So, this is a topic that I am very passionate about.
I hear it time and time again:
“I tried the raw vegan diet, but it just wasn’t for me.”
While the raw diet may seem wildly restrictive, to me it actually makes eating healthy a whole lot easier.
As long as it falls under the “raw vegan” category, I can probably eat it without worrying about feeling sick!
Even with cooked vegan food, there is a wide array of foods that I intentionally avoid due to sensitivities or preferences, whether it’s wheat, soy, canola oil or legumes.
With raw food, seldom do I pick up a drink, snack or even pre-made meal, read the ingredients and find somethin’ sketchy.
As someone with a very sensitive digestive system and body in general, the raw food diet makes enjoying and not worrying about food a dream.
While I’ve never believed that there is one diet for everyone, I do think that many people follow the raw food diet incorrectly, resulting in a negative experience.
The first thing I notice about those who follow raw food diets and end up switching back to eating meat and dairy is their limited, obsessive food restriction.
To be a bit more specific, I’m talking about those who hop on the “fruitarian”, “bazillion bananas a day”, “mango mono-meal” bandwagon.
The only exception to my observations on this are those who live in warm, tropical climates where fresh fruit grows in abundance.
I’ve always believed that we should try to eat according to our location, climate and time of year (for the most part).
So if you’re living in, say, Colorado or Northern California, maybe the high-fruit diet isn’t exactly the best plan of action.
But, if you’re living in Hawaii or Costa Rica, plucking fresh mangoes off a tree makes perfect sense.
Not only does this have a lot to do with the quality and freshness of the produce you’re consuming, but also with how our minds and bodies react to different climates, temperatures and weather patterns.
For example, when it’s sunny and warm out, I automatically eat less, crave fresher foods like salads and juices, and enjoy fruit more often.
But, when it’s cold and rainy, I crave warm soups, hot drinks and heavier comfort foods.
When eating a raw diet that consists primarily (or strictly) of fruit, there is an alarming nutrient deficit that occurs over time, particularly those found in healthy fats.
An article published in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences states that:
“Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids—the scientific term for fats the body can’t make on its own—store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs. They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism. The cycle of making, breaking, storing and mobilizing fats is at the core of how humans and all animals regulate their energy.”
While fruits do contain a wide variety of nutrients and fiber, they simply do not contain everything we need to thrive on a raw vegan diet – and fat is one of those things!
This brings me to my number one recommendation to those wanting to try the raw vegan diet:
Consume plenty of healthy fats!
There are tons of amazing raw sources of healthy fats including coconut oil and coconut meat, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
The human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat. It needs fat to function properly!
Enjoy healthy fats with every meal, and make sure to keep them varied.
An article published in the Harvard School of Public Health States that:
“The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.”
So add the second half of that avocado to your meal!
Add an extra dollop of cashew cheese to your raw vegan pizza!
Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on that salad!
In my opinion, healthy fats play an essential role in maintaining any diet.
While healthy fats are a great addition to the raw vegan lifestyle, there are some foods that will hinder your success.
This brings me to my next tip:
Beware of sugars!
It’s so easy to consume large quantities of sugar when following a raw diet.
When it comes to raw food, some of the easiest things to find are these amazing, beautiful raw desserts… some of which are far more tasty than their cooked, non-vegan counterparts I may add!
When I first committed to a fully raw diet, I binged on desserts.
Whether I was making them myself or found them at health food stores and restaurants, I was consuming way too much sugar.
“It’s raw, so it’s fine!” I thought to myself.
While this is partially true, and raw desserts are generally way healthier than traditional desserts, they’re best eaten in moderation.
Sugar, no matter where it’s coming from, is still sugar.
It feeds candida, perpetuates sugar addiction, and can cause all sorts of health issues from brain fog to obesity when over-consumed.
When following a raw diet, try to stick to whole fruits when sugar cravings creep up…. And even then, it’s best to ask yourself if you really need it, or if it’s possible you’re craving something else.
Start off slow.
When I made the switch to raw foods, I had already been vegan for years.
In my opinion, drastic, cold-turkey changes can often be stressful and/or traumatic to the mind and body.
If I’ve been eating hamburgers and ice cream my whole life, changing them out for salads and green juices could mean more than just a new diet.
While we often don’t like to admit it, we have deep-rooted emotional attachments to the foods we eat – and generally, they’re the same foods we loved growing up.
Food is comforting… certain foods even trigger chemicals in our brain that make us feel happy, sleepy or calm.
While raw food can be totally delicious and satisfy these cravings, it’s still a huge leap from traditional, cooked comfort food.
If you’re considering the raw vegan diet and are not yet vegan or vegetarian, I would strongly recommend making a transition to veganism first.
If you’re already plant-based and/or eating clean foods, maybe start by preparing one raw meal a day.
Then, increase it to two.
This will help to keep stress levels under control, and give you plenty of freedom to experiment with recipes and plan meals.
Switching to the raw diet overnight can be a little intimidating, especially when you haven’t found your go-to meal recipes yet, but you have to feed your body enough nutrients for an entire day.
Letting yourself not have to worry about preparing at least one meal a day can give you plenty of time to research, test and find which recipes you truly love.
Then, when you do make the switch to 100% raw foods, you’ll be well prepared with tons of recipes to get you through the week.
Making and eating raw food can be super fun, especially if you like to experiment in the kitchen. Trying to make raw vegan recipes that look and taste identical to traditional cooked favorites is a blast!
Get your nutrients down!
There is an intimidating list of nutrients that we need to function properly as human beings.
When you first start your raw vegan diet, it’s imperative to make sure you’re reaching your nutrient goals.
It’s generally pretty easy to reach macronutrient goals on a raw diet (these are the “umbrella” nutrients such as fat and protein), but micronutrients require a bit more attention.
The good news is, raw plant foods are loaded with bio-available nutrients, as well as the enzymes and fiber necessary for our body to properly absorb them.
When food is cooked, many of those enzymes and nutrients are killed or lost in the heating process.
The not-so-good news is that it can be a little bit of a pain in the butt to track your intake of these nutrients.
My favorite way to do this is with an app called Cronometer.
While I’m not affiliated with or sponsored by this app at all, it’s extremely useful – especially when first starting any new diet.
It’s easy to use (you just log the foods you eat into the app) and they have a vast database of foods already available.
You will learn very quickly whether or not you’re getting the nutrients you need, and things get pretty simple from there.
For example, by using Cronometer for just four days I learned that I rarely hit my daily recommended intake of selenium.
Luckily, this was such an easy fix!
I added brazil nuts into my diet, and… bam! the problem was solved.
Even just one missing nutrient can cause a diet to be unsuccessful… even if there’s an easy way to get it!
My top nutrient deficiencies to look out for on a raw diet are:
Vitamin B-12: Vegan B-12 spray such as this one
Iron: Leafy greens, beets, tomatoes, blackstrap molasses
Selenium: Brazil nuts
Choline: Collard greens, cauliflower, cabbage, sunflower seeds
Protein (complete amino acid profile): Spirulina, leafy greens, hemp seeds, flax seeds
Warm is good… especially during the winter!
I have a lot more difficulties with following a raw diet when it’s cold outside.
Generally, it’s easy for me to eat 100% raw during the spring and summer, but come fall I start to want to incorporate some cooked foods.
Root vegetables, veggie broths, cooked carbs like quinoa and plentiful hot almond milk matcha lattes are hard for me to stay away from.
While I do sometimes enjoy adding cooked veggies to the mix when the rain rolls around, there are periods of time when I still want to eat fully raw, whether it’s for a winter detox or just because.
This is when the dehydrator becomes my best friend.
When the rain is pouring down and all I want to do is curl up with a big bowl of pasta, warm zucchini noodles and raw “neatballs” straight out of the dehydrator works wonders!
Hot teas, miso broth and warm blended raw soups are all winter favorites of mine as well.
Another great winter addition to any raw diet is spice!
Spicy foods can help increase fire in the body, keeping you warm and helping to maintain digestive efficiency.
Adding lots of healthy fats to your diet is also a great way to stay satisfied all winter long!
Overall, it is possible to eat… and stay…. raw vegan!
By following the rules above, I have had zero problems maintaining a raw vegan diet.
I have more energy, my digestion works better and my skin clears up within weeks of transitioning to only raw foods!
I’ll write a separate post soon on the science of raw food soon, and why it can be a great tool for those who are trying to heal themselves.
Are you raw vegan?
Have you tried the raw vegan diet?
Let me know!!
Peace & Healing,
xoxo – Mackenna