What exactly is a raw food diet and who can benefit from it? Raw foodists consider a food to be raw if it has not been heated above 118 degrees. There is some nitpicking over the exact number but this is the general consensus. And anyone who wants to lose weight, have better digestion, have more energy, look younger and quite possibly prevent major disease can benefit from a raw food lifestyle. We, humans, have been cooking our food for thousands of years but we have been walking the planet for millions of years. No other animal on earth cooks their food and consequently animals don’t suffer disease anywhere near to the extent that humans do.
Reasons for Raw Food
For the purposes of our discussion when we talk about raw food, we are talking about raw living food. There are raw foodists who consume raw dairy and meats but we are talking about nature’s bounty here. The biggest reason for raw foods is that cooking changes the molecular structure and for the large part leaves the nutrients mostly unusable. As cooked food is less digestible the body can get backed up and unable to eliminate as quickly as the food is coming in. This leads to metabolic waste in the body, causing toxicity which results in disease. We will go into this process more in depth in a later article. Raw food is one of the best and easiest ways for losing pounds and maintaining a healthy weight. Besides losing weight many notice better hair and clearer skin when eating the way humans were intended to eat all along. As if you need more reasons, many raw foodists report having better mental clarity and focus, more of a spiritual connection and are balanced emotionally. Now that you have some major reasons let’s see what these wacky raw foodists eat.
Although individuals vary the staples of a raw food lifestyle are fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. We will talk specifically about the transition period later but let’s just say for now that in the beginning most raw foodists go through a period of eating combinations of food that remind them of their cooked favorites. There are tons of recipe books out there with gourmet raw vegan suggestions. This is good for the adjustment period of a new lifestyle but most start eating simpler as they go farther down their raw path. Everyone progresses in their own time but most people eventually let the heavier raw dishes go and generally consume less than they did in the beginning. Once the body begins to clean itself out and detoxify it demands less food to satisfy its needs.
Where Do You Get Your Protein?
If you decide to follow a raw food lifestyle this is one question that you will be asked over and over. Before saying anything I would highly recommend The China Study by T. Colin Campbell for a real understanding about protein and its effects on the body. Actually, most people consume too much protein as it is extremely hard not to get enough protein. Experts will debate over whether humans are omnivores or frugivores but the bottom line is that most people think they need more protein than they do. Believe it or not, many fruits have 5-8% protein and it is a complete protein with all 8 essential amino acids. Leafy green vegetables are also a great source of protein, especially Kale, which has 4 grams of protein in 2 cups. All vegetables have protein and are good in boosting your intake although you definitely want to be getting a large percentage of your daily requirement from the fruits and vegetables. And of course nuts and seeds have lots of protein. Just be sure to use them sparingly to limit your fat intake. An ounce of chia seeds have 4.4 grams, while an ounce of cashews offers 5. Hemp seeds contain all 21 known amino acids and this includes the 9 that are essential. So you can see that there are multiple sources out there for those of us on a raw vegan diet. Still, this is the number 1 question you will be asked when people know how you eat.
Transitioning to a Raw Food Diet
Not everybody can or should jump right into a raw food diet. Depending on how toxic your body is from previous eating habits, alcohol, caffeine, drugs and such will determine how quickly or slowly you transition to this new way of life. Small improvements are better than no improvements at all and you will just have to determine your own pace. Starting can be as simple as substituting fresh fruit or a smoothie for your normal breakfast. Another approach used by some is to be raw vegan until dinner and then eat some healthy cooked food for your evening meal. I personally transitioned without knowing it. I had resolved to get healthier at the beginning of 2012 but had no thought of going raw vegan at the time. I ate fruits and smoothies all throughout the day and then would cook and eat reasonable portions in the evening. I was still eating meat and consuming dairy at that point. One thing led to another and I started watching YouTube videos and reading about this way of living. Over the course of one weekend, it made sense to me. I went vegan right then and ate fairly high raw from the beginning. It was easier for me because I had already been cleaning out my body over the previous months. The last word I have for transitioning is not to pressure yourself. Take it at a pace that is comfortable to you and enjoy the process.
If you delve into the raw foods world you are going to hear information and opinions from every side. Some “gurus” will tell you to eat like this and others with tell you to eat like that. There is a lot of good information out there but you have to use your intuition and be your own guide. As Bruce Lee said: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” I eventually moved slowly to being mostly raw but I am not dogmatic about it. It works for me, and I feel better at 49 than I ever have in my life, but I still educate myself and listen to my body. When my body asks for cooked food, I eat it. Although, this is happening less and less as I progress along this path. My hope is that this blog will be beneficial for all , but maybe especially for beginners as the struggles and early stages are still fresh on my mind. Be well, be happy, and be healthy!