Dangers of a Raw Food Diet

Though raw food diets emphasize healthy foods, they also pose numerous risks.

A raw food diet is based upon uncooked, unprocessed plant-derived foods. Staples of the diet include organic fruits and vegetables, sprouts, unprocessed grains, nuts, beans and seaweed. In some cases mildly heated foods, such as warm vegetable soup, are permitted. Depending upon the strictness of your diet, eating primarily raw foods may pose risks, including nutrient deficiencies and potentially serious illnesses. To learn healthy ways to incorporate raw food diet principles into your lifestyle, seek guidance from your dietitian.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient that plays an important role in brain function, red blood cell production and DNA synthesis. People who consume a strict vegetarian or vegan diet are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since the nutrient only occurs naturally in animal-derived foods, such as dairy products, meat and fish. While fortified breakfast cereals are valuable sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians, raw food diets typically do not contained processed breakfast cereals. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, constipation, reduced appetite, numbness or tingling in your feet and hands, mouth soreness, balance problems, depression, poor memory and mental confusion. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests addressing vitamin B12 deficiency promptly to prevent permanent damage. Treatment may include oral supplementation, vitamin B12 injections or dietary changes.

Cholesterol Problems

Consuming a raw food diet may also negatively impact your cholesterol levels. According to research published in the "Journal of Nutrition" a raw food diet may improve your triglyceride levels, but hinder your HDL, or good, cholesterol. Forty-six percent of the raw food-dieters studied demonstrated abnormally low HDL cholesterol--a significant risk factor for heart disease. While some raw food-dieters include plant-based oils in their diets, many others do not, since oils do not occur naturally and require processing. Other foods that promote positive HDL levels, such as fish, seafood, peanut butter and whole grain breads and cereals, are also restricted or limited in most raw food diets. Eating too few acceptable raw fat forms, such as nuts, avocados and seeds, increases your risk for cholesterol problems.

Poor Bone Density

Eating too few calories, maintaining a low body weight and consuming deficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D are significant risk factors for osteoporosis--a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones. Since many raw food diets are based upon low-calorie foods, such as fruits, vegetables and sprouted grains, and low in denser foods, you may find it difficult to meet your daily caloric needs. While calcium is prevalent in some raw foods, such as green vegetables and almonds, you may not consume amounts required to meet your nutrient needs. For example, 1 cup of chopped raw broccoli provides roughly 43 g of calcium. One cup of milk provides 300 mg. In order to properly absorb calcium, your body requires roughly 600 to 800 international units of vitamin D per day. While you can reap vitamin D from sun exposure, available dietary sources of vitamin D include seafood, meat, eggs and fortified, dairy products foods typically not included in raw food diets. Consuming a strict, low-calorie raw food diet increases your risk for poor bone density, osteoporosis and resultant bone fractures significantly.