other foods. Raw foodists also drink fresh fruit and vegetable juices and include herbal teas. Most people who follow a raw vegan diet include a limited amount of foods that have undergone some processing, as long as the processing does not involve heating up the food above 115 degrees. Some of these mildly processed raw vegan foods include:

There is some debate as to whether certain items are in fact truly raw and thus suitable for a raw foods diet, and many people prefer to exclude some processed foods from their diet, even though they may be indeed raw. If you are preparing food for people who follow this diet, it's best to err on the side of caution and prepare a dish that you know is 100 percent raw, such as a vegetable salad or fruit dish.

Although nutritious and contain high amounts of necessary vitamins and minerals, the foods allowed in a raw vegan diet are, by default, low-in-calories, so keeping an eye on adequate consumption of calories is important. It is also key to keep under check adequate levels of vitamin B12, as this vitamin comes from the consumption of animal products (like fish, eggs, dairy, and beef) and fortified cereals and processed nut beverages, items not allowed in a raw vegan diet.

How Food is Prepared in a Raw Vegan Diet?

Raw food preparation is often light-heartedly referred to as "uncooking." While many raw food recipes require lots of processing and preparation, many meals require little or none, such as a green salad or a bowl with fresh fruit.

If you are exploring the raw food lifestyle, you'll probably want to have a blender and a food processor at a minimum, and may want to invest in a food dehydrator as well. Many recipes use a dehydrator to make raw vegan flax crackers, bread, and cookies. You may also want to purchase a juicer for making fresh fruit and vegetable juices.

Shopping for Raw Foods

Fruits and vegetables are readily available, but shopping around can add variety. Farmers markets are great places to find organic and high quality produce, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and cold-pressed and sometimes raw vegan treats. Asian or Latin markets are great for fresh tropical and uncommon fruits, and health food stores might have a section where it's easy to find raw bread, cookies, and other snacks and treats.