So exactly what is all the hype about raw foods? Is this just some fashionable new age mumbo jumbo that sounds impressive when chatting up your hot yoga teacher or is there something more to it? Most of the general population wonders why anyone in their right mind would want to follow such a regime…it sounds like a life based on restriction and deprivation. Images of people walking around starving half to death munching on raw carrots all day are what jump to mind.
So I’m going to attempt to set the record straight, from my first hand experience with being high raw (eating raw foods about 80% of the time). A raw foods diet consists of eating living foods only. This includes uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains. No food that has been cooked over 118 degrees. Many raw foodists are also vegans meaning they do not consume any animal products whatsoever, but non-vegans can include raw fish, meat and dairy products.
This may sound extreme since it so different from the Standard American Diet that has been the norm for many people for their entire lives. This Standard American Diet (SAD…an apropos acronym) consists of an exorbitant amount of cooked animal products, meat, dairy, processed foods, sugar and artificial ingredients. Green vegetables are practically non-existent and fiber…what is that?
In reality, which of these two diets is extreme? The one that leads to increased vitality and energy, a youthful appearance, weight loss, longevity and optimal health or the one that leads to a host of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer that plague our country and are completely preventable? Personally, given the choice between aging gracefully and retaining my current energy and fitness levels until the end of my life versus being reliant upon medication and gradually watching my body fall apart to the point where I cannot continue to do the things I love, I think the choice is pretty clear.
The reason foods are not cooked over 118 degrees is that the enzymes are destroyed by heat. Living foods retain all of their enzymes and thus their vitality. “Enzymes are living proteins that direct the life force into our basic biochemical and metabolic processes”, explains Gabriel Cousens in his book Conscious Living. Enzymes aid in digestion, they balance and enhance the immune system, detoxify the body, help heal cancer and other diseases, make active hormones, transform and store energy, help repair DNA and RNA and their very presence slows down the aging process. Given all of that, how can we ignore these little buggers?
We are born with a finite amount of enzymes. If we do not get enough from the food we eat, we eventually deplete our bodies’ natural supply. Without these essential enzymes to break down and digest the food, the food becomes stored in our bodies as toxins and leads to a variety of diseases.
The physical signs we associate with aging start to occur when the concentration of enzymes decreases within our bodies. This is why so many people who have converted to a raw foods lifestyle claim they have reversed the aging process. By eating only raw foods, your aging symptoms start to disappear. Skin appears younger and smoother, hair becomes thicker and shinier, eyes brighter, and aches and pains become a thing of the past. A person who eats primarily raw foods stands out in a crowd because they look so vibrant and alive.
Raw foods give you real energy, not the false energy you get from coffee and artificial stimulants. The living foods rejuvenate and feed your cells the high quality nutrients and enzymes your body needs, resulting in a feeling of lightness and a surplus of energy. Brain fog lifts and is replaced by mental and emotional clarity. Mood swings and PMS become a distant memory and food cravings gradually disappear.
The Standard American Diet is very acid forming. Cancer and disease thrive in an acid environment. When your diet is comprised of raw fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and sprouted grains, you will shift from an acid state to an alkaline state. Cancer cannot live in an alkaline body.
All of these benefits aside, this article would not be complete unless I address the question of where do you get your protein? That’s always the first question people ask me when they hear about the way I eat. We’ve been brainwashed by the meat and dairy industries about the quantity of protein we need to consume on a daily basis; it is financially in their best interests if we continue to each a huge slab of steak every night for dinner and consume cheese in every form at each meal. Raw food vegans get their protein from green vegetables, nuts, nut butters, sprouted grains and various supplements such as wheatgrass, spirulina, and maca. Vegans claim that these protein sources are more easily assimilated into our bodies than those of animal sources and don’t pose the same health risks since they lack the saturated fat found in animal foods.
Many health professionals believe that people do need some animal protein in their diets to achieve optimal health. Dr. Caroline Fierro, a board certified doctor in anti-aging explains that “animal protein contains essential mitochondrial components, namely Ribose and Carnitine, which are not present in plant proteins and are the heart’s primary source of energy”. People in the raw food community who are not vegan can include raw animal products such as meat, fish or dairy to meet these requirements. Model Carol Alt has been a prominent proponent of eating this way for several years now as she outlines in her books Eating In The Raw and The Raw 50.
The protein issue is a hot button for many people. Morally I am against killing animals for food, but I have to be very careful about what I eat to avoid symptoms of imbalance. There are numerous testimonials from long-term raw vegans who thrive without any animal products in their diet, but we are each bio-individually unique and there is no perfect diet that will work for each and every one of us. The only way to discover what is right for you is to experiment. Your body knows what it needs…you just need to listen to it and learn to eat more intuitively.
The raw foods lifestyle is not something you need to commit to doing 100% of the time. You can add as many raw foods into your diet as you feel comfortable with. You will still enjoy improved health by making small changes and you may find that you start feeling and looking so good when you eat raw, that you want to add more. In my case, I started gradually, committing to one meal a day raw, then increased it to two meals a day. I now eat only raw foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks, but do include some cooked foods at dinner. Although I have not found that 100% raw is right for me at this point, I love being high raw (75-80%) and have no plans to go back to the way I used to eat.
Transitioning slowly is the best approach. Start by eating 50-60% of your diet raw and spend some time there adjusting. Once you feel comfortable at that point and have learned some new recipes to act as your “go-to” meals, then increase to 70-80% and stay there for awhile to adjust. If that is a breeze and you still want to go further, try 100%. Many people “fail” because they try to be 100% raw right off the bat; it’s too much change all at once and way too detoxifying of a diet for the majority of people. It will shock your system both physically and emotionally.
So do I fit the image of the person walking around starving half to death with my little baggie of raw carrots? Absolutely not! I never allow myself to even get hungry and I enjoy a wide variety of flavorful food every day. The food I eat is much more satiating than the processed food others eat, so I end up feeling full on less food. I’ve expanded my definition of the word salad to include wonderfully unique, tasty treats that even my cooked carnivore friends adore. My creativity in the kitchen has taken off since going raw. When I bring food to parties, people rave about it and request the recipe. Many times I don’t even mention the fact that the dish is raw and…heaven forbid…healthy…for fear of turning them off to it. If I told them it was full of cheese and white flour, they would dig right in, but vegetables and nuts…how scary.
The way I feel eating this way is what I love the best. I have boundless energy and have never felt stronger, I never need a caffeine or sugar boost, my mood is positive, and my focus is sharper than ever. My tennis game has improved noticeably, my hair and skin look better, and I have received numerous compliments on how I look in general. The only way I can accurately describe it is to say I feel younger. My body is functioning better than it did in my twenties. When everyone my age sits around complaining about all of the ailments they are suffering from and how aging sucks, I don’t have much to add to the conversation and I have to say, for once it feels pretty damn good to be an outsider.
Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens
The Sunfood Diet Succes System by David Wolfe
Eating in The Raw by Carol Alt
The Raw 50 by Carol Alt