What Percentage Raw Is Right for You?

Thursday Apr 23 | BY |
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EAT RAW words written on blackboard - new trend in nutrition. Th

A reader writes:

I don’t think any sort of fixed ratio is “best.” Learning to tune into intuitive guidance and release any guilt, shame or fear is what I try to do. I often find that I am guided to eat sugary foods when I am experiencing a creative block. The “sugar high” helps me to break through my inhibitions. Yes, I pay for it, but I am also rewarded by the ability to express myself. Health is more than just physical.

Eating 100% Raw

Eating 100% raw is certainly not for everybody, but there’s no doubt it works for some people, at least for a while. But these people would like to convince you that their diet works for everybody. Most people I know who claim they eat 100% raw upon closer examination cheat on their diet a few times a year. But in all honesty, we can still consider them raw foodists because they are very close to eating their intended diet. A few cheat meals once in a while don’t really count overall.

A 100% raw diet can be used as a cure or a sort of detox diet. It can be used also to lose weight.

A few things to keep in mind when eating 100% raw:

• Make sure you track your calories to ensure you’re eating enough
• Don’t neglect the few necessary supplements that every vegan and raw foodist needs, such as B12
• Consume at least one pound of raw greens a day, if not more. Try to make green smoothies and other blended recipes to make it easier for you to consume those greens.
• Get most of your calories from fruit, and restrict the fat. However, don’t cut out fat completely. Get about 15% of your calories from fat (including nuts and seeds). A raw low-fruit diet works for very few people because it’s too low in calories and energy.
• Pay particular attention to dental health, and go for a checkup ev- ery six months instead of yearly, to make sure no problem pops up.

Eating 75% raw

A good alternative to a pure raw food diet is the 75 or 80% raw diet. This is a diet where you essentially eat most of your food raw, but have a little something cooked every day to help you get your calories and meet your nutrient needs.

Certain cooked foods are actually very nutritious and I can’t think of a circumstance where it wouldn’t be beneficial to eat them regularly. Beans and cooked greens particularly come to mind.

The key with the 75% raw diet is not to fall into the trap of making this a 100% raw diet with an occasional cooked meal. Your digestive system will adapt to the foods you eat on a regular basis. You should pick a side—either eat cooked foods regularly, or leave them out.

So if you choose to eat 75% raw, eat some cooked foods every day, or 4-5 times a week. At that level, the best cooked foods to eat would be:

• Cooked sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables.
• Beans (legumes, etc.)
• Cooked vegetables of all kinds (artichokes, asparagus, kale, etc.) • Lean animal protein (fish, etc.)

At the 75% level, it’s best to choose cooked foods that will complement your overall nutritional profile, rather than fall into the trap of eating massive amounts of cooked carbs (bread, white pasta, etc.) to fill the caloric void. Make sure you get calories from both raw and cooked foods.

This level of raw food eating is a good target for most people. If you have trouble maintaining your weight or if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, then shooting for a high percentage of raw food makes sense. One exception would be for people with very sensitive digestion who can’t handle a lot of raw fiber, as well as those who find that their energy significantly drops when eating a high-raw diet.

Eat “A lot” of Raw 50%

The next level is not really a raw food diet. This is where you incorporate elements of the raw food lifestyle (green smoothies, big raw salads, blended salads, fruit meals, etc.) into a balanced diet that includes raw and cooked foods. Your goal is not to aim at a particular percentage. Your goal is just to be healthy.

This is a good level to aim at for people wanting to clean up their diet, for most men, and for active people already at their ideal weight. This is where I personally stand. I don’t try to count the percentage of raw food in my diet anymore. Sometimes it’s high, sometimes it’s not. I make adjustments as I go along.

Not a Raw Food Diet at All

Finally, some people will find it better and healthier to completely get out of the concept of eating a high-raw diet. In this case, you don’t eat a raw diet. Most of the food you eat will be cooked, but every day you will have a few pieces of fruit and hopefully a big salad. Most of your calories will come from cooked food, but some of the bulk will come from raw foods.

This level would be advisable for severely underweight people with digestive issues. These people shouldn’t attempt a raw food diet. Most of the food they eat should be high in calories, and I would advise eating some refined foods that are extremely digestible such as white rice and even white bread, along with a good amount of healthy fats (nut butters, for example).

Some people simply don’t have the time or desire to eat a lot of raw food. Or maybe they tried and it didn’t work. For example, up until about two years ago, my mom was carrying a lot of excess weight. I always tried to help her go on a diet, and she even went raw for a month. But nothing worked. So I suggested she try a simple diet containing only whole grains, beans, vegetables, and some fruit. The main food she ate during that time was oatmeal, along with big plates of vegan chili with brown rice. She lost 55 pounds in 8-9 months.

The foods we eat on a daily basis form habits. If you eat a raw food diet, you will eventually get used to a raw food diet and it will feel normal to eat this way.

Because cooked foods can be very convenient, it can be easy to fall into the trap of eating too many cooked and prepared foods and let good habits like consuming large salads, fruit, green juices, and smoothies fall by the wayside. Suddenly your 60 or 70% raw diet becomes a 10% raw diet, and it’s hard to get back on track.

The key to avoiding this is to keep the good habits going. And you do that by making an effort to eat raw foods first. Since making a big salad is extra work when you’re already cooking something, you won’t feel like doing it after you’ve cooked up your meal and you’re hungry. So eat the salad first and then have your cooked food. Or prepare the salad first and only add the other foods once the salad is ready.

Juicing is easier if you do it first thing in the morning. Juice extracted with a good juicer will keep fresh for the better part of a day.

Smoothies are easy to make, but eating enough fruit takes some organization. You have to make sure you have ripe fruit available, and go shopping often to avoid running out.

Vegan or not?

Most health experts agree that a plant-based diet is best. Ketogenic diets that emphasize animal products can be just as extreme as overly restricted raw vegan diets. Keeping animal products to a minimum is a good idea.

Many theories abound regarding animal products, and some people advocate going “full-fat” and not fearing the cholesterol content of eggs or butter. Feel free to believe what you want, but the scientific consensus is that the saturated fat content of animal products is one of the main factors in the development of heart disease.

Some people are genetically prone to heart disease and will react strongly to the cholesterol and saturated fat content of foods. Therefore, it’s important to monitor yourself through yearly blood tests and make adjustments if necessary.

A Raw Food Lunch, or Not

The easiest way to eat more raw food and get closer to the 70% mark (if that’s the goal) is to consume a raw food lunch in addition to a raw food breakfast.

Breakfast is easy, and can be a green smoothie. But make sure you don’t make the mistake of only having a big salad with no cooked carbs or protein for lunch. Such a salad (composed of vegetables and raw fat sources) is not very sustaining for most people, except those with extremely low caloric needs. So go for more fruit, in addition to the salad — or fruit only (either alone, in smoothies, or in green smoothies) for your lunch meal, if you decide to make it raw.

A Consistent Routine Is Best

It’s best to have more or less the same percentage of raw food every day, so your body can adapt. If you have a 100% raw day on Monday and then eat 80% cooked food on Tuesday, you will confuse your body. So stick to a routine, and make modifications along the way.

Designing Your Own Raw-Based Program

Going from an “exclusion” to an “inclusion” mindset means you’ll think more about what you’re eating than about what you’re avoiding. You want to keep some freedom to eat the cooked foods that you enjoy, but also keep a strong raw element in the program. For some people, this will mean eating the majority of their food raw. For others, a 50% approach is best. Finally, some people will do best eating most of their calories cooked, but keep some raw foods for nutritional purposes.

Every raw eating habit is a discipline that can require some time to establish. If you find it too difficult to incorporate all of these disciplines at the same time start with one, and then move on to another once the first discipline is firmly established.

The Daily Green Smoothie

By far the easiest raw food habit that gives the most positive results for most people is the green smoothie habit. A green smoothie is simply a blended drink made with a liquid (usually water, but I like to use oil-free, store-bought almond milk as well), fruit (ripe bananas and another type of fruit are usually part of the mix), and a good amount of raw, green vegetables (baby spinach, de-stemmed kale, celery, and lettuce leaves of all types are usually the main greens).

Many people report amazing benefits just from adopting that habit!  Green smoothies can be an ideal breakfast, but also a lunch! Some people like to only sustain themselves on green smoothies and cut-up fruit during the day, and report feeling amazing that way.

Eating a Lot of Fruit

Fruit is extremely healthy, and yet it’s commonly vilified in natural health circles, or recommended only in “strict moderation.”

The fructose in fruit is often blamed and even equated to refined fructose that is overly abundant in the American diet and at the root of many health problems. Fruit is inherently healthy because of the fiber it contains, but also because it doesn’t contain just one type of sugar, but many.

Some sugars are absorbed immediately (like glucose), some are absorbed more slowly (like fructose), and others are bound with fiber and digested in the small intestine.

Because of this, fruit is lower on the glycemic index than most grains, and an extremely good source of sustained energy. However, if you do eat a lot of fruit, you will consume a lot of natural sugar. This is not a problem if you are in good health and can process sugars efficiently as a result of good lifestyle habits.

If you eat more fruit, you have to reduce the quantity of cooked starch in your diet. Otherwise, large quantities of fruit combined with good or large quantities of starches will lead to extra calories and weight gain.

Also, since low-fat diets improve insulin sensitivity and the ability to process sugar efficiently, the more fruit you consume, the lower in fat your diet should be. Most people eating normal quantities of fruit (a few pieces a day) and the rest of their calories from starches, protein and fat could consume up to 30% fat in their diet without seeing too many problems in sugar assimilation. But as you eat more fruit, the fat percentage in your diet should be lower.

That’s why people who live almost exclusively on fruit have to almost avoid all fats—otherwise the combination of a high-sugar diet with a high-fat diet could lead to serious insulin-related problems. In general, a fat consumption of around 15% combined with an above-average fruit consumption is quite okay. Combined with physical activity and a good diet, you should have no problem handling the extra sugar in fruit. As I’ve mentioned, this sugar cannot be equated to refined sugar in any way.

Some individuals will find it better to temporarily dramatically lower or even almost eliminate fruit from their diet. Raw foodists who have experienced a streak of dental decay on a fruit-based diet, and raw vegans who have wrecked and weakened their digestion through an overly restricted diet, combined with an excessive consumption of acid fruits (like oranges and pineapple) would be advised to give their body a much needed respite from fruit for a few weeks and up to a few months. During that time, most of your calories will come from healthy starches, as well as some fat and protein. All of the vitamins in fruits can be found in raw vegetables, so there is no danger or negative to temporary complete removal of fruit from the diet.

The Daily Big Salad or the Blended Salad?

Eating a large salad every day is a great raw habit to adopt. But many people don’t do it because of the time it takes to chew it!

A blended salad  is just as good as a big salad, but takes less time and can be a solution for people who just can’t seem to manage the cutting and chewing required for a big salad.

A blended salad is not a green smoothie. But the concept is similar. The key is to include the following ingredients:

• Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other “soft” and mild-tasting vegetables

• Greens of your choice (usually lettuce and spinach)

• Celery
• Something sweet (like mango, or a sweetener like honey)

• Something to give taste (fresh herbs, garlic, green onions, scal- lions, hot peppers, etc.)

It’s possible to replace the “sweet” element of a blended salad with something fatty, like half an avocado. But my favorite blended salad is light and a little fruity. I pack in a lot of greens.

The key is to avoid blending everything to a complete mush like you would a smoothie. Instead, use the low setting on your blender. You can also add diced veggies to your dish after blending to make it more interesting.

Start with the soft vegetables; add in the celery and greens, and the other ingredients in the order listed. If you’re interested in incorporating this habit, I recommend Roger Haeske “Savory Veggie Stews” program at www.veggiestews.com

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

6 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Thanks for this article. My husband and I consume a 95% raw, vegan, plant-source, low-glycemic diet rich in leafy greens/veggies, nuts, seeds, avocados, sauerkraut and sprouts that controls my type II diabetes without medication. A few bites of steamed organic sweet potato spikes my blood glucose. Same with carrots, bananas and most other fruits. So most advice to consume fruits does not work for me. I am extremely underweight and do need to find a way to increase caloric consumption. We do enjoy free-range eggs from our own chickens and a few bites of feta cheese with our Sassy Salads.

  2. Larkspur says:

    I eat a mainly vegan 45% cooked and 55% raw diet and have been doing this for about 15 years. In the winter the percentage of cooked rises (mainly soups and stir fries) and in the summer the opposite occurs.

    As I work free lance I can take time in the morning to eat a massive salad, including nuts, avocado, humous etc and lots of fruit including a banana at least once a day.

    Raw food takes ages to eat! so not helpful if short of time. I hardly ever eat starches like potatoes, pasta, rice or bread-or even Muesli. Re cooked vegetables, I have read that carrots and tomatoes are best nutrient wise if cooked

    Anyway, it all seems to work for me!.. Once in a while, I crave chips (what you across the Pond call fries- except chips are thicker) Then I either buy or make them. the same goes for vegetable samosas!

    Raw food is delicious, very nourishing, especially fruit. I do not appear to have problems with teeth as drink a lot of tea (English Breakfast tea – with Soya milk)

    For coffee, I use hemp or coconut milk – also on a dish of mixed berries…

    The thing is, not to be a ‘foodie,’ just eat and enjoy, don’t make a ‘meal of it’ otherwise can be boring for others! Life is for living, not fetishes!.. whether about the ‘perfect diet’ or something else.

  3. doug says:

    Hello, Kevin. Thanks for all the years of helpful information! You stated above, “but the scientific consensus is that the saturated fat content of animal products is one of the main factors in the development of heart disease.” If all one ate was grass-fed beef/butter and high omega 3 eggs, should he still be as concerned about restricting his intake? Thanks in advance of your answer!

    • Hi Doug,
      Since I wrote the article (not Kevin), I thought I would give you my thoughts on this. Kevin may disagree as we tend to view this issue a bit differently. To your question, I would answer: yes. Grass fed is better, but doesn’t change many of the problems associated with eating animal protein. Before WW2 nearly all the meat was grass-fed, and yet heart disease rates were high in countries that ate a diet high in those products.
      If you look at the long-lived people in the world, they treat meat as a condiment or a special-occasion food.

    • doug says:

      Thanks for your answer, Frederic! I suppose all things in moderation (except lots of juice and vegetables!) I will search for more of your writing. Keep up the good work.

  4. gail says:

    Very good article! I love the way you make it clear not one way is perfect for everyone and about following your intuition. In my work, I help my clients know intuitively what foods are compatible and highly compatible to their unique bodies. Every body is very different and what it needs changes based on what’s going on physically and even mentally as you pointed out. Not one so-called “good” food or diet is perfect for everyone all the time, just as not one “so-called” bad food is bad all the time. It’s not about good or bad, simply compatibilty and that releases ALL the judgement about food. Releasing judgment is the number best thing we can do for ourselves in all aspects of life. If we can know what the body needs at any given time for maintenance and healing and get our minds out of the way, the body can do what it is designed to do, regenerate and heal itself. Thank you for your sharing your gift!

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