How Raw is Your Raw Food?

Can You Trust a Product's Label When It Says It Is "Raw'?

Group of raw nuts and seeds including walnut, almond, pinenuts, pumpkin, sunflower seeds.
Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

Within the rather marginal group of revolutionary eaters known as 'raw foodists' there lies an even slimmer margin of still choosier folks who question each and every 'Raw' label they encounter. By this point in nutrition history, we should probably all know better than to trust what we read on a label without doing a little detective work. Whenever there is a new trend or style of dieting, food manufacturers are sure to beat the legislation pushers to the check out counter.

And the use of the term 'Raw' in food labeling is no different.

What are the Industry Standards for 'Raw Foods'?

The raw food community lives on fruits, vegetables and a limited number of packaged, processed foods. The more the raw food movement gains momentum, the more products we are finding on the shelf boasting their 'Raw' status. But what exactly is behind that three letter word, and who governs its usage? Well, nobody does yet. To date, there is no law, no rules, no guidelines for this little word (besides that it cannot be a blatant lie). Within the industry of the given food, the term could simply mean 'not roasted' or 'not refined' or 'not pasteurized'. And even within those definitions, it can apply only to a part of the process rather than the entire process the food endures.

Sadly (for a raw foodist anyway) it has come to light that many of the comforting, satiating ingredients used in many raw foods have, at some point in their manufacturing process, been heated well over the raw-legal limit of 115°F. Most raw foodists know that almonds from California can no longer be considered raw as a result of a 2007 law requiring they be pasteurized, but the buck doesn't stop there.

Other nuts such as pecans and cashews must be heated to remove their shells and skins. Macadamia nuts are usually dried at high temperatures. Most nut and seed butters are heated during the grinding process, simply as a result of the machinery getting hot. Dehydrated fruits are frequently pre-blanched and exposed to drying temperatures in excess of 200°F (same goes for seaweeds).

Packaged frozen foods are pre-blanched to avoid spoilage. Even most "cold-pressed" oils become heated along the way as a result of the process taking place at high speeds. Vinegars, soy sauces, condiments... everything with a label is suspect.

Benefits of 100% Raw Food Diet

Some of us, of course, are rolling our eyes into the backs of our heads over the insinuation that a little heat along the way is such a bad thing. So then what are the irresistible benefits one stands to gain from taking extra measures to ensure a purely raw diet? The three tops on the list seem to be great amounts of physical energy, near euphoric moods and the astounding anti-aging effects of the diet. Apparently living on a 100% raw food diet makes you wake up singing joyful hopeful ditties as you prepare to bike 60 miles before breakfast looking younger than people half your age. And to top it off, you'll never crave another smoked Gouda sandwich again because once cooked food is out of your system, along with all of it' various addictive elements, you may, as some claim, lose all interest in anything un-raw. So what is there to lose? Toxins evidently. And bad moods and dull skin and gray hair!

Where Can You Find Truly Raw Vegan Foods?

Luckily there are a few companies out there that have risen to the demand of the raw food community to provide, at a premium, products that are meticulously kept to their rigorous raw standards.

Companies such as Artisana and Vivapura are putting out some truly raw nut and seed butters. Another company called Essential Living Foods is dedicated to exposing the truth and providing truly raw cacao products.