The Pros and Cons Of A Raw Food Eating Plan
You have probably heard the chatter about the raw food eating plan that many people are following. It sounds healthy, doesn’t it? We’ve all fallen into the trap of believing that just because we leave certain things raw that it must be a healthier way to eat.
Raw food is seen as higher in minerals and vitamins when compared to the same foods when cooked. So, we believe they are better for our health and that has drawn us into the trap of believing that raw is always better.
Yes, there are absolutely benefits to following a raw food eating plan, but as with anything, there are also cons. Before we dive into the pros and the cons of eating raw, let’s talk about the basics of the raw food eating plan.
What Does Eating Raw Mean?
The entire premise of the eating plan is to focus on eating foods that are uncooked and unprocessed. The thought process behind it is that uncooked and unprocessed foods are free of the chemicals and additives that can affect your health.
There are a multitude of raw food eating plans and they all follow different schools of thought when it comes to which foods can or should be cooked versus what should be raw. There will be lenient followers who are happy to enjoy cooked foods while eating the majority of their foods uncooked. On the other side of the coin, you have the followers who are strict about their eating plan.
Overall, the point is that your staple diet is made up of raw vegetables and fruits, seeds, nuts, sprouted grains, fish, raw dairy, fermented food, and some meats. A good example of the raw food eating plan would be supermodel Gisele Bundchen and her husband, New England Patriot Tom Brady. They follow an 80/20 ratio – enjoying raw foods 80% of the time.
The proponents of the raw food eating plan claim that it cannot only improve digestion but also prevent cancer. On the other side, there are people who claim it’s impossible to obtain all of the nutrients that your body needs by eating only raw foods.
What is the truth? Can it a completely raw eating plan be healthy? Or, is it just inviting disaster?
A Breakdown Of The Raw Food Eating Plan
While you are free to enjoy a plethora of seeds, unroasted nuts, beans, dried fruits, uncooked vegetables and fruits, as well as a variety of dairy products and fermented foods you are to avoid any type of food that has been heated over 115 degrees.
This includes caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and essentially any type of processed foods. To put it more clearly, it effectively rules out any foods that are sold outside of the grocery stores produce section. Although, you will find other products labeled raw, which are okay.
If you’re a snacker and this sounds like your worst nightmare, don’t panic. A lot of snacks like dried fruits, kale chips, and seaweed have been dehydrated or sunbaked – if that’s the case then you can go for it. This can be helpful to curb the typical hunger pangs that come with following a diet like this. While it’s heavy in fiber which fills you up, a lack of protein can leave you feeling unsatiated.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rules above. It’s up to you, but the purists will avoid honey, eggs, and any type of dairy product. Though, there are raw diets that happily include unpasteurized cheeses, fish, meat, and raw eggs.
The people who follow these types of raw food eating plans believe it to be healthier, combined Paleo and raw to create the ultimate eating plan for nutrition. In truth, you can follow whatever type of ratio you want because you don’t need to stick to a specific plan at all.
You can create your own raw food eating plan that increases your produce intake, but also allows you to enjoy many of the foods you need for overall health. Creating your own plan and ratio also makes it easier to follow the eating plan, which can be a serious challenge for raw food eating plan followers.
Purists believe that cooking food can be harmful to our health and to get the best from the foods we eat they should be enjoyed raw. The argument for the eating plan is that humans are the only mammals who cook the food they eat and also happen to be the only animals (in addition to the pets we feed cooked foods) who deal with a variety of health problems like genetic diseases, cancers, and diabetes.
We often talk about the importance of reading a rainbow, and as studies show it’s the healthiest way to eat and can help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Why is 115 degrees the limit? Raw foodists claim that it breaks down the enzymes found in food and releases free radicals and carcinogens.
Where did this diet come from? It stretches back further than you realize, with its roots in Switzerland in 1897. Doctor Maximillian Bircher-Benner had fallen ill and in an attempt to cure his jaundice who treated himself with raw apples. It worked and as a result, the investor of muesli set out to convince others that a raw food eating plan was the key to unlocking optimal health.
Eating raw means that you consume lower levels of cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat. It makes sense, considering you will have stopped eating processed foods, meats, and dairy products. Additionally, it’s high in nutrients, fiber, and vitamins. It’s a diet rich in antioxidants and because of this, it’s fairly common for raw foodists to enjoy significant weight loss.
In addition, it’s been found to relieve pain associated with diseases such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. This is because of the anti-inflammatory properties of the foods being eaten. On that same train of thought, raw food eaters claim to be happier and experience less stress and anxiety.
It all sounds amazing, right? There are plenty of aspects of it that are amazing, but to succeed it requires a real commitment to the process. You have to say goodbye to pizza, cakes, and all the foods that you love the most.
Generally, when you change your diet it’s an overhaul of your lifestyle. Even though you scale back the junk you eat, you can still enjoy treats guilt-free knowing that you’re doing so in moderation. That isn’t the case with eating raw.
When the focus of your diet revolves around plant-life you can expect to see some improvement in your weight and your overall health. The simple explanation for this is that because you’re enjoying a diet of whole foods you are completely shunning foods high in sugar, salt, preservatives, and additives.
It’s a diet that is high in fiber, which is something that most Americans are lacking in their diets and it leaves you feeling fuller for longer as well as helping with the digestion process.
Of course, eating fruits and vegetables isn’t just great for your waistline. It’s also beneficial to your hair and skin. Not to mention how good it is for the environment.
Your health may see some benefits, too. After all, the foods that tend to contribute to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are no longer part of your diet, thus reducing your risk of developing these diseases.
If you’re looking for a way to reduce your body’s acidity, then eating raw vegetables and fruits is the way to do it. The majority of vegetables boast this fact and it can prevent acid build up while helping you balance your pH levels. This is something that’s particularly important when it comes to diseases like cancer, which thrive in these types of environments. Alkaline diets improve digestion, boost energy and heart health, as well as relieve inflammation.
We know that once foods are kicked it changes how we absorb the nutrients and digest the foods. Some nutrients are enhanced in the cooking process while others really are decreased. For example, B and C vitamins are water-soluble and they are generally quite sensitive to heat and when foods are cooked they escape. Broccoli is a good example, it can lose half of its vitamin C count when you boil it. When you broil or grill foods it can cause nutrients to drip off in the juices. The B vitamin family are depleted when they are baked or roasted and that’s due to the time they spend being cooked. Microwaving your foods can also affect the C vitamin count by as much as 30%.
No Unhealthy Foods
One of the biggest benefits of following a raw food eating plan is that you will swear off refined sugars and trans fats. Since processed foods are a major no-go area you are reducing your risk factor for all of the health problems that come from overdoing these types of foods. It’s a diet plan that is low in sodium thus heart healthy.
Our bodies rely on fruits and vegetables, and the majority of fruits are already enjoyed raw. The Mayo Clinic reports that produce helps promote healthy digestion and bowel movements, leaves us fuller, and while fighting inflammation, it also lowers cholesterol. In addition to improve your digestion, it can also help prevent colon diseases.
It certainly seemed as though the positives would never end, but unfortunately, there are also cons that come with following a raw food eating plan. The drawback of eating raw lies in the extremes.
Any type of lifestyle or diet change that goes to the extreme is difficult to follow simply because it’s unrealistic. You feel tempted constantly and knowing that you can’t have certain foods will only make you want them more.
It’s difficult to lead an active social life when you’re limiting what you can eat – it makes eating out incredibly challenging and will likely complicate going to a friend’s house for dinner, too. The premise is good, it’s just a difficult one to execute over the long-term and will throw up challenges you may find difficult to overcome.
Too Much Fiber
We can agree that fiber has its benefits, there are drawbacks to too much fiber, though. It can leave you feeling bloated and gassy and it’s fairly common when you’re eating lots of raw produce. Cooking your vegetables breaks them down to make it easier for your digestive system to process. Without that breakdown, your body has to work harder to process them which is what leaves you with that bloated feeling.
Overdoing Healthy Fats
Another risk of the raw food eating plan is that you overdo healthy fats. Yes, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good for you. They’re delicious, filling, and packed with healthy fats. There is such a thing as eating too much, even when it’s healthy fats. While the positives of healthy fats are reducing cholesterol, improving brain health, and protecting your heart, the risk is weight gain when you overdo it.
Lack Of Protein
There is another risk when you eat raw, even if you settle on the 80/20 ratio. It takes a lot of planning to get your protein balance right. It’s incredibly difficult to get plenty of protein when your focus is entirely on raw foods, that means when you do reach for cooked foods they need to be excellent protein sources to make up for what you’re missing out on. That’s why a 100% raw food eating plan is unsustainable.
Lost Nutrients Found Through Cooking
We covered how certain cooking methods can affect certain vitamins in particular foods. What we didn’t cover, though, is how it can also enhance other nutrients (Cooking and the human commitment to a high-quality diet; Carmody, et al). For example, stir-fries and sautéing are generally considered to be healthier cooking methods because the food isn’t overcooked nor is it boiled to allow nutrients to escape.
When it comes to carrots tossing them in your stir-fry can increase the beta-carotene count, while giving your tomatoes a quick sauté in olive oil increases the body’s lycopene levels. Cooking meat increases antioxidants and it can also make it easier for the body to digest certain nutrients.
A good example would be eggs, considering may raw foodists will eat them raw. Once cooked, your body can digest more of the protein than when ingesting eggs raw (Digestibility of cooked and raw egg protein in humans as assessed by stable isotope techniques; Evenepoel et al).
Lack Of Certain Nutrients
We discussed how difficult it is to get the protein your body needs, but there are other nutrients your body relies on. The risk in cutting out major types of food from any diet means you face a challenge to get the proper vitamins and minerals. As noted with protein, running an 80/20 ratio may make things a bit easier, but certainly, following a raw food eating plan 100% will make it virtually impossible to get everything that your body needs.
You typically miss out on important nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and the crucial brain food omega 3. A lot of the foods we normally eat are fortified with the nutrients we need to make it easier to get them. However, that is difficult when eating raw food only which means you’re more likely to suffer from a deficiency (Low bone mass in subjects on a long-term raw vegetarian diet; Fontana L, et al).
Something else we haven’t quite touched on yet is how cooking food makes it easier for human consumption. This is why restaurants have strict regulations to follow when cooking food from raw, reheating foods, and handling different types of food.
No one wants to bite into a burger to find it bright red. It helps protect us against food poisoning, listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. The mildest of these symptoms are certainly inconvenient, but the more serious conditions can result in death. The safest way to consume meat is by ensuring it’s thoroughly cooked before eating it.
It’s quite clear that there are plenty of benefits to following a raw food eating plan. Then again, there are just as many drawbacks. Before you embark on a raw food journey you should decide whether it’s the right move for you. Again, it requires total commitment and if you have a history of yo-yo dieting and jumping on every diet bandwagon going, then this one might not be for you.
At its core, any diet that encourages followers to eat more vegetables and fruit (whether you eat them raw or cooked) is going to be a positive change for your overall health. If you’re having dinner guests, then it may be a challenge to cater for them while sticking to your plan. It’s equally as difficult to follow raw food eating plans when you’re in restaurants or a dinner guest in someone’s home.
The most effective way to get around these challenges is to take your food with you or eat ahead of time. While your good friends may be happy to cater to your requests, it might not be something you want to ask them to do.
Likewise, there are many restaurants that will cater to your requests – the easiest way to deal with this would be to check their menu in advance and call ahead of time to find out what they can do for you to keep you on your eating plan.
How Can You Make a Raw Diet Work for You?
If you are adamant about trying to switch to a raw food eating plan start with an 80/20 ratio to see how you cope.
The 20% cooked food part of your ratio will allow you to get the protein you need and fill in the gaps of any nutrients and vitamins that you’re lacking from your raw foods. The key is making the right choices in cooking methods when you do cook.
The Mayo Clinic has a handy guide that will keep you on track. You can consult it to ensure you’re choosing the healthiest method of cooking for the specific type of food that you’re cooking – sadly, you can rule out barbecuing due to the carcinogens. Unless, of course, yours is gas fueled. You can say goodbye to sauces – but you can boost your flavors with fresh herbs and spices.
Foods that are cooked in water or at too high a heat are the most likely to leach nutrients. Though, as noted above it does depend on the nutrient and the food you are cooking. Vitamin C is generally easier for your body to absorb when you eat your foods raw.
However, iron is more beneficial for you when it comes from cooked foods. If you’re not sure whether to go raw or cook your vegetables, a healthy compromise is steaming. Steaming doesn’t take long and there’s very little water involved, which means vegetables should retain the majority of their nutrients.
Yes, you can make a raw diet work if you don’t go all in – but any eating plan that increases your consumption of fruit and vegetables is going to be a winner. As with any change in diet, you will experience weight loss – but that doesn’t always mean it’s the healthiest choice you can make.
You don’t need to make the switch to a total raw food diet to improve your health or to lose weight. There are plenty of other ways you can do this. If you want to live a healthy life the best way you can do so is by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, lean proteins, and drinking plenty of water.
Once your diet is squared away you will notice a difference in your energy levels and with all that extra energy you can go ahead and get more exercise. Finally, you need to ensure you are getting plenty of sleep (at least seven hours a night). You can call this the holy trinity of health, and it’s the most effective way for you to prevent the typical lifestyle diseases, as well as prevent stress, anxiety, and depression.
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