Battling to stay on a rawfood diet – common nutrient deficiencies

Posted on December 04 2012

Rawfoods are pure foods in their natural state – they are live, uncooked, totally unprocessed and as a result, fresh, vibrant and enzyme rich. Yet, whilst eating rawfoods offers infinite rewards for both our physical and mental wellbeing, it can also be a real challenge to obtain adequate quantities of essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids or even sufficient energy levels from an exclusively rawfood diet. Consequently those on a strict rawfood diet often suffer from a number of nutrient deficiencies that can have serious health implications further down the line. If you’re struggling to remain on a rawfood diet for this very reason, it’s important to learn how to tackle nutrient deficiencies promptly and effectively, so that you can happily remain on your rawfood diet, without damaging your health.

Common nutrient deficiencies associated with a rawfood diet

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Innumerable scientific studies stress the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids for our all round health. These essential fats improve our cell response to both insulin and neuro transmitters, support the repair of damaged cells and reduce the risk of degenerative diseases. Our bodies cannot manufacture omega-3, meaning that we must obtain it from our regular sources of food. Unfortunately those following a rawfood diet often suffer from an acute lack of this particularly valuable nutrient. The symptoms to look out for include:

• Chronic fatigue
• Impaired memory
• Mood swings
• Depression
• Dry skin
• Poor circulation
• Heart problems

If not tackled swiftly, a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to severe health problems and chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes. You can prevent this by supplementing your rawfood diet with a few well-chosen superfoods that are rich in omega-3. These include raw nuts and seeds, especially linseeds, chia seeds and walnuts and oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. A word of caution though – whilst oily fish is the richest source of omega-3 available, eating excessive amounts of fish or fish oil unfortunately exposes us to high levels of mercury. A great alternative to regular fish oil is krill oil – krill oil is extracted from a crustacean that lives in totally unpolluted polar seas and contains high quantities of omega-3 in a readily absorbable form. And it’s packed with around fifty times more antioxidants than regular fish oil, which helps to prevent the delicate omega-3 fatty acids from oxidising before your body has had a chance to absorb them. A recent study presented in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that krill oil instigated a 42% decrease in fat build-up in the hearts of laboratory rats, whereas standard fish oil only resulted in a marginal reduction. Research in 2008 also clearly demonstrated the anti-cancer and heart benefits afforded by krill oil supplementation.

Vitamin B12

Studies have repeatedly shown that those on a rawfood diet are at an increased risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 plays a pivotal role in both the production of red blood and the formation of nerves and is thus vital for healthy brain and central nervous system function. Although it’s only available from animal protein, vitamin B12 can be stored within the body and it may therefore take up to five years before the symptoms of a B12 deficiency start to manifest. That’s why if you’ve recently switched to a rawfood diet, you may not immediately notice the symptoms listed below:

• Fatigue
• Tingling / numbness of hands and feet
• Depression
• Memory loss

When left unaddressed, a lack of vitamin B12 may cause damage to nervous tissue, anaemia, mania, psychosis, and can contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. Indeed, research by professor David Smith at the University of Oxford in 2008 showed a direct correlation between insufficient levels of vitamin B12 and brain shrinkage, whilst studies at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago revealed a lack of vitamin B12 in elderly patients can actually reduce brain size and lead to impaired thinking, reasoning and memory skills. To ensure a sufficient vitamin B12 intake from your rawfood diet, you’ll need to include a number of rawfoods that are abundant in this valuable vitamin such as organic red meat, raw spirulina and organic barley grass.

Saturated fats

We’re often lead to believe that fat is intrinsically bad for us and as such, we tend to avoid it at all costs. Yet in contrast to what you may have been told, our bodies do require a steady supply of saturated fat, albeit it in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Healthy saturated fats (e.g. those that don’t contain harmful trans fats) are an essential source of fuel and we simply cannot survive without them. A healthy cardiovascular system, strong bones, sound liver, lung and brain function, active nerve communication and a robust immune system all require a sufficient intake of saturated fats. A lack of saturated fats in our rawfood diet becomes evident through a long list of worrying symptoms including:

• Allergies (such as asthma and eczema)
• Anxiety
• Irritability
• Brittle hair and nails
• Dry skin
• Constipation
• Sugar and fat cravings (leading to excess weight gain)
• Fatigue
• High blood pressure
• Infections
• Memory loss
• Impaired vision

Ultimately a saturated fat deficiency can result in osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, infertility, disorders of the immune system and believe it or not, obesity. Saturated fats can be readily obtained from red meats and dairy products, or if you are on a rawfood vegan diet, from tropical plants and vegetable oils including coconut, palm and palm kernel. Coconut oil is a particularly recommended source of saturated fat, as two thirds of its fats are medium-chain fatty acids. These actively promote healthy skin and can prevent heart disease, fight infection, strengthen our natural immunity and help us lose weight. Leading nutritionist Mary G Enig also points out that ‘unprocessed coconut oil could be effective in the treatment of viral infections, including HIV/AIDS’. And coconut oil, which contains zero trans fats, sugars, carbohydrates or salts, is an ideal complement to your healthy rawfood diet.

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