The raw food movement has gained a lot of traction and recognition over the years, as raw food advocates claim increased vitality and energy. The increasing popularity of raw foods has led to a variety of creative recipes and cooking methods, and there are now even entirely raw food restaurants!
Raw Food Theory
Emphasizing increasing levels of raw food in the diet is the basis of this theory, however it leaves a wide range of interpretations for “raw foodism”. We wanted to share with you the basis of the theory, as well as some common sense applications that you can use in your life everyday!
The term “RAW FOOD” is also known as living food, and means unprocessed and uncooked PLANT foods. The philosophy is that cooking food above 116° destroys the vital enzymes in foods, and negatively impacts the body’s ability to absorb a food’s nutrients. To be considered a raw food diet, about 75% of food that is consumed must be “living”.
*PLEASE NOTE: Raw food theory applies to foods that can safely be consumed raw. There are clearly foods that must be cooked to be eaten safely, such as chicken. These are not part of a raw foods diet.
Why Eat Raw Foods?
The idea of eating most of our food raw is not a new concept. However, in the last few years it has developed from an idea into a theory that is backed by scientific research! For some people, the interest in this type of diet could be a result of the reaction against the mass acceptance of our population of processed foods. Raw foodists believe that a raw food diet has several health benefits, including increased energy, improved skin quality, better digestion, weight loss, and reduced risk of heart disease! Staple foods in the diet include seaweed, sprouts, sprouted seeds, whole grains, beans, dried fruit, and nuts.
If you decide to include raw foods in your diet, you guarantee yourself a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fiber, AND as an added bonus, (if you believe in that sort of thing) —a dash of “life force”! After all, a raw seed can germinate and grow; a boiled or cooked seed is no longer living.
If you are thinking about trying a raw food diet, the American Dietetics Association offers the following guidelines:
• Eat almost twice the iron as non-vegetarians. Good sources of iron are tofu,legumes, almonds, and cashews.
• Eat at least eight servings a day of calcium-rich foods like bok choy, cabbage,soybeans, tempeh, and figs.
• Eat fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and fortified soy milk for B12. Supplements are a good idea.
• Eat flaxseed and walnuts. Use canola, flaxseed, walnut, and soybean oil. These are all sources of omega-3 fatty acids. You may also want to take an omega-3 supplement.
There are two aspects to raw food. The first is the preservation of the “life-force” of the plant; and the second is preserving the nutrients in the food.
Preserving the Life Force
Techniques such as Kirlian photography show that raw foods contain an electromagnetic energy or vital force, which still defies scientific measurement. The phantom effect in Kirlian photography gives a clear indication that there is an energy field that is superimposed on the molecular structure of all living forms. Living organisms show a radiating luminescence that is reduced or even absent in dead tissue.
In general, raw food retains more minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and fiber. Many nutrients, especially vitamins and enzymes, are at least partially destroyed by cooking. For example, much of the vitamin C in peeled boiled vegetables is either peeled off with the skin or poured down the sink with the cooking water. There are times when it would be more nutritious to drink the vegetable water and throw away the vegetables, particularly if they are boiled in a large quantity of water.
Most minerals are not affected by heat except potassium, which a mineral that many of us do not consume enough of.
Raw or “living food” diets usually have a higher intake of antioxidants and certain phytonutrients.
Cooking foods destroys the enzymes present in the food. Enzymes are complex chains of molecules that convert the fuel from the foods we eat to the correct state for the cells and tissues to take in. They are present in every living cell, plant, and animal. Vitamins can only do their work in the presence of enzymes. Two circumstances affect the activity of enzymes, cold and heat. Cold does not destroy them but inactivates them (freezing, for example). Heat above 122˚F destroys enzymes permanently. The boiling point of water is 212˚F, so when you boil food, all the enzymes are destroyed.
Raw food contains more fiber, as cooking breaks fiber down. A high-fiber diet will keep the bowel functioning correctly and help to cleanse toxins from the body with the added bonus of assisting in weight loss. It is surprisingly difficult to reach the recommended 35 grams of fiber daily within reasonable calorie ranges unless a large percentage of the diet consists of raw fruits and vegetables!
In addition to generally increasing the nutrient content, raw foods require more chewing, which also improves the teeth and jaw and stimulates the whole digestive system to function properly.
Several interesting experiments add weight to claims of health benefits. Dr. SM. Pottenger, conducted a 10-year experiment in which he put 900 cats on carefully controlled diets. Over the course of several generations, their health and reproductive capacities were measured. Those on raw food diets had virtually no problems, while those given cooked food showed pronounced evidence of degenerative diseases of the bones, teeth, and gums. Switching to raw food and dosing with cod liver oil quickly countered the conditions!
Other experiments have shown raw food diets to be important in the treatment of specific diseases. In the mid-1930s, Dr. D.C. Hare put 12 chronic rheumatism patients at London’s Royal Free Hospital on a raw fruit and vegetable diet for two weeks, then on a modified raw food diet for some time. During the experiment no medication was given. Ten of the patients experienced relief from the pain of the rheumatoid swelling.Dr. Hare believed the improvement was due to the low sodium content of the diet.
In Zurich, the Bircher Benner Clinic has successfully been treating arthritis and rheumatism with raw foods for years.
Research has shown that a raw food diet can reduce cholesterol and improve symptoms of fibromyalgia and rheumatic disorders, among others.
Some foods are more nutritious when cooked, as cooking makes specific nutrients more bioavailable. For example:
• Raw beans, legumes, and peanuts contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with protein digesting enzymes. Heating disarms this enzyme inhibitor.
• Raw red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, blueberries, and blackberries contain an
enzyme that destroys thiamin (B1). Heating inactivates this enzyme.
• Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid and powerful phytochemical antioxidant. Processing tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene, so processed tomato products (such as tomato juice, soup, sauce, and ketchup) contain the highest concentrations of lycopene.
A completely raw food diet may not provide adequate nutrition for children. However, most children could benefit from increased raw fruits and vegetables in their daily diet. A parent in the United States following a 100% raw diet could be seen as extreme and
neglectful, while one choosing three meals a day at the local McDonalds may not be. It depends on the point of view of the audience!
Some foods should NEVER be consumed raw, others only with great caution. These include meat, poultry, and eggs. Raw potatoes can also be dangerous.
How You Can Apply These Concepts To Your Life
We always advocate a balanced diet of whole and unprocessed foods, which often coincides with raw food concepts. Whether a 100% raw food diet will work for you depends on you and your individual constitution! Some people consider a 100% raw food diet essential, while others feel it is extreme. At the very least, focusing on incorporating as many raw foods in the diet as we can will always have health benefits!
Our Advice Is..
• Attempt to include 60% (by volume) of raw food in your daily diet (a variety of fruits and vegetables). For example, aim for a plate that contains slightly more than half vegetables (say a mixed salad), just under one-quarter whole grains,
and just under one-quarter lean protein.
• Many fruits and vegetables you may have always cooked before eating are delicious when eaten raw (but always consider safety).
• Grated raw beets, zucchini, and even pumpkin are all delicious mixed with
other salad vegetables or cottage cheese and raw sprouts!
• Since many of us find some vegetables more eatable cooked, particularly in the winter, it is important to cook vegetables in a way that preserves the most nutrients.
• If you do cook vegetables, steam them just until crisp and tender, rather than boiling them, and serve them quickly.
• If you must boil vegetables, use as little water as possible and use the water left
over as a base for soups or stews.
• Leave root vegetables with their peel on—baking or boiling carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes whole with their skin intact retains nearly all the vitamin C!
• Minimize the surface area of food by leaving vegetables in big pieces. That way fewer vitamins are destroyed when they are exposed to air.
• If you do cook your vegetables in a steamer, always cover your pot to hold in steam and heat. This will also help to reduce cooking time!
Good health over the long term is all about BALANCE, not extremes. It is important to accept and recognize the fact that we are all different. We all have different goals and beliefs that guide our nutritional choices. Knowledge is what allows us to make those choices informed ones!