Switching from an omnivorous diet to a raw-food vegan diet can affect your digestion while your body gets used to the new food. Be wary of any sources recommending a raw vegan "detox" diet. Claims that a diet will detox or cleanse your body are misleading.
Raw Food 'Detox' Symptoms
Some proponents of raw food diets say that eating all raw foods can "detox" or "cleanse" your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, there's little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from your body.
Your liver and kidneys already filter and break down potentially harmful substances, so the detox portion of a raw vegan detox diet is unnecessary. Plus, these diets are not always nutritionally sound or healthy. A raw vegan detox diet in the form of a juice cleanse can deprive your body of fiber and tank your energy levels.
Any major change in your diet can cause side effects, and switching to an all-raw diet is no different. Following a raw food diet requires you to cut out added sugar and refined carbohydrates. If you previously ate a lot of processed food, giving it up all at once can cause withdrawal-like symptoms including sadness, irritability, fatigue and food cravings. These symptoms can be confused with raw food "detox" symptoms.
Vegetable Raw Food Side Effects
Many vegetables are delicious eaten raw, but others, for safety reasons, should be eaten cooked. You can get sick from eating certain raw vegetables, and illness symptoms like diarrhea might be confused for raw food detox symptoms.
- Raw potatoes and other nightshade vegetables can produce a poison called solanine. The Colorado School of Public Health notes that solanine is toxic in small doses, causing vomiting, headaches, nausea, diarrhea and paralysis of the central nervous system, adding that, in large doses, it can be fatal.
- Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid and possibly another poisonous substance, anthraquinone glycosides. Among the symptoms of rhubarb leaf poisoning are a burning feeling in the mouth and throat, trouble breathing, diarrhea and seizures.
- Raw lima beans naturally contain compounds that break down to form cyanide when eaten. Luckily, cooking lima beans denatures these compounds — and the two types of lima beans sold in the U.S. have low cyanide levels.
- Uncooked red kidney beans contain a high concentration of phytohaemagglutinin, which can cause acute diarrhea and vomiting. The Food and Drug Administration says that eating just four or five uncooked kidney beans can cause major digestive problems.
Cruciferous foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are safe to consume raw, but are more likely to cause gas and bloating if eaten uncooked. Other vegetables, like pumpkin and kohlrabi, can taste bitter, tough and stringy when eaten raw instead of cooked.
Raw Meat Side Effects
For the most part, people eating raw food diets are sticking to a vegan diet. However, there are raw food dieters who also consume raw meat. Raw food side effects from eating meat, like foodborne illnesses, can be serious. Potential side effects include:
- Trichinosis — a type of roundworm infection. According to the Mayo Clinic, uncooked meat can contain roundworm larvae. The larvae, living in human intestines, mature into adult worms over the course of a few weeks. The adult worms then produce larvae themselves, which can travel into human tissues including muscle. The severity of symptoms depends on how many roundworm larvae were in the uncooked meat you ate, but possible symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain, muscle tenderness, fever, headache, sensitivity to light and swelling of the face or eyelids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that pigs, feral hogs and black bears can all harbor these parasites. Luckily, prescription drugs are effective in treating trichinosis.
- Salmonella infection — a bacterial disease that people catch through eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry and eggs, or by drinking contaminated water. Most people with salmonella won't exhibit symptoms, but some will have diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps within 72 hours of ingesting contaminated food or water. These symptoms usually last for two to seven days and can cause severe dehydration.
- E. coli infection — E. coli bacteria is found in human and animal intestines, and it's usually harmless. However, certain strains can cause an infection with nasty symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, extreme fatigue, discolored urine and stomach cramps. Symptoms last for five to 10 days, and doctors recommend drinking plenty of fluids and resting in order to recover.
The USDA says that bacteria grow most rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140 F, which they call "the danger zone." They offer the following guidelines for cooking meat and poultry:
- Raw beef, pork, lamb and veal in the form of steaks, chops and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F and "rested" for three minutes before carving.
- Raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 F.
- All poultry should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F.
Raw Food Diet
If you do want to try eating a raw vegan diet, make sure you've planned your meals so you're eating enough calories and getting all the nutrients you need. Harvard Health Publishing says that vegetarians and vegans should focus on their intake of protein, vitamin B12, calcium and iron.
Vitamin B12, which helps your body form red blood cells and create DNA, occurs naturally in animal products like meat, eggs, fish, poultry and milk. It doesn't occur naturally in plants. Most adults need 2.4 micrograms of B12 each day, so anyone on a vegan raw-food diet should consider taking B12 supplements.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate as long as you plan ahead. Don't expect a raw vegan detox diet to automatically cause weight loss, fat loss or increased overall health. Instead, find a healthy eating plan that works for you, consume the recommended number of calories for your size and weight loss goals and try to stay active on a regular basis.
- Mayo Clinic: "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?"
- Tufts University: "Do You Really Need to 'Detox'?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet for You?"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B12"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets"
- Texas A&M College of Dentistry: "It's Not Just About the Waistline"
- Mayo Clinic: "Salmonella infection"
- Mayo Clinic: "Trichinosis"
- Cleveland Clinic: "E. coli Infection"
- USDA: "How Temperatures Affect Food"
- Colorado School of Public Health: "Potatoes"
- Mount Sinai: "Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning"
- Washington University in St. Louis: "Beware the Smell of Bitter Almonds"
- Iowa State University: "Eating Raw Kidney Beans Can Be Toxic"
- FDA: "Bad Bug Book"
- University of Michigan: "Quitting Junk Food Produces Similar Withdrawal-Type Symptoms as Drug Addiction"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Parasites - Trichinellosis (Also Known as Trichinosis)"