Can eating only raw food be good for you? Nicola Monteath finds out more about the Raw Food diet.
Most of us may reach out to a salad choc-full of raw vegetables whenever we attempt to eat healthy, but there are some people whose diet only comprises such food. Imagine – a life without piping hot stir-fries, baked dishes, or, heaven forbid, cookies! Apparently, life on a raw food diet doesn’t have to be all salads and smoothies, it can be delicious too, say experts. The raw food diet, or raw foodism, has been gaining popularity, and not just among Hollywood stars but also nutritionists. “The raw food diet is based upon the notion that plant or living food is of its highest nutritional quality and state when it is in its most natural form,” says Astrid Purzer, founder of organic detox diet and raw food delivery service, Detox Delight.
Not just salads!
The raw food diet primarily comprises of plant foods. However, not all raw foodists shun meat or dairy – those who do eat them, choose grass-fed meat and unpaseturised milk. The diet includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, sea vegetables, and fermented foods as the primary sources of nutrition. And even without dairy, milks, cheeses and creams aren’t eliminated entirely – they are, instead,
made from raw, soaked nuts.
Raw foodism doesn’t mean all food has to literally be eaten raw – partial cooking is allowed, at certain temperatures. “Cooking food above 47C depletes the enzymes, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are naturally present in food,” says Christine Burgess, a raw food expert and Executive Chef at Karkloof Safari Spa in South Africa.
While raw food has been eaten by humans for as long as they existed, the raw food movement as a health trend became a thing in the 1930s. American Naturopath, Dr. Herbert Shelton, and Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian nutritionist and holistic health practioner, began to realise the benefits of eating raw or living foods – making them the earliest pioneers of the movement. Ann Wigmore co-founded the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, which is known for healing the body, mind and spirit with living foods, while Dr. Herbert Shelton founded the Natural Hygiene movement, which promotes eating raw food as an alternative to medicine. Ever since, raw foodism has been embraced by many for its health benefits.
There are various degrees of raw foodism that are accepted. Victoria Tipper, Nutrition coach at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, says most people choose to eat either 50 or 80 per cent raw food, as it isn’t easy eating a 100 per cent raw diet and a mixture of raw and cooked foods generally works well for the body as well. Alison Andrews, raw foodist and founder of Dubai-based raw food website lovingitraw.com, tells us that when you consume 75 per cent or more raw food, it is generally considered a raw diet. Alison follows a high raw diet – a mixture of raw and cooked foods – and points out that people should not worry about how much raw food they include in their diet, and do what works best for them.
Benefits of raw
“An interesting way to look at raw food is to think of it as nature’s medicine. Plant food is a potent addition to our health, offering the perfect combination of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and nutrients,” says Astrid. A great percentage of nutrients are lost when food is cooked, canned or pasteurised, as are enzymes, which are vital for the body as they assist in the breakdown of food.
According to proponents of raw foodism, the more cooked food you eat, the more your body has to work to assist with digestion – hence using up energy. The general rule of thumb for a raw food diet is to make sure that food consumed isn’t cooked at a temperature higher than 47C. Your meals don’t necessarily have to just be bowls of fruit or raw salad leaves though – think nut purées, dried chips, pasta made from vegetables and raw chocolate mousse!
A lot of raw foods are also alkaline, and help raise the oxygen level that the blood absorbs. “Our bodies become acidic when we eat junk or processed fruits, sugar, dairy and bad fats,” says Victoria. By eating alkaline-forming foods such as green leaves, sprouts, non-sweet fruit, vegetables grown above the ground and certain gluten-free grains like millet and buckwheat, we neutralise the pH level (7.365 is the accurate amount on the scale) of blood, Christine adds. If the pH level of blood is low, it can lead to low energy levels and a weakened immune system.
The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in alkaline foods also help slow down the ageing process. Most raw foodists steam or boil foods, but sprouting is a popular method on the diet as well, as it helps activate dormant enzymes in nuts and seeds, making it easier to digest. Fermentation is another process raw food advocates follow. Sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha are some of the fermented foods that can be consumed on the diet, and contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) which aid optimum gut health.
“Some standard benefits that you may observe with a transition into a raw food diet are an increase in your overall energy, cleared up skin, increased focus and longer attention spans,” says Astrid. On the diet, you will be able to lower your bad cholesterol levels and overall fat consumption, which helps promote good heart health – especially if you’ve been eating unhealthy before.
Fruits and vegetables in general are easier for the body to digest, compared to animal proteins and fats, and as a result, less energy is used to digest as well. Plus, they are a great source of dietary fibre – this aids gut health. “The main reason our bowels are so important is because it is the site of absorption of a majority of essential vitamins and minerals. If our bowels are suffering, the whole body undergoes pain and trauma. In addition, digestion and excretion are important for our body’s detoxification processes,” says Astrid.
Eating nutritious, living foods is one of the main reasons to go raw; however the ability to aid with weight loss is another highlight of this diet. A wide variety of greens and vegetables are low in calories and glycemic index, but the diet can easily become calorific if you consume large portions of sugary fruits, nuts and seeds. It all depends on your meal portions and what type of raw food you eat, daily.
While there are significant benefits for going raw, the diet may not work with all body types. Victoria tells us that cutting out food groups may lead to certain deficiencies, and the best way to try the raw food diet is by doing it as a detox for a couple of weeks, to see if the body can tolerate it. “People with Irritable bowel syndrome or digestive issues should be careful, as some raw foods could cause flatulence or excessive bloating,” she says. Vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower should not be eaten raw if you have thyroid problems or a history of hypothyroidism in the family (goitrogens). She also mentions that cutting out animal proteins completely may reduce bad cholesterol levels, also decreases Vitamin B12 in the body – which is not ideal.
It’s also worth noting that some foods need to be cooked to increase the benefits of the compounds in it. For example, the lycopene in tomatoes increases when it is cooked, and this compound helps lower the risk of heart disease and protects against cancer.
As with any diet, there are key points to remember. Include organic produce as much
as possible, steer away from packaged food and fill your plates with a variety of fruit and vegetables. “The more colours you see on your plate, the more nutrients are present,” says Astrid. Victoria confirms this and recommends easing into the diet with green juices. “This allows you to make raw fruit and vegetables part of the diet and packs in essential vitamins and minerals,” says Victoria. Try to slowly integrate fresh produce in your diet, on a daily basis, while eliminating processed foods one by one. It’s also best to eat a balance of raw and cooked foods to avoid putting a strain on your digestive system. While raw foodism as a lifestyle might be a bit extreme, adapting a raw food diet as a detox every now and then is something most
of us can benefit from.
Alison Andrews,37, is the founder of www.lovingitraw.com and has been following the Raw food diet since 2005:
“I started the diet after watching the author of a book called The Natural Way (BenBella Books) on a TV show. She was speaking about health related problems linked to a person’s diet, and I decided to dive straight in and try the raw food diet after that. The reason I started the diet was because when I was 28, I was struggling with allergies, indigestion, hormone imbalance, and low energy levels. I first began eating raw food in the morning and healthy cooked food for dinner, and within three days of changing my diet – I was able to throw out my allergy medications, my digestion became perfect, and my energy levels skyrocketed. It also healed my endometriosis over time and made me look much younger than my age. When I started, I went 100 per cent raw, but later that year, I went back to eating a high raw diet, as I feel you get better results when you don’t eat completely raw. Initially, I felt guilty when I ate anything cooked, and would stress about not getting enough minerals, but then I began taking supplements as well. There is no such thing as a 'perfect' diet, so it's not worth worrying about the percentage of raw food you eat. My typical breakfast is a smoothie of a frozen banana with green-and protein-powders and coconut water, while lunch is a large salad or a fruit or green smoothie. I usually eat cooked food for dinner.”
The It gadgets
While you don’t need any special equipment for a raw diet, it helps to have these if you want to get creative and add variety: