Vegan diets have become increasingly popular over the years, especially among people looking to improve their health. Indeed, a growing body of evidence shows that plant-based diets (including vegan diets) may have numerous health benefits and have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, as well as a decrease in body weight and cholesterol level.
However, some people take the vegan diet to extremes, choosing to only eat raw plant foods that can be eaten without any cooking. Some also exclude foods that have been altered from their natural form or processed (like oat or almond milk).
Proponents of this diet claim that cooking causes ingredients to lose some of their important nutrients and enzymes. By consuming raw plant foods, they believe the diet will improve energy levels, prevent (and even reverse) disease, and improve overall health.
But research suggests that raw vegan diets, if followed for a long time, may cause more harm than good. Here’s why:
raw vegan diet
You may be missing important nutrients
Research suggests that some raw foods may be healthier than cooked foods. For example, cooking causes Brussels sprouts and red cabbage to lose up to 22% of their thiamine content. It is a form of vitamin B1 that keeps the nervous system healthy.
Although some vegetables may lose nutrients during cooking, others have a higher nutrient content when cooked. This is because some nutrients are bound to the cell walls of vegetables. Cooking breaks down cell walls, allowing nutrients to be released and more easily absorbed by the body.
For example, when spinach is cooked, it becomes easier for the body to absorb the calcium it contains. Research has also found that while cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content by 28%, it increases their lycopene content by more than 50%. Lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of various chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and heart disease. Asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower are other examples of vegetables that are higher in nutrients when cooked.
Cooked vegetables can also provide the body with more antioxidants. These are molecules that can fight off a type of harmful molecule known as free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to disease over time. Certain vegetables (including asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli) contain higher levels of the antioxidants beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A), lutein, and lycopene when eaten. cooked than raw.
Suggested reading: What is the carnivore diet and is it a bad idea?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are likely
Raw vegan diets are likely lacking in many important vitamins and minerals, namely vitamins B12 and D, selenium, zinc, iron, and two types of omega-3 fatty acids. Indeed, many of the foods that contain high levels of these vitamins and minerals come from animals, such as meat and eggs. These vitamins all play a key role in the structure, development and production of brain and nerve cells, while supporting a healthy immune system.
Vitamin B12 levels are of particular concern. A study of people who followed strict raw food diets found that 38% of participants were deficient in vitamin B12. This is concerning, especially since vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with a range of problems, including jaundice, mouth ulcers, vision problems, depression and other mood changes.
The same study also found that a strict, raw vegan diet increased levels of homocysteine (an amino acid broken down by vitamin B12) due to B12 deficiency. This is a concern because increased homocysteine levels can potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
May lead to loss of periods
If not planned correctly, the raw vegan diet can lead to unintended weight loss if you don’t consume the amount of calories your body needs to function. This is of particular concern for young women.
Researchers found that 30% of women under 45 who followed a raw food diet for more than three years suffered from partial to complete amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). This is likely due to the weight loss caused by the raw vegan diet. Amenorrhea can cause a range of problems, including infertility, as well as reduced bone mineral density and osteoporosis. Other studies have also shown that young women who consume 22-42% less calories than needed are at greater risk of reproductive suppression.
While following a plant-based diet can have many health benefits, the raw vegan diet can potentially go a bit too far and can carry even greater risks if not followed carefully. If you’re considering following a raw vegan diet, it’s important to plan carefully to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need for optimal health, in the amounts you need. I also wouldn’t recommend following it for a long time because of the many risks it can carry.
Laura Brown, Lecturer in Nutrition, Food and Health Sciences, University of Teesside, first published this article on The conversation.