People are motivated to become vegan for a number of reasons; improving the quality of life for animals tends to be number one. Not too far behind is the desire to pursue a healthier lifestyle filled with whole and unprocessed foods. This intense desire to reap the health benefits of a vegan diet is called a Raw Vegan Diet.  

In case you aren't familiar with traditional veganism, here's a quick rundown. Vegans do not consume any animal products—milk, cheese, meat, fish, honey—purchase any animal byproducts—wool, leather, silk—or engage in any activity that could exploit the well-being of animals—zoos, aquariums, hunting, or products that are tested on animals. 

What Makes a Raw Vegan Diet Different?

In addition to eliminating animals products, you can't eat foods that have been cooked above 115° Fahrenheit (46° Celsius). Instead, foods are eaten fresh (preferably), dehydrated (debatable), or fermented. As a result, the macronutrient breakdown of a raw vegan usually reflects an 80-10-10 split which means 80% of calories come from carbohydrates (primarily fruit) with the remaining 20% split equally between fats and protein. 

Raw vegans claim that cooking food decreases the nutritional value of the food and destroys valuable enzymes. High temperatures result in toxic and less digestible foods. For example, steaming veggies causes the nutrients to leak out into the water and charring food on the barbecue results in the formation of carcinogens. 

They divide food into two categories: dead food (anything cooked) and live food (raw food). This distinction is based on the spiritual concept of the life energy possessed by the food. 

Benefits of a Raw Vegan Diet

Going raw inevitably increases the amount of fruits and veggies you consume which is great for your overall health. From keeping your skin perfectly smooth to reducing your risk of cancer, fruits are pretty amazing. Since these foods are naturally higher in fiber, you feel fuller faster and end up not eating as much. Over time, this results in weight loss

Raw food is easier for the body to digest and absorb because plant products supply their own enzymes. Cooked food requires greater amounts of enzymes to process since the plant-derived ones are destroyed. Just like enzymes, Vitamin C and certain B vitamins are lost when cooked, steamed, boiled, or grilled. 

Many people have "cured" themselves of chronic illness and disease by making the dramatic switch to a raw diet. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and allergies are no match for the raw vegan diet. Other reported side effects include increased energy, an improved immune system, improved fertility, and needing less sleep. 

While often not the original motivation for pursuing a raw vegan diet, choosing unprocessed plant based products decreases your impact on the environment.

Drawbacks of a Raw Vegan Diet

lettuce, tomato, salad, pepper, vegetable
Mun Ling Koh

It can be incredibly difficult getting enough calories and energy during the day. Sure, fruits and veggies are full of nutrients, but your body also requires fats and proteins to function properly. Nuts and seeds offer fat and protein but they are hard to eat in large amounts. 

Consuming high amounts of fruit can lead to tooth decay due to the high acid content. Dried fruits are especially bad because they stick to your teeth and eat away at the enamel for longer periods of time.  

Moreover, unless you live in hot tropical climates, it can be difficult to gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Not to mention, it can get expensive! The average university student doesn't have $6 laying around to buy strawberries in the dead of winter. And of course, raw vegans aren't fans of frozen foods

Unless you live in a large centre with raw vegan cafés on every corner, it's going to be incredibly difficult eating out with friends. This can get incredibly lonely. Get used to spending all your free time getting creative in the kitchen. 

If not properly supplemented, raw vegans are likely to be deficient in Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, selenium, iron, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids. They have no way of consuming Vitamin B12 unless they eat fortified products. Vitamin B12 is essential for proper neurological function, metabolism, and energy levels. 

It's difficult to find any peer-reviewed scientific articles promoting a raw vegan diet. Most sources are blogs and random testimonials with a strong bias towards the radical effects of a raw vegan diet. Give it a Google. I dare you.

Arguments Made By The Scientific Community

Contrary to the belief that heat destroys nutrients, the opposite is in fact true for some (not all) foods. The antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes increases in availability when the tomatoes are cooked, for example.

The human body contains its own assortment of enzymes in the stomach and intestines to digest food. In actuality, plant enzymes are destroyed by stomach acid and do not help breakdown the food at all. 

While the concept of "detoxifying" your body has been widely popular amongst celebrities and people trying to lose weight quickly, there is limited evidence that they actually help. The liver's job is to rid the body of toxins and it doesn't need any outside assistance. 

Approved Recipes

Smoothies will obviously become your new bff. Try this basic breakfast smoothie. Shake it up a little by making a smoothie bowl topped with chia seeds, more fruit, nuts (not roasted!), coconut, or hemp seeds. 

For lunch and dinner, try one of these raw salads. If you're feeling extra ambitious, raw lasagna is also a thing. In my opinion, the best part about a raw vegan diet is the endless dessert creations. Here are 15 raw recipes to try out, covering everything from cheesecake to lava cakes. 

In terms of snacking, energy balls are convenient and tasty. Chia seed pudding is also a good make ahead option. And of course, hummus and guacamole with fresh veggies is always acceptable. 

While I clearly would not recommend anyone follow a raw vegan diet 100% of the time, it does have its benefits when the underlying principles are observed in moderation.