There has been much recent attention drawn to raw food diets. Followers report higher levels of energy, weight loss and healthier looking skin. In addition, a raw food diet is thought to prevent a myriad of chronic diseases including arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
The reasoning behind these claims is that cooking is thought to denature enzymes naturally present in foods. As a result, our bodies are then required to produce higher levels of enzymes, eventually leading to system burnout or exhaustion. The resulting chronic lack of vital enzymes is thought to lead to weight gain, poor digestion and suboptimal nutrient absorption.
In some cases, cooking a food can also produce harmful compounds such as heterocyclic amines; cancer-causing agents which are formed when meats are exposed to high heat.
Raw food diets generally contain much higher levels of anti-oxidant-rich greens and much lower levels of saturated and trans fats than the standard North American diet. Additionally, much higher levels of fibre are often consumed due to higher intake of fresh produce. These factors alone will improve health and prevent many chronic illnesses.
In addition, the foods consumed on a raw diet generally result in a more alkaline state of the body. Acid-alkaline balance is thought to be a great predictor of disease appearance and progression. Generally, those who are more alkaline tend to develop fewer chronic illnesses.
Interested in trying it out? The summer months are a great time to include more raw foods in our diets. Even if you don’t go completely raw, shifting your food intake to include higher levels of raw foods can have a great impact. While individual goals may vary, I would suggest keeping it simple. For example, commit to eating raw for 2 meals of the day and including some cooked foods during the 3rd meal. Alternately, you may commit to eating raw for a certain number of days per week. Set a goal that is realistic for your lifestyle. Even committing a portion of each meal as raw will have benefits. Consider starting with a 50% raw diet; 50% of each meal will be raw.
As stated above, summertime is a great time to try out a raw diet. Eating raw may not be a healthy choice for many during our cool North American winters.
Potential health concerns of a raw diet:
We’ve talked about the many health benefits of raw diets but it’s important to be just as aware of some of the potential hazards. Consuming a raw diet can make it easier to get in higher levels of vitamins, minerals and some nutrients. However, it can also make it tricky to achieve a healthy level of other nutrients. One place where I have seen many people struggle is with protein intake. Be sure to monitor your protein intake, and aim for 1gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Ideal sources of raw protein include:
Nuts and seeds
Sprouted beans and legumes
Raw protein shakes (found at a local health food store like Nature’s Source)
Other nutrients which are commonly depleted on raw diets include Vitamin B12 (see my previous blog post for more information about this important vitamin), iron and omega-3 fatty acids. If you feel you are unable to get adequate levels of these important nutrients, consider adding a supplement to your diet.