Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans4
Natural Living with a Raw Food Diet
As any raw food enthusiast will testify, a diet of uncooked, freshly harvested, organic edibles not only delights your tastebuds and gives your skin that fresh, radiant glow—it also boosts immunity, enhances energy levels, and increases alertness and mental clarity. Cooking, by comparison, takes food farthest from its natural state, rendering it toxic and carcinogenic by “killing” the nutritive value.
What does the evidence say—are these claims backed by research? Can this nutritional sensation help to save the planet? Let’s take a bite out of the philosophy, science, and environmental impact of the raw food lifestyle. Then we’ll look at how the raw food is prepared and chew on a few nutritional cautions.
A Raw Food, Live Organic Lifestyle—Philosophy and Science
It’s often referred to as a raw food “diet,” but it’s more aptly named a lifestyle. With this method of nourishing the body, “raw” not only applies to the state of the food, but to the natural, organic way of living. People choose to adopt this lifestyle for a variety of reasons:
- Physical. Some people focus solely on the undisputed health benefits of eating raw and organic food; they prefer raw food that retains its nutritive content rather than cooked, processed, and refined foods that have lost their vitamins and minerals.
- Spiritual. Some choose to adopt the raw food lifestyle for spiritual reasons because they feel that it is important to abstain from animal products and cleanse the body of toxins.
- Ethical. Some maintain that it best promotes and preserves animal welfare.
- Natural. Some people feel that the raw food lifestyle brings them closer to nature by preserving resources and encouraging the purchase of locally grown, organic produce.
…a raw food lifestyle isn’t about closing off your options—it’s about creatively opening your mind and palate to the abundance of vibrant, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods that facilitate our connection with the planet.
What Does a Raw Food Lifestyle Entail?
Raw foodism entails eating food in a form as close to its natural state as possible, often basing meals on a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Most raw food plans don’t include meat; many don’t incorporate dairy; and some apply veganism in the strictest sense by excluding all products of animal origin, such as honey. The options may initially seem a bit limiting, both meal-wise and nutritionally, but the host of up-and-coming raw food chefs, cookbooks, cafés, television segments, and a growing web-based community are deftly innovating a rich and varied cuisine out of these seeming restrictions. Take a peek at your local bookstore’s health or cuisine section as evidence, and you’ll see a small but rapidly growing section devoted to raw food cuisine.
Enzymatic Bliss. Is there science to support this sensation? Research supports the raw food premise that cooking, microwaving, and irradiating destroy nutritive content by denaturing the enzymes and proteins in many foods. Research shows that cooking actually transforms these “stolen” nutrients into harmful carcinogens, mutagens, and free-radicals (disease-causers). The process of cooking causes some greens and veggies (such as spinach and bell peppers) to form harmful acids, so it is best to consume these foods raw.
Though an exact number is not agreed upon, many raw food adherents believe that heating foods above temperatures ranging from 102–115 F initiates the denaturing. This is how it works:
- Cooking, microwaving, and irradiating are shown to take a fresh, natural food product and strip it of the food enzymes that our bodies combine with metabolic enzymes to digest our food—enzymes (complex proteins) are the only substances that can do so.
- The life-sustaining partnership of food enzymes and metabolic enzymes enables our bodies to fully and effectively metabolize what we intake, a process that converts food nutrients into energy.
- High temperatures destroy or “kill” food enzymes—if our food no longer contains these elements essential for optimal metabolic processes, our internal organs must work overtime to produce the missing food enzymes in addition to the metabolic enzymes that they are already responsible for creating.
- Researchers have examined the effects of a raw food lifestyle by looking at lymphatic, metabolic, and immune system functions in those that follow a raw food, live organic lifestyle. They have found a reduction in chronic disease and an increase in immune system response.
Enzymes provide energy, and energy sustains life. If our food lacks nutrients and restricts our bodies’ access to these enzymes, then our energy and vitality are consequently and proportionally restricted. This is why the raw food movement characterizes food as live—it is consumed in a state as close to its natural form as possible.
Preparing Raw Cuisine
There are extreme ends to any plan or philosophy, and many hard-core raw food enthusiasts do not support juicing or blending because these are not considered “natural” processes. For a more integrative and transitional plan, you’ll rely on your blender, dehydrator, and juicer for many simple raw food versions of your favorite meals. Raw food cookbooks are peppered with a tasty variety of raw pizza, lasagna, simple soups and salads, exotic-flavored grain and veggie bowls, juices, nut milks, granola, nut-based cheeses, vegan ice creams, and decadent pies and cakes. Certainly not all of these dishes are consumed cold—many are dehydrated at high temperatures, and when you whip up a simple soup, the friction caused by blending can create the illusion of heat.
Raw food meal options swap chocolate for carob, and sugar for alternative sweeteners such as honey, dates, agave nectar, and sucanat. Milks are easily made from nuts such as almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts. Common grains and cereal plant bases that are very healthy, but not very widely used in the U.S., include quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, and flax.
If you plan on incorporating a substantial amount of raw grains, nuts, seeds, or beans into your diet, most will need to be soaked and/or sprouted. These foods contain enzyme inhibitors that cannot be ingested and need to be removed before the foods are consumed—unfortunately, cooking removes both the inhibitor and the enzyme! Soaking and sometimes even sprouting the raw foods in water destroys the inhibitor. The water also activates the enzymes and increases their protein content and digestibility. Always strictly follow the recipes and consider visiting online raw food postings to learn from and share experiences.
It’s always a good idea to do your own research and talk with your doctor before making any major alterations to your diet or life practices. Here are some things to be aware of before integrating many raw food meals into your diet:
- Integrate raw food meals gradually so you don’t experience “detox” symptoms as the raw foods flush your body of stored, cooked-food toxins. If you plan to integrate a large portion of raw foods, do your research and make sure that your plan is not restricting any essential nutrients from your body—perpetual hunger or cravings are an indicator of excess restriction in any diet.
- Combining your meal plan with principles of mindfulness helps you slow down—take a moment to consider how the food has arrived on your plate. Gratitude goes hand in hand with the raw food movement—appreciate those who were involved in the process of its growth, and the earth from which it came.
- In Chinese medicine, the stomach is where your life energy, chi, is centered. Consider how much stress assaults your stomach each day and chew everything completely to treat your digestive system with care.
- Remember that it’s not an all or nothing affair—gradually introduce raw food options into your meal plan. Try out one fully raw meal per week and see how your body responds. Or better yet, try your first fully raw meal at one of the many raw food restaurants sprouting up around the country—to find a raw food experience in your area search the SoyStache Raw Food Restaurant Guide or the Raw Food Planet Guide to Raw and Living Restaurants. If your energy level increases and you feel that the experience is of benefit to your health, search up some recipes and try them out at home.
Remember that each person’s body is different and needs a different combination of nutrients to keep them going—eating is, in large part, an intuitive process that requires your attention. Going quickly and completely extreme with any dietary modifications, especially without proper research and planning, can be very dangerous to your health. Some complaints associated with raw food diets include fatigue, vitamin B-12 deficiency, over-eating, and fluctuations in body temperature. Meals are a balancing process to determine what works best for your body—pay attention to what it’s telling you.
Raw Food Resource Guide
Here are some raw food resource links that represent a wide variety of articles, recipes, and news—all are great informational sites for everyone from the transitioning novice to the raw food expert.