Anyone ‘living raw’ are usually cheerleaders for the lifestyle, but are foods better raw or cooked? What actually happens during the cooking process and should we all ditch our cookers in place of dehydrators?
A raw vegan food diet is based on the belief that the most healthful food for the body is uncooked. It involves an increase in the number of fruits and vegetables, as well as seeds, nuts, grains and beans (mostly sprouted). A food is considered raw if it is uncooked or “prepared” up to 40 degrees centigrade.
Advantages of going raw
When compared to a typical Western diet, the raw diet contains fewer trans fats, saturated fat, sodium and sugar, and can be higher in magnesium, folate, fibre, and many health-promoting antioxidants. Translated into real life this could mean:
Tons more energy
Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Eating food raw preserves plant enzymes, which drive biological processes such as aiding digestion, reducing inflammation and can even slow down the premature ageing process (yes please!). Case in point: sulforaphanes, the cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli, are reduced when broccoli is cooked. Certain vitamins, such as vitamin C and folate are also destroyed by heat. In short: When you cook it, you kill it.
Then there is sprouting, a common practice with raw foodies. Sprouting raw nuts, seeds, beans and grains dramatically multiplies their nutritional profile and is one of the quickest, easiest ways to pack many nutrients into your body in just one handful.
But is cooking food all that bad?
Cooking does have its advantages. As nutritionists, we advocate increasing the variety of healthy foods in one’s diet – something that cooking can allow us to do. For instance, the digestibility of some vegetables and legumes are greatly improved when cooked, making it easier for you to get your 5-a-day, which especially useful for people who have difficultly digesting too much fibre. In addition, kidney beans and soya beans can’t be sprouted because they are toxic when they are raw. Cooked and chilled however, these beans make a mean addition to any salad or mezze dish.
Heat can also increase the bioavilability and absorption of the micronutrients beta-carotene and lycopene, as it breaks down the cell walls so that our bodies can access the nutrients more easily. Beta-carotene gives fruits and veggies their red, orange, yellow and green pigments (think sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoili…), and are powerful antioxidants, protecting against various cancers, and can even provide internal protection against sunburn. Lycopene, the red pigment in foods, can increase as much as two and half times in cooked foods – the reason why cooked tomatoes can claim even more cancer-fighting properties than their raw counterparts.
The raw food diet has many nutritional perks if you ensure you eat a vast variety of healthy foods together with a tailored supplement regime. However, for some folk eating 100% raw can be big commitment, is time consuming, expensive, and some find it to be anti-social.
For the majority of us however, a mix of raw and cooked food is ideal. This way, you can steal some nutritional nuggets from the raw food movement and avoid lengthy cooking times, deep-frying and excessive boiling. Juice your veggies that aren’t as palatable raw and lightly steam or sauté your colourful veggies to boost beta-carotene and lycopene so that they become nutritional powerhouses. Oh, and get sprouting!
My top 5 tips for going raw...
Variation: Going raw can encourage great creativity in the kitchen. To keep it simple, you don’t need daily variation. Pick 3 – 5 different recipes a week for the main component of main meals. Boring? Heck no! The food can be so fresh and delicious, you will want every last bite.
Liquid love affair. Try to have a fresh green juice or a nice big alkalizing
smoothie often. It will give your digestion a break, give you energy, gets the greens in, and it’s EASY.
Make ‘preparation’ your middle name. Make daily menu plans, stock your fridge/pantry, and keep yummy raw snacks on hand so your not famished and eat everything in sight.
Missing your chocolate fix? Save room for dessert as raw chocolate is a powerhouse of nutrition and contains over 300 active chemical compounds, which are usually dramatically reduced in normal chocolate processing.
Find a community. Find people who value the same lifestyle to keep you motivated. If you can’t find anyone locally, reach out to cyberspace, blogs, forums, and social networking to keep excited and on track.