What Is Raw Food? By definition, raw food is primarily unheated food or food warmed to a temperature of less than 104 ºF or 40 ºC.
The most common raw foods are the unprocessed and uncooked plant foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit, and seaweed. But raw food may also include animal foods such as fish, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Proponents of the raw food diet rave about the numerous health benefits of living foods, like increased energy, improved skin appearance, better digestion, weight loss, and reduced risk of heart disease. Critics, on the other hand, warn against sanitary concerns as well as a host of nutritional deficiencies including low calcium, iron, protein, and insufficient calories.
So which is better, raw or cooked? In the following, find out the pros and cons and what is right for your body.
The Raw Benefits
- One reason why eating foods raw is so beneficial is because you avoid the harmful compounds that are sometimes created when foods are cooked. Heterocyclic amines are cancer-causing substances formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures, especially during charbroiling and barbecuing. Additionally, acrylamide is another cancer-causing chemical byproduct of cooking foods like potato chips, French fries, and almonds at high temperatures.
- Heating destroys the digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria in the food. Take milk as an example, people who are lactose intolerant cannot drink pasteurized milk but usually have no problem with raw milk. The reason is raw milk contains enzymes and lactase-producing bacteria (lactobacillus) needed by the body to break down and assimilate the milk sugar, lactose. These helpful bacteria and enzymes are destroyed during pasteurization which involves heating the milk to 150 ºF for 30 minutes.
- Raw fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants including vitamins A, C, E, carotenes, zinc, selenium, bioflavonoids, lutein, and many beneficial phytochemicals. Some antioxidants like vitamins C and E are easily destroyed by heat. Prolonged cooking of vegetables also eliminates almost all the beneficial antioxidants.
Drawbacks Of Raw
- The biggest problem with raw food is absorption. Sometimes, to be able to absorb the nutrients in the food, it is necessary to cook it. A good example is beta-carotene in carrots, tomatoes, spinach, and other orange/yellow vegetables and fruits and dark green leafy vegetables. Cooking makes the beta-carotene more readily available for absorption by the body.
- Studies have shown that people who follow a raw vegetarian diet have higher risks of low bone density and vitamin B-12 deficiency. They are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, iron, zinc, protein, and calories.
- A raw food diet may not be appropriate for children, pregnant or nursing women, people with anemia, and people who are at risk for osteoporosis.
The Middle Road
As you can see, both raw and cooked foods have their merits and demerits. For most people who eat everything cooked, it will be beneficial to incorporate more raw foods in the diet. The raw foods should always be fresh and preferably organic, free from pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
Although raw foods are very nourishing, a raw-only diet may not be appropriate for everyone, especially people living in colder climates and for certain body types. In this case, your body needs to have more cooked foods to function at an optimal level.
After all, as with so many things in life, it is more sensible to take a moderate approach. The key is really about balance, finding what works best for your own specific body, instead of blindly following some best-selling diet books or the latest fads.
The following are some simple and easy ways to incorporate more raw foods into your diet. Try them out and see what works best for your own body.
Raw Plant Foods
Apart from having salads, vegetable juicing is the best way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet.
- Juicing helps you absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables, and it is easy to add a wider variety of vegetables in your diet instead of eating the same vegetable salads everyday.
- If you are new to juicing, invest in a mid-priced juicer. Don’t buy the cheap centrifugal juicers that break easily and make a lot of noise.
Choose raw nuts and seeds over the roasted ones.
- Raw nuts and seeds contain high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats, and enzymes.
- Roasting nuts at high temperatures oxidizes the healthy fats, making them go rancid more easily.
- It also leads to the formation of a cancer-causing chemical called acrylamides in nuts such as almonds that have high levels of the amino acid, asparagines.
- If you don’t like the taste of raw nuts, the next best option is to roast your own and keep the temperature no higher than 160 ºF. This will help avoid the oxidation of fats and formation of acrylamides.
Raw Animal Foods
Many cultures eat animal foods raw. The Japanese eat sashimi or raw seafood. The Peruvians have ceviche or citrus-marinated seafood. The French make steak tartare served with raw egg. The Italians eat beef cappaccio.
- Raw animal foods are rich in enzymes which promote healthy digestion, and B vitamins which are crucial for metabolism, healthy skin and muscle tone, and immune and nervous system function.
- If you choose to eat raw meat, always purchase high-quality organic and free range meat from grass-fed animals as opposed to the antibiotic- and hormone-ridden meat sold in most supermarkets. However, chicken, pork, and ground beef should be fully cooked.
- If you just can’t tolerate totally raw animal foods, at least avoid charring or cooking your meat at high temperatures due to the formation of heterocyclic amines which are cancer-causing. What’s more, rather than having your steak well-done, try to have it medium-rare or rare.
Eggs are a phenomenally inexpensive and incredible source of high quality nutrients, especially proteins and fats. Cooking changes the nature of the egg proteins and fats, and is often the reason for allergies. Generally, when the eggs are eaten raw, any incidence of egg allergy disappears.
Eating egg yolks raw preserves the integrity of the highly perishable nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin that prevent blindness and age-related macular degeneration.
Raw eggs are also exceptionally easy to digest and provide a completely balanced nutritional package. One way to eat raw eggs is to add them to fruit smoothies.
But what about salmonella?
- First of all, only one in every 30,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella. You can further reduce this risk by simply buying eggs from healthy organic and free range chickens. Only sick chickens lay salmonella contaminated eggs.
- Don’t eat the egg if there is a crack in the shell, has a foul odor, a watery white, or a yolk that is overly runny or breaks easily.
- If you are still concerned about salmonella and choose not to eat your eggs raw, the next best option is to eat them soft-poached or soft-boiled.
Raw Dairy Products
Sale of raw dairy products is legal in 28 out of 50 states in America. If available in your state, opt for the raw organic dairy products instead of the pasteurized ones.
- Pasteurization was probably useful when it was first employed in the 1920s to kill germs that were spread during that time due to widespread unsanitary production methods. Nowadays, sanitary conditions of the dairy industry have greatly improved, making pasteurization unnecessary.
- Pasteurization of milk destroys the enzymes, beneficial bacteria, vitamins C, B6 and B12, denatures the fragile milk proteins, and is associated with many allergy symptoms. Raw milk, on the other hand is not associated with any of these problems. Many people who have been allergic to pasteurized milk can typically tolerate raw milk without any troubles.
- Pasteurized milk, which usually has a shelf-life of several weeks, is not as fresh as raw milk. Fresh raw milk is creamier and better tasting than pasteurized milk.
- Raw organic milk is always your best choice. If raw is not available, choose organic pasteurized milk over non-organic, because “organic” does not contain harmful pesticides and hormone residues.