The raw food diet is a simple concept to understand for most people – eating the way Nature intended: unrefined, pure, simple raw fruits and vegetables. However, it may not be so easy to put it into practice, as many have found out. Our eating habits are deeply ingrained from birth; psychology comes into play. Support is not always there; friends and family try to discourage us. The whole world eats differently and temptation is usually right around the corner.
All these obstacles may seem gigantic, but are in fairly easily swept away by the power of strong, decisive will. Problems will often be an opportunity to learn more about oneself and solve other important, previously unattended-to issues along the way.
The main obstacles lining the way to healthy raw food eating are of a psychological nature – making mistakes, not knowing what to do and wondering why it is not working. Without someone experienced to guide you, you may wander around for a few years, trying figure things out on your own. The reading of a few books on the subject is usually not enough to gather enough practical knowledge, as this type of knowledge only comes from experience, rarely found in books which, more than often, just contain theory.
The other side of the debate
The contentious question often arises: "Raw versus Cooked: Which is More Natural?" Those advocating a "raw foodist" lifestyle tend to argue that cooking is unnatural. They often argue that since we evolved eating raw foods like the rest of the animal kingdom, we are better adapted to eat that way. In a landmark article published October, 2003, however, two Harvard anthropologists argue just the opposite. [Comparative Biology and Physiology 136 (2003): p.35]
First, they note that other than the new deliberate "raw foodists", there do not seem to be any current or historical populations, small groups or even individuals living for more than a few days without access to cooked foods. Then they take on the belief that cooking is a recent phenomenon for our species.
Mammalian species like ourselves can evolve adaptations in as few as 5000 years. Human beings have been cooking for at least 250,000 years, and perhaps as long as 1.9 million years – long before we were even Homo sapiens. They argue that not only have humans adapted to eating cooked foods, they argue that human beings have adapted so much that eating cooked food now seems obligatory for optimum health. Indeed, medical literature seems to back them up in several respects.
One of the few studies (and possibly the only study) of 100% raw foodists followed for years [Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 43 (1999): p.69] showed that a third of the raw foodists were suffering from Chronic Energy Deficiency. Many were literally "wasting away". Most of the women suffered menstrual irregularities and half of the women lost their menstrual periods altogether, which could lead to devastating osteoporosis. Further, the sample consisted of modern urban people with relatively low activity levels who had access to high-quality, high-calorie produce from around the world year-round. How might our nontropical hunter-gatherer ancestors have lived through a single winter without cooking, especially with their extreme energy expenditure?
There have been major changes in our digestive biology over the past few hundred thousand years, and the researchers argue that these changes may have been due to the availability of cooked foods. 100,000 years ago, for example, the size of our jaws and molar teeth started to shrink, perhaps as an adaptation to softer, more easily-chewed cooked foods. They also suggest that perhaps other differences between our digestive systems and those of the great apes may also have been because of our adaptation to cooked foods – our smaller gut volume, longer small intestine, smaller colon, and faster gut passage rate.
They conclude that while well-supported individuals in an urban environment with a relatively sedentary lifestyle may be able to thrive on a raw food diet, it is neither natural nor necessarily desirable for optimal health.
Tips and Practical Advice:
Eat only one type of fat per meal. Here are the different concentrated, fatty foods in the raw diet:
These foods are all very satisfying, but also difficult to digest. That is why if you mix them with each other you will experience digestive difficulties. Eating only one type at a meal, and ideally only one type a day, is a good rule to follow. When eating a salad with avocados, for example, don't add any oil to it – and certainly no nuts. If you eat durian one day, that's likely to be enough fat for the day. Have your salad plain. Also, you should know that oils and nut butters are refined foods and not ideal. It is better to have them only occasionally.
Eat simple foods. The raw food diet is by definition simple – unprocessed, unadulterated, whole, in its natural state. Eating foods that are simply uncooked is a step in that direction. The next step is to start eating mostly whole foods, simple fruits and vegetables, unmixed and unseasoned. But what's wrong with seasonings? Mostly, they are stimulants. That is, they contain toxic substances that irritate. For example, onions contain mustard oil. If you don't believe that mustard oil is irritating, try to eat a whole onion on its own! Hot peppers contain an even more irritating substance, called capsaicin. The body reacts to it so strongly that it will raise metabolism in its efforts of eliminating it.
Eating spices and seasoning (salt included), in addition to causing unnecessary stimulation, irritate the delicate intestinal tract and interfere with digestion, also lead us to overeat – as they mask the taste of natural foods and encourage us to eat more. Also, when we mix a lot of foods together, we tend to complicate digestion and will be encouraged to overeat.
It's perfectly alright to enjoy some gourmet raw food cuisine once in a while, but try not to make a habit out of it. Instead, go in the direction of simplicity. You will find that you will enjoy your food much more, finally tasting the subtle but complex flavors of natural foods.
In a study where the average intake of uncooked food comprised 62% of calories ingested, 80% of those who smoked abstained spontaneously. [South Med J 1985 Jul;78(7): pp.841-4]
In a study where the average intake of uncooked food comprised 62% of calories ingested, 80% of those who drank alcohol abstained spontaneously. [South Med J 1985 Jul;78(7): pp.841-4]
In a study of 32 patients whose diets were changed to include 62% of calories from raw foods, their mean diastolic pressure reduction was 17mm Hg. This study was conducted over a period of 6 months. Of these patients, 28 were also overweight. [South Med J 1985 Jul;78(7): pp.841-4]
Eat lots of raw fruit and vegetables to promote growth of healthful bacteria.
Foods that worsen diarrhea should be avoided: specific food problems may vary from person to person. Some people may need to avoid raw fruits and vegetables.
A short-term (2-4 week) diet of only raw foods, with heavy emphasis on raw greens, seaweed, nuts, seeds, sprouted beans and seeds, and freshly extracted vegetable juices, can improve thyroid function. Although a long-term raw food diet may help you feel warmer, many raw foodists find they tend to be cold.
In one study, 30 people participated in a dietary intervention using a mostly raw, pure vegetarian diet. The diet consisted of raw fruits, salads, carrot juice, tubers, grain products, nuts, seeds, and a dehydrated barley grass juice product. 19 of 30 subjects were classified as responders, with significant improvement on all measured outcomes, compared to no improvement among non-responders. This dietary intervention shows that many fibromyalgia subjects can be helped by a mostly raw vegetarian diet. [BMC Complement Altern Med 2001;1(1): p.7]
In another study, the effect of a strict, low-salt, uncooked vegan diet rich in lactobacteria in 18 fibromyalgia patients both during and after a 3-month intervention period was evaluated. 15 patients continued their omnivorous diet as controls. The results revealed significant improvements in pain reduction, joint stiffness, quality of sleep, and overall scoring in all 3 questionnaires which were used.
The majority of patients were overweight to some extent at the beginning of the study and shifting to a vegan food caused a significant reduction in body mass index. Total serum cholesterol showed a statistically significant lowering and urinary sodium dropped to 1⁄3 of the beginning value indicating good diet compliance. It can be concluded that a raw vegan diet has beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms at least in the short run. [Scand J Rheumatol 2000;29(5): pp.308-13]
Uncooked food is a necessary prerequisite for an intact immune system. The therapeutic effect is complex, and a variety of influences of raw food on the immune system have been documented. Such effects include antibiotic, anti-allergic, tumor-protective, immune modulating and anti-inflammatory actions. In view of this, uncooked food can be seen as a useful adjunct in the treatment of an altered or weakened immune system. [ Fortschr Med 1990 Jun 10;108(17): pp.338-40 (German)]
In a study of 28 overweight patients whose diets were changed to include 62% of calories from raw foods, the mean weight loss was a very statistically significant 8lbs (3.8kg). This study was conducted over a period of 6 months, where the percentage of raw food was changed back and forth with each patient. Weight loss took place with greater raw food consumption and weight gain with less raw food consumption. [South Med J 1985 Jul;78(7): pp.841-4]
It is expected that a higher percentage of raw food consumed consistently would result in greater weight loss, as shown in a study where 572 participants (60% women, 40% men) with an average age of 44 years spent an average of 2.3 years adhering to a raw food diet (RFD). Afterwards, according to their BMI, 25% of the women and 30% of the men were underweight, 70% of the women and 68% of the men were classified normal while 5% of the women and 2% of the men were overweight. This stands in stark contrast to the general situation in Germany where less than 6% of the population is underweight and more than 35% is overweight.
For the majority of the participants health factors were the most important reason for changing to a RFD; 55% giving disease as their main reason for changing. Most were highly content with their diet and almost 98% stated their intention to follow it as a long-term regimen. The extreme forms of diet were followed more often by younger participants and by males. Women adhering to the stricter forms stated that their menstruation became infrequent or stopped altogether. This latter group is further typified by younger participants and those with a lower BMI. [Presented at the Third International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition, Loma Linda, California USA, March 24-26, 1997]
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