There’s a new way of eating that’s fast becoming a movement and it's called Raw Food. Raw foodists don’t eat food that has been cooked above sun-drying temperature because they believe heating destroys the vital nutrients and enzymes in food. They eat raw (and preferably organic) fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, sprouts, certain seaweeds, raw nut butters and fresh herbs. Some raw foodists eat uncooked eggs and unpasteurised and non-homogenised milk, yoghurt and cheeses, raw fish such as sashimi and raw meat such as carpaccio. Raw foodists the world over say that they feel incredible with more zing, clear skin, weight loss and lower risk of disease. So exactly how do you prepare and eat raw food, and is it really the best way to get your nutrients?
What are the main issues
Raw food verses cooked food
Now there’s a maelstrom of debate about the benefits of eating raw food versus the benefits of eating cooked food. It might be helpful to know that people who consider themselves ‘high raw’ foodists eat 75 to 95 per cent of raw food a day. That doesn’t necessarily mean they go and roast up a side of beef for dinner, but it does give some flexibility for those living the raw food lifestyle.
Raw foodists also have some differences in what temperature they consider food to be raw. Most raw foodists won’t eat food cooked above 42 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature at which the sun dries out food, while others say 45 or 46 degrees and yet others say 48 degrees.
Nutrients and enzymes
A diet high in raw foods is naturally high in antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals and their damaging effect to our health (free radicals are generated by our metabolism, pollution, radiation, pesticides, chemicals, smoking and alcohol, among other things).Raw foodists claim that cooking food breaks down nutrients, enzymes and heat sensitive vitamins such as Vitamin C. Enzymes help us digest, which explains why we feel so sluggish when we’ve eaten heavy or rich foods. Raw foods are high in easily digestible enzymes that give us extra energy because our bodies are not wasting it digesting.
Acid / alkaline balance
A major benefit to eating raw food is that it neutralises the acid balance within our bodies. Although this sounds a little hocus-pocusy, our blood has a pH balance where it works at its best. The Western diet of high fats, sugars, preservatives, grains, dairy, meat, caffeine and alcohol tends to push us way over to the acidic side. The raw food lifestyle rebalances the pH in our bodies by adding a high amount of alkaline foods such as fresh vegetables and most fruits. An alkaline pH balance helps us avoid chronic conditions like depression, stiff muscles, headaches, fatigue and restless sleep. Raw foodists too have to know which fruits and nuts are acidic and which are alkaline. Acidic fruits include blueberries, cranberries, plums and prunes and acidic nuts include peanuts, cashews and walnuts.
Why we cook things
We initially started cooking our food to preserve it and make it more digestible. Cooking food also stops the process that will eventually decompose it and make it spoil. In today’s environment, most of us are fortunate enough to have access to fresh food on a daily basis and the ability to store our food in handy fridges however the idea of eating food at its freshest and with minimal processing does sound appealing.
Against raw food
Nutritional scientists point out some problems with the raw food lifestyle. Studies have found that cooking actually increases the nutrients in some foods. For example, one study found that cooking tomatoes increases the amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to decreasing risks of cancer and heart disease. The same study also recognises that cooking tomatoes decreases the amounts of vitamin C. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki writes that cooking food is beneficial in a number of ways: cooking makes nutrients easier to digest by breaking down husks and skin; it breaks down larger molecules into smaller molecules; and it opens cells so nutrients can be digested. Dr Karl also notes that studies have found that generally raw foodists are undernourished.
So what’s the truth
We all need to eat more greens. The minimum amount of vegetables we are recommended to have every day is four to five servings. One serving is a cup of raw vegetables, half a cup of cooked vegetables or half a cup of 100 per cent vegetable juice. Despite our best intentions, how many of us do that every day? How many of us substitute fruit for vegetables and think that is good enough? Unfortunately, while fruit is essential for good health, too much fruit each day may also lead to an unbalanced diet and other issues.
Increase your intake of greens
Knowledge of how to prepare raw food will increase our intake of greens, which can only be a good thing. Drinking green smoothies or green juices, snacking on salads and nuts and eating organic fruit and vegetables is definitely beneficial. However, we’d suggest you consult your alternative health professional if you are considering a 100 per cent raw food diet to ensure you have all the facts and skills.
How to get started
Green Juice and Green Smoothies
If you want to dip your big toe into the waters of raw food, then it’s easiest to begin with juices and smoothies. Raw foodists call these ‘green juice’ or ‘green smoothies’. Green juices strip away the hard-to-digest fibre from the vegetables so the nutrients go straight into your body. Green smoothies leave the fibre in. (There’s an ongoing stoush between aficionados about which is better: the answer is down to preference). A little tip too: if you add lime or lemon, these neutralise any bitterness that the greens have and you’ll be surprised just how delicious they are.
Other handy tips include:
- Choose foods that are in season; preferably certified organic and grown locally
- Always give your produce a good rinse and wash
- Get to know your local organic grocer, farmer’s market and produce markets
- Learn to soak and sprout nuts, seeds, beans and grains to activate them
- Begin making juice that is 70% vegetables and 30% fruit
To really get the benefits of green juices, you need to get what’s called a slow-speed masticating juicer. These work by slowly ringing out the juice from the fruit and vegetables kind of like when you ring out a towel. The slowness of these juicers means that the enzymes and antioxidants stay in the juice. They work differently to the more common kind of juicers that are the ones where you put the fruit or vegetables in the top and they get squished through what looks like a conical cheese grater. These types of juicers are not recommended for green juicing because they make heat that kills off the enzymes and antioxidants. Also, they can’t juice leafy vegetables like kale or grasses like wheatgrass. Still, if that’s all you have or can afford, then it is good enough.
If you’ve tried green juice and smoothies, and your body feels perkier and more revitalised than it has in years, then you might like to get some more raw food on your plate. Think about filling your plate at lunchtime with raw food like nuts, green leafy vegetables, herbs and sprouts. There is no doubt you can feel better by eating raw food, and getting all the health benefits of eating nutritionally-rich foods.
For more information:
- There are two highly recommended books for raw food beginners. Becoming Raw by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina has all the science behind raw food. Going Raw by Judita Wignall has recipes and photos of the food to give you a good idea of how to make raw food meals;
- For raw food recipes, go to: www.raw-pleasure.com.au
- If you really want to detox and see just how much better you feel after drinking green smoothies, then go to the Green Smoothie Challenge. They have great recipes that show how easy it is to make green smoothies. Take a look at their Banana for Beginners, which couldn’t be simpler by blending ½ cos lettuce, 3 bananas and 2 cups of water. Go to: www.greensmoothiechallenge.com
- Karen Knowler is the Raw Food Coach and takes beginners step-by-step through incorporating more raw food into their lifestyle: www.therawfoodcoach.com
- Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s article, ‘Is Raw Food More Nutritious?’: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/04/29/2230592.htm
- For a detailed, but easy-to-read explanation of the benefits of raw food, go to: http://kristensraw.com/blog/
- Scientific Americandraws on the research of nutritional scientists to argue that raw food is not healthier than cooked food. Go to: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=raw-veggies-are-healthier