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The Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet typically includes fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, seaweeds, and super foods (spirulina, blue-green algae, goji berries, maca, cacao, and wheatgrass, among others) but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring and bland. These days, you can indulge in a fruit smoothie with soaked flax seeds, bananas, fresh fruit and dates or zucchini and mango slices topped with a Thai nut curry cream and coconut noodles. As more and more people shift towards vegetarian- or vegan-based diets, the popularity and awareness of eating raw foods is increasing. The seemingly inconvenient and restrictive nature of eating this way is often outweighed by the established health benefits. These include improved digestion, more energy, clearer skin, better focus, improved memory, weight loss, detoxification, and a stronger immune system. Some critics do question the bioavailability of certain nutrients in raw foods, the natural toxins present in some raw foods, and the risk of low bone mass. But it seems most are in agreement over the positive benefits of incorporating more whole, unprocessed foods as the staple of a healthy diet. In this regard, eating raw foods can certainly improve overall health and wellness.
Enzymes are considered the life force of food.

Raw foodists believe in eating an uncooked, unprocessed, and organic plant based diet. This means no foods heated over 116 degrees. The reason is that enzymes in food are destroyed at this temperature, even starting to degrade at 105 degrees. Enzymes are required for the reactions that aid in the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food. Since cooked food is devoid of natural enzymes, your body must recruit its own reserve. This source may be unreliable or insufficient for these tasks. As a result, your body must expend more energy to extract the nutrients from cooked foods. In addition, cooking can change the molecular structure of food – especially if using a microwave. Cooking foods at high temperatures can create toxic by-products, adding to the load our bodies already face from living in a toxic environment. Consuming foods that are closer to your body temperate is also beneficial because there is no shock to the system that can occur when consuming piping hot foods, soups and beverages.
A few question the effects of a completely raw diet.

Generally speaking, raw foods have a higher nutritive value. Though, there are debates over the bioavailability of some nutrients from raw foods. Lycopene, which has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of prostate and lung cancer, is only available from cooked versus raw tomatoes. Carotenoids, well known as antioxidants, are more available from cooked versus raw carrots. A second issue with raw foods is the natural toxins present in some edible plants that would usually be destroyed by cooking. For example, canavanine (found in alfalfa sprouts) can be harmful to the immune system and psoralens (found in celery) can sensitize the skin to the harmful effects of UV rays. Our bodies do have innate defenses against these natural toxins but may not be as efficient considering all the other toxins we process. A final concern with raw foods is based on the results of a study in the March 28, 2005 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine which showed that vegetarians who eat only raw foods have abnormally low bone mass – but other markers for bone health among the raw foods group were normal. On a positive note, the raw foods group consumed fewer calories than the control group and had a body mass index (BMI) averaging 20 (in the normal range) compared to just over 25 (considered overweight) in the control group.
Thinking about going raw?

The best way to know if a raw food diet is appropriate for your body is to experiment by slowly adding more raw foods to your current diet and observing how your body feels. Even raw-food purists like David Wolfe say most people can gain the benefits of raw foods while enjoying some cooked varieties. "Even a diet that is 70 to 80 percent raw will give people so many health benefits," he says, "that they may not need to go further." Remember to start slow because a sensitive digestive tract may need time to adjust to the intensity of a more nutrient-rich raw food diet. Having success with your transition to raw foods is more dependent on a positive state of mind than a kitchen full of equipment. The truth is that you don’t need more than a good wet/dry food processor, the rest are merely for convenience. Shifting back to eating foods the way nature created them is more harmonious on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Angela Stokes, an inspirational raw foodist says, "Let's not forget that one of the main joys of a raw lifestyle is that it's about simplifying – getting back to a simple, natural way of living."

-Dr. Christine Gonzalez (Integrative PharmD, CHC)