The question of whether or not raw food is suitable for everyone, or better yet- whether or not it is suitable for humans in general is a pretty hot topic when it comes to the nutrition/health/holistic world. Of course, there are a lot of people around the globe that this topic has nothing to do with their lives and isn’t something that effects them at all. However, in the past decade the amount of raw foodies, raw food cafes & restaurants and raw food cookbooks and programs that have popped up around the world- really speaks to the growing trend towards what is commonly referred to as the “raw-kin’ lifestyle”.
So, is it good, is it bad? Is it for everyone?
I’m going to stop you here and quickly say that I am not going to answer the question of if it’s good or bad- because that’s a very subjective question to answer and it’s really a matter of opinion and judgement. For me, with food & health- everyone is different and what may work wonders for one person may actually work against another person. That’s just the way the world works. Although we do all have similar foundations and structures when it comes to our organic make up and physiology and anatomy- we are all still quite different. This is really what holistic nutrition is really about. Books have been written on this- thousands and thousands of books. There are tons of diets that cater to this premise that individual health is based on differences: the blood type diet, the alkaline diet, the cave man diet, the paleo diet. A lot of diets are built upon the idea that body types are different- and therefore, eating & food choice should be different too.
The reason I chose to write about this today is because early this morning- while I was still laying in bed- I was scrolling through my twitter feed and found a pretty interesting article titled : Raw Food Diet and Your Brain. This article, published on Dr. Andrew Weil’s Daily Health Tips- discusses new Brazilian research that is claiming that the raw food diet works against humans in terms of brain growth and human brain capacity. This argument (or should I say: perspective, school of thought) isn’t new- in fact it’s been researched and written about a lot in the past (google: human brain, cave men, raw food vs cooked food). So, there are a lot of opinions out there (some backed up with scientific data, some not). Thus, I’m not writing this in hopes of changing your mind, starting a coalition against raw or cooked food or anything like that. I’m just writing to spark discussion, raise awareness, and get you thinking (and because I just really love to write about what’s going on in my head- so that it doesn’t just stay in my head all day and I end up feeling like a bit of a lunatic/monkey mind).
One of the first things I should clear up is the question: what is considered raw food?
Raw food is food that is living aka it has living enzymes, minerals, nutrients and other phytonutrients. In order for something to be considered ‘raw’ in the raw community it cannot be heated past the point of 117 degrees Farenheit. That is the general consensus. This is the temperature that is considered the “heat threshold”, beyond which nutrients and all the living components mentioned above begin to be destroyed, denatured, and/or killed. So generally, no heat is involved in the preparation of raw food. You will not find an oven, or stove top in a exclusively raw kitchen. Instead you will find interesting contraptions like dehydrators, graters of all shapes and sizes, blenders (aka the ever-powerful and all mighty Vitamix), coffee grinders (to grind up seeds and nuts), refrigerators, mason jars, and usually a large water distillation system (or a spring water source). Sounding a bit crazy? Raw food is definitely an art. and a really beautiful art when it is done right!
The article on raw food and human brains states that before heat, fire and cooking was discovered and introduced into the human diet- brain size and capacity was considerably smaller. The premise behind this finding is that cooking food allows a larger amount of food (meaning more calories) to be consumed, along with foods like fats and protein- that in raw food are consumed in a smaller amount. The reason why cooking allows for a larger portion of food to be consumed is because heating food breaks it down. For example, imagine eating 3-4 cups of spinach raw versus eating it cooked. Or any green for that case. Cooking the spinach not only breaks it down into a smaller portion, it also breaks down the fiber (allowing for it to be more easily digestible), breaks down the oxalic acid (which a lot of people have a hard time digesting) and makes a lot of the nutrients more readily available to be assimilated.
Another point that is voiced when it comes to the debate against raw food is the presence of toxins and germs. Before food has been cooked or heated- there are natural living toxins in the roots, stems and leaves of plants. These can also be found in other foods (lets just say raw meat for now) that can either be harmful on the body or make it more difficult for our body to digest and/or process it. By not cooking or heating these foods, some of these toxins can end up being assimilated into our bodies, which is arguably harmful for us.
When it comes to the brain, interestingly- it is made up of mostly fat. Where does it get the fat? From your diet! This simple fact should probably get you thinking about the types of fats you are eating. Where do you get your fat from? Is your diet’s fat all low-quality, overly processed, hydrogenated vegetable oils? (aka deep fried foods, french fries) I suggest that you may want to re-evaluate. Raw foodies will claim that they get the bulk of their fat from nuts & seeds- but you can almost guarantee that back in the day, cave men weren’t out foraging for nuts and seeds in nature. When you go to the whole idea of nature- and getting your food in nature, I think a lot of us would agree that sustaining oneself off of fruits & nuts is slightly unrealistic and would require way too much energy and time compared to the amount of nutritional value and bulk that it would give us. Also, research has shown that the change in the brain size of humans has been a result of fatty acids, most specially omega 3’s, omega 6’s- and EPA and DHA (some of which comes from fish and marine life).
So when it comes to the question of : to raw or not to raw; I propose that the answer is a bit of a mixture. When it comes to food, there are so many factors that come into play. Location, location, location. One thing that heavily affects the food you are eating and your body’s ability to process it is where you are in the world and where you are getting your food from. If you are lucky enough to be on a tropical island (like myself right now: I swear, I’m not bragging) then eating raw, local, organic fruit every morning and throughout your day for some quick, delicious glucose is definitely not a faux-pas! That’s the way to go. Since I arrived here- I have eaten 90% raw food, and probably 30%-40% of that has been fruit! Apples, pomegranates, papaya, mango, oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemons! I realize that the answer “it depends”, “it is variable” & “everyone is different” can be frustrating. However, I truly believe that it is the case. One person may be able to eat a lot of fruit and feel & look great, where as another person may eat a bunch of fruit and feel really weighed down and sluggish. A lot of factors effect our bodies’ ability to process foods and especially when it comes to fruit there is a lot of theories on glucose, sugar and candida (this is a whole other discussion, for a whole other post).
Eating seasonally and locally is really becoming a huge foundation when it comes to food and health. SO much of our food, now a days, is being shipped all across the world, shipping time can range from weeks to months to even (gasp) years! That’s right- if you are in a winter climate right now, there is a chance that the apple that you are biting into is actually a year (or more) old. So the point with food (for me at least) is not whether it’s raw or cooked so to speak, its what it is and where it’s from (and where you are). Once you’ve got that down, then you can start to play with raw and cooked food. My advice? Add a little bit of both to your diet.
In Vancouver, through the winter months- I sustain myself mostly on soups & stews whose base are root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnip, potatoes, onion & garlic along with those delicious winter greens like kale & chard. In addition to this, I also love to have a big old salad every now and then- when I am craving something fresh and juicy that is packed with beets, greens, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and lemon! I rarely eat fruit in the winter months- but when I do, I try to make sure it is organic and from a local source (aka, I don’t eat pineapple & mango in the winter). Another great way to get some fresh, raw goodness into your life in the winter months- JUICE! Juicing vegetables is a great way to get a large amount of calories and nutrients into your body without having the bulk of the actual food. That’s not to say that I think you should live off of only juice- it’s the same as what I’ve mentioned previously; have a little bit of everything- moderation truly is key.
On the flip side- in the summer time, my diet largely consists of raw foods. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t! The best way to know what to eat and how to eat is to visit your local, weekly farmers market. There, in front of you- will be your answer. In the winter months- you will not find a plethora of colourful, tropical fruits at your local farmers market. Why not? Because if your farmers are trustworthy, organic, integral farmers- they know that it is not natural or plausible to be growing tropical fruits in a cold, winter climate. This, however- changes in the summer. Across Canada, in the summer months- the farmers markets will be glowing with colourful, delicious fruits and vegetables. Eat your heart out w/ raw fruits & veg in the summer. Mother nature is telling you to. Raw food is full of beautiful phytonutrients, living enzymes, minerals & vitamins! They are great source of energy and really help to make you feel fresh & revitalized. Not to mention they are great when it comes to a treatment plan for health ailments like arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS & cancer.
Listen to your body. Trust it. If you do this, you will find that you have all of the answers to every question within you.
** if you’re interested in reading a bit more about the human brain and it’s evolution with food, Click here.