Raw food and detox diets have been around for decades. They can be really appealing since they’re filled with healthy produce and make you drink lots of fluids.
You may be inspired by success stories about weight loss, energy boosts and toxin shedding. But, before you go full-fledged into a raw food detox, here are a few things to know.
Raw Food Detox Diet Overview
The raw food detox diet is based on several principles that are thought to help detox, lose weight and make you healthier.
Uncooked foods have more nutrition than cooked foods.
It’s thought that cooking your food will decrease the nutritive value. However, there’s little evidence to support this. 1 Uncooked food comes with it’s own set of risks, which we’ll discuss below.
Fill your plate with whole, plant-based foods.
Plant-based eating does have its perks! Substantial research shows that plant-based diets with less meat may decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and other chronic diseases. 2
Cut out processed foods and refined sugars.
These items tend to be high in calories, sugar, sodium and/or fat. So, if you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthier, cutting out foods like sweets, soda, salami and chips is a good idea.
Small amounts of cooked foods and animal products may be allowed.
There are all sorts of raw food detox diets — some more restrictive than others. Some raw food diets allow for 25% of your food to be cooked. While many raw food detox diets are vegan, some are lenient with meat, eggs and dairy.
Benefits of Raw Food Detox Diets
Despite lack of research behind all its claims, there are some good things that come with raw food detox eating:
Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
We all could use more fruits and veggies! Most detox diets are highly plant-based or even 100% vegan. Regardless of which type of diet you follow, try to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. 3
Detox diets typically promote lots of water, smoothies and juices. Drinking fluids throughout the day is very important to reduce the risk of dehydration. And if adding some fruit or veggies to your liquids helps you drink more, then that’s a good thing!
Quick Weight Loss Possible
Diets like the raw food detox diet tend to promote rapid weight loss in a few different ways. The tactics:
- Drinking lots of fluids can help fill your stomach and prevent overeating.
- Fruits and veggies are low in calories. Plus, they’re high in water and fiber to keep you full.
- Detox diets tend to have a steep calorie restriction, which can help you lose weight.
Alcohol is a toxin, so it’s often avoided on a detox diet. That’s a good thing, because the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests men drink 0-2 alcoholic drinks per day and women 0-1 per day. 4
Healthy Gut Support
Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods can give you a healthy intake of probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are living organisms that help with digestion and nutrient metabolism in the gut. On a raw food detox, you might eat foods that contain probiotics like pickled foods, sauerkraut, raw yogurt or raw Kombucha.
Prebiotics are non-living food substances that feed probiotics. On a raw food detox, most of your meals probably contain prebiotics from plant-based foods like bananas, soaked oats and apples.
Drawbacks of Raw Food Detox Diets
Should you start the raw food detox diet? Hold up until you read the problems with following this diet:
Risk of Constipation
Believe it or not, eating fruits and veggies isn’t always a good thing. Some people experience constipation when they eat tons of fruits, vegetables and other sources of fiber. If you suddenly feel constipated on a raw food detox diet, here are a couple reasons why:
- You increased your fiber intake too quickly. Instead, gradually add fruits, veggies and legumes to your diet.
- You increased your fiber, but not your water intake. Fiber adds bulk to your stool, but fluid makes it easy to pass. Make sure your water intake increases when you start eating fruits and vegetables.
Bloating is Possible
Some fruits and veggies are high in FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols). FODMAPs can cause gut distress like bloating, gas and belly pain in certain people.
If your bloating is frequent, limit high FODMAP foods such as apple, mango, pear, watermelon, cauliflower, green bell pepper, sweet corn, mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, garlic and onion.
Won’t Detox You
Even though the goal of a detox diet is to detox… they don’t really work. Your body has plenty of ways to naturally detox. And if you’re healthy, you’re likely already able to get rid of toxins! Natural detoxers in healthy people:
- Your liver constantly works to remove poisons and toxins from alcohol, medication and other substances. 5
- Your skin protects you from outside threats. Sweat can help hydrate the skin and excrete salts and ammonium. 6
- Your kidneys regulate your fluid and sodium balance to prevent water retention and/or dehydration.
- Your lungs bring in oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
- Your gut has all sorts of ways to manage foreign threats. Saliva enzymes and stomach acid are the first defenses to stop outside pathogens from entering the gut. If all else fails, vomiting and diarrhea help to quickly rid your body of a toxin.
Risk of Foodborne Illness
Since cooking is not recommended on the raw food detox diet, you may be at increased risk of contamination and foodborne illness. Proper food handling, handwashing and surface cleaning is essential to minimize your risk. 7
Hard to Stick With
Raw food detox diets are pretty restrictive and only recommended for short-term eating. Not only does uncooked food carry contamination risk, but it also lacks variety and practicality. You might get bored of the same meals each day. Plus, most restaurants can’t accommodate 100% raw meals.
Detox diets tend to be very low in calories and cut out entire food groups. While you might lose weight, you’ll likely struggle with cravings and incomplete nutrition.
Before Starting the Raw Food Detox Diet
Always talk to your healthcare team before starting a restrictive diet like the raw food detox. Certain medications are very sensitive to diet changes. Plus, people with eating disorders and disordered patterns should not engage in this diet.
If you’re looking for other raw food diets, make sure to read our raw vegan meal plan.
- MacDonald LE, Brett J, Kelton D, Majowicz SE, Snedeker K, Sargeant JM. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of pasteurization on milk vitamins, and evidence for raw milk consumption and other health-related outcomes. J Food Prot. 2011;74(11):1814-1832. doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-10-269
- American Heart Association. How does plant-forward (plant-based) eating benefit your health? AHA website. Accessed February 5, 2021.
- US Department of Agriculture. What is MyPlate?MyPlate.gov. Accessed February 5, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dietary guidelines for alcohol. CDC website. Published December 29, 2020. Accessed February 5, 2021.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Detoxing your liver: Fact versus fiction. Johns Hopkins website. Accessed February 5, 2021.
- Zoerner A, Oertel S, Jack MPM, Frey L, Langenstein B, Bertsch T. Human sweat analysis using a portable device based on a screen-printed electrolyte sensor. International Conference on Electrochemical Sensors. 2017;30(4);665-671. doi:10.1002/elan.201700672
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four steps to food safety: Clean, separate, cook, chill. CDC website. Published August 14, 2020. Accessed February 5, 2021.