A few restaurant menu items recently drew my son’s attention – one for a vegetarian dish and another offering a raw appetizer. His curiosity prompted a conversation on the difference between vegetarian and raw food diets.
Though I was able to explain it adequately to him, turns out several people at our table and couple near us tuned in with their questions and soon a hearty discussion was underway. These two dietary choices are often confused.
A vegetarian diet is a broad category of dietary choices. Generally, it refers to any variation of a non-meat-eating diet. Sometimes vegetarians eat seafood and fish, and some vegetarians eat milk, cheese, eggs, and other dairy products. However, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily composed of only raw foods.
A raw diet, on the other hand, is composed only of raw foods – generally, raw food diets are vegetarian or vegan, since raw meat is not considered healthy. Some people on a raw diet will eat sushi, or drink raw cow’s milk. By definition, the raw diet is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan; but you will find that many people who adopt a raw diet also adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Raw food enthusiasts believe that vital enzymes are destroyed when food is cooked. Some proponents believe that a raw diet is more natural, since no other animal on earth cooks its food (that we know of). There is some controversy as to how far back in history the tradition of cooking food goes; some say it is a fairly recent phenomenon, while others cite archaeological evidence that the cooking of food dates back quite far.
Raw food diets have been credited with promoting dramatic weight loss and robust health as well.
So a raw diet is a vegetarian one, generally speaking. In fact, it is extremely restrictive in this regard. Beans, grains, and pasta are prohibited in a raw diet since they are invariably cooked. Green beans, of course, can be eaten raw.
A raw diet may be beneficial for those with food allergies. Common food allergens such as wheat, corn, dairy products, eggs, and pork would of course be eliminated on a raw food diet.
It’s worth noting, however, that there are concerns about the raw foods diet. Some health experts and natural health enthusiasts warn of the bioavailability of various nutrients. “Bioavailability” refers to the ease with which the body can absorb a substance – the easier the absorption, the more bioavailable the substance.
It has been shown that cooking actually makes some nutrients more bioavailable, and inactivating certain enzymes in foods may not necessarily be bad. Cooking also helps break down fiber, which experts say makes the nutrients in the food more available for absorption.
So a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the same thing as a raw diet. Vegetarians may eat beans and rice, vegetable and tofu sautés, roasted vegetables and baked fruits. Those who eat only raw foods can get very creative with dishes, such as creating ravioli from thinly sliced fruit cut in pasta shapes.
If you decide to “go vegetarian” or even “go raw” after a lifetime of eating omnivorously, it’s always a great idea to speak to your doctor or other health care professional first.