The Raw Truth
I spent the first 23 years of my existence on the SAD (Standard American Diet) program like everyone else I knew. Much of the food I ate came out of boxes, cans or drive-through windows, had the nutrition processed out of it, included refined grains and sugars, red meat, high saturated and hydrogenated fats, and very little of the good stuff- complex carbohydrates, fiber, fresh fruit and vegetables. I watched most of my family members struggle with disease and illness- cancer, diabetes, obesity, anemia, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, alcoholism, drugs and anorexia. For a long time it seemed like sickness was an inevitable part of every person’s life. I’m writing this to tell you that it’s not.
I wanted to feel vibrant and alive, I wanted excitement, and I knew I needed to change something, but what? All at once it became shockingly obvious: the things I was putting into my body. Determined to heal myself nutritionally, I began researching cleanses. What I found, however, was much more than a three day fix- it was a lifestyle that would change my existence forever: Raw Food. Just like that, everything clicked right into place. The answer to my dis-ease was plain and simple: eat vibrant, living foods in order to feel vibrant and alive.
What is raw/living food?
At its most basic level raw food refers to any food that is uncooked and unadulterated. Nothing is canned, processed, refined, pasteurized, chemically treated, or has the life cooked out of it. Food is not heated above 116 degrees so as to retain its vitamins, minerals and enzymes, nutrients that are essential for every human body.
Who are raw foodists?
Two main classes of distinction arise here: raw food vegans and raw food omnivores. Raw food veganism is based on a vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. This plant-based diet consists of unprocessed, untreated and uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted legumes and grains. Raw omnivores, on the other hand, consume raw animal-derived foods in addition to plant-based foods. They eat non-pasteurized and non-homogenized dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) and raw eggs, meat and fish.
What percentage of raw food must a person’s diet consist of in order to be considered raw?
Some say it’s 75%. Others say at least half. Extreme raw foodies tout 100%. But there’s one important factor that all these percentages are missing- what’s best for the individual. Raw food is about health, not ego. Trying to fit a label can easily distract us from our main goal of achieving optimal health. That said, don’t overwhelm yourself with counting numbers that don’t matter. See what feels good for you. Experiment. Wherever you are with your diet, the one thing to know is that consuming more raw, living nutrients is always a good thing.
Why is it important to eat local and organic food?
Eating local and organic guarantees the most nourishing, nutrient dense food to promote optimal absorption and assimilation, while simultaneously promoting a cleaner, greener planet. Mother Nature provides us with all the nourishment we need in its perfect form. However, the twentieth century birthed a revolution in the food industry with the advent of corporate giants like Nabisco, Campbells, General Mills and Hershey’s that took fresh, nutrient-dense foods and mutated them into genetically modified, microwavable, instant, mass-produced foodstuffs. The focus was on convenience rather than nutrition, drastically reducing foods’ nourishing properties and consequently damaging consumers’ health. Promising your body organic plant-based foods is the answer to our modern world’s self-inflicted nutritional dilemma; fresh, organic food is essential to eliminate pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, artificial additives and loads of harmful and toxic chemicals from your diet and the earth. For raw omnivores, wild caught fish (as opposed to farm raised) and grass-fed, free range animal products are sought after to avert unnatural hormones, antibiotics, E. coli infection, and a list of other undesirable parasites and diseases from entering the body. Ensuring clean, purified water is another priority for us, both for drinking and food preparation, as our bodies are composed of 75% water. Many raw foodists also recognize that ionized “alkaline” water is essential for proper hydration, detoxification, neutralization of free radicals, and balance in the body’s pH level.
The Trouble with Cooked Foods
Raw does not necessarily equal cold. However, according to most raw food advocates, heating food above 116 degrees strips it of its life force- vital nutrients, minerals, vitamins and enzymes. This temperature is the point at which food’s chemical structure begins to rapidly break down. Vitamins A, C and D, for instance, are all destroyed by such heat. Cooking depletes essential enzymes, requiring our bodies to work much harder for digestion and assimilation. Enzymes are necessary for almost every function of our bodies, from metabolism and energy supply to detoxification and excretion. Eating cooked and processed foods forces our digestive organs to go into overdrive to produce its own enzymes from a limited source of white blood cells- leukocytes- which are meant to fight off disease and illness. This phenomena called digestive leukocytosis is the defense mechanism of a body responding to infectious and toxic stress introduced by food consumption. In other words, our immune systems react to cooked foods entering the bloodstream the same way it would to foreign pathogens. While our white blood cells are preoccupied with our food, we are more susceptible to illness. This should raise a few eyebrows- isn’t food meant to be nourishing? Why is our body reacting as if it’s harmful? Most foods in their natural, raw state, on the other hand, have the exact type and amount of enzymes necessary for their proper digestion and optimal assimilation, in turn promoting higher levels of energy, a pure and clean physical body, and mental clarity.
Most foods when cooked produce carcinogenic by-products. Advanced Glycation End Products, or AGEs, are harmful toxic chemicals produced as a result of improper bonding between sugars and proteins or lipid (fat) molecules during cooking. Frying, grilling, baking, broiling and roasting foods without water or other liquids, especially meats and items high in fat or sugar, produces AGEs. Think French fries, pot roast, barbecued foods, roasted nuts and anything microwaved. Food manufacturers have been incorporating synthetic AGEs into processed foods as flavor enhancers in recent decades, overwhelming SAD lives with these nasty chemicals, which, as the acronym suggests, prematurely age humans, encourage diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and promote cardiovascular disease (Peppa MD, Uribarri MD, and Vlassara MD). There is no such thing as AGEs in raw food.
According to the National Cancer Institute, other health damaging by-products like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when animal products such as pork, beef, fish, eggs and poultry are barbecued, fried, smoked or grilled. PAHs are also present in pollution and tobacco smoke. These chemicals can damage DNA, are known to produce cancer in animals and may be carcinogenic to humans as well. Acrylamide is another harmful chemical formed in foods that have been heated above 120 degrees, particularly starchy foods (Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Consultation). This means that potato chips, pastries and breakfast cereals are often culprits of an increased risk of cancer.
This is not to say that we should all forgo cooked foods.
As stated above, going 100% raw is not for everyone; each individual requires a different diet. Many boiled, steamed and pressure cooked foods still provide exceptional nutrition. Furthermore, some people are not equipped well enough, digestively speaking, to deal with a diet of exclusively raw food; cooking breaks down foods’ molecular structure and begins the digestive process before it even reaches the mouth. In some cases foods must be cooked in order to be properly digested, such as with potatoes. Other starchy foods like beans are much more readily digested after cooking than soaking and sprouting alone. Some foods even carry deadly microorganisms that require cooking before consumption, such as
cassava (aka yucca). Many phytochemicals’ health benefits are lessened by heat, while others are increased. Phytochemicals are nutrients, such as beta-carotene, that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables. Often there is a nutritional trade-off involved. For example, cooking tomatoes depletes them of vitamin C, but raises their antioxidant activity and lycopene content, which has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks (Subramanian). Carrots produce indole, an organic compound that helps kill precancerous cells, when boiled. However, this same heat depletes polyphenols from carrots, which have antioxidant properties and are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (Subramanian).
We are multi-faceted beings composed of many layers and dimensions, all of which require attention, love, and nourishment. While all this nutritional information may seem overwhelming, it can all be boiled down to this: Everyone can benefit from more raw, leafy green vegetables and fresh fruits to alkalize the body, prevent disease, improve energy, slow the aging process, increase longevity, and allow for spiritual awakening and overall well-being. As the age-old idiom goes: you are what you eat.
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“Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk” National Cancer Institute. US National Institutes of Health, 15 Oct 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2011.
Peppa MD, Melpomeni; Jaime Uribarri MD; and Helen Vlassara MD. “Glucose, Advanced Glycation End Products, and Diabetes Complications: What Is New and What Works” Clinical Diabetes Journal. American Diabetes Association, Oct 2003. Web. 24 Mar 2011.
Shastri, Parth. “Your Mind Affects Your Immune System.” The Times of India. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd., 22 Jan 2011. Web. 24 Mar 2011.
Subramanian, Sushma. “Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies are Healthies than Cooked Ones.” Scientific American. Nature America, Inc., 31 March 2009. Web. 24 Mar 2011.
Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Consultation. “Health Implications of Acrylamide in Food.” World Health Organization. 25-27 Jun 2002. Web. 30 Mar 2011.