Can You Get Enough Nutrients on a Raw Vegan Diet?
As a philosophy and lifestyle that seeks to eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation as far as it is possible and practicable, veganism has recently gained significant popularity throughout the United States.
Even though the term "vegan" was coined in 1944, it was only during the last decade that more and more people have decided to adopt a vegan way of living. Between 2004 and 2019, there was a 300% increase in the number of vegans.
Today, approximately 3% of the population of our country is vegan. Veganism is very complex, as every individual whose life is guided by it understands it differently. For some, being vegan means only eating a diet that excludes all animal products and by-products, such as meat, dairy, eggs, shellfish, and honey. On the other hand, for others, veganism also means buying only products that have not been tested on animals and that do not have animal products or by-products as ingredients, refusing to partake in activities that entail using animals for entertainment, such as zoos and circuses, and wearing only clothes that are not made of wool, fur, leather, or silk.
The reasons why someone chooses to go vegan are numerous, including the refusal to contribute to animal cruelty and exploitation, the hope to improve the environment, and their personal health. Our article will focus on the health benefits and drawbacks of a raw vegan diet. However, before we analyze whether this diet is sustainable, it is important to make the distinction between a vegan diet and a raw vegan diet, as our focus is on the latter. In addition to excluding all animal products and by-products, raw vegans also reject cooked and processed foods. This diet combines the concepts of veganism with those of raw foodism.
What Can You Eat on a Raw Vegan Diet to Make Sure You Remain Healthy?
Most people decide to eat a raw vegan diet because of the health benefits it can have, such as a lower risk of diabetes, weight loss, avoiding heart disease, and a reduced level of cholesterol. Nevertheless, it is essential to understand the principles of raw veganism before adopting this diet, as otherwise, it may actually damage your health instead of improving it. The following are the nutritional sources of the food pyramid in the order of importance that raw vegans should ideally adjust their diet after to maintain or improve their health:
- Clean water: You should drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water every day to ensure the proper functioning of all the organs in your body.
- Leafy greens: They are rich in calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin K, iron, protein, antioxidants, as well as numerous other crucial nutrients and, for this reason, leafy greens are the second most important food in the raw vegan pyramid. People with this diet should consume at least 2 cups of dark leafy greens a day, but the amount they have should not be limited, as you cannot eat a too large amount of leafy greens since they are a foundation food.
- Fruits and vegetables: While the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables per day is 5 to 9 servings, with a serving of fruit meaning 150g and a serving of vegetables meaning 75g, raw vegans can eat unlimited amounts of these foods, as they are also foundation foods.
- Sprouts and legumes: The process of sprouting involves seeds only and is carried out by soaking the seeds in water and allowing them to sprout as they would have naturally. Afterward, you can safely consume the seeds. While this food is also quite important for a sustainable raw vegan diet, you should consume a moderate amount of sprouts. As for legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans, they can also be part of a raw vegan diet if they are previously soaked in water for several hours or overnight.
- Nuts and seeds: Raw vegans should consume at least 30 g of raw nuts and seeds per day in order to sustain their diet and ensure they remain healthy. This food category includes cashew nuts, pistachio, walnuts, macadamias, and almonds.
- Herbs and microgreens: These are medicinal foods and should thereby be consumed sparingly by raw vegans. While herbs include parsley, rosemary, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic, microgreens refer to young vegetable greens that are 1 to 3 inches tall. Microgreens can be produced by using a wide range of seeds, such as cauliflower, fennel, arugula, quinoa, and onion.
- Cold-pressed oils and nutritional yeast: Lastly, the foods from this category must be consumed rarely, as excess may cause health problems. You should have no more than 20 ml, which means 1.5 tablespoons, of cold-pressed oil a day. As for nutritional yeast, you should have 1 or 2 tablespoons per day, as too much can cause issues such as abdominal discomfort, headaches, facial flushing, and inflammatory bowel disease.
If you make sure you follow the raw vegan food pyramid and include a lot of the foundation foods in your diet, namely leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, you should not experience any health problems. On the contrary, you may notice that your health has drastically improved within several months of adopting a raw vegan diet. Nevertheless, having a raw vegan diet that is sustainable can be quite difficult, especially for beginners. For this reason, we strongly advise you to consult with a nutritionist before making the transition to a raw vegan diet.
The Risks of a Poor Raw Vegan Diet
Failing to adequately plan your raw vegan diet is very likely to result in more or less serious health problems, depending on how good your health was before adopting it. Although a raw vegan diet can be appropriate for anyone if it is balanced, it is easy to slip up if you are new to it. Therefore, you should ensure that you eat enough foundation foods, the right amount of proteins and amino acids, as well as a limited intake of medicinal foods. The following are the most common health issues caused by a poorly planned raw vegan diet:
- anemia: due to the little to no vitamin B12 that a raw vegan diet entails, you can easily develop anemia if you do not take supplements of this essential vitamin, as well as nervous system damage, poor bone health, infertility, and even heart disease
- weak muscles and bones: there are multiple aspects of a raw vegan diet that can lead to weak muscles and bones, the main being low calcium and vitamin D levels
- tooth decay: if you eat too many citrus fruits and berries, which are highly acidic and can cause the erosion of your tooth enamel, you may come to struggle with tooth decay
- reduced fertility: a study found that 70% of women who were on a raw vegan diet had menstrual cycle irregularities and, furthermore, approximately a third of them experienced amenorrhea, the complete lack of menstruating
The list of health problems that you can experience as a consequence of a raw vegan diet gone wrong is obviously longer, but these are the most studied ones. To prevent facing a health issue due to your raw vegan diet, we strongly recommend you avoid undereating and extremism, such as refusing to take medication even when your body desperately needs it. The last may come as a surprise, but the reality is that there are some raw vegans that take their diet and lifestyle that comes with it to the extreme by striving to eat only “clean” foods and rejecting any unnatural substance, such as medication, which may be very dangerous and even life-threatening.
How to Correctly Follow a Raw Vegan Diet
Following a vegan diet correctly and safely entails at least 75% of your food being raw or cooked at temperatures below 104-118°F or 40-48°C. Moreover, you must avoid all animal products and by-products entirely and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. On a raw vegan diet, you should avoid the following foods:
After discussing with a nutritionist about the change you want to make in your diet, the next step you must take if you want to transition to a raw vegan diet is getting rid of the food you were previously eating and stocking your fridge and pantry with the foods and ingredients that are suitable for your new way of eating. Subsequently, you should find some raw vegan recipes that are easy to follow, such as curry and zucchini noodles, cauliflower fried rice, tomato avocado mushroom corn soup, and spinach pesto veggie pasta, before venturing to prepare more complex recipes. Below you can find what you can basically eat on a raw vegan diet:
In conclusion, the raw vegan diet can be sustainable if you follow it correctly and avoid undereating and extremism. It was proven to have numerous health benefits, such as providing the highest nutrient density, being very rich in fiber, and promoting optimal digestion. On top of that, it is also very important for the future of our environment, as well as for the abolition of cruelty and exploitation that affects over 200 million animals worldwide every day.
Nonetheless, if you have decided to adopt a raw vegan diet, regardless of your reasons, we strongly advise you to first talk to a nutritionist who has experience in this way of eating, as they will help you adjust raw veganism to your personal nutritional needs and overall health.