The raw vegan diet is an extreme form of veganism.
Getty Images/Natalia Gdovskaia
- Vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular around the world, including in South Africa.
- Evidence shows that plant-based diets can have significant health benefits.
- However, some people take the vegan diet to extremes, which can cause more harm than good.
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 many health benefitsand have been linked to lower risk of heart disease next to decreased body weight and cholesterol levels.
However, some people take the vegan diet to extremes, choosing to only eat raw plant foods that can be eaten without cooking. Some also exclude foods that have been modified from their natural form or processed (like oat or almond milk).
LEARN MORE | Vegans vs Meat Eaters: Who Lives Longer?
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.
You may be missing important nutrients
Research suggests that certain raw foods may be healthier than cooked foods. For example, cooking loses Brussels sprouts and red cabbage. up to 22% 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.
LEARN MORE | The Longest Living People On Earth Eat These 6 Foods
For example, when spinach is cooked, it becomes easier for the body to absorb calcium is contains. Research has also shown that while cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content by 28%, it increases their lycopene content more than 50%. Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of range of 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. Some vegetables (including asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli) contain higher levels of antioxidants beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A), lutein and lycopene when cooked than when raw.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are likely
Raw vegan diets are likely to lacks 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.
LEARN MORE | Can plant-based diets make South Africa healthier?
Vitamin B12 levels are of particular concern. A study of people who followed strict raw food diets found that 38% of participants were vitamin B12 deficiency. This is worrying, especially given 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 cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
May lead to loss of periods
If not planned correctly, the raw vegan diet can lead to unintentional 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 had partial to complete amenorrhea (no rules). 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 reproduction function removed.
LEARN MORE | What is the “carnivore diet” and is it a bad idea?
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.