This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may get a small monetary kickback. More info
Editor’s Note: It’s important to explore lifestyle dietary changes that can help improve your overall wellbeing. Diets aren’t just for weight loss—in fact, most of these fad diets fail for a reason. However, when your overall goal is to challenge your body to be the best it can be, and you support that with your diet, the possibilities for your physical health and emotional energy are limitless. Follow Kayla’s journey below to learn how she ended up becoming a raw vegan, and gain some valuable tips if you’d like to give raw a shot.
When I decided to go raw, I got an immediate energy boost from the shift in nutritional availability. It was like my body got the electroshock it needed to spark back to life and function beyond “auto-pilot.”
I didn’t need my morning coffee.
I fell in love with my morning smoothie.
I had less worries about dehydration and sugar crashes.
I had fewer eyebrow raises at what shenanigans my body had decided to get up to next.
Also, I didn’t have any more belly grumbles or weird cramps.
Half-Hearted Nutritional Decisions
Before going raw, my attempt at good nutrition felt half-guided and empty. I’d halfheartedly look at ingredients lists and try to pick out the processed items with the least additives or salt. But when you’re busy, you eat what’s convenient. I hoped I got what I needed but missed how real food tasted, and quickly I forgot how closely family and culture are tied to positive food experiences.
I didn’t want to live life on auto-pilot anymore. I felt the urge to be healthier and eat less meat and processed foods. So, I took it slow and experimented with adding raw foods and more home-cooked meals into my routine. From the first week, I noticed a major shift in my body and how when I altered my food patterns, I changed the way I approached each day.
I wasn't totally clueless in the kitchen, but home-cooked meals were always some version of meat, carb and random vegetable thing with cheese. You can't go wrong with cheese.
Trying a Vegetarian Diet
So, I challenged myself to see what the vegetarian diet was all about. Besides, I'd never been a fan of the texture of meat, and I chose to keep Wine Wednesdays in my diet — essential to modern-day survival.
I didn’t stop eating meat altogether, mind you. I challenged myself to change my dietary expectations by doing meatless Mondays. It was easier than cutting meat out immediately from my diet. Eventually, I decided to wean off of meat products entirely.
Deciding to Go Vegan
A few years after this decision to go meatless, I decided to go vegan to challenge myself. This was fine for a while, except that I'd skip entire meals and not blink until the weekend only to eat unhealthy snacks that provided no nutritional value.
I also missed the experience of a home-cooked meal. I studied the ways chefs, friends, and bloggers created different and delicious meals with vegetables and ethnic recipes, and I loved picking up tips. I just didn't do much with them as a daily practice.
Also, when I came home from a long day, I ended up consuming my food instead of enjoying it. I was missing out on the “enjoying” part. Meals are supposed to be about sharing and awakening the senses.
Because I still wasn’t taking the time to prepare meals, I ate vegan-friendly processed foods that felt like eating plastic or cardboard. My body craved fresh fruits and vegetables. On the odd occasion when I managed to chew on an apple, I noticed my energy skyrocketed. It was better than drinking coffee in zombie mode in the mornings.
Mindfulness and Raw Veganism
By focusing on meal preparation and veganism, I found that changing my diet has changed the way I start and end my days, and I get to spiral vegetables to substitute for pasta—which is fun, by the way. Making raw vegan food for myself and my loved ones is a mindful experience.
I’ve been trying out this raw vegan diet for a while—about a year, to be exact. I haven’t been in the game as long as other raw vegans, but I know getting started can be a hurdle. I thought I’d share some tips for how to prepare yourself for a raw vegan diet. Let’s get started!
What to Know About Raw Foods
Some picture the raw vegan diet and can't imagine not eating anything cooked. They get visions of biting into a raw potato and calling that “eating your chips” while watching Netflix.
In reality, going “raw” modifies the vegan diet by restricting it to consuming foods under 118 degrees Fahrenheit. You can soak, sprout, juice, puree, or dehydrate your food. And don’t worry, you can still create “chips” by dehydrating veggies.
The Nutritional Science Behind Raw Food Preparation
Raw vegans say they choose the diet because it's healthier for you since cooking the food breaks down plant enzymes. This is an over-exaggeration of the cooking process, and it remains unsupported by science. In reality, anything you do to prepare food affects it in some way. Even cutting damages the cell wall.
The methods of preparation and cooking can drastically improve or modify the nutritional content of food. Boiling potatoes with the peel for 60 minutes best retains folate, but cooking beans for two hours and then baking them reduces folate by 50 percent. Soaking reduces cooking time for many vegetables and can help maintain nutritional value, but the best method depends on the food. Steaming can add nutritional value in some cases.
Growth conditions also affect nutritional value, and your stomach acid destroys the enzymes of the plant in your gut anyway.
Overall, commercial processing of food with questionable additives and preservatives gives you more to worry about than the plant enzyme hypothesis. I, like many other raw vegans, went raw to cut out processed foods.
Dispelling Common Raw Diet Myths
Many assume going raw as a vegan has to be impossible, dangerous and expensive. They imagine a world where raw food meal prep is a hassle, you can’t eat out ever again, and you'll end up fainting on the regular from a lack of nutrition. This can be partially true if you don’t do enough research before you begin. In fact, I wasn't getting all my nutrition in and got woozy in the first few months. (If you have health concerns, you should work with your doctor and nutritionist to see if the diet can support your needs.)
Stay Balanced when Going Raw
You must always make it your goal to consume a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fats, especially as a raw vegan. The dietary lifestyle can be easier when you think of your diet in terms of these macronutrients. For example, you need to consume about 1.76 grams of protein for each pound of your body weight, and you still get carbs from vegetables. In general, it’s good advice to stay away from detoxes, cleanses, and diets that require you to eliminate nutrition and essential food groups.
A Plethora of Raw Foods to Choose From
So, what do you eat? You have a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from, along with seeds, nuts and raw or sprouted grains. Nut milks and butters add variety to your recipes, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi add good bacteria to your gut. Vegetables have protein too, folks!
Getting Started as a Newbie Raw Vegan
The good news about all of this is you get to decide how strict you want to be with your raw vegan diet. Many raw vegans are raw 75 percent of the time.
It’s important to note some women on the diet experience menstrual irregularities, and many people have trouble meeting their caloric intake at first. When you start, make a meal plan and log your calories to make sure you’re meeting your daily caloric needs.
If you match your preparation method to the nutritional value of the food, you can optimize the nutritional value you receive. That's why reasonable flexibility is important to maintain your health but not undermine your goals.
Many vegan substitutes now exist for foods you'll miss, such as mayo, cheese, and various flavor profiles of meats. Taking a vegan supplement helps as you learn more about the nutritional content of various foods. Pea protein meets your essential amino acid needs, but you can also mix and match plant proteins for the same effect. Add pea protein powder to your morning smoothie, and sprout nuts and seeds by putting them in a cup of water.
Your body needs fat for energy, and omega-three fatty acids offer heart health benefits. You can find this in avocado, seeds, nuts, coconut butter, mustard oil, and flaxseed. Different oils add healthy fats and increase the flavor of your recipes, such as sunflower oil and olive oil.
Begin the diet slowly: don't start with complicated recipes or procedures with your meals. Don't buy the expensive equipment or jump into sprouting and dehydration either. Start with what you enjoy.
How to Shop for Raw Vegan Food Affordably
It’s totally possible to buy raw vegan food without breaking the bank!
Don't buy costly and rare items at the store.
Focus on eating seasonally.
Familiarize yourself with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains that grow in your area or country.
Rotate your menu regularly to avoid boredom.
Buy reduced-price produce for batch cooking and freezing (more below).
Discounted produce still keeps well for a week or more, and the price reduction doesn't mean it's going bad. Many stores have regular sales based on when they get their shipments, so memorize that on your regular trips. Make a big pot of gazpacho with tomatoes, and freeze bananas for your morning smoothie.
Buy legumes and seeds from the big bins with the scoops because you'll save more money and can customize your amount and price point. You'll also save money by storing and freezing your items properly. For example, keep beans out of the heat on a lower shelf of your pantry, and consider making your own vinegar, kombucha and other fermented foods.
Some Quick Words of Caution
Make sure it’s vegan: Read the labels closely because some items aren't vegan, such as apple juice clarified with fish bladders and white sugar processed with bone char to appear whiter.
Processed or unprocessed: Many vegans avoid processed foods altogether, but for that other 25 percent of the time, you want to decide where your flexibility lies. I prefer to keep wine in my diet, but strict raw vegans avoid alcohol altogether.
Canned versus fresh: I noticed that I created more food waste when I use canned food, which also contains tons of sodium. However, when I use produce, I'm more conscious of what I consume and how I use it. I'm now more mindful of how I use my resources and the earth's.
You Can Do This!
Starting out vegan, especially as a raw vegan, poses significant challenges if you don't take it slowly and simply. Know your goals, and do your research to maintain your health. When you focus on getting in a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fats, the raw vegan diet is both possible and highly rewarding.
What's your motivation for going raw? Or, if you're already raw, do you have any beneficial tips for adhering to a raw vegan diet?
Cover photo by Rachael Gorjestani