Is a raw food diet right for you?

crunchy chocolate hearts

Most raw food diets contain a lot of cacao (or ‘raw chocolate’) - yum!

Raw foodism is becoming increasingly popular. Advocates report high energy levels and less need for sleep. But is it a healthy way for everyone to eat, asks Hazel Sillver

Raw courgette lasagne followed by avocado pudding may not be the sort of meal that wets your appetite. But raw foodism is fast becoming part of our society. 

Raw foods, such as Nakd snack bars, Raw Health honey and choccy bars by The Raw Chocolate Co, are now widely available and one of the most exciting restaurants to open in London last year was 42° Raw, which doesn’t cook anything. 

This month sees the launch of a new raw food recipe book: Raw Food Power by Annelie Whitfield (£12.99, Ivy Press), and raw heroine Kate Magic (formerly Kate Wood) is reissuing two of her books:Raw Magic (£16.99, Process) and Eat Smart, Eat Raw (£14.99, Grub Street). 

What was once considered extreme hippiedom, is growing in popularity as people become more interested in healthy eating. So what does raw really mean? Do you have to eat like a rabbit and is it actually healthy? 

What is raw foodism?

In its barest form, raw foodism involves eating uncooked, unprocessed foods. Most raw foodies are passionate about the earth: although some eat animal foods (such as sashimi), the vast majority are vegans or vegetarians, who only eat organic food. In general, raw is an extremely green way to eat. 

The diet is largely composed of vegetables, fruit, seaweed, seeds, nuts, algae and sprouted grains and pulses.

The raw movement’s advocates sing the energy and mood boosting praises of their diet. Many report high energy levels, improved mood and less need for sleep. Raw food writer Annelie Whitfield (an ex-Hollywood stuntwoman) changed her eating habits after having a baby because a raw foodie told her they only needed four hours sleep a night. Struggling with the sleepy marathon that is breastfeeding, Annelie went raw and has never looked back. 

The reason for all their energy, claim the raw folk, is that they don’t heat anything over 42°C. This, they say, prevents the destruction of the enzymes that are required for healthy body processes and preserves the vitamin, mineral and amino acid content of food. It is a misconception that raw means cold – food and drinks can be warmed, but are never hot. 

Is raw healthy?

While it is true that heat destroys some enzymes and nutrients, research shows that cooking many foods (including many vegetables) actually makes them easier to digest and their nutrients more available. Lengthy cooking is essential in making some health foods, such as black beans (2½ hours) and rice ‘congee’ (3-6 hours). 

The raw philosophy that fresh, organic, unprocessed, local, non-animal foods are the key to health is undisputed however. A diet laden with animal or refined products can cause the body all sorts of problems, say nutritionists, including creating an acidic state that could create depression and anxiety; and produce that was picked a fortnight ago and shipped across the world will have very few nutrients! 

Not everyone suits raw

Asian health systems advise that a raw food diet can be extremely bad for people who are in a cold’ state. Symptoms of this include cold hands or feet, feeling chilly when it isn’t that cold, pale skin, clear urine and physical inflexibility. Coldness can be treated by eating cooked food that is largely composed of ‘warming’ ingredients such as oats, spelt, cumin, ginger, dates, parsnips, yam, kale and butter. On the contrary, anyone showing symptoms of ‘heat’ (such as red skin, feeling hot when it isn’t that warm, red eyes or aggressive thoughts or behaviour) could hugely benefit from eating raw foods.

Another group of people who may react badly are migraine sufferers. This is because most raw food diets contain a lot of cacao (or ‘raw chocolate’). If a regular chocolate bar that is bulked out with sugar and dairy products creates a headache, then imagine the effect of pure cacao. Those with sensitive heads report unpleasant reactions to raw chocolate, including 3-day migraines and a ‘dizzy, spaced out, sick’ feeling. Although cacao is packed with antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium, Annelie Whitfield advises only eating it in small amounts. 

Going raw

Sanity is always helpful when approaching the subject of eating. If you want to try raw foodism, do it gently and gradually, observing the effect it has on your mood and your body. Extremism is not a good idea. Leading raw food experts, including Kate Magic, advocate shifting to raw slowly and perhaps having 50-70% raw as a goal, rather than 100%.

It’s also important to remember how inseparable exercise, meditation and eating are – without moving and relaxing, we probably won’t crave raw food or be able to cope with its detoxifying effects. Because it is so pure, it will stimulate the body to release toxins.

Most nutritionists agree that the best time to introduce raw foods is during the summer when the body best copes with uncooked food and craves it. During autumn and winter, it is more nourishing, say experts such as natural nutritionist Kirsten Chick, to eat warming, cooked foods – these are easier to digest at that time of year and have a nourishing effect on mind and body. 

In the end, your body has the call. If eating raw makes you feel happy and full of beans, then perhaps it suits you. For anyone who wants to give raw a go, here are two recipes to try: 

Crunchy Chocolate Hearts

Makes 20 - Prep time 20 mins, plus 3 hours to set 

100 g/3½ oz (1 cup) cacao butter

40 g/1½ oz (½ cup) raw cacao powder

40 g/1½ oz (½ cup) lucuma powder

1 tbsp maca powder

1 tsp mucuna powder

1 tbsp raw honey

1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds

1 tbsp buckwheaties (already sprouted and dehydrated buckwheat)

1 tbsp goji berries

*Slowly melt the cacao butter in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water.

*When the butter has melted add the powders and honey and stir until it is a smooth chocolate consistency.

*Stir in the hemp seeds, buckwheaties and goji berries.

*Pour the mixture into heart-shaped cases and leave to set at room temperature for 3 hours.

*When set, chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 

(All the ingredients above can be purchased from 

Recipe taken from Raw Food Power by Annelie Whitfield (£12.99, Ivy Press)

Spicy Sunflower Pate

Serves 4 – Prep time 15 mins. 

300g /10oz mixed vegetables                                                   

small bunch parsley                                                                          

¼ red onion                                                                     

125g/4oz sunflower seeds, soaked 2-4 hrs                  

2 tbsp flaxseed oil                                                                 

2 tbsp lemon juice                                                                 

1 tbsp tamari                                                                             

1 tsp ground cumin                                                           

½ red chilli pepper                                                      

1 clove garlic                                                               

 *Soak your sunflower seeds for 2-4 hours.

*Prepare the vegetables, parsley and onion.

*Put everything in the food processor, and mix for couple of minutes until you have a smooth puree.

*This can be used as a dip, to make nori rolls, or it’s particularly agreeable when stuffed in peppers.

 (You can use any combination of vegetables that you have to hand e.g. broccoli, mushroom, celery or carrot, and you could replace the sunflower seeds with 125 g (4 oz) pumpkin seeds, soaked overnight.) 

Recipe taken from Eat Smart, Eat Rawby Kate Magic (£14.99, Grub Street)


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