Why trendy raw vegan diet could be putting your health at risk

Vegan diets have become more and more popular over the years, with high-profile celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus and Benedict Cumberbatch all singing its praises.

And it isn’t hard to see why as there’s plenty of evidence that plant-based diets (including vegan diets) can have many positive effects on the body, from healthier cholesterol levels and body weight to lowering your risk of heart disease.

This is great news for your average adopter, but some people take the lifestyle choice to the extreme.

A number of people opt to only eat raw plant foods that don’t need cooking, with some even swerving foods altered from their natural form or processed – such as almond or oat milk.

Advocates of this extreme diet claim that cooking causes ingredients to lose some of their important nutrients and enzymes.

They believe that by eating raw plant foods, the diet will enhance energy levels, prevent (possibly even reverse) disease and boost overall health.

But, according to The Conversation, research suggests that raw vegan diets – if followed for any length of time – may actually do more harm than good.

Here’s why:

You may not be getting enough important nutrients
Facts on the table – studies do suggest that some raw foods may be healthier than cooked foods.

Did you know that cooking red cabbage and Brussels sprouts causes them to lose as much as 22 per cent of thiamine – a form of vitamin B1 which helps keep the nervous system healthy?

But it is simply inaccurate to say that all vegetables are best eaten raw – with some actually containing more nutrients when cooked.

So why is this? Some nutrients are bound within the actual cell walls of the vegetable, and cooking breaks the walls down, thus releasing the nutrients and allowing them to be more easily absorbed by the body.

This can be clearly demonstrated when cooking spinach – which releases its calcium content in a more absorbable way.

Studies also show that while cooking tomatoes slashes their vitamin C content by 28 per cent, it increases their lycopene content by a staggering 50 per cent..

Lycopene – a natural compound found in many foods – has been linked with a lower risk of a range of chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and heart disease.

Kale, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, and cauliflower are all other examples of vegetables more nutrient-dense when cooked.

It’s important to bear in mind that cooked vegetables can also supply the body with more antioxidants – chemicals that lessen or prevent the effects of free radicals, which can damage cells and possibly lead to disease over time.

Some vegetables – such as mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, tomatoes and broccoli – actually possess higher levels of the antioxidants beta-carotene (which the body turns into vitamin A), lutein and lycopene when cooked than they do when raw.

You are likely to be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals
Unfortunately, raw vegan diets mean you will likely be running low on vitamins B12 and D, zinc, selenium, iron and two types of omega-3 fatty acids.

A lack of vitamin B12 is of particular concern to researchers, who found that 38 per cent of people who adhered to strict raw food diets were lacking in B12.

This is especially worrying as vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to a whole host of health problems, such as mouth ulcers, jaundice, vision problems, depression and other mood changes.

May lead to loss of periods
You have to be careful on a raw vegan diet, as it could lead to unintentional weight loss if not planned out correctly.

It is possible to not consume enough calories needed to function, which is particularly troubling for young women.

Researchers discovered that 30 per cent of women aged under 45 who followed a strict raw food diet for more than three years had partial to complete amenorrhea (absence of menstruation).

A study concluded this is probably due to weight loss caused by the raw vegan diet.

Amenorrhea can lead to a range of issues, including reduced bone mineral density, osteoporosis and even infertility.

The take away
The Conversation says that while enjoying a plant-based diet has its benefits, the more extreme raw vegan diet ‘may potentially be taking things a bit too far and may come with even greater risks if not followed carefully’.

So if you are thinking about diving in to such a lifestyle choice, it’s vital to carefully plan it out to make absolutely certain you are getting all the nutrients you need for optimal health, in the required amounts.

Experts agree that it would be unwise to follow the diet for an extended period of time because of the many risks it may have.