Vegan diets have become increasingly popular over the years, especially among people looking to improve their health.
In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that plant-based diets (including vegan diets) may have many health benefitsand have been linked to lower risk of heart disease beside decreased body weight and cholesterol levels.
However, some people are taking the vegan diet to the extreme, choosing to eat only raw plant foods that can be consumed without cooking. Some also exclude foods that have been changed from its natural form or processed (such as oat milk or almond milk).
Proponents of this diet claim that cooking causes the ingredients to lose some of their important nutrients and enzymes. By consuming raw plant foods, they believe the diet will improve energy levels, prevent (and even reverse) disease, and improve overall health.
But research suggests that raw vegan diets, if followed for a long time, can cause more harm than good. This is why:
You may miss out on important nutrients
Research suggests that some raw food they can be healthier than cooked foods. For example, cooking causes Brussels sprouts and red cabbage to lose as much as 22 percent of its thiamine content. This is a way of vitamin B1 that keeps the nervous system healthy.
Although some vegetables can lose nutrients during cooking, others have a higher nutrient content when cooked. This is because some nutrients are bound within the cell walls of vegetables. Cooking breaks down cell walls, allowing nutrients and more to be released easily absorbed by the body.
For example, when spinach is cooked, it becomes easier on the body absorb calcium is contains. Research has also found that while cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content by 28 percent, increases its lycopene content by more than 50 percent.
Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of a variety of chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancerand heart disease. Asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower are other examples of vegetables that are richer in nutrients when cooked.
Cooked vegetables can also provide the body with more antioxidants. These are molecules that can fight off a type of harmful molecule known as free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to disease over time.
Some vegetables (including asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli) contain higher levels of antioxidants beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), lutein, and lycopene when cooked than raw.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are likely
Raw vegan diets are likely lack many important vitamins and minerals – to know vitamins B12 and D, selenium, zinc, iron and two types of omega-3 fatty acids. This is because many of the foods that contain high levels of these vitamins and minerals come from animals, such as meat and eggs.
All of these vitamins play key roles in the structure, development, and production of nerve and brain cells, as well as supporting a healthy immune system.
Of particular concern are the levels of vitamin B12. A study of people following strict raw food diets found that 38 percent of the participants were deficient in vitamin B12.
The same study also found that a strict raw vegan diet increased levels of homocysteine (an amino acid broken down by vitamin B12) due to B12 deficiency. This is a concern as elevated homocysteine levels can potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cerebrovascular accidents.
Can lead to missed periods
If not planned correctly, the raw vegan diet can lead to unintentional weight loss if you are not consuming the number of calories your body needs to function. This is particularly worrying for young women.
Researchers have found that 30 percent of women under the age of 45 who followed a raw food diet for more than three years had partial to complete amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). This is probably due to the weight loss caused by the raw vegan diet.
Amenorrhea can cause a variety of problems, including infertility, as well as reduced bone mineral density and osteoporosis. Other studies have also shown that young women who consume between 22 and 42 percent fewer calories than required have a higher risk of suppressed reproductive function.
While following a plant-based diet can have many health benefits, the raw vegan diet may be taking things a bit too far and can pose even greater risks if not followed carefully.
If you plan to eat a raw vegan diet, it’s important to plan carefully to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need for optimal health, in the amounts you need. I would also not recommend following it for a long period of time due to the many risks it can have.