Raw Food: Health Benefits and Risks

Do you usually include raw foods in your diet? It's really positive for your health to consume products that haven't been cooked, although you have to be careful with meats and fish. Learn more.
Raw Food: Health Benefits and Risks
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 18 July, 2023

There are many foods that can be eaten raw. However, such practice may carry certain health risks in certain situations. Above all, it’s dangerous when we talk about raw food that can develop microbial growth inside or on the surface.

For this reason, we’re going to tell you about the risks and benefits of eating raw foods. It’s important that you understand both concepts to know when to avoid cooking products to achieve better nutritional use.

What foods are eaten raw?

Normally, the foods that are consumed raw are vegetables (fruits and vegetables), dairy products, eggs, and some types of meat or fish. For example, in the case of vegetables, intake without a prior cooking method is quite beneficial, as the nutritional value of the product isn’t altered. However, meat and fish are often cooked to ensure that there are no pathogens.

As far as dairy products are concerned, although they’re consumed raw, they usually undergo a previous pasteurization process. At least the milk coming out of the cow is sterilized. This process prevents the growth of bacteria that can cause harm to human health. From this ingredient, cheeses, yogurts, and other types of products are subsequently made. Normally, their microbiological risk is very low.

The same is not the case with eggs. Although they’re usually subjected to some cooking method, it’s relatively common to use them raw to make sauces. Mayonnaise is one of the most typical examples. However, this practice carries risks, as a large number of bacteria live in the shell of the food that can be pathogenic. Errors in product handling can be very dangerous.

The benefits of consuming raw foods

Raw fruits and vegetables in a heart-shaped wooden bowl, with a stethescope on top.
One of the advantages of fruits is that they can and should be eaten raw in most cases, as long as the surface is properly washed.

The main benefit of consuming raw food has to do with the preservation of its nutritional properties. Many antioxidants are sensitive to high temperatures. The same goes for vitamins. When food is subjected to a cooking method, a good part of these elements can be lost, reducing the quality of the product itself.

Keep in mind that the intake of antioxidants is absolutely necessary to ensure good health. These substances neutralize the production of free radicals and their subsequent accumulation in the body’s tissues. Thanks to this effect, the development of many complex diseases is prevented, as stated by an investigation published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry .

At the same time, besides the process of alteration of the nutrients through high temperatures, we must also mention the possible loss of them through the cooking liquid. For example, it’s common for vegetables to be boiled in water. If the broth isn’t consumed, a large amount of compounds that have passed from the food to the water are wasted.

As for lipids, increasing the temperature of fatty acids can cause a change in their spatial arrangement. They undergo a transformation from cis to trans. The latter are considered negative for health, as they generate inflammation, according to a study published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.

Some nutrients, such as carbohydrates, can release a poison known as acrylamide through exposure to high temperatures. There’s some evidence that said compound is related to an increased risk of developing some types of cancer. For this reason, the consumption of raw food can become protective against certain diseases.

Other benefits of eating raw food

In addition to the aforementioned, there are other positive aspects derived from the consumption of raw food. Among them, the following stand out:

  • Less abdominal bloating. Eating raw food requires more chewing, mainly due to its texture. By being processed better at the oral level, subsequent digestion is improved, which is why gas production is largely reduced. It must be taken into account that flatulence is generated on many occasions from the little shredding of fiber from the mechanical point of view.
  • The genesis of a more efficient microbiota. Subjecting certain foods (such as vegetables) to an intense cooking process can cause the beneficial bacteria that live in them to die or the fibers that compose them to deteriorate too much. This generates a negative effect on the intestinal microbiota, as density and diversity can be lost.
  • Improved intestinal transit. Raw foods tend to have a greater amount of liquid inside. This element, in conjunction with dietary fiber, causes an increase in the volume of the fecal bolus, which translates into a more efficient transit. It’s an effective way to treat problems such as constipation. In addition, they generate a greater feeling of fullness.

The risks of eating raw food

In general, the intake of raw vegetables and fruits doesn’t imply too many health risks. There may be certain impurities on the outside or traces of pesticides, but in no case does this condition the functioning of the body in the short term. In fact, raw vegetables appear should appear frequently in the diet to avoid nutritional losses.

Now, the situation changes when we talk about foods that have a microbiological risk. We’re referring mainly to meat, eggs, and fish. In the case of eggs, a very important detail must be highlighted, and it’s that in order to take advantage their protein, a previous denaturation is needed, that is, a cooking method.

When consuming raw fish and meat, you have to be very careful. A growth of bacteria or pathogenic microorganisms can develop on the outside or even inside the food which negatively affects the functioning of the human body. Many infections are experienced annually due to these types of practices.

There are certain foods in particular that should never be eaten raw. This is the case with poultry meat or some white fish, such as hake. This last variety may contain anisakis (parasites) and needs a prior freezing process for its destruction and a cooking mechanism to prevent the reproduction of the larvae. If this isn’t carried out, the results could be fatal.

However, some varieties of beef and fish, such as salmon, are eaten raw rather commonly. This practice is carried out mainly for organoleptic reasons. The texture and flavor of these foods are different without cooking and can be exquisite in certain cases. Even so, you have to take extreme hygiene measures in these situations.

The best foods to eat raw

Now that you know the benefits and risks of eating raw food, we’re going to show you the best options to consume without cooking. This will achieve full nutritional use and an improvement in health in the medium term.


Salads are characterized by the presence of many raw foods among their ingredients, especially those of plant origin. It’s possible to include lettuce, onion, tomato, carrot, peppers… the more vegetables the better. These products have antioxidants and vitamins inside. Among the latter, vitamin C stands out, which has been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system.

In the case of wanting to increase the protein content of a dish, the best options are nuts, which can also be consumed raw. However, certain fish, such as salmon or tuna, can also be included without prior cooking. Just a lemon juice dressing is enough to enjoy them to the fullest.

Fresh fruit

It’s clear that the most common way to consume fruit is raw. It can be introduced into different culinary preparations, but its nutritional properties are normally altered, and not precisely for the better. For example, in the case of jams, a good part of the fiber is lost and sugars are concentrated.

Keep in mind that most nutrition experts advise the intake of fruit on a daily basis, and it’s best for it always to be fresh. It can be included at almost any time of the day. Now, the most recent research recommends avoiding the ingestion of this type of food at night, due to an alteration of the body when it comes to metabolizing sugars.

Among the most beneficial fruits, we must highlight exotic ones and those of red or garnet color. These contain a high amount of antioxidants inside. Special mention must be made of anthocyanins, compounds that are capable of helping to prevent the development of many complex diseases. This is evidenced by research published in Antioxidants.


A sack of pistachos.
In adequate amounts, nuts can provide numerous health benefits due to their abundance of micronutrients.

Nuts are characterized by their high-quality protein and fatty acid concentration. In addition, they have fiber and essential micronutrients. Among the latter, we can mention minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.

They’re normally consumed raw and don’t cause any problems. Now, in those people with dysbiosis problems, they could cause gastrointestinal disturbances due to the presence of antinutrients inside. In this case, toasting should be used to avoid symptoms. Still, it’s always better to eat them raw.

The same happens with the seeds. They’re foods that have become popular in recent years due to their nutritional value. They can be added to salads and dairy. They have unsaturated fatty acids and their intake is related to a better functioning of the cardiovascular system.

Dried fruits

Dried fruits are also excellent foods to eat raw. Grapes, plums, figs, and dried apricots stand out… Just the same, it must be borne in mind that by eliminating the portion of liquid inside, the sugars they contain are more concentrated. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to consume them in excess. In the opposite case, metabolic alterations could be experienced.

Of course, dried fruits are an excellent option to sweeten many preparations. They’re more nutritious than sugar and can easily be made into a paste. They also provide more complex and complete organoleptic characteristics than sucrose.

Precautions when eating raw meat and fish

When consuming fish and meat in a raw state, it’s essential that correct hygienic practices are observed. In the first place, the cold chain must be kept unaltered to avoid the proliferation of bacteria that can be pathogenic for humans. This class of microorganisms grows best at room temperature, however, their growth is delayed by cold temperatures.

You have to ensure that the food is fresh and of the highest quality. If it’s are stored for a long time, even if the storage temperature is adequate, the risk of microbial growth increases. In the case of wanting to preserve the food for significant periods of time, the best option is to freeze it. This way. bacteria and larvae are inactivated.

At the same time, care must be taken with cross-contamination. To handle these products, specific utensils must be used. It’s not a good idea to cut the product with the same knife that has been used to chop other meat or fish that will be cooked.

It’s advisable to add some type of acid to raw meat or fish. Lime or lemon juice are usually the most frequent. The acetic acid present in both juices causes an alteration in the pH that creates a hostile environment for microorganisms, thus hindering their development and growth. It’s not as efficient a method as cooking, but it reduces the risk.

Marinate to reduce microbiological risk

A fairly recurrent strategy when consuming some raw animal food is to subject it to a marinating process for a few hours. The principle is the same as in the previous case. A sauce with an acid-base environment that’s not very suitable for microbial growth is prepared and the food is placed in it for a few hours.

Apart from improving the healthiness of the product with this mechanism, an improvement of the organoleptic characteristics is also achieved. It’s common for salmon, tuna, and mackerel to be marinated. Above all, it’s a technique that’s applied to fish, although it can also be done with meats to make tatakis.

Beware of raw eggs

The consumption of raw eggs is one of the practices that produces the most problems at a microbiological level. Most of them are derived from the preparation of sauces and their preservation at inappropriate temperatures. What’s more, when making mayonnaise at home or in restaurants, only pasteurized eggs should be used–never fresh eggs.

When it comes to making homemade egg sauces, you have to take into account a couple of important details. First of all, this food shouldn’t be washed. When it gets wet, an increase in the permeability of the surface membrane and the shell can be experienced, which generates a passage of bacteria from the surface to the interior of the product.

What’s more, once the sauce is prepared, it should be stored quickly in the refrigerator. This product should never be left at room temperature, as pathogenic bacteria will proliferate rapidly.

It’s important to cover the container where the preparation is located and store it at low temperatures, although not for long. At most, you can wait about 12 hours for consumption. More isn’t recommended. This way, risks are reduced and a health problem that can lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea is avoided.

In the same way, it’s important to keep the raw egg sauces and the preparations that they’re going to be served with separate. Mixing everything in the same container shortens the shelf life of the dish, which can result in increased waste genesis.

Eating raw food is nutritious, but it can also be dangerous

Consuming raw food has certain advantages. Nutrients are better used and more efficient chewing is achieved, which improves intestinal transit and digestion. However, it’s not a risk-free practice when we talk about products that can develop pathogens on their surface.

When consuming raw meat and fish, very precise hygienic standards must be observed. It’s essential to ask the fishmonger or butcher when making the purchase if the piece that you’re going to acquire is suitable to eat without cooking. If they don’t give the go-ahead, you shouldn’t take the risk.

Keep in mind that most of the time when raw meat or fish are consumed, they’re usually first subjected to a marinating process or put in contact with an acidic medium. This creates an environment that’s not very suitable for the growth of pathogenic microorganisms and limits the risks of infection.

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