Deciding to eat healthier can be a complete lifestyle change. For some, it means cutting out desserts. For others, it means skipping seconds. And, of course, for most, it means incorporating more fruits and vegetables into a daily routine. But what if you're thinking of eating healthier by trying the raw vegan diet?
What Is a Raw Vegan Diet?
A raw vegan diet is a plant-based diet with no foods heated above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods are eaten raw, dehydrated, juiced, blended, soaked, sprouted, or fermented, and the diet is rich in nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, sprouted grains, and legumes.
We've all grown accustomed to various diet trends over the years, from vegetarianism and going gluten-free to plain old vegan. In fact, stories in The New York Times about raw vegan diets have been popping up since the early 2000s, so it isn't necessarily anything new. U.S. News estimates that an early form has even been around since the 19th century.
But just because it's been a part of other people's lives for a certain amount of time doesn't mean you can't learn something new. If you're interested in what the raw vegan diet is and how to cook within its boundaries, read on for more.
Raw Vegan 101: The Basics
In case you haven't heard about this trend, the idea behind the raw vegan diet is relatively simple. It follows the idea that raw foods—aka anything edible that hasn't been cooked or altered in any way—maintain enzymes, vitamins, and minerals that would otherwise be lost in a cooking process. By eating these foods as is, followers believe that their bodies benefit from keeping those components in their natural form. The raw food diet is said to make people feel healthier, lose weight, sleep better, and rarely get sick, while also helping them adhere to spiritual or environmental beliefs.
Clearly, such a plan would have to come with rules, sacrifices, and substitutes. Most people on the raw vegan diet follow a plant-based regimen, where up to 80% of what's eaten has not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains all make the cut, as well as other popular items like coconut and olive oil. Regular pasta is a definite no-go (who would want to eat uncooked noodles anyway?), but it is possible to make a version of lasagna with some shifts. And because it may be tough to get all of the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy weight, some do drink milk and eat raw fish and cheeses on occasion to consume enough calories.
Understanding the Risks
As much as those following the raw vegan diet speak of its benefits. The biggest risk is not getting enough calories from this diet, and dramatic weight loss can often occur. It's important to continue to eat enough proteins and carbohydrates while creating meals and substituting where appropriate.
Be aware that there are many doctors who are skeptical about the science behind the regimen and its ability to be a safe long-term eating plan.
We think you should always speak to your doctor whenever you're about to change your diet. But if you are curious about what a raw vegan diet looks like—and what it tastes like, too—here's an outline and a few recipes to give you an idea.
What to Eat
- Fresh fruits
- Raw vegetables
- Raw seeds and nuts
- Soaked or sprouted legumes
- Olive and coconut oil
- Fermented foods
- Nut-based milk
- Raw dairy, meat, and fish, if necessary
What Not to Eat
- Cooked vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, and grains
- Pasteurized fruits and dairy
- Coffee, tea, and alcohol
- Refined sugars, oils, and flours
- Processed foods and snacks
Zucchini Pesto Pasta With Kelp Noodles
Ingredients: This recipe from The Raw Food Kitchen includes spiralized zucchini and a packet of kelp noodles that have been mixed with a blend of nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. A handful of spinach and cherry tomatoes top it off.
Quick Tip: "I like to add kelp noodles to this recipe because they're carbohydrate-free (great for those on the Keto OS or ketogenic diet), calorie-free, gluten-free, and have the benefits of minerals," recipe creator Amanda Brocket says.
Beets and Citrus Detox Salad
Ingredients: Another recipe from The Raw Food Kitchen features finely sliced baby beets and navel oranges that have been tossed with kale, pistachios, and herbs.
Quick Tip: "Use half of the dressing to mix with prepared beets and marinate for at least one hour," Brocket says. "To serve, toss all of the ingredients together—reserving some segmented oranges and pistachios for garnish."
Strawberry Coconut Smoothie
Ingredients: Not only does Emily von Euw blog, This Rawsome Vegan Life, have a great name, but it's also home to this delicious smoothie recipe. It comes down to frozen strawberries, banana, zucchini, a beet, and coconut milk that all have been blended until they're just right.
Quick Tip: "If it's too thick for your blender to handle, add extra coconut milk or water," von Euw says. "Adjust according to taste: You can add extra ingredients or some sweetener. I sprinkled chia seeds on top of mine for some texture and contrast."
Rainbow Raw Pad Thai
Ingredients: A variety of fresh vegetables make this pad Thai recipe from Angela Liddon at Oh She Glows irresistibly colorful, from spiralized zucchini and julienned carrots to thinly sliced red peppers and green onions. They're all combined with a dressing of almond butter, garlic, maple syrup, and ginger.
Quick Tip: "Top bowls with edamame (or tofu), green onion, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds," Liddon says.
Ingredients: Who says you can't eat chocolate while on this diet? Marina Yanay-Triner at Soul in the Raw makes it happen with an inventive recipe, which includes no more than carob powder, coconut sugar, ripe avocados, and water.
Quick Tip: "Blend until no avocado chunks appear," Marina says. "Then add some poppy seeds, coconut flakes (unsweetened), and cinnamon."
Ingredients: This recipe from Iosune Robles at Simple Vegan Blog is as pretty as it is delicious. All it takes is a combination of sliced hearts of palm, chopped tomatoes, nori flakes, and fresh herbs that are marinated together for at least an hour.
Quick Tip: "To make nori flakes, I just blend a nori sheet in a blender, but you can use store-bought flakes as well," Robles says. "Any other dried seaweed is okay."
Ingredients: The Simple Vegan Blog also has a seven-layer salad recipe which includes romaine lettuce, corn, tomatoes, white onion, and chickpeas that have been tossed in a dressing of unsalted cashews, lemon juice, and maple syrup.
Quick Tip: "Top the salad with the dressing and some chopped chives," Robles says. "Serve immediately or refrigerate covered for a couple of hours."
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients: According to this recipe from Laura–Jane Koers of The Rawtarian, all it takes to create mashed potatoes for the raw vegan diet is five minutes and a handful of ingredients. Cauliflower, cashews, salt, garlic, and water are mixed together for this simple side.
Quick Tip: "Although you may be tempted to do so, do not add any additional liquid other than the two tablespoons of water," Koers says. "Also, if it seems difficult to process at the beginning, you may need to stop and scrape the sides a few times to help get it started."
Medawar E, Huhn S, Villringer A, Veronica witte A. The Effects of Plant-Based Diets on the Body and the Brain: A Systematic Review. Transl Psychiatry. 2019;9(1):226.doi:10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0