If you happen to associate with health-enthused friends you’ve surely heard a few of them buzzing excitedly about raw food benefits. Of course a raw foods diet is nothing new, it’s been around for ages, but I admit it does sort of seem like the new “in” thing to do from a diet standpoint these days.
I’m not a follower and I’m not one for fads, especially when it comes to eating, but I’ll admit the buzz surrounding raw food has absolutely captured my interest in the last few years. I’ve now dined in raw foods restaurants, have a collection of raw gourmet cookbooks (one of my favorites happens to be “Everyday Raw” by Matthew Kenney—see below) and even a Vita Mix. I’m also constantly experimenting in the kitchen “un-cooking” with all sorts of new ingredients (raw cacao, nutritional yeast, cashew “cream”, etc.) and I find myself seeking out and munching on all sorts of yummy and exotic raw food snacks (one of my favorites is the Blueberry granola by Two Moms in the Raw.)
I’ll be honest though, when I first heard about raw food I thought it would basically center around eating fuit and salads and it was hard for me to get too enthused from a culinary standpoint. It wasn’t until I started diving deeper into the world of raw gourmet that I realized this way of eating had the potential to be every bit as flavor-forward, exciting and satisfying as cooked food. The downside? Many raw gourmet recipes can be ultra time-consuming (soaking nuts, chopping tons of veggies, cracking raw coconuts, dehydrating foods, and so on is certainly not for the impatient.) On the flip side, other raw recipes are so easy my 10-year old son can make them! (I’m especially fond of super speedy Vitamix blender raw soup and raw smoothie recipes.)
But here’s the deal, you don’t need to go completely raw and you don’t need to go to extremes to reap raw food benefits…
Eating Raw Is Not an “Either / Or” Decision…
A pure raw food diet is an entirely plant-based (vegan) diet that includes no animal foods whatsoever. The “Clean Cuisine” diet I follow is neither vegan nor raw but it is based primarily on unrefined “whole” plant-based foods. And, more so than ever before, I do include elements of vegan raw eating into my “Clean Cuisine” diet every day including lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, seaweeds, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains.
What’s IN Raw Food is Important….
But What’s NOT In Raw Food Matters Too!
In addition to providing tons of disease-fighting, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging phytonutrients and antioxidants, raw foods are packed with fiber and are naturally packaged with a wide array of bioavailable nutrients your body can easily digest.
A raw foods diet is also going to be free of Frankenstein trans fats, preservatives and additives. And, because a raw foods diet does not include animal foods (no eggs, milk, cheese, beef, etc.) you avoid the harmful animal-based saturated fat and toxins these high-on-the-food-chain foods supply. Although a raw foods diet is not sugar free, it is in the spirit of raw food eating to use unrefined sugars (such as raw honey) in moderation.
What About Protein?
How can you get enough protein if you don’t eat meat? I actually wouldn’t worry about that one bit! As long as you eat enough calories you can absolutely meet your protein needs on an animal-free diet. Click HERE to read more about why you don’t need as much protein as you might think.
Note: I’m not a vegan but because I don’t eat a lot of animal foods I still take a high quality B-vitamin for B12 and also eat nutritional yeast on a regular basis. Nutritional yeast is a vegan source of complete protein and a rich source of easily digested B vitamins (including B12) iron and chromium. Unlike baking “active” yeast, nutritional yeast is not active, meaning that it does not feed and grow once inside your body and does not promote candida albicans (the yeast-like fungus that lives in the digestive tract.) Nutritional yeast is a very safe, nutrient-dense healthy food and it is actually used frequently in many raw food recipes. And yes, importantly, it tastes GOOD!
Raw Food Benefits
Unlike vegans who might eat a roasted root vegetable medley over cooked quinoa, the raw food devotee won’t eat any food that has been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The reasoning behind the no-heat rule is that high-temperature cooking (along with modern food processing techniques) will destroy the enzymes found naturally in food that allow for proper digestion.
While it is true that your body can produce its own enzymes for the digestion process, a raw food devotee will tell you that the manufacturing of enzymes takes work and can actually drain your body’s resources (and deplete your energy in the process). Although I have not been able to find scientific research to reference this, I can tell you by my own experience that I absolutely feel more energetic and less “weighed down” after eating a raw foods meal than I do after eating a chicken and potato dinner. I realize N=1 is not exactly “scientific” but everybody I have ever talked to who compares a raw foods meal to a traditional cooked dinner says the exact same thing; raw living foods just give you more energy. This is one case where you can experiment with food and see immediate results.
Additional raw food benefits include reduced inflammation and detoxification, which both pretty much go hand in hand. The fewer toxins you have in your body, the less inflammation. In fact, I believe eating more raw foods is one of the most effective ways to safely and quickly remove toxins from your body because raw foods are quickly digested and quickly eliminated (and, unlike other dangerous detox methods, nourishing raw foods also supply essential nutrients your body needs.) The quicker nutrients are extracted from your food, the sooner the food can be eliminated and the less likely toxins have a chance to “settle in.” The detoxification process is a key factor in achieving optimal health.
My friend Christopher (that’s him in the photo below with me and my son) is a raw foods chef and owner of Christopher’s Kitchen (my favorite raw foods restaurant in Palm Beach county) and he says “Raw foods help me feel, look, think and play better.” I can’t argue with that!
More Food for Thought….
And I can’t help but notice…and add… that my two favorite raw foods chefs, Matthew Kenney and Christopher Slawson (in photos above) do not exactly look like your average chefs. Is it because of the food they eat? I’m gonna take a wild guess and say probably so.