I’m not a raw food expert my any means. But I find it fascinating. Plus, one of the recent modules I studied with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (the health coaching course I’m doing) was on raw foods.
I first came across the concept of eating ‘totally raw’ last year when I did a vegan cooking and yoga retreat. And by raw, I mean a diet that also includes soaked, sprouted and fermented foods — otherwise known as a living-food diet because it’s also high in enzymes and probiotics.
At the time — as a lover of warm, nourishing food, like curries and soups, especially in winter — I was baffled by the concept of eating mostly raw food. Why would someone want to only eat cold, raw food?
But I do understand the benefits of eating in such a way. Harvesting, chopping, and cooking all contribute to diminishing nutrients and enzymes (simplistically, enzymes help with digestion). While we need to harvest and usually chop our produce, we don’t need to cook it all the time.
Besides, raw food is so colourful & beautiful!
So does this mean all of us should go on a high raw food diet? My belief is no, but having some raw food daily is important. At the moment, though, I’m not eating much of it — just fruit and the occasional salad. The thing is, I’m not a big fan of eating cold food and my prakriti — a Sanskrit word used in Ayurveda to describe a person’s predominant body constitution (type) — doesn’t suit it. My body craves for warmth especially during the cooler months.
But I like the idea of eating some raw food with my cooked food. And I like the idea of eating about 1 raw (living) meal each day, especially during the warmer months where it’ll be easier to include a daily green juice or smoothie (with raw nut milk), eat more salads and get creative with raw foods. And during winter, I could add homemade pickles and fermented vegetables (I love kim chee) to my food.
However, on the flip side, some raw foods can be hard to digest, and they need to be ‘cooked’ through processes like fermenting, soaking, sprouting and activating (soaking then dehydrating).
Many summer vegetables are lighter and easier to digest raw – like tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini (courgette), green beans, capsicums (peppers), mixed salad (grows all year) and fresh peas.
And winter, heartier vegetables, like the brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages) and root vegetables (parsnips, carrots — some find raw carrots hard to digest), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, as they are easier to digest cooked. I also prefer cooking leafy greens that are high in oxalic acid (an anti-nutrient) — like spinach, silverbeet and beetroot greens. (Oxalates bind to calcium, and can deplete it from the body.)
What to consider when going on a raw food diet
It doesn’t need to be all or nothing — that is, all raw versus all cooked. If you’ve been thinking about trying out a primarily raw/living-food diet, you may like to consider your constitution, climate and digestion. Listen to your body and if doesn’t feel right for you, it’s all right to cut back the amount of raw foods you eat — especially the ones that don’t agree with you. Just eat them lightly steamed.
Cooking — especially steaming, simmering (use the cooking liquid) and gentle sautéing — can enhance nutrient availability by reducing anti-nutrients and breaking down plant cell walls, which helps with digestion. This is important for large legumes, which are harder to digest. In fact, Brenda Davis (a raw food expert) advocates eating larger legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans cooked, even when sprouted. Smaller beans, like mung beans and lentils can be eaten raw once sprouted.
Eating a raw food diet requires commitment. It needs to be prepared safely and healthily — to avoid harmful bacteria, to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, and to make certain foods digestible. You also need to make sure your diet is varied so you are getting the nutrients you need — especially if you’re on a raw vegan diet, so get advice from an accredited health practitioner .
And, above all, as with anything, do it if you enjoy it and it feels right — as Gena of Choosing Raw so eloquently explains on her blog:
“I love raw foods because they taste wonderful to me, because they’re creative and fun, because they help me to celebrate the beauty of food, and because they make me feel good. They’re not for everyone, and I certainly won’t put on my nutritionist’s hat and tell you that they’re inherently better for you than cooked food. But I will put on my food writer’s cap, and tell you all about how much I love them. In the end, the fact that I can make food choices that are directed solely by preference and pleasure–not by health standards or nutrition research–is actually the biggest statement about my own recovery I could possibly make. I eat for health, but I also eat for pleasure. And it feels great.”
- Raw food experts: Brenda Davis; David Wolfe
- Some yummy raw food blogs: Choosing Raw; Earthsprout; Natalia KW
- Get raw in Australia: Kemi’s Raw Kitchen; Raw Pleasure (online raw food shop)