You may have heard that a vegan raw food diet can "detox" your body, removing harmful substances and kick-starting weight loss. In reality, your body is already well-equipped to remove toxins — that's what your liver and kidneys are for.
Raw food diets are typically vegan, and can be difficult to follow. Vegan raw food diets require careful planning and B12 supplements to ensure you're getting appropriate nutrition.
A raw vegan diet won’t detox your body, but eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help with weight loss.
What Is a Detox Diet?
Proponents of detox diets say that they cleanse your body by removing harmful toxins. Some detox diets involve juicing, fasting or specific meal plans, while others call for supplements or procedures like colonic irrigation.
However, as the Mayo Clinic points out, this is all unnecessary — your liver and kidneys are designed for eliminating and filtering most toxins. Your liver regulates the levels of different chemicals in your blood and excretes waste in a substance called bile. Your kidneys filter waste and extra water from your blood, creating urine.
The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University uses alcohol as an example to illustrate how your body handles potentially harmful substances. Your liver contains enzymes that convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol and then almost immediately converts the acetaldehyde into harmless carbon dioxide and water.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns against products and procedures that promise to detox your body. For example, "detox supplements" may contain laxatives and could contribute to dehydration, and colonic irrigation can cause serious side effects.
Raw Vegan Diet Benefits
A raw vegan diet is a vegan diet that doesn't involve any heated or cooked products. Proponents of raw vegan diets cite numerous benefits, but there are few recent clinical studies on raw vegan diets in humans to back up those claims. The known benefits of raw vegan diets include:
- They may help you lose weight. According to Stanford Medicine, a raw vegan diet "emphasizes foods that are only slowly digested and that contain fewer calories for a given volume." This can help with weight loss.
- They cut out refined carbs. Since people who eat an exclusively raw food diet don't eat highly-processed foods, they won't be consuming refined carbohydrates, which have a high glycemic index and may contribute to insulin resistance and obesity.
- They also cut out extra sugar. People on this type of diet eat only naturally-occurring sugars rather than added sugar, which has been linked to obesity, cancer and an increased risk of heart disease.
- Vegan diets can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. However, this finding is not specific to raw vegan diets, AARP explains, and eating a vegetarian diet might have the same results.
Read more: Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Raw Vegan Diet Drawbacks
As with any restrictive diet, there are a number of drawbacks and concerns to eating raw vegan. For the most part, these can be addressed with careful planning, but experts are skeptical about eating a raw vegan diet in the long term.
- The diet can be very difficult to maintain. "Long-term use is unsustainable and unhealthy without strategic deviations from this diet and the use of dietary supplements," Stanford Medicine says.
- Eating raw vegan in the long term can contribute to a B12 deficiency. Vegan diets typically don't provide B12, a vitamin naturally found in animal-based foods. Your body uses B12 for nerve function, cell metabolism, creating red blood cells and forming DNA. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated B12 deficiency can contribute to anemia, and other symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue and nerve damage.
- Iron deficiency is another concern. There are two main types of dietary iron: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron comes from animal products and is easy to absorb, and nonheme iron from vegan foods is not absorbed as easily. So, people on a raw vegan diet should carefully plan their iron intake and pair iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C to help their bodies absorb more iron.
- Raw vegan juice cleanses will not detox your body. Juices can be high in sugar, and also don't contain the fiber-rich pulp of the juiced fruits and vegetables. "The lack of fiber, protein, and increased sugar consumption during a juice cleanse may lead to sugar crashes and leave you feeling hungry and tired," the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine explains.
Read more: Disadvantages of Being Vegan
Raw Vegan Diets and Detox
The bottom line: There is no magic diet that will detox your body of all harmful substances. Your organs are designed to filter out waste. If you're worried that what you're eating is affecting your health, you can speak with your doctor about your concerns before embarking on a radical diet, cleanse or detox.
If you're interested in tweaking your diet to get more health benefits, here are a few ways to start:
- Cut down on refined carbs. Refined carbs have been stripped of their fiber content and some nutrients. Go for complex carbs, which are rich in fiber and take longer to digest.
- Load up on fruits, veggies and whole grains. These foods provide plenty of nutrients and fiber.
- Avoid added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar consumption to "about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men."
Many people may choose to eat a vegetarian, vegan or raw vegan diet due to health reasons, ethical concerns or personal preferences. It's important for anyone who doesn't consume animal products to ensure they get sufficient iron and B12.
- Stanford Medicine: "A Skeptical Look at Popular Diets: Hurrah for Raw Food?"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vitamin B12"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin B12"
- Mayo Clinic: "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?"
- Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy: "Do You Really Need to 'Detox'?"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Alcohol Metabolism: An Update"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "'Detoxes' and 'Cleanses'"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Your Kidneys & How They Work"
- Stanford Children's Health: "How the Liver Works"
- AARP: "9 Pros and Cons to Going Vegan"
- Stanford Medicine: "Ways to Boost Blood Iron Levels While Eating a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet"
- UCLA: "Juicing: Body Cleansing or Nutrient Depleting?"
- World Cancer Research Fund: "Limit Red and Processed Meat"
- American Heart Association: "Sugar 101"
- Mayo Clinic; Detox Diets: Do They Work? Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.; April 2010