A raw food diet, an even a high-raw diet, has huge advantages. Otherwise, nobody would do it! (Either as a short-term plan or long-term.)
Let’s take a good look at what the benefits are, but also understand where these benefits come from. Once we are clear about the benefits and what creates them in the raw food diet specifically, we can design an approach that combines the best from both raw and cooked worlds.
Easy weight management
It’s extremely difficult to gain weight eating only or mostly raw fruits and vegetables.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is that fruits and vegetables have an extremely low caloric density. Meaning, that by weight, they contain fewer calories than most other foods.
One pound of raw vegetables contains on average 100 calories.
One pound of fruit contains 250 calories on average.
On the other hand, one pound of bread contains 1500 calories and one pound of lean meat still contains close to 900 calories.
The second reason is that the calories in raw foods are less “accessible” than calories in cooked foods.
Recent research has demonstrated this. (See the book: “Catching Fire”) Cooking pre-digests many foods, even fruit, making the foods more calorie dense.
On average, I’ve found that raw foods contain 15-20% fewer calories than listed values. All of these factors combined make it extremely difficult for anyone to gain weight, and in fact not lose weight, eating only raw foods, unless one includes in larger quantities the few caloric-dense foods that a raw food diet generally allows, such as nuts, seeds, avocados and, to some degree, oils.
A raw vegan diet is an extremely low-toxin diet.
Raw fruits and vegetables are digested almost effortlessly and contribute very little stress to the body. They are also less allergenic than other foods, such as wheat.
Concentrations of pesticides, heavy metals and other measurable toxins are quite low in fresh produce, compared to animal products.
Raw fruits and vegetables are also very alkaline-forming after digestion.
Also, eating more raw food will encourage you to excludes a lot of foods that are potentially carcinogenic: grilled meats, baked carbohydrates, refined and factory-made foods, food preservatives, etc.
In addition to avoidance of all these carcinogens, fruits and vegetables—as well as nuts and seeds—contain powerful antioxidants that prevent cancer. Therefore a high-raw diet can be extremely effective in the prevention of cancer, as well as other degenerative diseases, such as heart disease.
Raw foodists rarely suffer from these problems. In fact, diseases of excess are rarely an issue in individuals following a raw food diet. Common problems are more related to deficiencies rather than excess.
Fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. When we say that a food is “nutrient dense,” we mean it has a high concentration of nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) per calorie. Starchy foods are calorie dense, but not as nutrient dense as fruits and vegetables.
In other words, 500 calories of rice or potatoes will contain fewer vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than 500 calories of kale or 500 calories of apple.
By eating a high-raw diet, we take in more nutrients for fewer calories than if we were to eat mostly cooked grains and meat, or even cooked starchy vegetables.
There are some exceptions, however. Cooked greens tend to be more nutrient dense than raw greens, simply because they wilt down and we can eat more of them that way.
For example, you’ve probably taken a huge amount of spinach and cooked it down to almost nothing in a matter of seconds.
Well, that small cup of cooked spinach is now jam-packed with the minerals of the huge amount of raw spinach, and will only take you a few minutes to eat. On the other hand, the raw spinach takes much longer to chew. Therefore, cooked spinach is more nutrient dense than raw spinach because we can eat more of it more easily.
Raw foodists can get around this by blending greens. Thanks to blenders, we can make a huge green smoothie that will contain a good amount of spinach or kale, and drink it down in no time. It goes without saying that having some form of processed greens in the diet, whether they are steamed or blended, is essential for getting a good balance of nutrients.
Certain cooked foods are as nutrient dense as raw foods, but the most nutrient dense foods are still fruits and vegetables, whether raw or cooked. For example, cooked sweet potato is very nutrient dense, but the same cannot be said of cooked white pasta.
By getting enough calories from raw fruits and vegetables, we automatically take in more than enough vitamins, minerals, and other essential and protective nutrients. This is one of the main reasons why the raw food diet can be effective.
Raw fruits and vegetables, as well as raw nuts and seeds, are packed with phytochemicals.
“Phyto” means “plant,” so the term phytochemical designates different compounds in plant foods that protect against illness. Some phytochemicals can prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals.
You’ve probably heard that antioxidants with cancer-preventing benefits are found in many fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens. Antioxidants are a class of phytochemicals. Some of the most potent phytochemicals are found in raw foods, and many of them are heat-sensitive.
Therefore, eating a high raw diet will give you an abundance of phytochemicals — and this could prove to be one of the main benefits of the diet.
Some notable phytochemicals are to be found in:
#1: The cruciferous family. Including cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc. These vegetables contain a class of phytochemicals (called sulphoraphane and indole-3-carbinol) that are converted into cancer-fighting enzymes by the liver, and also help to balance estrogen levels.
#2: Berries. Including pomegranates, cherries, blueberries, grapes, etc. They contain many phytochemicals that increase immunity.
#3: Citrus fruits. Close to their skin, these fruits contain many phytochemicals, in addition to lots of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant.
Every raw fruit and vegetable contains health-enhancing phytochemicals. Cooking food sometimes enhances the bioavailability of certain phytochemicals, like lycopene in tomatoes, but many antioxidants are more available in the raw state.
Low Toxic Load
A compound called acrylamide is created when carbohydrates (such as potatoes) are cooked at high temperatures (as in baking, frying, etc.). In animal studies, high doses of acrylamide have been shown to cause cancer. More acrylamide is created when foods are cooked at higher temperatures or for longer periods of time.
We also know that other molecules, called “Maillard Molecules,” are formed when foods brown and caramelize during cooking. Some people speculate that these new compounds, created in the cooking process, may affect health negatively.
While certain forms of cooking appear to be relatively harmless (steaming, for example), the surest way to reduce the amount of toxins in your diet is to eat more foods in their raw state.
Note that sometimes cooking destroys toxins that are naturally present in plants. So it’s important to avoid certain foods that should never be eaten raw, like raw or sprouted legumes.
For the reasons listed above, a raw food diet can be a very effective tool in boosting natural immunity. It’s not the fact that foods are eaten raw that makes such a difference, but rather that fruits and vegetables (whether raw or cooked) contain plenty of antioxidants that boost immunity. Also, many foods and substances that can weaken immunity are generally excluded on a raw food diet.
Eliminating Everything Else That’s Bad for You
One of the main reasons people get sick is that they eat so many “dead,” pre-packaged foods. These foods are not only heavily processed, but contain a long list of suspicious ingredients, including MSG, preservatives, artificial coloring, and more.
Eating a high-raw diet automatically eliminates all of this junk, which means your diet will be cleaner. It will be “wholesome” in the true sense of the world, not the adulterated sense misused everywhere in food advertising.
Raw foodists generally avoids grains, a category of food many people have allergic reactions to (especially the gluten-containing grains).
While I don’t think that a 100% raw diet is necessarily practical and even healthy for everybody, it’s worth trying for 30, 60, or 90 days, as a cleanse or personal experiment. If you don’t see it as a lifetime choice, you’ll be inspired, after your “experiment” is over, to keep eating more raw foods.
Certainly, eating more raw fruits and vegetables in place of processed and calorie-dense foods is one of the healthiest changes you can make to your diet!