We get hit over the head with recommendations in health magazines, diet books, and online articles to consume more raw fruits and veggies. Many doctors advocate raw foods because they contain more nutrients than cooked foods, are packed with fiber, and will aid weight loss efforts. There’s not doubt that some raw foods are beneficial, but a raw food diet is not as great as we may think. Today’s post is shedding light on the truth about a raw food diet. I personally tried a raw food diet for 3 years and had a very difficult time with it. Here are the reasons I no longer eat very much raw food: NUTRIENT ABSORPTION – Many nutrients in raw foods are undigested and excreted by the body because of their tough fibrous nature. We cannot digest fiber, so the nutrients bound to the cellulose and fibrous starches in fruits and veggies are biounavailable. While raw food is higher in nutrients that are not damaged in the cooking process, this does us little good if we can’t absorb them. Cooking breaks down the fibers and cellulose to help release minerals and phytonutrients. For example, cooked tomatoes and broccoli have been shown to be much more nutritious in their cooked state compared to raw. DIGESTION – Our stomachs have a hard time breaking down the fibrous structures of raw plants. Vegetarian animals, like cows, have multiple stomachs to help break down tough plant matter and many of them regurgitate their food before re-consuming to help them digest it. When we continually eat foods that we can’t properly break down, we weaken our digestive system and experience bloating, constipation, indigestion, weight gain, malnutrition, and food allergies. Additionally, people on a raw food diet consume a higher volume of very dense complicated raw foods, like nuts, in order to feel satisfied, but that’s just like putting a brick through your digestive tract. DEFICIENCY – Raw food is very high in volume because the water has not been cooked down and the fiber has not been softened. When we eat raw food, we fill up much more quickly than when we eat cooked food. This can be problematic because it may be difficult to consume enough food to get the necessary amounts of calories, vitamins, and minerals we need from our meals. Also, certain vitamins like B12, D, selenium, zinc, iron and omega 3 fatty acids are very difficult to obtain from raw, plant based foods. THYROID – Cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and mustard greens are goitrogenic. Goitrogens are naturally occurring compounds in certain foods that can block thyroid function and over the long term lead to hypothyroidism and goiter. If a person already suffers from weakened thyroid function, goitrogens can be really problematic. Heat deactivates goitrogens, so cooking food is a great things for reducing negative goitrogenic effects. These things are important considerations to explore and do further research on when considering a raw food diet. As many of you know if you’ve read my blog for a while, I pull dietary principles from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine and incorporate them into my own diet. This helped me transition away from a raw food diet into a more agreeable way of eating for my body, consititution, and energy levels. Here’s what they say about raw foods: WHAT AYURVEDA SAYS: Ayurvedic tradition generally recommends cooked foods over raw foods. In Ayurveda, it is believed that the cooking process breaks down the fibers that make raw food difficult to digest, meaning better digestion and elimination. Ayurveda calls the digestive power in the body “agni” – or fire. Cold beverages and uncooked foods are thought to put out the fire and cause digestion to suffer. This is why Ayurvedic tradition advises to drink warm water or herbal tea with meals and eat warmed or cooked foods for the most part. The Vata dosha, which I am predominately, calls for diet of mostly cooked foods. Vatas do much better with nourishing, warm, oily, easily digestible cooked foods as we are already prone to coldness, airiness, lightness, and dryness. Pitta and Kapha types can do well with some raw foods, especially in the late spring and early summer as they have a naturally warmer constitution, but too much can also create a dosha imbalance for them. WHAT TCM SAYS: In TCM, eating too many raw fruits and veggies can cause a yin-yang imbalance in the body. Raw foods are very yin, which is cold and expansive energetically. Too many raw foods, as in a raw food diet, can cause syptoms like chilliness, mucus, congestion, fatigue, bloating, poor appetite, and abdominal pain. The balance of raw foods a person can comfortably consume is individual for everyone. For example, meat is very yang and warming, so people who eat a lot of meat can tolerate more raw foods. Vegetarians need more cooked foods. The weather is also important, as more cooked foods are needed to generate heat and stimulate circulation in cold temperatures. A strictly raw food diet will most certainly create a yin imbalance because there is little to no yang present. WHAT ABOUT JUICING? I co-founded a juice company, so how do I claim raw foods aren’t all they’re made out to be? Juicing involves raw fruits and veggies, so it should be avoided too right? Not exactly. Juicing is unique in that it removes the digestive labor that is considered problematic in eating raw foods. It concentrates the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients by eliminating the fiber and allows us to consume a large amount of nutrients easily. It is the perfect compliment to an overall whole food diet, and I personally see it as my way around consuming pounds of raw difficult to digest plant food because I can still obtain all of that concentrated nutrition in an easily digestible way. However, too much juice CAN be problematic for someone who already has a yin imbalance because it is very yin. If a person is consuming juices AND following a strictly raw food diet with little to no cooked foods, they can make their imbalance worse by drinking juices. But if a person follows a mostly cooked well balance diet with warming foods included, juices can be extremely beneficial to them.
I hope this post provided some helpful information for those of you who may be struggling on a raw food diet or considering trying it out! Leave any questions or share your experience in the comments section below!