A raw vegan diet combines veganism and raw foodism. The diet includes foods that are plant-based, raw, and unprocessed. Raw vegan diets exclude animal products, such as meat and dairy products, and foods that need cooking.
People may choose to follow a raw vegan diet to try and improve their health. They may also identify with the ethical and ecological principles of the diet.
In this article, we examine the health benefits and risks of the raw vegan diet. We also look at what a person should eat and avoid while following the diet.
The raw vegan diet is a subset of the vegan diet. A vegan diet excludes any animal products, such as:
A raw vegan diet means that a person also does not heat, cook, or process the food they eat.
Many people eating the raw vegan diet consider food raw if it has not had exposure to temperatures higher than 118 °F (48 °C).
Instead of cooking, a person may prepare foods in other ways, such as:
- germinating or sprouting
The definition of a raw vegan diet can differ. For instance, some raw vegan diets allow people to warm their food to improve its texture or flavor. People may also include dehydrated food, such as:
- raw bread
- raw desserts
The percentage of raw foods in the diet may also vary. According to a 2011 guide to raw vegan diets, including 50–74% raw foods appears to be the most popular option.
A raw vegan diet includes many fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, making it nutritious. The diet also has few processed foods, which may contain excess sugar, salt, and saturated fat. Cooking certain foods can reduce their nutritional value, so eating them raw may help retain their nutrients.
The raw vegan diet may have several health benefits, including:
Improving heart health
A raw vegan diet may be beneficial for heart health due to its higher portions of fruits and vegetables.
Research indicates that increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables from less than 3 servings per day to more than 5 relates to a 17% decrease in heart disease risk.
Raw vegan diets also include plenty of other foods that have a link with improving heart health. These include:
- Legumes: Increasing legume intake may reduce heart disease risk.
- Whole grains: Whole grain intake may decrease the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
- Nuts: Consumption of nuts may reduce risk factors that contribute to heart disease.
Research suggests that vegans may have up to a 75% lower chance of developing high blood pressure.
Aiding weight loss
Raw vegan diets may aid in weight loss. One study indicates that over 3.7 years, people on raw vegan diets lost 9.9–12 kilograms (21.8–26.5 pounds). However, between around 14–25% of the study participants became underweight.
Overweight and obesity may increase a person’s likelihood of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Consuming a raw vegan diet may help a person lose weight and reduce their risk of these health conditions.
Reducing diabetes risk
Few studies explore how raw vegan diets affect a person’s risk of diabetes. However, 2009 research suggests that vegan diets almost halve a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarian diets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend dietary changes that can reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes. These may include increasing fruits and non-starchy vegetables and decreasing processed foods and trans fats found in baked and fried food.
Because people who consume the raw vegan diet also observe these dietary changes, this may help decrease their chances of developing diabetes.
A raw vegan diet can be nutritious. However, it can also be low in calories and high in natural sugars, affecting a person’s health.
Health issues the raw vegan diet may cause include:
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
The raw vegan diet excludes a wide range of foods, so there is a risk that a person may not get all of the vitamins and minerals they need.
A 2019 study reports that the raw vegan diet may not provide enough:
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
The study also notes that cooking helps break down fibers and cell walls in food, which may improve its nutritional value in some cases.
A 2005 study found 38% of participants following a raw food diet were deficient in vitamin B12.
A vitamin B12 deficiency may cause:
- yellowing skin, or jaundice
- sore tongue, or glossitis
- mouth ulcers
- pins and needles
- vision problems
- mood and behavior changes
Fruit contains high amounts of natural sugars. If a person eats a lot of fruit as part of their diet, they may be at risk of developing tooth decay.
One study found tooth decay in 97% of study participants eating a raw food diet.
Research into a raw food diet’s effect on menstruation found that approximately 30% of people under age 45 on long-term raw food diets had irregular periods or their periods stopped entirely.
The researchers note irregular and absent periods were more frequent in people whose diet had higher amounts of raw food.
Due to the raw food diet having a connection with both high losses of body weight and menstrual cycle regularity problems, the researchers said they could not recommend the raw food diet long-term.
Most people who eat uncooked fruits or vegetables do not experience any symptoms of food poisoning. However, if someone prepares a salad without washing their hands they may ingest some harmful bacteria and develop an upset stomach.
When eating any raw vegetables or fruits it is important a person prevents any bacterial cross-contamination by washing their hands and storing the food in a hygenic environent.
Raw sprouts such as alfalfa and beans may also cause food poisoning. The humid conditions that sprouts and beans require to grow are also ideal for bacteria to multiply. The CDC recommends cooking them thoroughly to reduce the likelihood of food poisoning.
Popular foods on a raw vegan diet include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- dried fruits and vegetables
- fresh fruit and vegetable juices
- edible seaweed, known as sea vegetables
- sprouted beans
- nut milk
- peanut butter
- almond butter
- coconut milk
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- purified water
The raw vegan diet permits whole grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and wild rice, if they are sprouted or germinated.
People on a raw vegan diet limit or avoid:
- cooked and processed food
- refined oils
- refined sugar
- refined flour
- pasta products
To follow the raw vegan diet, a person tends to avoid all processed food, such as:
- baked goods
- refined sugar
A person also excludes all animal products.
Raw food often makes up around 50–75% of a person’s diet. If food needs heating, people do not usually heat it above 118 °F (48 °C).
People following the raw vegan diet mostly eat:
Here are some examples of what a person following a raw vegan diet might eat:
- acai bowls
- raw banana crepes
- green spirulina smoothies
- chilled avocado and cucumber soup
- kale and mushroom salad
- avocado salad
- raw vegan zucchini pasta and meatless mushroom balls
- raw pad thai with almond butter sauce and zucchini noodles
- raw vegan enchiladas with salsa and nut-based meat
- fruit smoothies
- dried fruit and nut mixes
- raw vegan granola bars
Grocery stores will have most of the fresh fruits and vegetables people need to make raw vegan meals. Health food stores will also sell raw ingredients, such as:
- raw chocolate
- plant-based butter
People can purchase equipment such as food dehydrators, juicers, and blenders online.
The raw vegan diet is a nutritious diet that includes many healthful plant-based foods.
Eating these foods may decrease a person’s risk of certain diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. However, if a person does not carefully plan their diet, they may not get all of the calories or nutrients they need.
Several health conditions have an association with the raw vegan diet, including irregular menstrual cycles and an increase in bone fractures.
A person following the raw vegan diet should make sure they are getting enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy. Scientists do not consider the raw vegan diet a safe long-term diet.