Raw food vitality

Almost everyone can benefit from eating more raw foods

Sound Consumer | June 2009

by Cameron Woodworth

(June 2009) — As the author of a vegetarian dining guidebook, I’ve had the pleasure of eating many exceptional meals over the years. But one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was not at a restaurant. Rather, it was a raw foods potluck a decade or so ago at a friend’s house here in Seattle.

It was my first official raw foods meal. I brought a big bowl of gazpacho, the Spanish tomato-based raw vegetable soup. Others brought salads, simple or elaborate; burgers made of raw carrots and sprouted lentils; crackers made from nuts and seeds or sweet potatoes; a Phad Thai with noodles made from fresh young coconut and an almond-chili sauce; and raw fruit- and nut-based desserts.

What was striking was not just how delicious the food was but also how terrific we all felt afterward.

I still love many cooked foods — it’s hard to keep me away from Indian or Thai restaurants for long. But these days, along with thousands of others in the Seattle area, I’m incorporating a lot more raw foods into my meals.

Raw food advocates believe that the “life force” or energy in food is destroyed through cooking, along with some phytochemicals and food enzymes important to improving digestion and fighting disease. Raw foodists — people who eat a mostly or all raw diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains — never heat food to more than 116 or 118 degrees (depending on who you talk to).

They report feeling a greater mental clarity, higher energy, improved athletic performance, easy weight loss, better skin, and other benefits.

Almost anyone can benefit from adding more raw foods — from fruits and salads to raw gourmet meals — to their diet. The payoff can be immense and you certainly don’t have to eat a 100 percent raw diet to see results.

Two big salads a day

You don’t need to buy lots of fancy new equipment or learn special raw food prep techniques. You can keep it simple. One of the best things you can do is add more salads to your diet.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. and author of the bestselling book, “Eat To Live,” suggests that many of our obesity and degenerative disease problems would decrease significantly if more Americans would eat two big salads per day. He claims that countless patients have reaped huge benefits by following a diet consisting of large amounts of raw foods supplemented with some lightly cooked foods.

Fuhrman writes that “raw, uncooked vegetables and fruits offer the most powerful protection against disease.” In addition to salads, he encourages his patients to eat at least four fresh fruits a day. He argues that the most prevalent cancers in our society are essentially plant-food-deficiency diseases.

He cites research from the department of biochemistry at Wright State University School of Medicine, which found that the enzymes in raw foods may offer nutritional advantages in fighting disease.

Researchers there conclude that “most foods undergo a decrease in nutritive value in addition to the well-known loss of vitamins when cooked and/or processed.” Some minerals may be lost in cooking, as well as 20 to 60 percent of vitamin C.

In 2007 King’s College Hospital conducted an experiment at Paignton Zoo in Devon, Great Britain to see how subjects’ health would be impacted by a completely raw food diet. Nine volunteers set up tent next to the ape house in an experiment filmed for TV. They ate up to 10 pounds, or 2,300 calories, of raw fruits and vegetables per day for 12 days.

In the second week, volunteers also could eat fish, a nod to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. By the end of the experiment, the group’s average blood pressure fell from 140/83, nearly hypertensive, to 122/76. They also dropped an average of 9.7 pounds and saw their cholesterol levels plummet by 23 percent.

Testimonials and research

Tom Armstrong knows more about raw foods than most people. Armstrong and his partner, Susan Park, run Raw Vegan Source, a raw food buying club and online store based in their Redmond home. The club expanded from 700 different raw products to more than 1,300 last year, making it one of the most diverse selections of raw foods in the nation.

Vegetarians for more than 25 years, they went raw after Park was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2004. Park didn’t want radical surgery and the chemotherapy recommended by specialists. Instead, she went to the Optimum Health Institute in Southern California, where she enjoyed an all-raw diet.

A month later, she visited raw food advocate Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ Tree of Life center in Arizona. By the summer of 2005, she was cancer-free. As a side benefit, she went from a size 12 to a size 4, as she put it, “without even trying.”

Armstrong also reports numerous benefits. “My arthritis is gone, I’ve dropped about 25 pounds, I have way more energy,” he says. “I’m a serious outdoor and climbing person, and my times have improved dramatically.

I feel clearer mentally. I feel a better connection spiritually. I was borderline diabetic and those issues are gone. I still have a bit of a sweet tooth, not as much as I used to, but I’m able to eat raw food sweets without a problem.”

Armstrong notes that humans and their pets are the only animals on the planet that eat cooked foods, and also appear to be the only animals that suffer high rates of degenerative diseases.

Jeff Rogers, author of “Vice Cream” and a fixture in the Seattle raw foods community, has been 100 percent raw since 2001, except for three brief experiments to see how cooked foods affected him. Before going vegetarian and then raw, he suffered from migraines. “As a raw foodist, it is very rare for me to experience any headache symptoms at all. If I do, it is extremely mild,” he says.

Beyond the anecdotal record, there’s limited research on all-raw diets, which remain controversial. There is no doubt, however, that incorporating more raw fruits and vegetables into our diets is healthy and would benefit virtually everyone.

One report reviewed 50 studies about the science behind raw versus cooked and found that eating raw vegetables does reduce the risk of several cancers. Another study found that cooking cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale and cabbage) reduces the level of isothiocyanates, which prevent cancer cells from growing — and that eating even a few helpings raw reduces the risk of cancer.

Some health professionals and other critics question the benefits and risks of eating only raw foods. They say that eating all raw food is unnecessary since the body makes its own digestive enzymes and because some foods are more easily digested when cooked.

Sandi Kaplan, a registered dietician with Seattle NutritionWorks, says that adding raw foods to our diet is very helpful, adding variety, fiber “and lots of crunch.” She confirms that some nutrients are better absorbed when food is raw, while others are better assimilated when cooked. She recommends that people eat a variety of raw and cooked foods.

One study in the Journal of Nutrition found that an all-raw diet may cause deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. A study at Washington University in Missouri found raw foodists are more likely to have low bone density.

Some research has shown that while participants in a raw food diet had lower cholesterol and triglycerides (fat linked to heart disease), they also were deficient in vitamin B12, available significantly only from animal foods. Another long-term study of raw foodists showed healthy levels of vitamin A and disease-preventing carotenoids, but lower than average levels of lycopene (a nutrient that’s highest when cooked).

There are some raw foodists who eat raw dairy and meat but most are vegan. Like other vegans, all-raw vegans need to consume foods rich in calcium, iron, omega-3 fats, and other nutrients readily available in dairy, fish and meat. Kale and cabbage, for example, are high in calcium and raw walnuts are a fair source of omega-3s.

“Eating raw food is necessary for good health and an important feature of a healthy diet,” writes Fuhrman. “But that does not mean one’s entire diet has to be raw to be in excellent health. It also does not mean eating an all-raw diet is the healthiest way to eat.” He argues for some steamed or cooked green vegetables and beans or legumes in our diets to expand nutrient diversity and improve absorption of plant protein.

You also don’t have to give up anything to eat raw foods, says Armstrong. “Just add good stuff in — that’s something I recommend to newcomers. If you do 20 percent raw, that’s fantastic,” he says. “If you go 30 percent raw, that’s terrific. As long as raw food is the direction you’re heading in, you’re going to see improvements.”

Research citations

1. Link, LB and JD Potter. “Raw versus cooked vegetables and cancer risk.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Sep;13(9):1422-35. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15342442

2. C. Koebnick et al. “Long-Term Consumption of a Raw Food Diet Is Associated with Favorable Serum LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides but Also with Elevated Plasma Homocysteine and Low Serum HDL Cholesterol in Humans.” The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 135:2372-2378, October 2005. jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/abstract/135/10/2372

3. Luigi Fontana, MD et al. “Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet.” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2005;165:684-689. archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/165/6/684

4. AL Garcia et al. “Long-term strict raw food diet is associated with favourable plasma beta-carotene and low plasma lycopene concentrations in Germans.” British Journal of Nutrition 2008 Jun; 99(6):1293-300. Epub 2007 Nov 21. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18028575

Cameron Woodworth is author of “Green Cuisine, a guide to vegetarian dining around Seattle and Puget Sound” and also is a Web designer and freelance writer.

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