The Raw Food Lifestyle: Is It Healthier?

In the last several years there has been a trend among the health-conscious to eat their food raw. Those who follow this lifestyle feel that eating food raw confers more health benefits than cooked food as it preserves the living force of food, its enzymes. As we get older, enzyme levels can decrease dramatically and digestion problems as well as weight issues can result.

Several of my patients have expressed an interest in trying the raw food lifestyle and want to know how they should go about it both to make their food as nutritious as possible and keep themselves safe as some foods should not be eaten raw. Here’s what I tell them.

BENEFITS OF A RAW FOOD DIET

When explaining the benefits of a raw food diet to my patients, I start by telling them that it’s long been known that cooking does greatly decrease the vitamin/mineral/enzyme content of many foods.  For example, important antioxidants like Vitamin C and folate can be destroyed by heat.

Another school of thought is if you frequently eat fried, or open flame barbecued foods, you may end up with heterocyclic amines, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. These are compounds that form when muscle meat like beef, pork, chicken, fish, are cooked at higher temperatures. These HCA and PAH compounds have been found to cause cancer in animals, though it is not completely proven that they cause cancer in humans.

As well, other cancer fighting agents like sulforaphanes, present in broccoli, cauliflower, etc, are greatly decreased with cooking, therefore, you lose a lot of their nutrients. Here are some of the healthy benefits of eating raw:

  • Low sodium, low sugar which aids cardiac, kidney and diabetic conditions.
  • Fewer transfats/saturated fats, helps lower cholesterol and aids weight loss.
  • High in minerals like potassium and magnesium, boost energy and muscle function.
  • High in the B vitamin folate which helps reduce dangerous homocysteine levels.
  • Higher Vitamin C, an important antioxidant.
  • High in fiber which prevents constipation.
  • Promotes clearer skin by ridding body of toxins.
  • Helps the body stay more alkaline. Too high acid levels are thought to promote disease.

TRYING A RAW FOOD DIET

Eating food raw is not too much more time or thought-consuming than eating cooked food. Typically, at least 70% of your food is eaten raw to be considered a ‘raw food’ diet. However, you might want to just incorporate some raw foods into your diet, say, everything but meat. Raw milk has become a favorite amongst raw foodists as well. It can be purchased at whole food health stores, or you may be able to find a raw dairy in your area that sells raw milk directly to the public.

When my patients ask about the raw food lifestyle, they invariably ask me, what can I eat? Well, just about anything, with the exception of a few foods that should not be eaten raw (see below). If you’ve eaten sushi before, you’ve had your first taste of raw food.  But there are many other foods that can also be eaten raw. Here are some typical raw foods choices:

  • Fruits – juices made fresh without added sugar.
  • Most Vegetables – *see exceptions below.
  • Nuts and Seeds – dried, raw.
  • Grains
  • Beans and Legumes – *see exceptions below.
  • Animal foods – beef, chicken, pork, fish, raw milk, raw cheese, organic eggs. *See below.
  • Oils – olive, coconut, chia.
  • Condiments – all spices, herbs, raw chocolate
  • Sweeteners – agave, honey, coconut nectar, date sugar, stevia, Yacon.
  • Fermented foods – miso, vinegars, kimchee, sauerkraut.

Raw Foods To Avoid/Eat Moderately

As you can see from the list above, there are many things from all food groups that can be eaten raw and/or lightly steamed. However, there are some foods that absolutely should not be eaten raw as they can be poisonous in a raw state. These include kidney beans, fava beans, soybeans, buckwheat greens, potatoes (remove the skins first). Although mushrooms typically are served raw on salads, the FDA does not recommend eating them raw. Be sure you know what type of mushrooms they are.

Additionally, certain raw cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, can suppress healthy thyroid activity so eat in moderation, or steam lightly to reduce this quality.  It’s also important for you to know that consuming raw or undercooked meat can also increase your risk of getting a foodborne bacteria like salmonella, E.coli, and/or certain parasites, and viruses. Be sure to prepare and store your raw animal foods correctly.

Some raw foods can contain very strong enzymes that may interfere with the absorption of certain medications. If you take medications, please consult your doctor and ask if this could be a concern for you.

I agree that including some raw foods can add some very healthy benefits to your diet. Find some good raw food recipes, get creative and get a taste of the raw food lifestyle! You may find that it suits you just fine and you’ll want to increase the percentage of raw foods in your life!

Stay well,
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.

 

Raw Food Diet, http://altmedicine.about.com/od/rawfooddiet/a/Foods-To-Eat-On-The-Raw-Food-Diet.htm

Chemicals in Meat and Cancer Risk,

Plant Foods Not To Be Eaten Raw, http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=114418793028

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