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Balanced Diet

These diets provide far fewer calories than is generally recommended, which leads to weight loss.

Pros & Cons

  • Fruits and veggies dominate the menu
  • Nearly-guaranteed weight loss
  • Tedious meal prep; equipment required
  • Lots of rules

The aim: Depends, but may include weight loss, improved health and helping the environment.

The claim: Raw food is packed with natural enzymes and nutrients that help the body reach optimal health – and you'll shed pounds.

The theory: Raw foodism traces back to the late 1800s, when Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a doctor, discovered he could cure his own jaundice by eating raw apples. Thus began a series of experiments testing the effects of raw food on human health, and the diet has continued to evolve. Raw food hasn't been cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered or exposed to pesticides or herbicides. It includes fresh fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs in their whole, natural state. Proponents say cooking obliterates most of the vitamins in food and nearly all of the immune-boosting plant nutrients (though scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking). Most who follow the plan consume only half the calories they would eat on a cooked diet.


Raw Food Diet ranked #32 in Best Diets Overall. 40 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

Raw Food Diet is ranked:




  • Weight Loss Short-Term
  • Weight Loss Long-Term
  • Easy to Follow
  • Healthy
Scores are based on experts' reviews.

How does Raw Food Diet work?

There are numerous variations of the raw food diet, and you have the power to shape your own. Typically, though, about 75 to 80 percent of what you eat each day will be plant-based foods never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. (Very few people follow a 100-percent raw diet.) Most followers are vegan, but some choose to consume raw animal products, such as raw (unpasteurized) milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi, raw fish and certain kinds of raw meat. You'll eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; sprouts; and seeds and nuts, including cashews, sunflower seeds and raw almond butter. Some foods are marked as raw and sold at grocery stores, while others require home prep. Grains are also OK, as are dried organic legumes (think lentils, chickpeas, adzuki beans and mung beans) eaten raw. Other common choices include cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil; raw virgin coconut oil; and raw coconut butter. Freshly-squeezed vegetable juice and herbal tea are also staples.

What's off-limits? Anything pasteurized, all processed foods, refined sugars and flours, table salt and caffeine. Say goodbye to pasta, baked goods, junk food and most store-bought juices, drinks and milk. (Homemade juices using fresh fruits and veggies are OK.)

You'll need to learn how to properly prepare your food. Raw foodies become experts at juicing, blending, dehydrating, sprouting, germinating, cutting, chopping and rehydrating. A dehydrator, for example, uses low temperatures and a fan to dry out food. Dehydrate peeled and sliced sweet potatoes for five hours, and you'll have crunchy sweet potato chips. To make chocolate chip cookies, grind raw cashews and oats in a food processor or blender to create dough; then mix coconut oil, carob and cocoa powder, maple syrup and vanilla to make chocolate chips; and then combine the two and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

How much does it cost?

A raw food diet can be pricey. Organic ingredients tend to cost more than other types, and not every grocery store carries a wide array of raw and organic products. Plus, you'll need appliances: High-end blenders range from $300 to $600, for example, and food processors capable of slicing, grating and shredding can go for $700. Dehydrators cost about $100 to $200.

Will you lose weight?

Very likely, provided you follow the rules. Research suggests that raw food dieters tend to eat fewer calories and weigh less than other types of dieters.

  • In a small study, 32 people adopted a diet that got at least 62 percent of daily calories from raw food (and the rest from cooked foods). That's pretty standard, since most raw foodists go 75- to 80-percent raw. After nearly seven months, the participants had lost an average of 8 3/10 pounds, according to findings published in the Southern Medical Journal. And in a three-month study reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 43 people following a raw food diet lost 9 percent of their initial body weight. If you're overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.
  • In another study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2005, researchers compared 18 people on a strict raw food diet with 18 on a typical American diet. After four years, body mass index – a measure of body fat – and midsection fat were lower among those in the raw food group than those in the other group. BMI, for example, was 20 7/10 among men and 20 1/10 for women on the raw food diet versus 25 1/2 and 25 2/5 in the other group – the difference between "normal weight" and "overweight." And total body fat in the raw food group was 13 9/10 percent for men and 24 1/10 percent for women, compared with 20 4/5 and 33 1/2 percent among the nonraw food dieters.
  • In a study of more than 500 people who followed a raw food diet for nearly four years, researchers found that body weight decreased as percentage of daily calories from raw food increased. By the study's end, body mass index was below the normal range for 14 7/10 percent of male participants and 25 percent of females, according to findings published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. The researchers also found that roughly 30 percent of the women younger than 45 developed amenorrhea, which means their menstrual period stopped due to insufficient calories. Participants eating high amounts of raw food (more than 90 percent of daily calories) were most likely to be affected. Since many raw food dieters were either underweight or experienced amenorrhea, the researchers concluded they would not advise a strict raw food diet on a long-term basis.

How easy is it to follow?

It's difficult to follow this diet, partly because raw foodism is a vague concept interpreted differently by each dieter. It's up to you to decide whether or not you'll eat any cooked food and how to plan and prepare your meals. Raw food diets often require tedious preparation, such as blending foods to make smoothies and sauces, and dehydrating ingredients to make crackers and "cookies." Learning those techniques could prove challenging.

Convenience: Low. Raw dishes aren't standard fare at restaurants, so expect to spend a lot of time scouring menus. Organic or raw food grocery stores are your best bets for shopping. And meal prep can be a lengthy process, especially if it involves juicing and blending, sprouting seeds, germinating nuts and dehydrating and fermenting other types of food. Preparing apple-cinnamon maple-pecan granola, for example, is a three-day ordeal that involves soaking raisins and dehydrating the entire mix.

Recipes: Just scour the internet and you'll find an abundance of raw food recipes.

Eating out: All but impossible, since you can't control exactly what's in your food and how it's prepared – and not all chefs and waiters understand a raw diet. You could order a salad, but the dressing might contain ingredients that aren't raw or natural, so bring your own.

Alcohol: Because wine doesn't go through a heating process, it's OK. But forget beer, which is boiled, and liquor, which goes through a distillation process.

Timesavers: None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them and prepare them.  

Extras: None.

Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you've had enough. Hunger shouldn't be a problem on a raw food diet. Beans and other legumes, veggies, and whole grains, which are emphasized, are believed to take longer to digest, meaning they'll keep you feeling fuller longer. You're also free to choose how many calories you want to take in, and can increase your level if you're getting too hungry.

Taste: You're making everything, so if it doesn't taste good, you know who to blame. There's no reason the diet can't be palatable, you just have to put a different spin on your favorites. Try a crunchy, nutty buckwheat sunflower seed pizza crust, topped with herbed pine nut macadamia cheese; it's uncooked and made with a food processor and a dehydrator. For dessert, try papaya-pineapple pudding topped with Tahitian vanilla sauce. Or try vanilla cupcakes with lime frosting, which are made of almonds, macadamia nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almond butter, agave nectar, dates and mashed avocado. You prepare these uncooked treats with a food processor and blender, and then chill them in the fridge.

Health & Nutrition

Because the raw food diet could come up short in calories, calcium, and vitamins B-12 and D, just a handful of experts scored it higher than 2 stars for nutritional completeness. As for safety, the experts felt the risk of food poisoning from contaminated raw or undercooked ingredients was real.

A 2016 study published in the Czech journal Klinicka Onkologie suggests you may be better off eating at least some cooked vegetables when it comes to warding off pancreatic cancer. The study, which included 310 people in the Czech Republic who had pancreatic cancer and 220 who were controls, concluded that eating more than three portions of cooked vegetables weekly had a statistically significant protective effect against pancreatic cancer.

Increasing your intake of raw fruits and vegetables could lead to a longer life. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that people who consumed high amounts of fruits and vegetables had a lower rate of all causes of mortality. The study included more than 150,000 adults age 45 and older in New South Wales, Australia. Researchers followed them for more than six years.

See all Health & Nutrition »

What is the role of exercise?

Although the raw food approach deals only with diet, that doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise. No matter the diet, the more you move, the quicker you'll see the pounds come off – and you'll reduce your risk of developing diabetes, heart problems and other chronic diseases. Adults are generally encouraged to get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) each week, along with a couple days of muscle-strengthening activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips to get you started.

Diet Details


These diets provide far fewer calories than is generally recommended, which leads to weight loss.

Pros & Cons

  • Fruits and veggies dominate the menu
  • Nearly-guaranteed weight loss
  • Tedious meal prep; equipment required
  • Lots of rules