Long Term Raw Food Diet & Ayurveda – Part 2

Please note, this is not an exhaustive discussion of the pros and cons of raw versus cooked food diets. As a rule of thumb, Ayurveda does not advice a 100% or near-100% raw food diet for long term use. Where exceptions are made, they are usually accompanied by exceptional circumstances. For example, some Yogic traditions advise a diet of 100% raw milk, or raw fruit. In order for such a diet to succeed, Agni (digestive fire) must be maintained, and a Sattvic (peaceful, meditative, energy-efficient) lifestyle must be maintained.

It is not possible to simply applaud or defame a raw food diet. There are so many variables to consider. Rawness is just one of many dimensions that define food stuffs. Other dimensions include:

  • General food category (animal, vegetable etc.)
  • Sub-categories (e.g. in plants: roots, leaves, fruits, stems, seeds, flowers, juices, sap, etc.)
  • Solid or liquid preparation
  • Dehydrated or fresh/hydrated
  • Unrefined or refined (extracts, powders etc.)
  • Seasonal or unseasonal
  • Local or exotic/foreign

All of these differences have consequences for digestion, assimilation and long term nutrition.

Perhaps the most famous notion associated with raw foods is their claimed ability to act as cleansing foods, i.e. to help nourish the body whilst at the same time accelerates the body’s natural capacity to eliminate toxins or impurities.

There are many other ideas about raw foods. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Raw foods are the most natural form of foods requiring no cooking, they are therefore best for humans.
  • Raw foods are 100% un-denatured therefore contain maximum potential for fragile nutrients (vitamins, enzymes etc).
  • Raw foods contain the most Prana or Chi or “life-force” since they are only recently severed from their life-giving source.

It is hard to find specific details about this sort of thing in the available classic Ayurvedic literature, but the oral teaching that I have received does not negate the above statements. However, the story develops somewhat by including into the discussion the effect that raw foods have on Dosha (biological life-force) and Agni (digestive fire).

While the above benefits are potentially available in raw foods, as a whole, raw foods are harder to digest than cooked foods. This is especially true for people who have an innately variable or low digestive fire (Vata and Kapha constitutions, children, elderly, pregnant women, post-partum, convalescence).

Raw foods are considered to be (again, in general) more expressive of the following qualities:

  • Coldness
  • Roughness
  • Hardness

These qualities tend to aggravate the Vata and Kapha Doshas (Vata especially) causing in turn variable or low Agni. This means that if consumed excessively, and especially in the aforementioned cases, Agni will become chronically insufficient and lead to diseases of Vata and later Kapha, as well as an eventual build-up of Ama (undigested food-based toxins). Here are a couple of excerpts from Asthanga Hrydayam (the most recent of the three classical Ayurvedic texts). Notice that foods are advised to be correctly cooked, neither raw nor over-cooked:

A predictive forecast of the effects of a long-term raw food diet according to Ayurvedic logic is as follows:

1. Vata Dosha will become chronically deranged. This will happen first in Vata type people (dry, light, cold types). Pitta types (hot, oily, light) will be the last to show signs of Vata imbalance since their innate fire protects them to some extent.

2. As Vata becomes deranged, Agni (digestive fire) will become erratic (hunger pattern becomes more and more erratic).

3. This leads to indigestion with much gas, bloating, erratic elimination, fluctuating energy levels, lowering immunity, parasites, candida etc.

4. The first main symptom would be increased perception of coldness. Other symptoms would be excessive lightness (causing ungrounded feelings, sleep difficulties etc). Dryness can also build up (skin, stools etc).

Basically, as Vata begins to accumulate the following qualities begin to be expressed more and more:

  • Dryness
  • Lightness
  • Coldness
  • Roughness
  • Instability (erratic functions)

Here is a list of Vata-caused disorders and diseases. Of course, many factors can give rise to aggravated Vata, not just a long-term raw food diet.

Physical signs or conditions of aggravated Vata:

  • Ageusia (absence, partial loss or impairment of the sense of taste)
  • Anaemic pallor
  • Anosmia (loss of sense of smell)
  • Arthritis of the sacroiliac joint
  • Asthenia (lack or loss of strength)
  • Astringent, drying or choking feeling in mouth and throat
  • Atrophy of arm and limbs in general
  • Aversion towards the cold or cold foods and drinks
  • Bloating
  • Bluish-brown-black discolorations
  • Chronic convulsions
  • Coarseness (voice, skin etc)
  • Cold extremities (hands, feet, ears etc)
  • Constant yawning
  • Constipation and or delayed bowel movements
  • Cracking (lips, skin, anus, feet, nails etc)
  • Cracking sound of joints
  • Cramps in calf (or elsewhere)
  • Dandruff
  • Deafness, hearing deterioration
  • Debility
  • Dehydration
  • Desire for warmth, hot foods and drinks
  • Diarrhoea (chronic)
  • Dislocation of joints (or proneness to)
  • Dissipated energy
  • Diverticulosis
  • Dizziness
  • Drooping of eyelid or eyebrow
  • Dry skin
  • Dryness (other)
  • Dryness of eyes
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Dryness of skin around anus
  • Dryness of vagina
  • Dusky red appearance
  • Emaciation
  • Entropion (eyelids turn inward against the eyeballs)
  • Epilepsy
  • Excessive or incoherent talking or talking to oneself
  • Excessive thirst (or thirst that is difficult to quench)
  • Excitability/Hypersensitivity
  • Exhaustion
  • Facial paralysis
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of being unclean despite having washed
  • Foot drop (dropping arches for example)
  • General feeling of being contracted
  • Giddiness
  • Gripping pain in abdomen
  • Hardness (carbuncles etc.)
  • Herniation
  • Hiccup (recurrent, or chronic)
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Insomnia, loss of sleep
  • Lalling speech (a babbling form of stammering)
  • Lameness
  • Lightness (feeling lightheaded, ungrounded)
  • Looseness of joints
  • Looseness of teeth
  • Loss of function (such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, monoplegia)
  • Loss of touch sensation, tingling or numbness
  • Loss or wasting or deficiency of any bodily tissue (plasma, lymph, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow, nervous tissue, reproductive tissue)
  • Mass peristalsis (brief forcible peristaltic movements that move the contents through long segments of the large intestine)
  • Muscle cramps or spasm
  • Myocardial hypertrophy
  • Narrowing of hollow structures (such as Eustachian tubes, urethra)
  • Narrowing/tightening of foreskin of penis
  • Nervous twitching or tremors of eyelids
  • Obstruction (stoppage of a normal function such as elimination, breathing, ejaculation etc.)
  • Osteoporosis or osteoarthritis (degenerative diseases of bones or cartilage)
  • Overly excitable
  • Oversensitive to loud noises
  • Palpitations
  • Polyplegia (paralysis of the lower extremities)
  • Poor endurance
  • Prolaped disc (aka slipped disc)
  • Prolapse (other)
  • Prolapsed rectum
  • Prolapsed uterus
  • Pulsations (such as throbbing sound in head)
  • Restless eyes
  • Ringing in the ears (occasional, not just from exposure to load music)
  • Roughness (of skin etc.)
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Sensory dysfunction (poor coordination, clumsy etc.)
  • Separation (skin flaking away, loose joints, loss of hair, teeth falling out etc.)
  • Shaky feeling (feeling unstable, shaky feeling inside body)
  • Spacey feeling
  • Spasms
  • Stiffness in the ankles
  • Stiffness of muscles or joints (can also feel like hardness or rigidity)
  • Stiffness of neck
  • Stiffness of the back
  • Stiffness of thigh
  • Tachycardia (a condition in which the heart beats at a rate that is above normal)
  • Tenasmus (constant feeling of the need to defecate – with pain, cramping and straining effort)
  • Tinnitus
  • Tiredness in the senses (eyes especially)
  • Tonic convulsion (a convulsion in which muscle contraction is prolonged)
  • Torticollis (a deformity of the neck)
  • Trembling, tremors, agitated movement
  • Vertigo
  • Wake feeling drained from light sleep
  • Weak teeth
  • Weakness in general

Pain in general:

  • A muscle catch or gripping pain
  • Aching pain
  • Biting pain
  • Breaking pain
  • Continuous pain
  • Crushing pain
  • Cutting pain
  • Earache
  • Excruciating, spasmodic pain (such as colic)
  • Excruciating pain
  • Extreme grief
  • Fluctuating pain (one day knee, next day wrist, next day back etc.)
  • Generalised body ache and pain in general
  • Hammering pain
  • Headache
  • Pain around the pelvic girdle
  • Pain as if you have been beaten
  • Pain in chest
  • Pain in eye
  • Pain in foot
  • Pain in frontal region (of head)
  • Pain in general
  • Pain in jaw
  • Pain in lip
  • Pain in scrotum
  • Pain in temporal region
  • Pain in the thigh
  • Piercing pain
  • Pinching pain in eye
  • Pricking pain (like sensation of pins and needles)
  • Rubbing pain in chest
  • Sciatica (pain in sciatic nerve)
  • Splitting pain
  • Stabbing pain in chest
  • Striking pain
  • Tearing pain in knees
  • Throbbing pain
  • Toothache

Mental sings of deranged Vata:

  • Act or answer without thinking
  • Agitated mind
  • Anxiousness
  • Brash behaviour
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Dishonesty
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Distracted mind
  • Disturbed mind
  • Drug addiction
  • Emotionally withdrawn
  • Excitability
  • Fear of not being loved
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fearful in general
  • Feeling of isolation
  • Feeling of loneliness even when in a crowd
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Harshness
  • Homesickness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyperactive mind
  • Hypersensitive emotionally
  • Indecisiveness
  • Insecurity
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Loss of courage
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Mentally disturbed
  • Nervousness
  • Overly talkative
  • Poor concentration (difficulty to focus mind)
  • Racing mind
  • Scattered mind
  • Self-destructive
  • Sense of helplessness
  • Sense of missing love
  • Superficial
  • Thoughtless behaviour
  • Unhappiness
  • Unreliable nature
  • Unstable mentality
  • Volatile mentally

I have never worked with anyone who has kept up a long-term 100% or near-100% raw foods diet (they are quite rare!) But I have spoken with many Ayurvedic professionals who have had experience with such people (both as patients and as health care professionals). In most cases, the reports I get back are that long term raw-fooders tend to present some or all of these signs of Vata derangements:

  • Erratic digestive disorders
  • Coldness and dryness expressed initially as subclinical conditions
  • Ungrounded and oversensitive (emotionally, physically, energetically)
  • Increasingly fanatical and socially isolated

The only time that Ayurveda promotes a raw-food diet in normal day to day life situations is when someone needs to be detoxified radically. Even then, precautions are taken to adapt the approach to the individual so as to protect Vata and Agni.

I am not saying that you will not find examples of people who thrive on a 100% raw food diet. I would predict however that these people fulfil many of the following conditions:

  • They are Pitta dominant in physical and mental constitution (about one third of population)
  • They take measures to protect and strengthen their Agni (regular moderate physical exercise, use of digestive spices, use of enzyme supplements, special yogic practices)
  • They find ways to make raw food more digestable (juicing, heating to body temperature etc.)
  • They live in a warmer climate
  • They are adults (16-60 years of age)

Even though I am coming from an Ayurvedic viewpoint, I am not closed minded and would love to develop this article to enable further. Please feel free to share your experiences via the comments. I might update the article from time to time.

More to discuss at a future point would be the Ayurvedic use of raw foods and benefits of partial long term raw food diets and short term 100% raw food diets.

Take care of your Agni’s.

Cheers, Alex.

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20 thoughts on “Long Term Raw Food Diet & Ayurveda – Part 2

  1. Jenee knows many people that are fruitarians and eat a few r aw vegetables as well and have done for years…. She is going to help in the kitchen of such a retreat in America short ly. The only symptom I relate to since I have been back in France and not eating any first class protein is wind and since I have been in Scotland a sticky sluggish poo.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Yes a warmer climate where fresh fruits are readily available and also exercise is essential in a raw food diet. There are many many people that live this way in the warmer climates.

    Sent from my iPad

  3. I think time of life and environment plays a huge role in the success of this kind of diet. Moderation between cooked and raw foods tends to produce a more sustainable balance in my experience for the average householder. Most of the individuals I’ve seen who come having digestive disturbance after maintaining a mostly raw food diet are people who did a raw “cleanse” felt great, then continued. It seems the long term commitment to raw foods rather than just seasonal or for a duration proves the most problematic. Thanks for writing this post Alex!

  4. Hey Alex, I would like to hear your opinion on sprouted foods. I’ve heard that they are not ok from ayurvedic point of view, but are they really mentioned in ancient texts and how come other traditional asian cuisines use sprouted grains and legumes in their diet? Thank you!

    • As far as I am concerned, and to my Ayurvedic knowledge, seed and pulse sprouts are good in general for cleansing effect and supply of Prana (life force). They are raw and so can be hard for Agni to digest (espcially in Vata Prakriti). Most common sprouts used in salads raw, if used in small amounts, should be no problem and are especially good to use in Spring and Early summer to help balance Pitta as it accumulates and becomes aggravated. The sprouted seeds or pulses would also have the normal effect as per their Rasa, Virya and Vipaka and so can be sellected according to Prakriti/Dosha. For example fenugreek seeds are balanced for Vata and Kapha, whereas Mung Sprouts are more balanced for Pitta and Kapha. That sort of thing. Alex.

  5. I rarely comment, but i did some searching and wound up here Long Term Raw Food Diet & Ayurveda – Part 2 | Alex’s Ayurveda & Life Blog. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it only me or does it look as if like a few of the comments
    come across like they are written by brain dead
    people? 😛 And, if you are writing at other social sites, I
    would like to follow anything new you have to post.
    Could you make a list of the complete urls of your
    social sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    • Brain dead is common on social media, which causes it partially, which is why i don’t use twitter really other than to announce my occasional blog articles. Facebook is more my musical stuff. So it’s just this blog I do really…

  6. An interesting TED talk, mention made of transition from raw food to cooked food causing evolution of human brain:

    Suzana Herculano-Houzel: What is so special about the human brain?

  7. Alex, I believe that “Nature’s design of all life forms, including human being is complete”. Please visit my blog

    http://dharaniobservations.blogspot.com

    where I have proved this point w.r.t food of a human being. I believe that human intervention is not needed for successful survival and procreation of a human being, which by the way are primary purposes of any life form. WHen 100 million life forms live life the way nature designed it, it is foolish to think that human being alone would need corrections to make life complete.

    In my blog I have also addressed this topic at length at

    http://dharaniobservations.blogspot.com/p/other-health-practices.html

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Everyone is entitled to their views. Personally I believe in the notions of biological evolution, in which it is incorrect to conclude that any ‘design’ in nature is complete in the idealistic sense, because nature continues to make refinements based on the ever changing environment.

      • 🙂

        Alex, I said that Nature’s design is complete but not ‘static’. I do not know if evolution is true or not. But assuming that it is true, the ‘completeness’ that I am talking includes the capability to ‘evolve’. We dont have to do anything to that design to make the species evolve. It is built into it. Nature’s design is self correcting.

  8. I am a strong vata type woman, aged 51 and have tried to go raw about 4 times, it does severely imbalance me physically and emotionally/mentally. Remember, a vata type with underlying vata weaknesses, in the vata stage of life is not well suited to long term raw, and all the fruits in some diets are way too high in potassium and very weakening, even the juicy ones like papaya. Raw veggies are evenly more unbalancing and drying to my colon and nervous system, although I do have a raw juice around 11am some days. I would have loved to be raw all the time, but not likely, unless I could live in a warm climate all the time and a very quiet stress-free life and be very strong internally.

  9. What is that red and pink rippled food shown on the lavender plate in the picture at the top? It’s intriguing.

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