A few summers ago, I attended a friend’s garden wedding in California and the only thing more striking than the combination of Hindu and Jewish ceremonial traditions was the raw, vegan menu. A colleague of ours catered a beautiful and delicious meal including raw, vegan lasagna, various fruit, vegetable and bean salads paired with hibiscus lemonade. It was delightful! Now that the Spring is in full swing here in Seattle, many of us might be considering ways to detoxify our bodies after a winter of richer, calorie-dense foods and shift to more hydrating yet nutrient-dense foods. Incorporating more raw foods in our diets is an easy way to do this and often an intuitive choice in the spring and summer months since there is a greater availability of local fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s part of what makes the warmer months extra enjoyable!
WHAT IS RAW FOOD?
Raw food is uncooked and unprocessed food which is free of preservatives or other chemical additives. There is usually some raw food in most diets in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. A raw food diet often consists of over seventy five percent of the above foods as well as some forms of eggs, fish, meat, dairy (perhaps cooked at low temperatures, typically no higher than 104-120 degrees F), fermented foods and sprouted grains.
This dietary style might be chosen for health or philosophical reasons. Raw foods are naturally high in vitamin, mineral and antioxidants. Many raw foodists believe that cooking or otherwise processing foods, diminish their nutritional value along with essential bacteria and microorganisms that positively impact the immune and digestive systems. Adopting a raw food diet might also contribute to environmental conservation benefits with a reduction in food waste and deforestation that accompanies animal husbandry.
TYPES OF RAW FOOD DIETS
There are a few variations of the raw food diet like raw veganism, raw vegetarianism and raw animal foods.
Raw veganism is essentially a raw foods diet that incorporated the vegan guidelines of excluding all animal origin foods and those heated above 118 degree F. Raw veganism may further be subdivided into the following categories:
Fruitarian a diet composed of at least seventy-five percent fruit.Liquidarian/Juicearian a person who consumes only liquids and juices.Sproutarian a person who eats mainly sprouts.
Raw vegetarians exclude meat, fish and poultry from their diets but often allow some eggs and dairy. Some raw vegetarians and vegans may fall into the following categories:
Natural hygiene a diet of raw fruits, vegetable, nuts, and seeds.Essene this diet consists of raw sprouts, wheatgrass, vegetables, and fruit.
Living foodie a person whose diet is predominantly sprouts, raw fermented foods, and raw blended foods.
Raw animal food diets often include raw or fermented meats, eggs and dairy while excluding grains, beans and soy. The subdivisions of these diets including the following:
Instinctive eating a way of eating that is guided by the sense of smell and taste. It involves eating raw fruit, seafood, meat and vegetables. In instinctive eating, a change in smell is a signal to stop eating.Raw Paleolithic includes raw meat, eggs, seafood and plant-based foods but no grains, legumes or dairy.Primal diet consists of raw fatty meats, organ meats, dairy, honey, minimal fruit and vegetable juices, and coconut products.
BENEFITS OF THE RAW FOOD DIET
1. Improved Health: Raw foods are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that often have anti-inflammatory and anticancer (eg. cruciferous vegetables) properties. This makes them great medicinal foods for many chronic diseases. Raw fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber which can help maintain healthy digestion, cholesterol levels and hormone balance. Improved digestion can also translate into higher energy levels, skin appearance and better mood. A raw food diet is often associated with weight loss especially with the avoidance of processed, fast and junk foods. Choosing organic raw foods also reduces one’s exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other toxins.
2. Environmental benefits: A diet of local and seasonal raw foods can help reduce one’s carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy involved in agricultural production, deforestation, transportation, packaging, storage and cooking. It can also reduce amounts of food waste and promote composting.
3. Spirituality: Some choose a raw food diet for religious or spiritual reasons. Avoidance of animal derived foods can be a way to honor other sentient beings while enjoying the earth’s bountiful harvest.
DISADVANTAGES OF THE RAW FOOD DIET
1. Raw foods, although generally very healthy, do not always contain all the essential nutrients required in a diet. One may need to consider vitamins B12 and D3, omega3 fatty acids, calcium and iron (particularly in menstruating women) supplementation since these nutrients are more abundant in animal food sources. It is also important to maintain adequate caloric intake and protein intake for optimal energy levels and metabolic function.
2. A raw food diet requires preparation and organization. One must be very mindful of adequate nutrient and caloric intake to avoid deficiencies and accompanying illnesses.
3. Some raw foodists can suffer from digestive disturbances if they are unable to properly digest foods that are not at least partially cooked or preserved. This can lead to changes in bowel habits and excessive flatulence or bloating. Short-term use of digestive enzymes may be helpful for temporary relief of such symptoms. Eating raw meats can also put one at risk of food poisoning.
4. Buying all or mostly organic foods can become somewhat expensive over time if one does not budget appropriately. There can also be financial loss and excessive food waste if fresh foods are allowed to spoil when not eaten promptly.
In the average, healthy adult, a raw food diet can be a helpful short-term detoxification option or a long-term lifestyle choice as long as care is taken to focus on overall health. The presence of raw foods in one’s diet is a great, healthy way to incorporate a variety of nutrients. The most important consideration is maintaining balance. It is important to be aware of how different dietary choices impact one’s body and respond accordingly if unwanted symptoms arise. I would recommend consulting a primary care physician before undertaking any big dietary changes especially in babies, young children and the elderly because of their specific nutritional needs.
In the meantime, enjoy the warm weather ahead and the wonderful array of fresh (raw) foods that come with it by trying out some new recipes:
Health Magazine’s 5 Easy Raw Food Recipes
Eating Well’s Healthy Raw Food Recipes
The Rawguru Living Lasagna
Dr. Adeola Mead, ND is the Natural Choice Network's Healthy Living Content Coordinator. She is a Bastyr University graduate and Seattle based naturopathic physician. Dr. Mead is passionate about using natural medicine education as a powerful healing tool for both individuals and communities.