Blog Post

Are Raw Food Diets New Age?

We have had several questions asking about whether or not raw food diets are linked to the New Age.

While these diets are not New Age in themselves, they are promoted by New Age enthusiasts. This is because promoters of raw food diets often subscribe to the New Age philosophy about health.

As the Pontifical document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life explains, “In a New Age perspective, illness and suffering come from working against nature; when one is in tune with nature, one can expect a much healthier life, and even material prosperity . . . The source of healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy.” (2.2.3)

These beliefs are what has fueled the rise of so-called “natural cures” such as homeopathy, naturopathy, essential oils, herbs and supplements, ayurvedic medicine, aromatherapy, etc. And these “natural cures” are often associated with "natural diets" such as the raw food diet.

A raw food diet is one where the food is either uncooked or cooked at low temperature. No processed foods are consumed, meaning nothing that has been pasteurized, homogenized, produced with food additives, or was treated with insecticides/fertilizers in the growing process.

These diets can be raw vegan, meaning they consist mainly of raw plant foods. Or they can be raw animal food diets which consist of uncooked and unprocessed muscle/organ meats, raw dairy, and fermented raw animal foods.

Some of the most popular diets today are the Primal Diet and the Raw Paleolithic diet.

Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939) (Twitter)

It was interesting to discover that raw food diets are not a new invention. They are believed to have originated with a Swiss man named Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939) who invented muesli, a dish consisting of raw rolled oats, grains, fresh or dried fruits, seeds and nuts that is sometimes mixed with milk, yogurt or fruit juice.

As a young man, Bircher-Benner became fascinated with a German “back to nature” movement known as the Lebensreform movement which was all about embracing holistic medicine, nudism, free love, and “natural” foods. Although he began eating a vegetarian diet, the writings of Charles Darwin which depicted humans as being just another animal convinced him that we were meant to eat raw food. He decided to adopt this way of eating and eventually opened a sanatorium in 1904 in the mountains outside Zurich which he called Vital Force, a term that referred to sunlight. Patients who came to his clinic were fed raw foods and muesli.

He wasn’t the only proponent of raw food diets. A naturopathic physician named John Richter and his wife Vera opened America’s first raw food restaurant, known as The Eutropheon, around 1919.

Norman W. Walker, who invented the Norwalk Juicing Press, popularized raw food dieting in the 1970s along with Leslie Kenton, whose book Raw Energy – Eat Your Way to Radiant Health (1984) claimed a diet of 75% raw food could do everything from slow the effects of aging to preventing degenerative diseases.

While there is plenty of evidence that a raw food diet can help a person lose weight due to its high fiber content and disease-fighting phytochemicals, there are more drawbacks than benefits to this way of eating.

“The diet is difficult to follow and inadequate in many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and more,” writes Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, for WebMD.

“Plus, contrary to the claims of many raw food fans, cooking does not make food toxic but instead makes some foods digestible. Cooking also boosts some nutrients, like beta-carotene and lycopene, and kills bacteria, which helps you avoid food poisoning.”

The risk of food poisoning from eating raw and undercooked foods is great enough that it outweighs the benefits of a raw food diet.

There is also no scientific evidence that raw foods prevent illness.

If the thought of eating raw food is unappetizing to you, don't worry - you're not missing anything. There are plenty of better-tasting diets out there!

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