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What is raw foodism? Raw foodism, or rawism, is the belief that a diet consisting of raw food—mostly uncooked and unprocessed plants—is the best way to stay healthy. Those who follow raw foodism subsist largely on nuts, dried fruits, vegetables, beans, sprouts and seaweed, and while most are vegans who consume nothing that comes from animals, some raw-food enthusiasts munch on raw cheese, eggs and meats, such as sushi.

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Raw foodism hinges on the idea that nothing is cooked over 118 degrees, as followers of the lifestyle—it’s not a weight-loss plan, according to WebMD. They believe that higher temperatures kill off nutrients in the food.

“What is raw foodism?” is a question meat lovers are bound to ask with shocked looks on their faces, as for many Americans, the idea of giving up beef and chicken is unthinkable. Factor in the temperature requirements, and raw foodism, or rawism, looks even stranger to folks not indoctrinated to the lifestyle.

But champions of the raw food movement, such as 71-year-old Annette Larkins, who’s become something of an Internet sensation, thanks to her age-defying good looks, insist that abstaining from meat, heat, refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol are the keys to having more energy, maintaining a lean body and promoting clearer skin.

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What is raw foodism? Rawism, proponents say, is a means of avoiding disease, and Larkins certainly makes that case. Both her mother and grandmother died of breast cancer before their 50th birthdays, and she’s managed to avoid that disease, as well as the diabetes that’s rampant in her family. But is raw foodism really healthy? Experts disagree on the health ramifications, and according to WebMd, “the truth is probably somewhere in the middle” of “perfect health” and recipe for “serious undernourishment.”

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, called the raw food diet “overcooked” and opined that its health benefits have been overstated.

“Many foods can be eaten raw, and many foods are the better for it,” he wrote. “An emphasis on eating mostly plants direct from nature is irrefutably good, be they raw or cooked. But as is true of so much in the realm where opinions about nutrition masquerade as gospel, the case for raw food eating is oversold, the rhetoric is overheated, and the claims of universal benefits—substantially overcooked.”

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