Food fads and trends come and go. But one that seems to be
increasing in popularity is already thousands of years old. And that’s the raw
food diet, which is defined as being based on eating unprocessed, organic,
whole, vegan foods, at least 75 percent of which should be uncooked. A variety
of techniques are used to prepare these foods, including sprouting seeds, grains
and beans; soaking nuts and dried fruits; and blending and juicing fruits and
vegetables. Dehydration is also used, because it doesn’t require much heat.
The growing number of adherents to what is sometimes called a
“living foods diet” – which include celebrity devotees like Demi Moore, Bryan
Adams and Woody Harrelson – believe that eating uncooked food prolongs youth and
fights disease. The raw diet tends to be dense with nutrients that are easily
absorbed into your blood, and contains little or no saturated fat. It is low in
sodium, high in potassium and fiber. These factors are important in helping to
reduce the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and some cancers.
More importantly, temperatures above about 116 degrees F (46.6
C) destroy food’s natural enzymes, which facilitate digestion and keep our gut
and arteries clean, thus boosting health and energy. How that happens is a bit
controversial, with some scientists claiming that digestion depends on enzymes
that the body generates and not on food enzymes. But fiber and antioxidants – of
which fruits and vegetables are prime sources – influence that process. And the
less cooked the fruit or vegetable is, the more antioxidants and fiber it
We do know that cooking food modifies the molecular structure of
protein, making it less usable by our bodies. When proteins are subjected to
high heat during cooking, enzyme-resistant linkages are formed between the amino
acid chains. The body cannot separate these amino acids and the indigestible,
coagulated protein molecules become a source of toxicity.
Swiss research from the 1930s suggests that, when cooked food is
ingested, the immune system sends armies of white blood cells to the digestive
tract to fight what it perceives to be a threat. Absorption of un- or
partially-digested proteins into the bloodstream can cause allergic reactions
and toxicity of the immune system. This immune reaction is called Leukocytosis.
In simple terms, this process throws the body into shock, acting in self-defense
by pumping out its own enzymes to digest the foreign substances that were
Scientists have continued to study cooked versus raw food diets.
A Finnish study published in the journal Nutrition in 1992, for
example, confirmed that raw vegan diets decrease toxic products in the colon.
Results suggest that a raw food uncooked extreme vegan diet causes a decrease in
bacterial enzymes and certain toxic products that have been implicated in colon
Here are some tips for gradually increasing the raw food ratio in
your meals, while avoiding the physical side effects and culture shock
of the transition.
- Eat sprouts – the seeds of foods such as mung beans, aduki beans,
alfalfa, radish, rye and millet
- Eat salads with every main course
- Eat fruit for breakfast instead of cereals or bacon and eggs
- Eat fruit, nuts and seeds whenever you want a between meals snack
- Juice raw fruits and vegetables
- Remember that you are improving your eating habits and not going on a
- Mix warmed with cold, raw food, especially in the winter
According to research performed by Dr. Bruce Ames, professor of
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of California, Berkeley,
various groups of chemicals from cooked food can cause tumors. For instance,
nitrosamines are created from fish, poultry or meat cooked in gas ovens and
barbecues, as nitrogen oxides within gas flames interact with fat residues;
hetrocyclic amines form from heating proteins and amino acids; polycyclic
hydrocarbons are created by charring meat.
Conversely, researchers have found that a diet rich in raw
vegetables lowers your risk of breast cancer. Eating lots of fruit reduces your
risk for colon cancer, according to a study published in 1998 in the journal
Epidemiology. And including fresh fruit as part of your daily diet has been
associated with fewer deaths from heart attacks and related problems, by as much
as 24 percent, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal in
However, there is some research to indicate that some of the
phytochemicals, such as lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in carrots, are
more easily absorbed by the body when the vegetable has been cooked. So
supplementation of those nutrients might be wise.
It has also been suggested that a raw foods diet could be low in
iron and calcium. But a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine
found although bones were lighter on a raw diet, osteoporosis wasn’t a threat.
The lower bone mass that researchers discovered in raw food eaters was
apparently due to their being thinner than the general population, due to their
reduced caloric intake. The study was a small one, with researchers comparing
the bone health of 18 people who had been following strict raw food diets for up
to 10 years with that of people who ate a more typical American diet, including
refined carbohydrates, animal products and cooked foods. The groups were matched
according to age, sex and socioeconomic status. To gauge bone health, the
researchers looked at each person’s body weight, bone weight and mineral
density, markers of bone turnover, levels of vitamin D and inflammatory markers.
The raw food vegetarians in the study had lower body weights and total body fat
than the other volunteers. They also had lower bone mass and bone mineral
density. But the people who followed raw food diets did not have any other
biological markers that typically accompany osteoporosis and had normal rates of
Experts suggest switching slowly from a cooked to a raw diet
because of the effects of detoxification that may be experienced. These can
include headaches, nausea and mild depression.
One of the ways to learn how to convert to a raw foods diet,
while preparing it in an engaging manner, is to take cues from the growing
number of celebrity chefs who specialize in raw, vegan menus.
And one of the chefs leading the movement toward gourmet raw
foods is Chad Sarno, (www.rawchef.org) who was called “the king of uncooked and vegan cuisine” by
GQ magazine. In his book Vital Creations Raw Culinary Workbook,
Sarno writes, “Twentieth century mainstream nutritional science has intricately
analyzed, dissected and removed the vitality of raw food, which is undisturbed
in nature. However, now it has become our responsibility to pick up the pieces
to assemble a more complete picture of food in its natural state. For all its
technological brilliance, modern science is cognitively stuck in a mind-set that
is woefully inadequate to the task of synthesizing nutritional wholeness in a
way that many of us would like. It has done more than just leave us on our own;
it has led us down a path of nutritional error, falsehood, conspiracy and fraud.
The fraud revolves around one idea: the loss of the truth that our food and the
soil from which it grows is a living system. When you forget that food is alive,
it can easily become conventional wisdom to cook, can, salt, skin, dilute,
dissect, adulterate, and/or irradiate food into an enzymatically dead substance.
This depleted food is the source of almost all dietary and health problems. It
has become commonplace to drown crops chemically instead of growing or feeding
the soil, which is the life of the plant.”
Here are some recipes by Chad Sarno to get you started on your
raw food journey. Enjoy!
Wendy Priesnitz is
the Editor of Natural Life Magazine and a journalist with over 35 years of
experience. She has
also authored twelve books.