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Scroll through Instagram, and you’ll find photo after photo touting the health benefits of a raw food diet. These gorgeously prepared raw food plates feature colorful fruits and vegetables; lately, you’ll even see them garnished or topped by raw meat and fish. What are the pros and cons of a raw food diet? Is it safe? And are there benefits or cautions for people with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism? This Q&A covers all your questions.
A raw food diet – sometimes referred to as “raw foodism” or “raw veganism” -- involves consuming unprocessed, whole, plant-based –and preferably organic, hormone-free, and non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods that have not been cooked or heated past a specific temperature, usually 118°F.
Raw diets typically include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Lately, there’s a trend toward including raw animal products.
The goal of a raw diet is to eat foods in their natural state to preserve the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and enzymes that are typically destroyed during cooking.
The foods commonly eaten in a raw food diet include fresh fruits, dried fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, nut butters, nut milks, sprouts, sprouted or soaked grains, cold-pressed olive and coconut oils, fermented and pickled foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, seaweed, and freshly made fruit and vegetable juices.
Some raw food diets include raw eggs and dairy, while others may allow raw fish and meats.
Foods that are not eaten on a raw food diet include any cooked fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains, baked goods, roasted nuts and seeds, refined oils, sugars, and flour, pasta and noodles, and table salt.
Here are some of the health benefits of a raw diet:
- Increased energy: The high nutrient content in raw food can help boost energy levels and improve overall vitality.
- Reduced inflammation: Raw food is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms of conditions such as arthritis and asthma.
- Improved digestion: Raw food contains enzymes that aid digestion, and the fiber in raw food helps to promote healthy bowel movements, preventing constipation.
- Weight loss: Raw food is lower in calories, fat, and sugar, making it an option for those looking to lose weight. It may curb hunger and help you feel full for a more extended period of time.
- Lowered risk of chronic diseases: Raw food is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can help to boost the immune system and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Better skin health: Raw food contains plenty of skin-friendly nutrients, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, which can help improve the overall health and appearance of your skin.
- Improved mental clarity: A raw diet has been shown to improve cognitive function and mental clarity, helping to reduce brain fog and improve focus and concentration.
A raw food diet does have some downsides, including the following:
- Increases your risk of food borne illness: Eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, or dairy products can increase the risk of food poisoning from bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria
- Increases your risk of nutrient deficiencies: A raw diet may not provide enough of certain nutrients, protein, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lead to deficiencies and health problems
- Increases your risk of inconsistent maintenance: A raw diet can be challenging to maintain long-term, which may lead to inconsistent nutrient intake levels and poor symptom management.
- Makes it difficult to digest certain foods: Some people may have difficulty digesting raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which can cause bloating, gas, and other digestive symptoms.
- Increases the risk of dental problems: Chewing on hard, raw food can cause dental problems such as chipped or cracked teeth
In addition to the general benefits of a raw food diet, this way of eating:
- Reduces your inflammatory response: Many people with Hashimoto’s and/or hypothyroidism have chronic inflammation. A raw diet that eliminates processed and inflammatory foods may help reduce this inflammatory response.
- Increases your nutrient intake: Raw diets often include a higher intake of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, which can provide a range of vitamins and minerals that support your overall health and well-being.
- Improves your digestion: Some raw foods are easier to digest than cooked foods, which may benefit thyroid patients with gut health or digestive problems underlying their hormonal imbalances and autoimmune disease.
There’s one key downside to a raw food diet for people with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. Some raw foods contain goitrogens, which are substances that can interfere with thyroid function. Goitrogens are found in certain raw cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach. When eaten raw in larger amounts, these vegetables can lower your thyroid hormone production and worsen hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Is there evidence to support the claim that a raw food diet is beneficial for weight loss? Yes. Raw food diets are associated with losing body fat, and studies consistently link raw food diets, including raw veganism, to lower body fat.
According to research, following a raw food diet long-term can result in significant weight loss. In one study, men lost an average of 21.8 pounds over three years after switching to a raw food diet. Women lost an average of 26.5 pounds. The study found that consuming a raw food diet is associated with significant body weight loss. However, it is important to note that many raw food dieters exhibited underweight and amenorrhea, indicating potential health risks associated with the diet.
A small study found that people following a raw vegan diet had significantly lower calorie intake and body fat than those who weren’t following the diet. However, the study also found that the study participants had low levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iodine, calcium, and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for overall health; when not consumed in adequate amounts, deficiencies can develop.
The bottom line: You’re likely to lose weight on a raw food diet, but you should be especially careful about ensuring adequate nutrient intake. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a raw food diet.
Raw food meals don’t need to be as complicated and elaborate as the gourmet productions you see on Instagram! With some creativity and planning, you can easily increase your raw food intake and reap the many health benefits of this different way of eating. Here are some simple suggestions:
- Start with snacks: Snacks are a great way to introduce more raw food into your diet without making drastic changes. Try snacking on raw fruits and vegetables, such as sliced apples, carrot sticks, or cucumber slices.
- Make salads: Salads are another easy and delicious way to eat raw food. Simply toss together your favorite raw fruits and vegetables, such as arugula, berries, and tomatoes, for a nutritious and satisfying meal.
- Try smoothies: Smoothies are a convenient way to enjoy a variety of raw fruits and vegetables in one delicious drink. Blend your favorite fruits, veggies, and a liquid of your choice (such as water, coconut water, or almond milk) for a healthy and refreshing beverage. (Be careful about overdoing it with raw cruciferous vegetables like spinach and kale due to their goitrogenic potential.)
- Create raw dips and spreads: Raw dips and spreads, such as guacamole, hummus, and almond butter, are a great way to add flavor and nutrition to your meals. Serve them with raw vegetables, crackers, or bread for a healthy and satisfying snack.
- Use raw food as ingredients: Raw food can be used in various dishes, such as soups and wraps. Add raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts to your favorite recipes for added nutrition and flavor.
- Start with breakfast: for most people, it’s really easy to “go raw” for breakfast. For example, you can combine rolled oats, chopped nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in a bowl. Add non-dairy milk, such as almond milk, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, you can add fresh fruit, such as berries or sliced bananas, and enjoy. Other raw vegan breakfast ideas include uncooked oatmeal, raw granola and yogurt, raw green smoothies, and raw wraps.
- Discover veggie “pasta!” Raw veggie noodles are a fast and easy staple in a raw food repertoire. You start by using a spiralizer or vegetable peeler to create vegetable noodles (with zucchini or squash, for example.) Then mix up a raw sauce to pour over the noodles.
If you’re ready to jump in and go raw, here are some websites with delicious and nutritious raw food recipes that cater to various dietary requirements.
- Rawmazing - This website features a host of plant-based and raw vegan recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts.
- The Rawtarian - The website offers simple yet delicious raw food recipes with easy-to-follow instructions and beautiful photographs.
- FullyRaw - This website features a variety of raw food recipes, including ethnic and regional cuisines.
- Raw Food Recipes - This website features a vast collection of raw vegan recipes from different continents worldwide.
- The Full Helping - This website features advice and education on whole foods and plant-based nutrition.
- Gourmande in the Kitchen - The website offers a range of nutritious and healthy raw and vegan recipe content, plus fantastic food photography.
The Raw Paleo diet takes the raw food diet to a new level by incorporating fish, and organic hormone-free, pasture-raised (grass-fed) meats and poultry that are unheated or have not been altered in any way. Some Raw Paleo diet fans believe that raw meat draws toxins out of the body, is more nutritious, and is more easily digested than cooked meat. Raw meat is believed to contain more enzymes and beneficial bacteria that can aid in digestion and improve nutrient absorption. There is limited research to support these claims.
Eating raw meat, fish, and poultry is not a new idea, and raw dishes are popular in many cultures. Raw meat and fish dishes are often marinated, cured, or enjoyed with herbs, spices, and other flavorings to enhance their taste.
While eating raw animal products comes with risks, some types of raw meat are safer than others. Raw fish tends to be safer than other types of raw meat, as it is often frozen shortly after being caught, killing many harmful pathogens. Raw beef and lamb are also considered to be safer than other types of raw meat, as they are less likely to contain parasites that pose health risks. However, ensuring that the meat is sourced from hygienic and reputable providers and handled properly is vital to avoid contamination.
Still, it’s essential to be careful when following a raw meat diet, as it poses a risk of contracting a foodborne illness caused by bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, and E. coli that can cause food poisoning.
Eating raw or undercooked pork is never recommended because pork can harbor parasites such as roundworms or tapeworms that can cause foodborne illnesses like trichinosis. Pork can also contain harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can cause food poisoning.
It is also not considered safe to eat raw chicken. Raw chicken is often contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, that can cause food poisoning if not handled properly. Chicken tends to contain more harmful bacteria like Salmonella than other meats. Chicken also has a more porous structure, allowing pathogens to penetrate deep into the meat.
A caution: It is essential that you ensure that the meat you intend to eat raw is carefully sourced from hygienic and reputable providers and handled properly to avoid contamination.
Remember that – apart from food poisoning, parasites, and infections – the bacteria in raw meat can also cause temporary digestive side effects like bloating, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. In addition, specific at-risk populations – such as children, pregnant or nursing women, and older adults – are cautioned to avoid eating raw meat altogether.
A note: Experts recommend avoiding raw eggs because eggs, including organic and brown eggs, can contain Salmonella and other toxins.
If you want to incorporate some raw animal products into your diet slowly, remember that you can also get some of the benefits of raw food by only lightly cooking. For example, you can order or prepare fish like salmon and tuna lightly seared. And beef and lamb can be prepared rare or medium rare. You can also easily order or purchase gravlax, a cold-cured Scandanavian-style raw salmon, lox, or smoked salmon.
You may want to start incorporating more raw meat by visiting restaurants serving foods with a long history of being prepared and served uncooked. For example:
- Japanese sushi and sashimi
- Poke: A Hawaiian dish of diced raw fish marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil and mixed with ingredients like seaweed, avocado, and cucumber
- Raw oysters
- Ceviche: a popular Latin American dish made from marinated raw fish with lemons, onions, and other ingredients
- Kibbeh nayah: in Middle East cooking, minced raw lamb is used as the base for a traditional dish such as kibbeh nayeh, made from a mixture of bulgur, lamb, and Middle Eastern spices.
- Carpaccio: a popular Italian appetizer made of thinly sliced raw beef drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. The beef is sliced paper-thin and is typically served chilled, with a variety of accompaniments, such as arugula, Parmesan cheese, and capers
- Steak tartare: we can’t leave out this famous delicacy, which mixes raw beef, egg yolk, mustard, olive oil, shallots, capers, and spices.
It is essential to consult with your healthcare provider before going on a raw food diet because it may not be nutritionally balanced or provide enough of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. A raw food diet can also be difficult to follow long-term and may lead to nutrient deficiencies, especially if not properly designed and planned
Paloma’s nutritionists can help you assess whether switching to a raw food diet would be beneficial and how to incorporate more raw food into your overall diet.