What Are Raw Foods?
Raw foods are, simply enough, foods that haven’t been cooked.
They’re the fresh fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs we’ve all come to know and love in their whole, natural state.
Once raw food is heated above a certain temperature, the food is considered cooked. Many in the raw food community define this point as the temperature where the particular food’s enzymes are destroyed. Enzymes are the catalysts of all reactions in the body, and all foods contain naturally occurring enzymes. Most raw foodists consider 116°F the maximum threshold for enzyme activity in the food. Soups and dishes heated until just warm to the touch, and foods dehydrated at temperatures lower than this are generally still considered raw foods.
Raw foods are loaded with all the vital nutrients our bodies require to grow and maintain health. Raw foods also have a high water content compared to cooked foods, which is helpful in maintaining hydration and ensuring you actually get all the watersoluble nutrients the plant foods provide. Raw foods abound with phytonutrients. These plantbased nutrients are not yet considered essential in the diet, but science suggests they’re involved in protecting against or delaying the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, etc. Raw foods sometimes contain greater amounts of vitamins and minerals than their cooked counterparts. Science knows about the benefits of many phytonutrients, but there’s still much to be discovered.
Raw foods have not been cooked and contain high levels of enzymes and vital nutrients. Enzymes are proteins that accelerate the rate of chemical reactions, including those involved in digestion and metabolism. Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are plant-derived, biologically
active chemicals thought to prevent certain diseases.
Weight Loss Secret
It’s a widely held belief in the raw community that eating raw has a built-in weight reduction mechanism. This has to do with the water content, fiber, and nutritional values of raw foods. Going raw also keeps you away from two of the main weight gain culprits—refined sugars and flours. These contain very little nutrition, and because they’re not filling, encourage the consumption of other similar foods. Whatever the
reason, we think eating raw foods is one of the easier ways to lose weight because it’s simply so satisfying!
Water to the Rescue
The water content of raw foods helps support weight loss. When food is cooked, it loses its moisture and becomes more dense. Raw foods, loaded with water, fill you up sooner. You wind up eating less because you fill up on low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods. You may find yourself eating more frequent, lighter meals.
It’s been shown that a diet high in fiber helps increase transit time of foodstuff through the digestive tract, lowers blood cholesterol levels, and promotes less hunger due to the bulk it provides. A raw food diet is naturally high in fiber and is one of the many reasons eating raw helps you improve your health and lose weight. In short, a positive sequence of events is created. The healthier your food, the more
satisfied you feel eating a smaller quantity of food, the quicker food leaves your body, and the more weight loss you will experience.
We believe eating raw foods paves the way to optimal health and the prevention of disease. Major national health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend including fruits and vegetables to prevent illnesses. The World Health Organization estimates that a low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
Raw foods are naturally very good sources of vitamins A, C, and E, which function as antioxidants, preventing free radical damage that’s a normal part of metabolism and results from environmental insult (i.e., stress, pollution, diet, etc.). In today’s modern world, we are under a free radical attack. As a rich source of antioxidants, raw foods are purported to slow the aging process, which might be why raw food eaters often report glowing skin immediately after beginning the diet. Learn more...
Foods such as avocadoes, flax, almonds, and olives contain oils that allow for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) when eaten with a meal. Some of the fatty acids these foods provide are essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are vital for maintaining cell, skin, neurological, and even heart health.
The two main essential fatty acids are omega-3 (linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid), found abundantly in ground flax and hemp seeds. These EFAs improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and clearing clogged arteries. They’re also naturally antiinflammatory
and may relieve arthritis symptoms. Like other raw foods we’ve told you about, when you heat oils above a certain temperature, they begin to change chemically and hazardous free radicals are formed. The less heat applied to the oil production process, the better. And of course, none is best! By eating raw, you receive the nutrition contained in naturally occurring oils. These natural oils found in nuts, seeds, and avocadoes are important parts of a healthful lifestyle.
- Raw foods are nutrient-rich foods that have not been heated above a certain temperature.
- The reputed benefits of eating raw are many and include weight loss, healthier bodies, clearer skin, and increased energy.
- Raw foods contain high concentrations of antioxidants, water, and phytonutrients.
- Health organizations around the world encourage eating more and more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Well-planned raw food diets provide all the nutrients our bodies need for optimal health.
Where Do You Get Your Protein?
This is probably the most frequently asked question regarding a raw, plantbased diet. Perhaps you’re wondering this yourself. Protein is a large component of every cell in our bodies, is essential for the structure and function of our muscle and organs, and is required for the production of enzymes and certain hormones. Life wouldn’t be life without it! Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Body proteins are comprised of 20 different amino acids in varying concentrations. These different combinations of amino acids form innumerable proteins in the body. Plant proteins completely meet our dietary needs. The body cannot make 9 of the amino acids, so they need to come from food. Because it’s essential they come from food, they’re called essential (or indispensable) amino acids.
Protein is an important component of your body that is necessary for organ function, muscle growth, enzyme production, cell signaling, and hormone production. Amino acids combine in various ways to produce a number of structural building units known as proteins, which then combine to create cell components, structural fibers, tissues, tissue systems, organs, and organ systems. Essential amino acids are the 9 amino acids our bodies are unable to produce and require food intake.
According to the World Health Organization, people need to consume 5 percent of their calories from protein. Many experts recommend 10 percent of calories from protein to add a margin of safety. This means that only 1 out of every 10 calories we eat needs to come from protein.
The current recommendation is 0.8 gram dietary protein for every kilogram body weight (2.2 pounds weight) for sedentary individuals. However, protein needs change under different circumstances (i.e., level of physical activity, pregnancy, etc.). For vegetarians getting protein from plant sources, the recommended amounts are 1.0 to 1.2 grams dietary protein per day per kilogram body weight (1 kilogram = 1 pound) and potentially more if highly physically active. There is debate about whether the concern is not that we as a country are not getting enough protein, but that we might be consuming too much. Some researchers are concerned that high consumption of protein over time can be taxing on our system and could result in kidney disease, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer.
Get your protein the raw way by enjoying delicious nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and sprouted grains. Eat a wide array and ample amounts of living foods to easily meet your protein needs. Check out this list for sample foods to include in your diet:
- Nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, coconut, cashews, and walnuts
- Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, flax, hemp, and sunflower
- Vegetables such as dark leafy greens (including spinach and kale), peppers, shitake mushrooms, garlic, and sea vegetables (discussed in Chapter 5)
- Fruits such as apricots, peaches, currants, prunes, raisins, figs, dates, and avocadoes
- Sprouted grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and wheat berries
- Sprouted legumes such as lentils and garbanzo beans
As an added benefit to eating raw, many believe that the protein in raw foods is easier for the body to assimilate than the protein found in cooked foods.
What About Calcium?
Another myth we hear is that you won’t get enough calcium while eating raw. Calcium is an important mineral involved in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. For optimal absorption, consume adequate amounts of vitamin D and magnesium. Many wonderful raw food sources provide calcium. Our favorite is soaked sesame seeds that have been blended into milk. A 2-cup portion of our Sesame Milk provides 70 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium.
Other good plant sources of calcium, which is absorbable by the body, are the following:
- Vegetables such as kale, dandelion greens, garlic, arugula, collard greens, parsley, and watercress
- Nuts and seeds such as flax seeds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and pumpkin seeds
- Fruits such as oranges, dates, limes, figs, and persimmons, and berries (including raspberries)
- Dried fruits such as figs, apricots, prunes, and dates
- Sprouted grains such as quinoa and wheat berries
- Sea vegetables such as kelp, kombu, and wakame
Many vegetables contain calcium in high quantities, but the levels of oxalate and phytates present in some vegetables (spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard, for example) prevent the body from absorbing much of the calcium present.
What about Iron?
Now to address the myth that people on a raw food diet cannot get enough iron. Iron is an important mineral in the blood that is incorporated in hemoglobin, the protein responsible for transporting oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. Iron is essential in the structural binding site for oxygen. If blood iron levels are low, fatigue normally results due to lowered oxygen transport. While plant-based foods contain a form of iron (a.k.a. nonheme), which the body is less able to absorb when compared to heme iron found in animal proteins, the incidence of iron deficiency in vegetarians is the same as nonvegetarians.
A wide range of raw foods contain iron. Check out these iron-rich raw foods:
- Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, dates, prunes, peaches, and more
- Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce, Jerusalem artichokes, Swiss chard, asparagus, and green bell peppers
- Nuts such as peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios
- Fruits such as lemons, limes, and persimmons
- Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin
While the iron from plant sources is harder to absorb because of the presence of phytates in the food, iron absorption is enhanced by consuming foods/drinks high in vitamin C (i.e., fruit juices, citrus fruits) at the same meal. This bodes well for those eating raw because fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamin C.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of red blood cells and the health of the nervous system. It’s found in bacteria and other microorganisms in the soil, but mostly in animal products. It’s also stored in the body. The amount of B12 you need is very small, and the body can store it for years.
There’s great debate on how best to meet your vitamin B12 needs on a raw diet, because it’s limited in plant foods. Trace amounts of B12 are present in foods such as sea vegetables, blue-green algae and in other fermented products, but further study is needed to determine whether this is in a form the body can use. Many believe no plant sources provide adequate amounts of B12 and that supplementation
is necessary. One of our favorites is nutritional yeast, which is rich in amino acids and vitamin B12. When transitioning to a raw food diet, you might want to consult with a registered dietitian who can evaluate your diet and make a recommendation for a supplement if necessary.
- Modern science is now discovering the incredible nutritional benefits of ancient foods such as flax seeds, chocolate, and berries.
- Superfoods are especially high in nutrients and immune-strengthening antioxidants and are a major cornerstone of a raw food lifestyle.
- Eating a rainbow of colorful foods ensures a wide range of protective and healthful nutrients.
- In the future, food will play a major role in preventive medicine, where diet and lifestyle changes help protect us from illness.
- It’s easy to meet your protein needs when eating raw by consuming a wide variety and an ample amount of raw foods.
- Eating raw can supply a sufficient amount of dietary calcium and iron, provided the diet is well balanced.
- Athletes and those wishing for peak performance can excel athletically while eating raw.