Raw food diet. Is it really healthy or another extreme food movement? Just like everything else, there are arguments for both sides. Many of you probably have not heard of this so I’d like to share some information about it.
The fundamental principle behind raw foodism, also sometimes called rawism (doesn’t that sound attractive?!?!), is that plant foods in their most natural state – uncooked and unprocessed – are also the most wholesome for the body. There are different ways that people follow a raw food diet. Some follow a raw vegan diet while others consume raw animal products, such as raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, sashimi or ceviche (raw fish), or carpaccio (raw meat). Some people eat only raw foods, while others include cooked food for variety. The proportion of raw food can be anywhere from 50% of the diet to a diet that is all raw. The raw food diet is a lifestyle choice. It is not a weight loss plan. This is a really important point. Yes, odds are you would lose weight if you decided to take up this kind of eating pattern, but if you then added the “other” foods back into your eating pattern you would most likely see your weight increase. After looking into this type of eating, I believe the weight loss is due in part to how much WORK it takes to eat like this!!!
Sticking to a raw food diet isn’t easy. Most raw foodists spend a lot of time in the kitchen peeling, chopping, straining, blending, and dehydrating. That’s because the diet is typically made up of 75% fruits and vegetables. Staples of the raw food diet include: seaweed, sprouts, sprouted seeds, whole grains, beans, dried fruits and nuts. Alcohol, refined sugars, and caffeine are taboo. In the raw food diet, specific methods can be used to make foods more digestible and to add variety to the diet:
Sprouting – Grains, seeds and small beans and legumes are soaked and sprouted.
Soaking – Nuts and seeds are often soaked.
Juicing – Fruits and vegetables can be juiced.
Dehydrated – Foods can be heated, never above 116 F, using a piece of equipment called a dehydrator.
Blending – Foods can be blended or chopped using a food processor or blender, to make recipes for pesto, soup, hummus.
So they don’t cook anything? No, sort of….they do not cook using a traditional stove or oven. They use food dehydrators that lend crunch to vegetables and cookies. Food dehydrators also dry out fruits for fruit leather and other raw food recipes.
The dehydrator works with heat, but temperatures cannot be higher than 115 to 118 degrees. People who follow this diet believe high heat leaches enzymes and vitamins critical for proper digestion. According to the American Dietetic Association it is the body — not what goes in it – that produces the enzymes necessary for digestion. The ADA also says cooking food below 118 degrees may not kill harmful, food-borne bacteria. And let’s face it, in todays day and age of every-other-day recalls of fruits and vegetables, this is a concern. Some foods that are not safe to consume raw are: kidney beans, soy beans, and fava beans, Buckwheat greens, Mushrooms, Peas, Potatoes, Rhubarb leaves, Taro, Cassava and cassava flour and Parsnips.
Is it really healthier to eat raw foods? There is not a lot of medical literature with regard to the. Research tends to focus vegetarianism/veganism and the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Research does show a plant-based diet is a healthy way to eat. (note – try implementing a meat-free day once per week)
A few studies have shown that cooking may destroy some nutrients, it has also been shown that cooking vegetables such as tomatoes (yes, I know it’s technically a fruit) and carrots helps the bodies to utilize them more efficiently.
One showed that eating raw, cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale) may reduce the risk of bladder cancer. Researchers noted that cooking cruciferous vegetables robs them of their isothiocyanates, agents that alter proteins in cancer cells. They found that even a few helpings a month of raw crucifers seems to lower the risk.
Another study that reviewed findings of about 50 medical studies on the raw versus cooked debate showed that eating raw vegetables helps reduce the risk of oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, esophageal, and gastric cancers.
Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast….researchers who studied the impact of a raw food diet found that study participants had low cholesterol and triglycerides. They also had a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is found naturally only in animal products. It is critical to nerve and red blood cell development and deficiencies can lead to anemia and neurological impairment.
A German study of long-term raw foodists showed that they had healthy levels of vitamin A and dietary carotenoids, which comes from vegetables, fruits and nuts and protect against chronic disease. This would be expected. Yet the study participants had lower than average plasma lycopene levels, which are thought to play a role in disease prevention. They are found in deep-red fruits like tomatoes. Lycopene content is highest, however, when tomatoes are cooked (see, I told you!).
I’m running out of room here, so next week we’ll review the American Dietetic Association’s recommendations for people who decide that the eating raw lifestyle is for them. Have a great week!
Raw Food part 2
Kelly E. Hamlin, MA, RD, CDN
Last week I introduced the Raw Food Diet. Remember, the basic premise behind the raw food movement is that plant foods in their most natural state – uncooked and unprocessed – are also the most wholesome for the body. Last week I reviewed the “cooking” methods that can be used and still be considered raw as well as some of the results of research that had been done with regard to the health benefits of eating raw. This week, I want to review the American Dietetic Associations recommendations, how to start eating raw and some recipe resources.
There is no doubt that raw food diet is rich in nutrients. It’s full of fiber and it’s low in fat and sugars. However, people who follow the raw food diet, as well as vegans, need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, most of which are found naturally in animal products.
The American Dietetic Association recommends:
Eat almost twice the iron as nonvegetarians. 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. This is more than recommendations for nonvegetarians, but the raw/vegetarian/vegan diet can be high in sulfur-containing amino acids which can increase bone calcium loss.
Eat fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and fortified soy milk for B12. Supplement 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.
Eat plenty of soy and bean products. There are plant based proteins, but the protein is less digestible than animal proteins.
Eat Vitamin D fortified foods, including certain brands of soy milk and rice milk, some breakfast cereals and margarines. You may also want to check with your physician about taking a Vitamin D supplement. People who don’t eat meat or dairy products need to be more aware of their Vitamin D intake.
If getting into the raw food movement sounds like a good idea, there are ways to transition from a “typical” diet into a raw food diet.
Ease into the diet. Start with 50 percent raw and go from there. Don’t be focused on going 100 percent raw. Instead, find the balance that works best with your lifestyle and consider it an evolving process.
If you are going to try the diet, you’ll need to find recipes and make meal plans, especially as you begin. Don’t allow yourself to go hungry.
Make sure to eat a variety of foods.
Recipe sources include:
Whether or not you chose to go to a raw foods diet is a choice and a big commitment. But, for those of us carnivores who like our foods cooked, think about easy ways to add raw, fresh foods to your diet. There is no doubt that we CAN benefit from not only a plant-based diet, but one that does contain some raw foods. And how convenient! In just a few months, there will be a plethora of farm fresh fruits and vegetables for you to enjoy! Yes, raw food has its place but I must admit, I have a thing for grilled strawberries…..yummo!