When people decide to make lifestyle changes, good intentions frequently become unattainable goals. We have a tendency of making wild swings in life attempting to correct bad behaviors that have existed for many years. Phrases like, “I just need to jump start my diet…,”, “this time will be different…”, “I started during a stressful period in life…”, justify in the individual’s mind that a different outcome will occur. The problem is underlying behaviors remain unchanged and similar past triggers resurface over time causing old patterns to re-emerge.
Now, I encourage everyone to take a deep breath and one step backward before jumping full steam ahead into a raw food diet. In life, most things that have positive attributes can also have detrimental outcomes. A raw food diet is no different. It is not a panacea (magic bullet) to all of life’s diseases and other maladies.
WHAT IS A RAW FOOD DIET?
It is a lifestyle of consuming unprocessed, uncooked, (commonly organic) foods often replacing all other food choices. It is primarily a plant based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and meat. The object is to eat all of these foods in their most natural states, although cooking in lower temperatures if desired (between 100ºF to 114ºF) helps retain most of the nutrients and enzymes. Enzymes are important in helping the digestive system break down our foods into their macro nutrient components (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) for absorption. Cooking foods in high temperatures kill these natural enzymes. This diet is usually higher in fiber and healthy fats, and lower in sugar and salt.
The downside of this lifestyle is that various micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are inadvertently avoided or taken in in insufficient quantities. Some of these might include: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, chromium and healthy omega 3 fatty acids. This could lead to health problems including:
Many vegetables in the cruciferous family such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens and brussel sprouts contain goitrogens. These are naturally occurring compounds in some foods that may block thyroid function and can eventually lead to goiter and hypothyroidism. For people with an already weakened thyroid function, or for those who have a propensity to thyroid issues, goitrogens can worsen the ability of your thyroid to produce important hormones. The good news is, they can be neutralized by heat. Therefore, cooking vegetables can prevent their potentially harmful effects.
Raw foods (especially meats) can also have harmful bacteria that can cause serious digestive issues. This is why meats come with a warning about cooking temperatures to kill any remaining harmful bacteria. Conversely, overcooking meats can create a chemical called acrylamide and other chemicals that contribute to inflammation and cancer. When eating a raw food diet, even if you take precautions, the digestive tract can still be irritated causing gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) distress from larger quantities of food passing through which cannot be processed efficiently due to the lack of enzymes able to break down the membranes of many plant based foods. A weakened digestive system can cause bloating, indigestion, constipation or loose stools, weight gain, malnutrition, food allergies and a lowered immune system.
Poor Bone Density
Eating too few calories, maintaining a low body weight and not consuming sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D are significant risk factors for osteopenia, osteoporosis and spinal or long bone fractures. While calcium is prevalent in some raw foods, such as green vegetables and almonds, you may not consume amounts required to meet your nutritional needs.
ARE THERE NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS TO COOKING SOME FOODS?
Many people are unaware that certain vegetables provide additional benefits when cooked. Some nutrients become more bio-available (usable by the body) once they are heated. Lycopene, for example, is an antioxidant found in tomatoes and shown to be more nutritionally available when cooked. Vegetables such as kale, spinach, onions, and garlic are also shown to be more nutritious when cooked because lower temperature heating releases compounds that might otherwise go undigested.
WHAT IS THE RIGHT ANSWER?
It is my opinion that implementing (not making 100%) raw foods into a well balanced diet will likely offer most people additional benefits. This is called moderation (an approach usually achieving the best outcome for the LONG TERM.) However, if you begin to incorporate these type of foods and have ANY adverse reactions, STOP THE FOODS IMMEDIATELY and contact your physician.
The best nutrition plan is a healthy one you can accomplish on a daily basis. This does not mean that everything that enters your mouth has to be healthy; that would be unrealistic. If you can accomplish the 80% healthy/ 20% comfort rule, you will make great strides WITHOUT FEELING DEPRIVED. Success comes from a plan that:
you can do forever!!
Forget, “jump starting a diet”, forget, “this time will be different”, forget, “I started during a stressful period in life.”