Can We Survive On Raw Food Alone?

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Picture this…

It’s 1.8 million years ago.

You’re hanging out on the savannah with your tribe, huddled round a fire for warmth and security and munching on raw meat from a buffalo you killed earlier.

Everyone is exhausted from the hunt.

Someone accidentally drops the buffalo carcass into the flames. Chaos and anger ensues over the wasted meat.

But hunger demands that it’s eaten anyway, and to everyone’s shock… it’s delicious!

And so cooking was born…

Cooking food is now such a central part of our day to day lives, but there was a time when we ate everything raw!

Today, raw foodism is a popular diet, with raw foodies believing it to be a more healthful and nutritious approach.

The question is… can we survive solely on raw food?

Grab “Can We Survive On Raw Food Alone?” below:


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Conveniently download this 41-page science report. Contains links to extra reading materials and scientific references.

Topics covered in this report:

  1. Ready for your (pre-) history lesson?
  2. A culture of cooking
  3. Brains over brawn
  4. “Standing man” = bigger brain
  5. Human evolutionary tree
  6. How did our brains get bigger?
  7. Turn up the heat!
  8. Your brain is expensive
  9. The feeding challenge
  10. Bigger brain = bigger costs
  11. Cost-benefit ratio of bigger brains
  12. Bigger brained benefits
  13. Energy saved
  14. Snakes prefer it cooked too!
  15. Energy gained
  16. Improved digestibility
  17. Back to the future
  18. Big brain, smaller gut
  19. Impact of diet on gut size
  20. Large is small and small is large…
  21. Is cooking a biological necessity?
  22. Cooking as a biological trait
  23. Gut size matters…
  24. Raw or cooked?
  25. Nutritional risks of raw foodism
  26. Culinary chimpanzees
  27. No more raw?
  28. The raw food movement
  29. Your key takeaways
  30. Learn more
  31. References and resources


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Once you've had the chance to read, we’d love for you to vote in our poll and share:

Which diet do you think is best: raw, cooked or a combination of the two?

How much raw food do you eat? Do you think it’s possible to survive off raw food alone? What surprising fact did you learn?

Vote and leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us and your fellow readers!



Which of the following statements do you most agree with?
Alex Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. She is a Harvard-trained scientific researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups every other Thursday.
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  • Roger Stimson

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    Well that could be one explanation about the beginning of cooking. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto suggested that there were two other possibilities: 1) Following the eating of stomach contents of slain beasts, which would be at least partially ‘cooked’ by digestion the heating of food could have been an interesting option! 2) following forest fires, the eating of game which had not escaped!

    As far as the beginnings of eating meat is concerned, having done 70 million years of voluntary food history research (from the `prosimian onwards) it seems reasonable to me that following the cooling of the African rift some 8 or 9 million years ago, adventurous primates would have ventured into this region, and, being good vegetarians found and enjoyed the obvious merits of the 1:1 omega 3 to omega 6 algae which had formed in the lakes after the volcanic fallout. They probably would have carried on and reached the Red Sea where they would have found seaweed and, like the Macaque monkeys who, finding potatoes left on the beach for them washed them of sand discovered what good nutrition these were.

    How long before they moved from seaweed to the similar looking plant-like animals which inhabit the seas? Once the body had accepted what the eye took to be plant but was in fact animal, how long before other creatures were deliberately taken?

    • JoJo

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      Thanks Roger, you are quite right that we cannot know exactly how the shift to cooking occurred, and forest fires are indeed another good hypothesis!

  • Gabrielle

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    Theory is an assumption and not a scientific fact, thus I can’t see the tie in with the theory of evolution. Just my thoughts.

  • anne keyth

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    wow fascinating report!

    surprising fact: I didn’t know the brain needs that much energy, more than our hearts? incredible… If we kept eating raw our brains wouldn’t have evolved, then the fire thing was a happy accident

    poll answer… I chose #3 – although I tend to eat mostly raw food in the warm months of summer but mostly cooked during winter.

    living off raw alone is a question I always had and that worried me when a friend of mine went raw

    I wouldn’t personally be able to survive on just raw – even if I were to juice or blend tons of vegs to avoid the chewing I think I’d still be gagging all day long

    I love my Thursday reports, always learn something new, thank you!!

    • JoJo

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      Anne, so glad that you learn from our reports.
      I think it is only natural to eat more raw foods in the warmer summer months, and more cooked foods when it is colder (to keep us warm!)

    • Katerina

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      Gabrielle, the aasumption or proposal of facts is a Hypothesis, once it has been proved every single time it has been measured under different conditions, it becomes a theory, which belongs to a Paradigma (the way we see the World), only when the Paradigma changes (on the facts that affect the particular theory), or one condition that modifies the result of the Theory is found, that theory is discarded and becomes a Hypothesis again.
      Many people, many times, call wrongly as theory an actual Hypothesis. Except for scientists, who well know the difference.

      Loving the articles.

  • Maurice

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    I really like this report. Brings an entirely new angle that we’re often forgetting: how we evolved! The comparison with other species such as apes was really insightful. Thanks, great report.

  • Sophie Ash (Research Analyst)

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    What a fantastic report! I’ve often wondered why some people are so adamant that our diet should be 100% raw when we must have adapted to eating cooked food somehow. Now I know that it’s down to the size of our small and large intestines.

    I think there’s also a different proportion of raw vs cooked for each individual, as reflected in the poll results, because some people find the process of digestion much more difficult than others. I know after eating a big salad that it might not have been such a good idea!

    Thank you :-)

    • JoJo

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      That is a very good point Sophie, it would be really interesting to look at whether there is variation in people’s digestive capabilities for raw and cooked food. I also have the same when I eat too many raw beans!

  • Pearce

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    My grade 7 teacher (many years ago) scoffed at me when I suggested in a written assignment/report that cooking food first came about when our ancestors accidentally dropped meat into the fire. Even at that young age I thought it odd he didn’t at least consider it plausible. Now, I find it funny, looking back.

    Anyway, I believe in healthy eating -no processed foods or junk foods, little meat, and mostly vegetables, fruits and fiber. I also believe some foods needs to be cooked and some don’t. It’s about balance.

    The proof of healthy eating is how you feel. Since changing to truly healthy foods 3 years ago, I no longer suffer a host of health issues including but not limited to chronic sinusitis, migraine headaches, arthritis, severe colds and flu’s, high cholesterol, etc. These health issues vanished. Oddly my baby toenail, which had virtually disappeared grew back in again. As well, my hair loss has tremendously slowed down.

    • JoJo

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      Pearce, thanks for your comments, great to hear that your health issues have improved since changing your diet!

  • Michelle

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    Very interesting article guys. Greatly enjoyed it. Did not realize how much energy our brain uses.

    Just wanted to add a couple of comments.
    BMI is not an accurate measure of health any more. I know a couple of people who are plant-based (mostly raw) who have low BMI because they happen to be ultra runners. Just because they have a low BMI does not mean they are unhealthy. Reverse is also true. Most bodybuilders have high BMIs but again, this does not mean they are unhealthy. I did not read the study, but were these people actually eating correctly? Or were they surviving on wheat grass alone? Like I said, I know a few people on a raw food diet and they are healthier than I. It is possible I only know the healthy ones though.

    But maybe I am a bit biased. :) Would like to try going raw for a bit and see how my body reacts.

    • JoJo

      Reply Reply June 12, 2015

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for your comments, you are quite right that BMI is an outdated concept, but there are so few quality studies of raw foodism out there that it was useful to include it. The study does not specify what the raw foodists were eating, but it was a lifestyle choice they had made and which they continued with over the long term so presumably they followed a balanced diet.
      I think it is also really important to remember that most raw foodists do consume a small percentage of cooked food in their diet, and that with the right planning this kind of diet can indeed be very healthy and nutritious. I would love to hear how it goes if you switch to raw food for a bit!

  • Roger Stimson

    Reply Reply June 11, 2015

    I am sorry I am writing ‘blind’ here. I haven’t yet had time to read the article, (shame!) but, just in case I believe the Metabolic Typing Diet is relevant too. The research done which tells us that there are two main historical diets which have become innate other than the maritime diet, first the African Hunter-Gatherer diet – mostly plant foods with about 30% – 40% lean meat and the Northern European big game hunter diet – mostly meat with seasonable vegetables which explains why some people slim on a high fat diet and others on a low fat diet. Weston A Price says that of the three main African diets – hunter-gatherer, maritime and agrarian, the maritime diet proves the healthiest, the hunter-gatherer second and, of course the agrarian last.

    A lecture I heard in Leicester from a doctor speaking on behalf of Glyconutirents stated that we would need to eat 24 helpings of raw food each day to get enough nutrition and antioxidants. I suppose he was selling something, but i do not doubt the principle! The Chinese say too much raw is ‘damp’! Especially in older people!

  • JoJo

    Reply Reply June 12, 2015

    Thanks for your second comment Roger! Metabolic Typing is a tad “outdated” now and has been replaced by nutrigenomics :-) It is also true that different hunter-gatherer groups around the world have quite different diets, with those in colder northern climates more reliant on animal protein and those in the tropics eating more plant foods. I hope you found time to read the report!

  • Philip Watling

    Reply Reply June 14, 2015

    Some food is best eaten raw and some best eaten cooked. Man cannot live on bread alone… So let him eat cake! Sorry to mix my metaphors but with no cooking there would be no bread or cake. Pasta sauces would be unknown and pasta, at best, would be crunchy. Lentils would be inedible and eating meat, fish or eggs would be risky. All contain possibly harmful ‘bugs’, but most are killed by heat.

    So are vitamins though! Eating raw fruit and vegetables may be a good thing. Yes raw vegetables are harder to digest – though that may be a good thing, as it would make us eat less and slower. There would also be no sweets or toffee or chocolate. This might also be a good thing!

    Cook the meat properly, boil the vegetables gently and eat fruit raw. As for carbohydrate (sugar), we could and maybe should eat a lot less!

  • Riediscovery Coach

    Reply Reply June 15, 2015

    Yet another fascinating report,

    I was too surprised to hear the amount of energy required by our head brains, I suppose it makes sense now why I feel hungry or physically tired after studying, coaching etc

    Thanks again, keep up excellent research, and thank you for all the other interesting perspectives from fellow learners

  • Sarah Wilson

    Reply Reply June 15, 2015

    Fantastic article. I too voted for a mix of raw and cooked food. Each have their benefits, but without understanding the science behind digestion the normal person finds it difficult to make sensible decisions about the nutritional value of the food we consume. This is where your articles help enormously!

  • Anna

    Reply Reply June 23, 2015

    I really appreciate the balance in this article. There are so many different diet plans out there that it’s often difficult to see the wood for the trees when it comes to healthy eating. Paleo, grain free, raw, vegan, and many more. You feel like you should pledge allegiance to a specific tribe but then feel shame when you realise that it wasn’t for you after all.

    I feel that this article appreciates that you don’t have to pick one diet and forsake all others. Each persons dietary needs are unique and can change over time depending on multiple lifestyle factors. For this reason it seems to me to that you should always be reassessing your diet, listening to your body and eating what is right for you, right now. As someone comments above, for you this may be more raw food in the summer and more cooked food in the winter. Some people may benefit from eating mainly raw food during specific periods in their life such as combating an illness or to detoxify the body but not at other times.

    A raw food diet can be very beneficial but taken to the extreme, like many things, could start having a detrimental effect on the body. Balance is the key. Listening to your body and adapting to it’s needs is my preferred option over any specific diet plan.

    Interesting article and great closing takeaway – ‘use your bigger brain to strike a healthy balance’ :)

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