Last week we looked at what Olympians eat to keep their bodies in peak condition. While most athletes incorporate lean meats and dairy, some have adopted an 80-10-10 raw vegan diet of 80 percent fruits/veggies, 10 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. Following a raw food diet means that most of one’s food (usually at least 75 percent) is consumed in its natural state and not cooked above 118˚ F, therefore allowing all enzymes and nutrients to remain intact and undamaged by heat. Since it’s primarily plant-based with whole, natural foods at its core, a raw diet can certainly be a healthy lifestyle choice, but is it the right choice for you? Let us help you decide!
A RAW FOOD DIET CAN…
…preserve enzymes and vitamins that are destroyed or diminished during the cooking process.
Digestive enzymes are proteins used by the body to break down food. The more enzymes you consume, the faster and more efficiently your body can process the nutrients in the foods you eat. Raw fruits and vegetables are naturally high in enzymes, most of which are destroyed when exposed to heat. Cooking can also eliminate beneficial water-soluble vitamins like B-complex and C.
…encourage weight loss, digestion, and better overall health.
The increased enzyme activity that comes with eating more raw foods means that your metabolism works faster, therefore helping you lose weight more quickly. A lack of enzymes in your diet can often lead to digestive problems, so a raw diet helps alleviate these as well. Many people find that their immune systems, skin, energy, focus and well-being improve with a raw diet due to both the greater intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and the lowered intake of fat, sodium, and sugar. Swapping out processed and high-fat foods for raw foods can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decrease your heart disease risk, and even help with diabetes-related issues.
…help the environment.
Raw diets and organic diets often go hand in hand, since both are based on consuming unprocessed, natural foods. There is also little or no meat consumption (depending on the type of raw diet you follow). Animal slaughter and food processing require a lot of fuel and produce a lot of greenhouse gases, CO2, and pollution. While you obviously can’t eliminate these problems by choosing a raw diet, you can help reduce their effects by purchasing fewer processed goods.
…lead to deficiencies in protein and vitamin B12.
Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are all good sources of protein and B12. Unfortunately, all of these products are off limits in a raw vegan diet, so if you do go that route, you’ll have to get creative. Protein isn’t usually an issue for raw vegans, since nuts, beans, tofu, and certain fruits and vegetables contain a considerable amount of protein. However, vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, so you may need to take a supplement to avoid the fatigue, depression, memory loss and brain/nervous system damage that can stem from a B12 deficiency.
…be inconvenient and expensive.
Organic produce already comes with a slightly higher price tag. If you’re on a raw diet, you’ll probably be buying a lot more of it. Preparing raw food also tends to require a lot of expensive kitchen appliances like food processors, juicers, dehydrators and blenders. And unless you’re willing to make a few compromises and ‘cheat’ a little bit, going out to restaurants or social gatherings will be a challenge since it’s unlikely you’ll have a lot of strictly raw options.
No diet is perfect, and if you’re looking to make a lifestyle change it’s important to find one that works for you. If you don’t want to take the plunge into a full-on raw diet, your best bet is to make small changes. If you’re used to eating meat on a regular basis, try cutting back to 2 or 3 servings per week and up your intake of fruits and vegetables. Instead of always cooking your vegetables, make a conscious effort to eat them raw more often. If you want to try a raw diet but don’t know where to start, do some research and/or speak to a registered dietitian.
For a great collection of raw food recipes, see this slideshow from Eating Well!
Are you a raw foodist? What have been the greatest rewards and challenges of your diet? Any advice for people looking to go raw?