Raw Food Diets

Raw food diets by definition: food is not cooked, and not heated to more than 115 to 118 degrees. Raw food is often referred to as live or living food because it retains the enzymes, as well as nutrients and other factors, that would otherwise be destroyed by heat. There are many special foods, dishes, and preparation methods in these diets.

These are whole food diets that prohibit processed food and refined sugar. Although the most prominent diets are vegan, there are others sometimes called "raw paleo" that emphasize raw meat, milk, and other animal products. Some vegan diets are low fat, but even vegan food can be high in fat.

Vegetarian diets exclude foods such as meat or fish that require killing animals. Vegan diets also exclude foods such as milk or eggs that come from live animals.

Proponents often argue that cooked food should never be eaten. However, proponent Gabriel Cousens mentions an option of an 80% raw diet, and enzyme researcher Edward Howell wrote that a 75% raw diet may be adequate.


The basic concept is that food should contain maximal enzymes: eliminate all foods with no enzymes and emphasize the raw foods that contain the most enzymes.

Enzymes are special proteins that carry out bodily metabolic processes. Some enzymes survive the harvesting of the plant, the collection of the milk, or the death of the animal, and they retain some activity as long as they are not heated.

These food enzymes pre-digest food and make nutrients more available. All animals except modern people and their pets eat 100% raw food that include enzymes that help with digestion and nutrition. Raw and enzyme advocates conclude that a lack of food enzymes is unnatural and affects our health in a negative way.

Food Without Enzymes

How does food end up having no enzymes? Heat destroys enzymes.

Cooking and baking destroy enzymes, so raw food diets prohibit home cooking.

They also prohibit processed foods, because canning, bottling, pasteurizing, refining and almost any commercial processing also destroy all enzymes.

Food With High Enzymes

Not all raw foods have the same enzyme content. Some have extremely high amounts of enzymes. These diets emphasize them.

Examples are:

  • Vegan and low fat: wheatgrass juice, sprouts, cultured vegetables
  • High-calorie and moderate-fat vegan: avocados, coconuts, germinated nuts, olives
  • Animal: raw honey, raw milk

See a list and more information here.

Other Nutrients

Gabriel Cousens notes that cooking destroys many nutrients besides enzymes, and damages others. This is true, although opponents also note that cooking, by breaking down nutrients, makes some nutrients more available to the body. Some foods are not even edible raw, such as cashews or beans.

Cousens also points out that raw foods:

  • Help the body detoxify more than cooked foods can
  • Retain more antioxidants than cooked foods do
  • Retain what are called “immune factors” that are destroyed by heat

Food Preparation

Special preparation methods are designed to retain enzymes. They create unique dishes not generally found in the standard American diet: juices, smoothies, sprouts, sprouted flatbreads, nut- and seed-based foods, fresh fermented foods, and many more.

  • Soaking and germinating grains, beans, seeds, nuts
  • Growing sprouts
  • Seeds cultured and made into “yogurt” and “cheese”
  • Raw cultured foods
  • Juicing fruits, vegetables, and grasses
  • “Pasta” made from vegetables
  • Marinating
  • Dehydrating

Kitchen Equipment

  • Indoor growing equipment for sprouts and grasses
  • Juicer
  • Blender
  • Food processor
  • Vegetable spiral slicer for “pasta”
  • Mandoline vegetable slicer
  • Dehydrator

Vegan Raw Food Diets

Hippocrates Health Institute

David Wolfe

An extensive, user-friendly site and personal coach: Andrew Perlot, Raw Food Health

Non-Vegan Raw Food Diets

Food poisoning poses more of a risk with raw meat, fish, eggs, and milk than with most vegan fare. Preparation methods become critical.

Sally Fallon, of the Weston A. Price Foundation, has noted that there are no traditional all-raw diets. Her Nourishing Traditions cookbook and diet does include raw dairy, traditional raw meat/fish dishes, and raw organ meats.

Raw liver has a long tradition. It was the only treatment for pernicious anemia before injectable vitamin B12 was discovered. Raw organs, very fresh, from young animals, were also the basis for early enzyme treatments for cancer. Gerson Therapy used raw liver as part of a raw diet to treat cancer.

Raw dairy is widely used for health purposes. At one time, a raw milk diet was an available treatment: Milk Cure 

"Raw paleo" diets are focused around raw meat and raw milk. The most well-known is the Primal Diet of the controversial Aajonus Vonderplanitz.

In Short

Vegan or Paleo: Often vegan, but raw food diets may be entirely paleo or simply include carefully prepared raw organ meats, meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs.

Fat: Often low-fat, but raw or vegan foods can be high fat.

Grains: Difficulty incorporating grains and beans. Grains can be soaked and sprouted; most beans are not edible uncooked.

Cooking: No!

Superfoods: Wheatgrass juice, vegetable juice, sprouts, Rejuvalac (fermented wheatberries), raw cultured foods, raw milk, raw liver

Books on raw food diets

Raw Food made Easy for 1 or 2 People

Easy raw food!

Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine

Gabriel Cousens' raw food recipes.

The Sunfood Diet Success System

David Wolfe's how-to.