The Raw Food Diet has been very popular in the last decade or two—although it’s not really a “diet”, it’s more like a way of life.
The general idea behind eating raw is to eat most of your food in its raw or uncooked state. The aim is about 75% raw, although some raw food eaters aim for closer to 100%. This means the food has not been heated over 104°F, is unprocessed, and free of pesticides. For some hard-core raw foodists, this also means no hot beverages including herbal teas. And yes, this means no hot coffee too.
Many raw foodists believe that heating or cooking a food is harmful because it destroys the natural enzymes. Uncooked foods are considered “living” foods.
But…can our digestive systems handle all of this raw food?
A Short History of Cooked Food
In his book Cooked, Michael Pollan looks at the history of cooking food and how it has changed our physiology. In a nutshell, there is evidence that humans have been cooking their food for about 2 million years, and the advent of cooking created something extraordinary—extra time in our lives. We no longer had to search for food all day to feed our hungry brains.
Cooking food acts as a sort of “pre-digestion”, opening up the cell walls of the food, allowing us to get more energy and nutrients from each mouthful. Cooking made feeding our complex bodies much easier. The “Cooking Hypothesis” is a theory that cooking our food allowed us to have larger brains and, quite possibly, led to the development of language and social structures.
So, does that mean raw food is bad? Well, no, not exactly. Or, is a raw food diet the best for all of us…well, no, not exactly either. It’s a bit more complex than that.
Raw Food Pros
Most of us can benefit from some extra raw food in our diet. More fruit, veggies, nuts, and seeds are wonderfully healthy. The stronger your digestive system is, the more raw food you can handle.
The raw food movement has also given us a plethora of healthy and delicious dessert recipes. They’re seriously delightful and are sweetened with unprocessed sweet foods like dates and honey. If you’ve got a sweet tooth that can’t be tamed, definitely try them out.
And, because this diet is mostly free from anything processed and is super high in plant-based foods, it can be a great way to clean up your diet and bring new veggies and flavours into your life.
I’ve heard from many people who feel fantastic on a mostly raw diet. They have great energy, can think clearly, and they lose weight. If that’s your response to this way of eating, keep it up!!
Raw Food Cons
From my experience working with people with troublesome digestive systems, I have to agree with Traditional Chinese Medicine: cooked foods are healing foods.
Raw foods are hard to digest and break down, and if your digestive system is weakened for any reason, this can make a raw food diet very hard on your body. It can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies; the most prominent are iron, B12, and protein deficiencies. Many popular online raw food enthusiasts have needed to bring in some cooked food after a few years of following a raw food diet.
It’s All About Balance
There isn’t a perfect way of eating for all of us, and that includes eating a raw food diet. Trying to eat more raw is a great experiment and can open your diet up to new recipes and flavours.
What’s important is to understand what our body is looking for day-to-day. This is a matter of eating something and then noticing how you feel afterward. Do you feel energized or tired? Satisfied or craving something?
Raw food can add a unique symptom: feeling cold. If you’re feeling really cold, a cooked meal will warm you up. But, if you’re super fiery and hot, then have a nice raw salad to cool you off!
Whatever your dietary balance is, just be sure it’s full of whole and unprocessed food. That’s it. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. While many nutritionists focus on just food, Lisa sees it as just one of those puzzle pieces. She truly believes how we care for ourselves: our emotions, gut flora, sleep, stress, and of course, the food we put into our bodies, all work together to help us heal. Her mission is to help you find those missing pieces and give you the skills you need to solve your puzzle once and for all. Learn more about Lisa: lisakilgour.com
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.