What is a raw foods diet? Is this a good way to eat?
Different people define a raw foods diet in different ways. One common way of explaining a raw foods diet is that its followers eat only (or mostly) uncooked and unheated foods. Many raw foods diets are vegan and are based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and sprouted grains. Some people include cold-pressed oils (oils that are produced without heat) as well as dried fruits and pickled or fermented vegetables. Some people will include raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw meat and fish but this is not very common. Some raw foodists eat all of their food raw; others cook some food but eat most food raw.
At this point, very little is known about the health effects of a raw foods diet in teens. Many health experts are concerned because this kind of diet can be very low in protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Teens need to get enough of these nutrients to stay healthy and to grow normally. Raw foods diets are frequently low in calories as well and it may be hard for teens to get what they need, especially if they're very active. If you're thinking about choosing a raw foods diet, it would be a good idea to see a registered dietitian to help you decide if you could meet your nutritional needs. You may need to take supplements in order to get enough calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. You will probably need to include lots of nuts and sprouted grains to make sure you're getting enough protein and calories.
To help put this in perspective, for teens to meet calcium needs from raw vegetables, they'd need to eat 20 cups or more of raw collards, bok choy, broccoli, kale, mustard greens or okra. That's a lot! If you're counting on nuts to provide calcium, you'd need to eat 3-1/2 cups of almonds. In order to meet protein needs, a 16-year old boy would need to eat close to 2 cups of almonds and to meet the needs for zinc, 31 cups of alfalfa sprouts!
by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD