I’ve had a lot of personal experience in the raw food movement. Much of my adult life I’ve been actively seeking information and learning from others on the topic of nutrition and raw foods.
Over those years, I’ve heard many things said about what is the healthiest way to eat: like how your body supposedly reacts to certain foods and what is the healthiest type of water to drink, among many other things.
But one thing that always caught my attention was digestion people experienced on a raw food diet, and how a raw food diet may impact it.
Raw Foodists and Digestion
Any health-orientated person has taken a greater interest in their digestion, or how your body utilizes and absorbs nutrients from the food you eat, once they started to get in tune with how largely it impacts how you feel.
We all know the feeling of a sour stomach, and when your stomach isn’t happy, it’s hard to think about anything else.
Raw foodists, Natural Hygienists, and many Indian and Eastern health philosophies all put an emphasis on the importance of digestion.
Some stress the importance of eating certain foods together at the same time, or specifically not eating specific foods together at one time.
Food-combining has been written about for decades now, and is something I personally used to follow relatively rigidly for several years.
Specifically, the Natural Hygiene approach to food combining, like not eating melons with other foods, acid foods with sweet foods, and so on.
The Digestion Industry
Digestion has become so important to the general public now that it’s become a bit of a food-marketing gimmick.
Everything from probiotic-boosted green powders to endless brews of kombucha and lacto-fermented yogurts line the shelves of most grocery stores and supermarkets today, all touting a specific amount and strain of probiotic bacteria.
They’re sold with promises of improving the balances of bacteria in your intestinal tract, in-turn allowing you better digestion, sharper mental performance, clearer skin, etc. etc.
I think to a large degree, many of the benefits of these specific strains of bacteria and the packaged foods that are “boosted” with them are overall exaggerated to market them.
Naturally fermented foods like raw kombuchas, kimchi, and sauerkraut are much more likely to have truly beneficial bacteria in them vs. powder-boosted items too.
You can make these foods in your own home from your own garden!
It’s also questionable as to how many of the once-living probiotics actually survive from the time of packaging to you eating it, after transit and shelf-time.
I’m not saying that they may not offer some benefit to your digestion, but I feel that truly healthy gut flora starts with an otherwise healthy gut via eating and living healthfully, not a reliance on supplemental bacteria from packaged foods.
Some raw foodist will go as far as buying digestive enzymes in powdered form to supplement the enzymes everyone’s body naturally produces.
This could be a topic for a whole other article, but for now I’ll just say that the body produces all the digestive enzymes you need perfectly fine by itself, given you take care of it.
The Raw Curse
There is something that at one time felt like a phenomenon, but now just makes more logical sense as a natural progression of human adaption.
One thing I noticed amongst fellow raw-food-enthusiasts was that there seemed like a predictable decline in digestive abilities the longer they followed a strict raw food diet.
The longer they followed a raw food diet, the less ability they had to digest any other foods than raw foods.
The longer they followed that path, the types of raw foods they ate started being limited, too.
In many circles, you see people eating mostly mono-meals of one type of sweet fruit and tender, leafy greens, for most of their food intake. These are among the easiest foods for the digestive system to digest, as they are mostly composed of simple sugars.
This is a good and a bad thing.
There are valuable nutrients in fruits and tender leafy vegetables that can be easily absorbed by just eating them as they naturally come to you, from the garden or your nearest produce aisle.
But when you eat these foods and absolutely nothing else, you body quits producing the proper digestive enzymes and gastric juices to digest other foods, like dense proteins or starches.
Humans can eat and absorb nutrients from proteins and starch-dense foods just fine, but your body needs to “get used” to digesting them first.
Tuning Up Your Body’s Digestive Fire
I’ve come to the conclusion that many of the so-called digestive imbalances and woes that many people face amongst the vegetarian, vegan and raw food scenes may not always be caused by a complex imbalance of specific digestive bacteria, and more to do with the individual’s inability to digest foods that other people can digest, without any supplements.
The raw foodist who gets knocked out by eating a bowl of rice for the first time in nine months isn’t necessarily a sign that rice is bad for them. It could just be their body wasn’t used to digesting the rice.
You can observe this by the same person eating rice (and many other things!) in the years before and digesting them at least relatively well enough to still function and not be doubled over in pain.
Whether they are incredibly happy to admit it or not, there are many people who previously swore by a 100% raw food diet and now eat cooked foods of many different kinds. The same foods that people swore at one time would wreak havoc on the system are now being eaten and digested perfectly well.
Did their body magically gain the ability to digest the previously “poison!” cooked food from all of that meditation?
While the meditation probably doesn’t hurt anything, it’s mostly just a matter of the body producing the same digestive acids again, in the proper balance, once the new foods are reintroduced into the stomach. The body re-learns how to digest them again.
Like riding a bike!
Keeping Your Stomach Strong
Even basic activities like regular walking and movement/exercise of any kind improves the muscles in your stomach, leading to stronger, more efficient digestion and absorption of the food you eat.
You digestion is much more multi-faceted than some may lead you to believe, so when diagnosing your own circumstances, I encourage you to consider all points of view.
What have been your experiences with digestion, supplements promising to improve your digestion, or anything else you care to share? Let us know in the comments section below.