Over the years of being in the raw foods scene, I’ve heard a lot of crazy theories as to “why” people ate a raw food diet and didn’t cook their food.
Some of them really do make sense, like the preservation of nutrients.
Others, like when someone says that they should eat green bananas because of the enzymes present in them, don’t hold as much weight.
I will say that a 100% raw food diet may be very appropriate and beneficial for many people. For others however, the all-or-nothing approach just doesn’t work the way they want it to.
There are also many different people who believe many different things. And anything you believe is just that: something you believe. That can change.
I personally don’t think there is any life force in food, something touted in raw circles, besides the raw materials necessary for human nutrition. I haven’t found any proof to bring me to another conclusion for myself.
However, you may disagree with me and still think that there is indeed life force in food or any other thing you want to believe. Nobody needs a rational reason to think or believe anything, and that’s okay.
I have certain beliefs that are not completely rational.
For example, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. That kind of belief is based on my personal experience, and it also works for me. But I know it’s not necessarily “rational”, it’s just something I believe.
Top 5 Reasons to Eat Raw
Fruits and vegetables are the most-nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and most of these foods are better eaten raw than cooked.
When we say that a food is “nutrient-dense,” we mean that it has many 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 apples.
By eating a diet composed mainly of fruits and vegetables, we take in more nutrients than if we were to eat mostly cooked foods.
There are some exceptions, however. Cooked green vegetables tend to be more nutrient-dense than raw greens, simply because we can eat more of them more easily.
For example, you probably remember taking a huge amount of spinach and cooking it down in a matter of seconds to almost nothing. Well that small cup of cooked spinach is now jam-packed with minerals, and will only take you a few minutes to eat. On the other hand, the same amount of raw spinach would take a long time chewing to get down.
Raw foodists can use the same principle by using a blender and other devices to process their food, such as the case of green smoothies.
One of the most important concepts to understand in human nutrition is that of caloric density. Caloric density is an estimation of a food’s energy content by weight.
For example, an entire head of lettuce weighing over one pound contains less than 100 calories. That means that the caloric density of lettuce is less than 100 calories per pound.
On the other hand, a single tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories. So you have more calories in 1 tablespoon of oil than in a pound of lettuce. But guess which one is going to fill you up more?
The principle of caloric density is to encourage eating sufficient nutrients while feeling satisfied eating a larger volume of food and a healthy amount of calories.
Studies have confirmed that if you feed people foods of low caloric density, they will eat as much as they want, not be hungry and lose weight, without having to count calories.
Let’s take a look at the average caloric density of certain foods. Keep in mind that this is an average across a category. For example, we know that bananas contain more calories per weight than apples, but overall, fruits have a similar caloric density.
|Food||Caloric Density Per Pound|
|Fresh raw or cooked veggies||100|
|Fresh raw fruit||250-300|
|Cooked Starchy Vegetables, Intact Whole Grains||450-500|
|Legumes and Beans||550-600|
|Processed grains and Flours (even if made from whole grains)||1200-1500|
|Nuts and Seeds||2800|
Now it’s important to note that nobody will ever really successfully live off a diet of just raw vegetables, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so.
However, you want your diet to contain plenty of raw vegetables by weight. The concept of caloric density is to look at the overall caloric density of the foods you eat throughout the day.
Low Toxic Load
When cooking carbohydrates (such as potatoes) at high temperatures (baking, frying, etc.), a compound called acrylamide is created. In animal studies, high doses of acrylamide cause cancer and doesn’t sound very promising for your health.
More acrylamide is created when foods are cooked at a higher temperature 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.
It’s also important to note that the act of being alive and living is toxic to you, and every bite of food you ever intake will always have varying degrees of “nutriment” and varying degrees of “toxicity”.
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 to the lowest level is to eat foods in their raw state.
You Eliminate Everything Else That’s Really Bad for You
One of the main reasons why people get sick is that they eat so many “dead”, pre-packaged foods in their diet.
These foods are not only heavily processed, but they contain a long list of suspicious ingredients, including MSG, preservatives, artificial coloring, and more.
Eating a raw food diet automatically eliminates all of this unhealthy food, which means that your diet will be 100% more clean and pure. It will be “wholesome” in the true sense of the word.
When I started the raw food diet, there were no pre-packaged raw snacks available. All that I bought were actual foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Eventually I got into olive oil, but that was a pretty simple product. The “worst” thing that raw foodists bought was jars of olives that could possibly have been marinated in salt water.
Nowadays, a variety of raw food snacks — from kale chips to chocolate brownies — are available at a variety of stores. Many of the people making these products do remain true to their nature of keeping them free of artificial flavors and preservatives, but processed foods are still processed foods and eaten in moderation.
Raw fruits and vegetables, as well as raw nuts and seeds, are absolutely packed with phytochemicals.
“Phyto” means “plant,” so the term phytochemical designates different compounds in foods that protect against illness. Some phytochemicals can prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals.
You’ve probably heard of antioxidants with cancer-preventing benefits 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 raw food diet or a mostly 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:
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.
Berries — This includes pomegranate, cherries, blueberries, grapes etc. They contain many phytochemicals that increase immunity.
Citrus fruits — Those fruits contain many phytochemicals (close to the skin), in addition to lots of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant.
Pretty much every raw fruit and vegetable contains health-enhancing phytochemicals. Cooking food sometimes enhance the bio-availability of certain phytochemicals, like lycopene in tomatoes, but in general we get more benefits from eating foods in their raw state.
When we use bad arguments to promote a certain philosophy, it often leads us to make mistakes. Sometimes people oversimplify a health philosophy and refuse to look at new information on top of it all.
There are so many great reasons to eat more raw foods in your diet, I feel that being conscious about the reasons we give for them are important to gaining a better understanding of ourselves and our food!
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.