Author: Linda DiBella
Rather than think of this as a form of deprivation, as the word diet often does, think of this as an eating style that includes only raw foods or foods that have not been heated above ~115 degrees F so that the nutrients and enzymes are preserved. There is a large movement around eating raw for many reasons:
- In today’s Western society, processed, cooked foods are blamed for the insidious rise in obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression and neurological disorders, and autoimmune diseases. This is not to say that all cooked foods are leading to these diseases, but in general, the processed foods implicated are cooked.
- There are many reports of people with cancer, diabetes, and the diseases mentioned above that have reversed the symptoms and conditions by adopting a plant-based, mostly raw diet.
- Cooking destroys enzymes and protein, as well as many of the nutrients found in foods in their raw state. Eating them raw provides high levels of water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and active enzymes from living food.
- In addition to the health benefits, many proponents of the raw food diet choose this lifestyle for ethical and environmental reasons.
- Raw foods increase stamina and energy levels, clear skin, improve the condition of hair and nails, and benefit digestion. Incorporating raw foods into the diet will also help slow the aging process.
For many of us, the raw foods in our diet are likely limited to fruits and vegetable-based salads, but for the committed, raw foods can involve elaborate and beautiful dishes that replicate some of their cooked counterparts from every type of cuisine. This includes raw soups, appetizers, dishes for all three meals, and deserts. Zucchini can be cut to look like spaghetti, and nuts and seeds can be used to replace dairy products like cheese and sour cream. Nuts, seeds and herbs can be combined and then dehydrated to replace breads and crackers, and superfoods are frequently included in many recipes to boost the benefits even further.
Is eating a completely raw diet right for everyone? Not exactly. There are lots of factors that will influence whether someone can successfully maintain a diet of raw foods. For example, for those living in a region with changing seasons and climate, it may be more difficult to eat strictly raw into the Winter months, when warming soups and stews can actually be nourishing. Having access to local fresh fruits and vegetables is also more difficult during these seasons.
In the book The Raw 50 by Carol Alt, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez explains that some of his patients with serious diseases often tolerate cooked food better in the initial stages of recovery because cooking helps to pre-digest the food, and the nutrients that are lost during the cooking process are made up through supplementation.
Still, if you’re accustomed to eating mostly cooked foods, trying to incorporate more fresh, raw plant foods is a great way to increase the quality of your diet, since you will naturally get more nutrients from these foods.
One of the most common ways to get more raw, living foods into your diet is through juicing. Juicing extracts the valuable nutrients from the tough cell walls of fruits and vegetables and depending on the juicer used, will include some of the fiber from the plant. Juicing is beneficial because it partially digests the food, which puts less work on the digestive system and allows the nutrients to be absorbed more easily than from the whole food. It’s one of the quickest ways to increase energy. Here is a recipe for a red juice that I like to make that’s sweet and tangy.
This recipe for a raw hummus is made with red lentils that have been soaked and sprouted first, which softens them and starts a biochemical cascade that increases their nutritional value and lowers the levels of naturally occurring toxins in the legumes.
Here is a recipe adapted from Carol Alt’s The Raw 50 for a creamy Cucumber Avocado Soup:
4 large cucumbers, cleaned and peeled
4 celery stalks
1 Haas avocado, peeled and pitted
¼ cup chopped dill
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
4 cups purified water
sea salt and pepper to taste
Combine the ingredients in a blend and mix until creamy and smooth. Garnish with capers, if desired.