Raw Food Diet – Good or Bad?
You often see things on Pinterest and other social sites about “Raw Food Challenges.” “The 30 Day Raw Food Challenge” and “Have You Tried Raw Food” types of slogans exist everywhere.
No doubt that raw food is super nutritious. There are tons of vitamins, phytochemical, and anti-oxidants that you can get from raw food that you could never get eating processed food. But, is raw food always the best answer?
Having been on a 75% raw food diet, I can personally attest to the positive changes your body will undergo when eating mostly raw. My skin cleared up and glowed just like people claim. My bowel movements became so regular that every time I ate I had to poop. TMI? Well, it happened and I learned that this is how your bowels were meant to function. At 40 years old, this was the first I had heard of it.
After eating 75% raw for many months, I felt amazing. My food cravings were almost completely gone, with the occasional exception for chocolate. I lost a ton of weight and I had so much energy that I felt a decade younger – at least. I remember commenting to people that I would have gone raw sooner if I only would have known how much better I would feel.
The Challenges of Eating Raw
Eating raw can be challenging for a number of reasons. First, in order to get the most benefit from raw foods, they need to be very fresh. That means you should shop every couple of days. For most people, they have lots of good supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stands around. However, scheduling time to shop every couple of days can be challenging with all of the demands on our time.
For others, as is the case with me now, they may live in “food deserts” where they must drive long distances to obtain quality organic fresh produce. Not only is it inconvenient, but it reduces the frequency that people are likely to go shopping due to the time and expense of gas involved.
Assuming that you have easy access to raw, organic food and the time to shop for it often, there is still one major hurdle: you must completely re-invent the way that you eat. You will probably invest in a new expensive blender and dehydrator and your pots and pans will likely get shoved to the back of cabinets or put on hard to reach shelves.
Food preparation (as opposed to “cooking”) is totally different when you eat raw. Many dishes take hours, if not days, to completely prepare. Instead of steaming, sautéing, and baking you find yourself soaking, sprouting, blending, juicing,and dehydrating. It’s an adjustment to be sure, and not everyone is cut out for that much change. But, if you can commit to making the adjustment, there are great rewards to be gained.
How to Get Started on a Raw Diet
There is a lot to be done to make the switch over to a raw or mostly raw diet, and everyone will have their own comfort zones when it comes to transitioning. There is no right or wrong way, so pick the things that feel the least intimidating and begin there. Once you get into the swing of things you will feel more confident about branching out and trying experiments outside of your comfort zone.
Read – A Lot
What worked best for me to get started was reading everything I could find on the internet as well as getting some books from the library. I was surprised to find out that raw food could be so complex.
If you are under the impression, as I was at first, that raw food is just a bunch of different ways to eat salad, then you will be shocked at the incredible variety and versatility of raw foods. Who knew you could make alfredo sauce from macadamia nuts?
To be honest, the reading thing was a bit overwhelming even though it was a good place to start. There were so many great recipes that I wanted to try the ones that sounded best. What I found was that even though I wanted to eat them, I did not own most of the ingredients. Stocking a raw food pantry can take time.
I decided the best way to get started was to begin with recipes that only used a couple of ingredients that I would need to buy and that only required a couple of steps. In fact, I think the raw alfredo sauce may have been my very first dish. All I needed were some raw macadamia nuts, garlic, and lemon juice.
My first macadamia alfredo sauce wasn’t anything to write home about. It was ok, but not quite as exciting as I had hoped. So, I ended up adding some peppers. I split the batch and added jalapeños to one batch and habañeros to the other batch. Now THAT was something exciting – and I had the additional ingredients on hand.
Slowly, but surely I branched out to more complex recipes including raw zucchini breads and desserts that had specialty crusts that took at least a day to make and a filling that took another including dehydrating and refrigeration times. The actual hands-on work really wasn’t very long.
Plan Ahead and Buy Fresh
When you cook food, you can often just throw a bunch of stuff into a pot, heat it and add some pre-made sauce. Ta-da! Done. Raw food prep requires a bit of pre-meditation.
As mentioned before, you always want very fresh ingredients and you don’t want to have to run to the store every time you want to make something. Or, maybe you do. I don’t. The way around this is to think of several things you will prepare over the next 2-3 days and buy what you need instead of grabbing what’s been on your shelf for who knows how long.
Don’t Use Old Ingredients
A couple of years after I had been doing the raw thing, but after I had been traveling for about 6 months I had volunteered to bring my semi-world famous chocolate chip cookie dough balls to Thanksgiving as a dessert.
Knowing that my recipe was perfected from the one I stole from the Internet, and having made it a thousand times before, I touted it as “the best dessert you will ever eat.” Since it only takes a few minutes to make, I waited until Thanksgiving day to make them.
Once they were done, knowing that they were the best dessert ever, I gave over to temptation and popped one in my mouth only to discover that my cashews had gone somewhat rancid during the time I had been traveling. Being that it was Thanksgiving Day and in the middle of nowhere, there was no possible way to get fresh raw (pre-soaked and dehydrated) cashews for a new batch.
Lesson learned. Only use fresh ingredients. Raw foods don’t have preservatives, so they don’t hold up like processed food. Don’t be cheap and try to use ingredients you’ve had sitting around a while. Cashews and macadamia nuts which are often used in raw food sauces are pricey, so only get what you need for a short period of time. You’ll regret it if you use old ones.
Oh, and This is Really Important – Transition SLOWLY
If you are like me, you get really excited about things and you like to jump right into whatever new thing you are trying out. When it comes to raw food – don’t do that. I learned this lesson the hard way.
What happened? Well, I did lots of research on raw food, realized how amazing it was and convinced myself that this was what I needed to do to get healthy. I was going to go 100% raw more or less overnight.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
I had been vegetarian for 25 years and vegan for another year or two at that point, so I was already pretty accustomed to eating fruits and veggies. “What could possibly go wrong?” I asked myself. Famous last words.
While my brain thought this was a fantastic idea, my intestines thought otherwise. Yes, they were used to fruits and veggies, but to be honest, most of them were cooked or processed in one way or another. I was in for a bit of a rude awakening.
How can I put this delicately in polite company? Upon being ‘assaulted’ with nothing but raw food, my gastrointestinal system went into a bit of a revolt. Within a couple of days I had such awful, smelly gas that I would have to leave the room. Not only was the gas extra stinky, it was perpetual. There were simply not enough rooms in my house to escape it.
The only redeeming thing about this period in my life was that I was single at the time. If I weren’t to begin with, I certainly would have been by the end of the first week. I wished someone would have warned me.
Fortunately, before I gave up entirely on my raw diet, I ran across a few articles online that discussed the problem with gas and raw food. I learned two important things. 1. Transition slowly so that your body can adjust. 2. Alpha-galactosidase is your best friend.
Making the Transition to Raw Foods
So, what’s the deal with raw foods causing so much gas? There are a few reasons.
First, raw food contains a lot of starches that our human bodies cannot digest – and this is actually a good thing. No matter how long you are eating raw food, this will not change. You will not miraculously start making this enzyme known as alpha-galactosidase. But, you can buy it. The best known brand is Beano, but if you are vegan, be sure to look for a vegan version. Beano is made from fish. You might need to look at a health food store or order vegan versions online.
When people suddenly make the switch to raw food, they have a huge increase in the amount of undigestible fiber in their gut. When it makes its way to the colon, friendly, yet stinky, bacteria do their best to digest it before it leaves the body. This is actually very good for you, but a sudden surge in food supply means the bacteria multiply like mad and make socializing for you a bit awkward.
By slowly increasing the amount of raw foods in your diet, the bacteria adjust at a normal rate and you have far fewer problems. Not to say that you won’t have gas, but it won’t be a nightmare for you. For the gas that you will have, there’s always Alpha-galactosidase.
Even if you don’t plan to go fully raw, make a point to add more raw foods to your diet. Just because you may be vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean you are eating enough of them. Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of junk food veggies and vegans – I used to be one. Any extra raw foods you add to your diet will make a difference in your health.