Currently, one of my clients is a Raw Vegan. What that means is that the diet combines the concepts of being a vegan in addition to a raw foodism. By being a Raw Vegan, all foods and products of animal origin or foods that have been cooked at a temperature above 104 degrees fahrenheit are eliminated from the diet. Rather, foods are eaten fresh, dehydrated and with low heat or fermentation. The thought is that by heating foods it diminishes its nutrients, makes the food toxic and is therefore less digestible.
Misconceptions about being Raw Vegan include:
1) Cooking Destroys Nutrients
Cooking food does not destroy nutrients but rather can help release nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable by being in the raw state. For example, by cooking tomatoes it increases the absorption of the antioxidant lycopene by five-folds. Similarly, when carrots are cooked the beta-carotene, Vitamin A, is more available for the body to absorb. In addition, cooking vegetables can reduce certain chemicals in vegetables that inhibit the absorption of mineral such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. Admittedly, some nutrients are lost in cooking but this is minimal in comparison to how many nutrients are in fruits and vegetables.
2) Cooking Destroys Enzymes
Yes, heat destroys enzymes. However, humans make their own digestive enzymes to break food down into smaller and more digestible components. Additionally, most plant enzymes in raw foods become destroyed due to the acid in the gut. Plants also have their own set of enzymes which causes enzymatic browning of fruit as shown below.
3) Raw Foods are Detoxifying
Detoxing is an alternative medicine concept where the idea is that the liver and colon carry toxins. In actuality, the colon is relatively low in toxins as is the liver. One of the liver's jobs is to process chemicals where is breaks down toxins as they are passed through this organ. Therefore, a detox may not be doing what you think and/or want it to do. But instead, deplete nutrients in the body and enzymatic activity.
4) Raw Veganisim is Healthy
From a clinical standpoint, the most dangerous part of being a raw vegan is having nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, D, selenium, wind, iron and omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. To be a raw vegan it is recommended that supplements of these nutrients, through a multivitamin and an additional B complex, be taken on a regular basis. Another consideration when being a raw vegan is tooth decay. When consuming an extremely high volume of fruit, teeth can erode due to the acids and the sugar in the fruit.
To recap: Nutritional Deficiencies are of a concern when following a Raw Vegan diet. The nutrient to be most aware of is vitamin B12 as raw vegans can become deficient, which can lead to anemia and neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, if you decide to become or already are a raw vegan, make sure you do your research and fortify your diet with protein powders, nuts, nut butters (as B12 is naturally occurring in protein sources such as shellfish), a multivitamin and a vitamin B12 complex.