We can all benefit from eating a more plant-based diet and incorporating some raw foods into our meals, but is an all-raw diet right for you?
By Christine M. Okezie
Weight loss, increased energy, clear skin and improved overall health — these are just some of the many benefits that proponents of a raw foods diet claim. So what exactly is a raw foods or living foods diet? The diet consists of unprocessed, uncooked, whole, organic fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds and herbs.
Your key kitchen tools to uncook your foods are a food processor or blender and a food dehydrator. Some raw foods recipes require a lot of preparation, while others require very little or none at all, such as a smoothie or salad. Many vegan baked goods can be made in a dehydrator, while dips, sauces, pates, creamy desserts and even cheeses can be made from nuts and seed butters, and still others can be made from blended whole foods like coconut and avocados.
Carob and cacao powder can be used to make delectable raw chocolate desserts, and warming spices like garlic, ginger and chile peppers add natural heat. Also, raw fermented foods like miso paste and coconut kefir can support digestion and boost immunity.
There are many variations of the diet that also include raw, unpasteurized dairy products, raw fish and even certain kinds of raw meat. Typically though, about 75 percent or more of the food you eat is plant-based and not heated above 115 degrees.
Why Raw Food?
The central claim by raw food advocates is cooking destroys vital nutrients in food, and therefore, proper nutrition. When left intact or raw, the powerful plant phytonutrients can be used by the body to replenish itself and support natural healing.
Indeed, most foods are more nutritious when raw, as heat can destroy many nutrients, including many water-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and anti-oxidants. Even the benefits of dietary fiber can be reduced by cooking it. On the other hand, the plant enzymes that raw food advocates wish to preserve are often largely destroyed anyway by the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs during digestion.
Raw foods do avoid some of the potential harms of cooking. Cooking meat can lead to charring, which creates carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines, and cooking methods like frying, baking or broiling of certain carbohydrates like potatoes (i.e. French fries) or grains, generates acrylamide, another potential carcinogen.
But is raw always better? It’s clear Americans eat way too many packaged, processed, cooked food, and not enough fresh, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. The Living Foods diet is absolutely grounded on some key solid principles of whole foods nutrition. But the bottom line is to emphasize eating more unprocessed plant food — raw or cooked.
Is It Right for You?
Raw foods advocates often ignore the fact that some foods are actually more nutritious when cooked, such as tomatoes, whose fat-soluble antioxidant lycopene becomes more bio-available when heated in oil. A diet of only raw can also exclude some wonderful health supportive cooked foods, such as beans, lentils, quinoa and eggs. Those individuals with nut allergies may also find a raw foods diet challenging because nuts are relied on as a staple source of healthy protein and fat. Raw vegan diets can also lead to a vitamin b12 deficiency, so supplementation is often recommended.
Additionally, like all dietary systems, it absolutely always depends on the ever-changing needs of the individual body. As I advise my health-coaching clients, there are as many different nutritional systems as there are cultures on the planet, and each one has some golden nuggets of wisdom that will work for you.
Be open and curious to finding those truths and see how they apply to your needs. A raw foods diet might be the best one depending on your health issue at the time. Many people with chronic illness, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue or weight struggles are drawn to the healing power of eating more raw organic plant food. Take note though that following a strict raw foods diet indefinitely may not be the most sustainable or even the most health supportive one for you. For some, too many raw fruits and vegetables can actually exacerbate certain digestive conditions. Others find their health improved with the addition of high-quality animal protein in their food. Still, others find that organic, whole-sprouted grains play a supportive role in their food.
In short, we should embrace the message of the raw food diet to eat more fresh vegetables, fruit, sprouts, nuts and seeds, and less processed junk. Americans would unequivocally be healthier if we all subscribed to it to some degree.
Christine M. Okezie is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York, and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She founded her company, Your Delicious Balance, where she councels individuals to heal themselves through real food and positive lifestyle choices. Her healing strategies are based on whole foods nutrition, and she guides her clients to adopt a plant-centered way of eating that offers anti-inflammatory and detoxifying benefits to the body. For more information, visit her Web site at www.yourdeliciousbalance.com or call (201) 889-5001.