A raw food diet is not what you think

by Graham Simpson, M.D.

For this week’s article I wanted to tackle a topic around which there is a lot of confusion, yet at the heart of it all is a rather simple concept of healthy eating that we’d all do well to better understand.Benefits of a raw food diet

Here we are talking about the raw food diet, which is kind of how we humans started eating in the first place – yet over the course of our history have certainly strayed a long ways from.

But the raw food diet has always been there in some form or another, and in recent years has gained a fair bit in popularity.In fact, so much so that many would be forgiven for thinking it is some celebrity craze or fad diet. But it is far from that.

And for those of you familiar with my writings, you know how much I dislike the word “diet”. I prefer to label eating according to two simple categories: “healthy” and “unhealthy”. And eating a good amount of the right foods raw can indeed have some real health benefits when done right.

Clearing up the misconceptions

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to eating raw foods is that it involves eating uncooked foods or cold foods. In fact, for food to be considered “raw” under this particular diet, the idea is that it should not be heated above 46°C (115°F).

There are of course many variations of the raw food diet, such “raw carnivores” who consume any food that can be eaten raw – including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy.

The raw food diet does not mean we are not cooking foods. It just means not heating above 46°C (115°F) during preparation.

The two other most common types of raw eaters are “raw vegetarians”, who follow the same diet but exclude the meat, and “raw vegans”, who only eat unprocessed raw plant-based foods. What is very important to note is that only a small percentage of raw dieters actually eat a 100% raw diet. Even those who follow the diet closely only tend to consume around 75% of their foods in raw form.

To those new to the diet, the concept of “raw” food can sound quite daunting. However, eating raw is a fairly easy regime to follow, and as part of a balanced diet, offers many health and well-being benefits. But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the science behind the raw food diet.

What the science shows

The science behind the raw diet is simple, and while I won’t be able to cover too much of it here for reasons of space, I will cover some of the essential arguments that are often put forth when highlighting the benefits of adding more raw foods to your diet.

One of the big ones has to do with the fact that cooking with high temperatures causes chemical reactions in many foods, which can lead to the creation of toxins – and in some cases carcinogens. Raw food enthusiasts believe that by eating only 15% of your food “cooked” (that is, above 115°F) we are giving our bodies the best chance of eliminating and avoiding such toxins.

The cooking or heating process also removes or reduces the natural enzymes from many foods – enzymes that, among other things, aid with digestion. And when it comes to exposing fruits and vegetables to the cooking process, a lot of those vitamin benefits are also significantly reduced, in particular the vitamin C content.

If we take the tomato as an example, the vitamin C content drops by 10% at 190°F when we cook this fruit for just two minutes, and 29% when we cook it for half an hour. (Though I will add here that some foods should be cooked for optimum nutritional benefits, and the tomato is one of them in that heating to just the right amount has been shown to protect against prostate issues.)

Another great example of how the cooking process removes a lot of the “goodness” from many of our foods can be seen by taking a closer look at what happens when we cook up broccoli. Now we all know that this vegetable is a great source of fiber and vitamin C, but many do not know that it is also a great source of glucosinolates, which, when broken down in the body, form the anti-cancer agent sulforaphane.

But by cooking broccoli up, we are taking away those anti-cancer benefits. A study was published on this issue in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and found that “raw broccoli eaters” had a sulfroaphane bioavailability of 34%, whereas the “cooked broccoli eaters” had readings of just 3.4%!

To be clear, this is a lot of “benefit” to be losing. Sulforaphane has been known to block and kill the spread of cancer cells, and a 2002 study found that sulforaphane contributes to fighting off the bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori, known to cause stomach ulcers (stomach ulcers can increase the risk of cancer).

By cooking tomatoes above 190°F for just 2 minutes you lose about 10% of the vitamin C content of the fruit.

And many foods served up raw are in general known to be great “disease fighters”. A report published in the Journal of Nutrition, for example, found that a higher concentration of raw food in the diet lowers both cholesterol and triglyceride levels – key cardiovascular health risk factors. What’s more, raw foods have a huge part to play in our bodies’ acid/alkaline balance. When acidity rises in the body – the result of many modern-day lifestyle concerns such as high stress levels and poor nutritional choices – the more easily disease develops. Raw foods have been shown to lower this risk by helping to neutralize this acidity and alkalize our bodies.

Again, there are many more examples we could put forth, but the intention here is just to give a general idea of how often we are simply “cooking the benefits” right out of our foods. It certainly should give all you parents out there in particular something to think about when preparing those balanced meals for your children.

The physical benefits of the raw diet

So let’s now talk about just a few of the key benefits that you can really see and feel when you incorporate higher levels of raw eating into your diet.

For starters, as well as a general sense of good health and well-being that raw food eaters tend to rave about, proponents also report several noticeable physical benefits. One of these is the incredibly positive impact that such a diet can have on your skin.

If we look at the green vegetable kale, which many label a “superfood”, we know that by not cooking it we ensure that those high levels of phytonutrients stay locked in. And as you health enthusiasts are no doubt aware, phytonutrients provide extra protection from sun damage. Another green to look closely at when it comes to raw eating and skin health is spinach, which is packed with beta-carotene and lutein – both known to have very positive effects on skin elasticity.

Digestion is also something raw eaters will reference. Many of the foods we eat today – especially those awful processed foods – tend to sit in our digestive tract for long periods of time, which can lead to gas and inflammation. Whole, natural foods served up raw, on the other hand, tend to break down easily and are less likely to ferment inside our bodies. This results in, among other things, much more balanced energy levels that are often “zapped” right out of us due to the strain we are putting our digestive system through with the modern Western diet.

Hunger control is a massive benefit of the raw food diet when it comes to aiding weight loss.

And again while I can go on and on about the physical benefits of eating more of the right foods raw, for space reasons I will wrap it up here with one of the most sought after benefits of any diet: weight loss. As the natural foods that typically make up a good portion of the raw food eater’s diet are high in protein and fibre and nutrients, not only do most people new to the raw diet lose weight quickly, but they also report feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Yes, hunger control is a very noticeable benefit of the raw food way of eating.

Implementing a raw diet

Most people unfamiliar with the raw food way of eating tend to believe that it can be a fair bit of work to adhere to. But it’s not the case. In truth, with a little preparation and planning –and the right tools – it couldn’t be more simple. Popular new devices like the nutribullets and spiralizers have made incorporating raw food as part of your diet easier than ever. Simply pick up some raw, and preferably organic ingredients, and you can whisk up a fresh soup, salad, juice or smoothie in no time.

Juicing is in fact a great first step into the world of raw. And there are thousands upon thousands of terrific recipes online for you to discover. These will help you load up on natural enzymes, vitamins, alkaline and minerals that will boost your energy and overall sense of well-being – and in the process give you a real first taste of what it is to eat raw.

Beyond juicing and those vegetable variation meals offered up by such devices as the spiralizer, it’s certainly up to you how far you want to take it. I wouldn’t suggest you go “full raw”, because as much as I love the health benefits, to me that just takes too much fun out of the eating process. And as with all things in life and health, without finding the balance you are comfortable with, good habits just don’t last.

Finally, I’m going to remind you that when it comes to your health, doing one thing right doesn’t really have much of an impact if you are still doing a lot of things wrong. So if you follow up that healthy raw lunch with a trip to the donut shop, or work a few bears into the meal, or follow up every eating session with a cigarette, then all the nutrients in the world won’t help your cause. In other words, discipline needs to be there across the board when it comes to maintaining that healthy mind and body.


Graham-150x150About Dr. Simpson

Graham Simpson, M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer of West-Martin Longevity. He is also the Founder & Medical Director of the innovative Intelligent Health Center, Dubai, UAE.

Dr. Simpson graduated from the University of Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Age Management Medicine (A4M). He is a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and is a licensed homeopath. Dr. Simpson has also taught as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno.

He is the author of WellMan (Live Longer by Controlling Inflammation); co-author of Spa Medicine with Dr. Stephen Sinatra; and the forthcoming Reversing CardioMetabolic Disease.

Dr. Simpson was the Founder of PrimalMD; the Founder of the Eternity Medicine Institute; Paleo4me; and the Inflamaging Physician Network. He is a Consultant to Cenegenics, Inc

He has practiced I.N.T.E.G.R.A.L. Health for many years and remains committed to delivering Proactive Health to physicians and clients around the world.

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