The risks of a raw vegan diet

Once when someone found out I was vegan they asked me: Don’t you miss cooked food?

Some people conflate a raw vegan diet with veganism in general, and I know some people who follow a raw vegan diet over simply being vegan for health reasons. I’m quite critical of the claims made by proponents of a raw food diet, and wanted to make a comment on it. If you disagree, please let me know ASAP so I can change my mind.

One of the core claims of the raw food movement is that cooking destroys some of the enzymes and nutrients in food, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence behind this. Stomach acid destroys most of the enzymes in food anyway, and cooking food can often have a positive effect. For some examples:

Cooking tomatoes increases by five-fold the bioavailabilty of the antioxidant lycopene.

Cooking foods with beta-carotene (like squash and sweet potatoes) helps release their nutrients and makes them more absorbable.

Vegetables in the cruciferous vegetables family (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts) contain goitrogen compounds, which in excess can contribute to hypothyroidism – but they are mostly deactivated by heat.

A 100 percent raw plant-based diet has been associated with a lower bone mass (though note this is from 1 study with a not very impressive sample size).

I’d say the only saving grace of a raw food (vegan) diet is that it forces you to consume a whole foods plant-based diet, which is more nutrient and less calorie dense than say a diet with many processed foods. There is nothing wrong with a processed food per se, but they typically have fewer nutrients and more calories, which can be a problem.

Of course, for me veganism has nothing to do with health. I happen to agree that avoiding animal products and eating more plant-based whole foods are generally beneficial for health, but if it were the opposite, I wouldn’t start including animal products in my diet for the same reason I wouldn’t start including human products in my diet if it turned out that were a little healthier.

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