Specialized diets have become increasingly popular in recent years. From vegan to paleo to keto, it seems like everyone who’s health-conscious has gravitated toward a certain way of eating. One of these specialty diets is the raw vegan diet.
How is a raw vegan diet different from a regular vegan diet, and what foods does it include?
Continue reading to learn why many people are adopting a raw vegan diet and how to make the transition yourself, if you’re so inclined.
Note: Consult with a medical professional before making any drastic changes to your diet.
What is a raw vegan diet?
The raw vegan diet is a subset of veganism. In a vegan diet, all animal foods are excluded, including meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and honey. A raw vegan diet combines the principles of veganism with raw foodism—the practice of eating only or mostly food that is uncooked and unprocessed.
A raw vegan diet is generally high in whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains. It’s low in processed foods. Rather than cooking, a raw vegan diet typically involves other methods of food preparation, including soaking, sprouting, juicing, blending, and dehydrating. Because of this, it often involves a great deal of planning and advanced preparation.
Why raw foods?
Many people who adopt a vegan diet are motivated by ethical and environmental reasons, but those who take it further and adopt a raw vegan diet are often motivated by health reasons. They believe that foods cooked above 115°F have lost many of their beneficial properties.
Raw foodists believe that cooking foods destroys nutrients and enzymes that are necessary for good health. Further, they believe that some cooked foods are actually harmful to the body. Scientific research supports the idea that enzymes are deactivated at temperatures over 117°F (47°C), but research has not indicated any negative effects of eating cooked foods with denatured enzymes.
The importance of enzymes
When you eat food, enzymes help break it down so that nutrients can be absorbed by the body. Enzymes are protein chemicals that help carry out chemical actions in the body.
Different types of enzymes break down different nutrients: Amylase helps break down starches into sugars; protease enzymes break down proteins into amino acids, and lipase enzymes break down fats and oils into fatty acids and glycerol.
The body makes enzymes from amino acids, and enzymes are also naturally found in some foods.
Foods that are naturally high in digestive enzymes include:
If your body lacks the digestive enzymes necessary to properly digest food, you can’t fully absorb the nutrients you need. This can lead to a multitude of digestive problems, including gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation, and leaky gut. It can also lead to malnutrition and related symptoms, such as fatigue, a weakened immune system, dizziness, irritability, unexplained weight loss, dry skin, irregular menstruation, and depression.
A raw vegan diet is designed to preserve the enzymes in food to promote optimal wellness.
How to follow a raw vegan diet
Adopting a raw vegan diet means that at least 75% of the food you eat will be raw or cooked at temperatures below 115° F (46° C). Most of your diet will consist of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Animal products should be excluded entirely. Some grains and legumes can be included, but these should be soaked or sprouted before eating.
Most people who follow a raw vegan diet will allow some minimally processed foods, as long as the processing does not involve heating the food above 115° F.
Foods to include on a raw vegan diet:
Fresh or dried fruit
Fresh or dehydrated vegetables
Root vegetables and squashes
Fresh fruit and vegetable juice
Raw nuts and seeds
Raw plant-based milk, such as coconut milk, oat milk, or almond milk
Raw nut butters
Soaked or sprouted grains and legumes
Cold-pressed oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
Fresh herbs and spices
Fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut
Some raw sweeteners, such as maple syrup and raw cacao
Foods to avoid on a raw vegan diet:
Cooked fruits and vegetables
Cooked grains and legumes
Processed foods such as chips and pretzels
Roasted nuts and seeds
Refined sugars and flours
How to prepare raw food
The process of preparing food on a raw food diet is often referred to as “uncooking.” While some raw food techniques require a lot of planning and preparation, many foods—such as salads and fresh fruit—can be prepared quickly and easily.
If you’re interested in adopting a raw vegan diet, you will probably want to invest in a few kitchen tools, including a high-speed blender, a food processor, a juicer, and a dehydrator.
Getting started on a raw vegan diet
If you and your doctor decide that this diet is right for you, prepare yourself with proper education, the right tools, and enough ingredients. If you become hungry and find yourself without anything on hand to eat, you’ll be tempted to fall back on cooked and processed foods.
In the beginning, keep it simple and allow yourself a little extra time as you become accustomed to the tools, methods, and lingo surrounding raw food.
Try these tips for getting started on your raw vegan diet:
Stock your kitchen with raw food staples. A raw vegan diet is going to involve preparing a lot of your own food at home, so make sure you have everything you need. Find a few recipes you want to try and make a trip to the market to gather the ingredients. You’ll want to have plenty of nuts and spices on hand, and make sure to grab some raw cacao as well.
Try some fun recipes. If you’re going to experiment with a new diet, have fun with it! Peruse some raw vegan recipes and find some that look delicious, but not too hard to make. Invite some friends over to sample some new recipes as you experiment and discover new favorites. Try some raw vegan soups, creative smoothie recipes, and some fun raw vegan chocolate desserts.
Make a meal plan. When you first get started on a raw vegan diet, set aside some time to plan your meals for the week and buy the necessary ingredients. Even if you deviate from your meal plan, it can alleviate some of the daily worry around what to eat. Make sure you’re planning substitutions for the snacks and treats that you eat throughout the day so you don’t end up feeling deprived. And take a good look at your meal plan every day. If something requires soaking or other advanced preparation, make sure you plan accordingly.
Getting enough protein on a raw vegan diet
Protein is an essential macronutrient that the body uses to build muscle, bone, blood, skin, hair, and other tissues throughout the body. Make sure your diet includes a variety of protein-rich foods, including leafy greens, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, nut milks, and raw vegan protein powder.
Is a raw vegan diet right for you?
A strict raw vegan diet is very difficult to follow, and the number of people who maintain a raw food diet for an extended period of time is very small. While eating a diet high in raw plant foods is definitely beneficial, your diet doesn’t necessarily have to be this restrictive to be healthy.
If you’re interested in the idea of a raw vegan diet, try incorporating more raw plant foods and experimenting with raw recipes, but don’t feel discouraged if you find it difficult. The more important thing is to include more whole plant foods in every meal for their beneficial enzymes and other nutrients.