How Raw Are You?
Remember the popular ice-breaker, “What’s your sign”? Well, if you’re going to your first raw food potluck, you’ll certainly be asked a different but equally popular question? “How raw are you”? The person asking you will most likely feel that 100% is nirvana and if you are consuming anything less, you are still on your journey. You may see some people avoid a salad because it has a small amount of balsamic vinegar (which is not raw). Not all raw foodists are this strict, of course, but when you run into them it may cause you to have one of several reactions. It might make you think that you have to be 100% raw or you won’t get any of the magical benefits of raw food and you go home and remove all cooked foods from your pantry. Or, you may leave wondering if you can really stick to such a restrictive diet and give up on your goal to eat more raw food completely.
The Good News Is....
Raw food, no matter how much you eat of it, is good for you for so many reasons. Here are my favorite three:
First, raw food is alive and rich in enzymes which studies have shown survive the digestive tract. These enzymes help your body digest the food without producing its own enzymes (or at least producing less of them). Given the body expends much of its energy producing enzymes that digest food, you can see what an advantage it would be to save your body from this task.
Second, many vitamins are destroyed by the cooking process. Raw food delivers a higher percentage of these heat sensitive nutrients to your body.
Third, the alkaline nature of a raw food diet allows a more optimal pH balance for the body.
You can get many of these benefits every time you eat raw food even if you aren't eating raw food exclusively.
How Raw Are You?
Here’s my method of calculating how much raw food I eat. I break the day down by meals, snacks and an evening dessert.
Breakfast counts as 25% if all raw
Lunch counts as 25% if all raw
Dinner counts as 25% if all raw
Snacks count as 10% each (2 raw snacks a day count as 20%)
One dessert a day counts as 5% if all raw
(If I skip any of these meals or snacks I weight the other meals and snacks more heavily).
If a meal or snack is only partially raw, like a salad topped with cooked beans, the meal is given "part credit" depending on calorie density or volume of raw food. You can use your own judgement - no one is grading you on this. For example; If you ate a raw smoothie for breakfast, you'd give yourself 25% but if you used all raw fruit, raw spinach, raw flax oil and 1/2 cup of organic soy milk, you may only give yourself 20% because the soymilk isn't raw.
Why Some Cooked Food is Important
Even if you're a raw foodist and eat most of your food raw, there are still some important reasons to eat cooked foods. Here are a few of them:
A 100% raw food vegan diet does not provide all the nutrients you need. (See my article, Raw Food Diet, Is it Enough). You cannot get vitamin B12 from plants. If you are 100% raw (vegan), you will have to take supplements or eat non-raw food. This is very important because you can suffer serious diseases from B12 deficiency including megaloblastic anemia and severe nervous system disorders. Example food sources of this vitamin include Red Star nutritional yeast, clams, trout, salmon and organ meats. Vitamin D is another extremely important vitamin that cannot be obtained in sufficient quantities from a 100% raw food diet. Although the body produces it from the sunshine, depending on where you live, the color of your skin, how often you are outside and other factors, there’s a very good chance you are not getting enough vitamin D. Many experts are now saying we need over 1,000 IU per day which makes getting enough a bigger problem. Supplementing with this vitamin is key considering the amount required. I just raised my daily supplementation to 2,000 IU per day. Food sources include oysters, herring, fortified orange juice or soymilk and mushrooms. (You may want to get your blood tested to find out your vitamin D level). Other vitamins that are possible (but difficult) to get from a 100% raw food diet and require very careful planning are: Vitamin E, B2 or riboflaven, calcium, iodine, iron, zinc and the amino acid, methionine.
Another reason to eat cooked foods is to more easily consume beans and grains. I’ve noticed that many raw foodists eat less beans and grains than regular vegans or vegetarians. This is probably because it takes days to sprout and soak these foods to make them edible. Cooked beans are a great source of high quality protein and fiber and are much more convenient and versatile than sprouted beans. They are also a great source of molybdenum, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and thiamin. Cooked grains are also a great source of fiber, several important B vitamins(thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and minerals like iron, magnesium and selenium. Just remember to soak the beans and grains before cooking in order to reduce their phytate level. Soaking and rinsing will make their minerals more bioavailable.
Eating a 100% raw diet is very restrictive and can be socially isolating. I’m not suggesting you eat an unhealthy diet so that your family and friends don’t avoid or make fun of you. I’m just saying that being more flexible about what you eat when you leave your house can improve the quality of your social life.
Lastly, some times you just want a nice hot meal. I’m headed to visit my daughter in Minneapolis in early February. If it’s cold and snowy, as I suspect it will be, you can bet that I’m going to make us a big pot of hot soup. Our bodies often tell us what it needs. Sometimes we crave foods because we are deficient in a certain nutrient. In the summer we want to eat light meals with lots of raw fruits and veggies. In the dead of winter our bodies often crave hot soup, veggie chili and home baked breads. Strict raw foodists say you can warm your bodies with warming foods and herbs like cayenne, ginger and cinnamon but sometimes that doesn’t always do it for me.
My Seasonal Raw Food Plan
Here is a plan that I have developed for myself. It goes by season, not calendar month since parts of the world experience “summer” at different times. If you live in the tropics, it’s always summer!
Winter - I eat about 30 to 40% of my food raw. If I go on a vacation to a warm climate, I eat more raw food, usually mimicking what I do in the summer months.
Spring – I work myself up to about 50 to 60% of my diet being raw. I pick one month in the spring, usually May or June, and do a “30 day raw food cleanse” where I eat at least 90% raw food.
Summer – With the garden flourishing, I like to eat a diet of at least 70% raw food.
Fall – As the weather gets colder, I drop back down to eating 50 to 60% of my food raw.
This plan works well for me because I'm at a healthy weight and I’m free of any life threatening disease. If any of that changed, I would immediately increase my intake of raw food to my "summer levels" of 70% or more. I’ve seen raw food diets heal people and allow them to stop taking medication for depression, blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and other ailments. A diet high in raw food also can facilitate rapid weight loss. But if you are relatively healthy and happy with your weight, a plan like this one gives you many of the benefits of a raw food diet while giving you the versatility to eat other nutrient dense foods to round out your diet, warm your body and soul and allow you to more easily socialize with your family and friends.
Like any diet or exercise regimen, talk to your doctor to see if a raw food diet is right for you.