What’s the big deal with raw? 'Raw' seems to be a health-food buzzword but I wanted to explore the true benefits of a diet focused on raw foods, or foods which have not been heated above 49 degrees.
Let’s be clear that the types of foods I’m taking about here are plant foods, though some raw food enthusiasts do include some dairy, eggs and fish in their raw food diet plans also.
Eating plants in their most natural raw form ensures that we are consuming a full spectrum of nutrients and living enzymes.
Included in the raw food diets is often fermented, sprouted and preserved foods. For example kefir, kombucha, sprouted nuts and seeds and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. These types of foods are amazing at providing us with beneficial bacteria which feed our gut microbiome.
So what are the reasons some people focus on raw foods in their diet? Well the reasons are endless and may well appeal to you if you’ve not considered maximising your raw food intake before now. Put simply whole, organic raw plant foods provide us with all the nutrients we need for maximising our immune system, our energy levels, our digestive health, our skin, controlling our weight, protecting our reproductive health…. there is not one body function that does not benefit from an enhanced raw foods eating plan.
The other important thing that raw food advocates would emphasise is that by eating cooked or super heated foods, we are in effect eating food that has been destroyed by heat. Eating raw foods means eating foods that are alive and bursting with vital and life-giving and enhancing enzymes.
These enzymes not only provide us with the very vitality that the plants contain but they play a crucial role in our digestive health. This really depends on a few important factors but the quality and quantity of our digestive enzymes are one of the most important. Did you know our digestive enzymes decrease as we get older which is why as we age we find it more difficult to tolerate or digest certain foods.
Raw and fermented foods naturally contain very high amounts of enzymes that aid in the digestive process, yet foods which have been heated and therefore lacking in enzymes are not going to be particularly helpful in a person whose digestive system has been affected by ageing and is therefore slower and lacking in these crucial enzymes. Common symptoms of low enzymes or disrupted enzyme levels include bloating, gas, a feeling of heaviness and weight gain around the middle.
So as great as all this sounds, does that mean eating a raw foods diet is just eating cold salads all day long?
Well it might be if that’s your thing, but it’s really important first to understand the necessary nutrients needed for optimum health before embarking on a raw foods diet, in fact any new eating plan -
Protein, complex carbohydrates, fats and oils, fibre, vitamins and minerals are the main groups of nutrient sources we need.
- There are many wonderful sources of plant protein that we can access from a raw foods diet. Sprouting nuts, seeds, beans and grains removes enzyme inhibitors and increases their digestibility, and actually in chickpeas and green lentils, sprouting increases their protein levels.
- Making sure to include a variety of plant protein with each meal is important. Certain grains are higher than others in protein so a variety will make sure you are accessing a full spectrum of amino acids in your raw foods diet.
- Complex carbohydrates are important for digestive health and slow release energy. Adding complex carbohydrates to a meal help fill us up and satisfy our hunger meaning we are less likely to develop cravings or succumb to snacking throughout the day for an energy boost. Examples include sprouted whole grains, beans, vegetables particularly leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
- Oils and fats are an important element to our daily diet, helping us feel full and satisfied, aiding in the absorption of some vitamins and for the health of our heart, healthy cholesterol levels, skin and connective tissues.
- Healthy fats can be found in nuts, flaxseed and hempseed and chia seed. Homemade nut butters are a wonderful fat and protein snack. Also many high quality vegetable cold pressed oils are wonderful omega 3 sources.
- Fibre, vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in all fruits and vegetables, this probably goes without saying however the important point to make here is that we should aim to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. I really like to imagine all the colours of the rainbow when I plan my meals and aim to include as many colours as I can. Different plants all contain different vitamins and compounds which all have a unique biological effect on our health. We can really empower ourselves with the knowledge that each plant can help support us according to different health requirements. For example if we are feeling sluggish at this time of year, we can include more bitter greens to aid our digestive health and boost our gut bacteria.
If the idea of eating cold foods is quite unappealing, remember that dehydrating and gently warming foods is an important part of a raw foods diet and its digestibility. Here we dry out fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds after soaking to preserve them and also to turn these foods into amazing healthy snacks. The process of dehydrating is a method of warming these foods to just under 50 degrees thereby preserving the nutrient content. This process not only helps preserve but are really useful for consuming alongside raw foods for added crunch and texture. I love to make herby crackers from flaxseeds which I crumble over the top of salads. I also like to dehydrate chickpeas to make a crunchy topping. Adding a variety of taste and texture is an important part of keeping a raw foods diet exciting and delicious.
If the idea of a mainly raw diet sounds too daunting, start by including more raw into your diet every day and see how you feel from then. I always like to include an element of raw in every meal I serve my family. An exciting salad on the side of each dish, some fermented slaw, smoothies for breakfast and fresh fruit, raw dips and seeds and nuts for snacks.
I've added some of my favourite raw recipes in the 'recipes' section, please have a go at making them and let me know how you get on x