Well Being

Raw Food Fail: This Is Why Raw Does Not Always Equal Weight Loss

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Raw food diets claim benefits from helping you get clear skin (aka “the glow”), better digestion, more energy, more happiness, and of course: Raw food weight loss. It's all true: Eating raw foods can help you lose weight and feel better. But so can cooked food; in either case, it's up to you to make the best choices to support your goals.

Case in point: My breakfast.

raw food weight loss

I bought this Strawberry Coconut Chia Seed Tapioca, topped with coconut granola, at Organic Avenue (which I love, which is why I walked several blocks out of my way to get there earlier this week, and today, and…probably too often). The chia doesn't worry me; I've made chia seed pudding and tapioca myself before, so I know that the ingredients are high in nutrition/not that high in calories. But I've also made my own granola, and whether it's raw or baked, it usually contains a whole mess of fat, sugar, and calorie-dense things like nuts and dried fruit.

So when I checked the nutrition facts, I was surprised to find that it only contained 149 calories per serving. My label-reading reflexes kicked in and I checked the serving size: It's listed as 114 grams. But the label doesn't list servings per container; it just says the jar is 12 ounces (with no translation into grams). So to find the mystery number of calories per package, I had to calculate.

Turns out 114 grams is just about four ounces, which means there are about four servings per jar, which means there are about…600 calories per container.

Now, it's not like I think we should all feel bad for eating 600 calories. But so many raw food proponents–including companies that sell raw foods–are so big on raw food weight loss, that it's easy to get confused about whether or not a 600-calorie breakfast is going to help with weight loss, or weight gain.

If you're eating a raw foods-only diet, a breakfast like this might even be necessary to get enough calories in a day. Follow it up with a light salad, some vegetable juice, and some raw fruit and vegetables, and you're not in much danger of consuming a crazy calorie count.

But a lot of us aren't eating a raw food diet all the time. You might pick something up from Organic Avenue, like I did, because you want to eat a healthy breakfast–and then a not-so-healthy lunch, and then dig into a spread of drinks and snacks at tonight's holiday party with friends. Your intention is good (start the day off right!), but unless you're being a nutrition label hound (which is no fun, by the way), you might not realize that you're sucking up more calories than you'd get in a Starbucks scone.

Yes, raw foods are packed with way more nutrients, and it's even true that our bodies metabolize raw ingredients and natural sugars differently than the processed stuff you get from a pastry case. The tapioca I got packs lots of nutrition; these aren't empty calories, by any means. The ingredients include:

tapioca: chia seed, fresh coconut milk, strawberries, dates, cinnamon, vanilla, himalayan sea salt

coconut granola: sprouted buckwheat, raw oat flour, raw unpasteurized coconut water, coconut meat, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dates, cold pressed olive oil, coconut flakes, coconut oil, spiced walnuts

But where raw foods fail is where consumers get confused: By claiming that all raw food supports weight loss, and that it's fine to eat in any quantity, because it's just so gosh-darned healthy.

Unfortunately, just like when you're not eating raw, you have to pay attention to nutrition facts and think about nutrients vs. calories, and balance out your consumption of calories throughout the day. Adding some raw vegetables (high in nutrients; low in calories) to your diet can help balance out the heavier foods you might be eating over the holidays. Adding a raw tapioca pudding for breakfast? Probably not.

Photo: Mine