A raw food diet (or living foods diet) consists of uncooked and unprocessed, and often organic foods.
Most of the foods consumed in a typical vegan raw food diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some raw food diets, notably the Paleolithic diet, also include raw meat and eggs. The Essene diet includes dairy products. The exact definition of raw food varies, but the general consensus is that a food is considered raw if it has not been heated to more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), and if it has not been frozen.
A raw foodist is a person who consumes primarily raw food. There is some debate over what quantity of raw food intake actually identifies one as a raw foodist. Most can agree that if someone eats 75% or more of their food as raw, they are a raw foodist, although there is evidence that when one consumes 100% raw food, their assimilation goes up considerably.
Proponents of a raw food diet believe it dates to prehistoric eras, before humans discovered fire. They also (controversially) believe that the human digestive system is largely configured to eat a mainly raw, mainly vegetarian diet.
The earliest modern examples of raw food diets date to the 1800s.
Artturi Virtanen, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, is often quoted as supporting a Living Foods diet. He showed that enzymes in uncooked foods are released in the mouth when vegetables are chewed. These enzymes interact with other substances, notably the enzymes produced by the body itself, to produce maximum benefit from the digestion process. This research was unrelated to his Nobel Prize.
It gained more prominence throughout the 1900s, as proponents such as Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton claimed that a diet of raw fruits and vegetables could cure various diseases. Raw food diets continued to exist as radical off-shoots of the vegetarian diet until 1975, when computer programmer-turned-nutritionist Viktoras Kulvinskas published Survival Into the 21st Century. It is considered to be the first modern publication that deals with a raw food diet.
The raw food lifestyle has gained some recent acceptance, though not all nutrition experts approve it. Restaurants catering for this way of eating have opened up in many cities, and numerous all-raw cookbooks have been published. It has also received celebrity endorsements from entertainers like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, who have been known to follow a raw food diet.
Invididuals such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Gillian McKeith and Professor Colin Campbell (see the China project) advocate diets high in raw, unprocessed foods. They claim this diet is a remedy, together with an active lifestyle, for obesity-related illnesses which are prevalent in developed countries. These include cardiovascular illness, cancer, diabetes and some auto-immune diseases.
Most foods in raw food diets are simple in preparation, and can be eaten immediately. Other foods can require considerable advanced planning to prepare for eating. Rice and some other grains, for example, require sprouting or overnight soaking to become edible. Depending on the recipe, some food (such as cakes) may need to be dehydrated. These processes, which emulate cooked food, are lengthy: some adherents of the diet consequently dispense with these foods, feeling that this way of eating does not need to emulate others.
Preparation of raw food recipes usually call for a blender, food processor, juicer, and dehydrator.
Care and medical consultation is required in planning a raw food diet, especially for children. There is little research on how to plan a nutritionally adequate raw food diet, especially for children: however, dietitians are usually willing to provide professional advice.
The Tree of Life Foundation in Arizona, which advocates a vegan raw food diet, is currently conducting a survey of babies and children on a diet of 75% raw food or more. Raw foodists claim that with sufficient food energy, essential fatty acids, variety and density, people of all ages can be successful at eating raw foods.