Raw foods are usually very healthy. Numerous diets center on a large portion of, or 100%, raw foods. I believe raw foods are an excellent part of a balanced diet, but there’s a number of things that aren’t ideal about relying heavily on raw foods. Probably few of my readers are inclined to a completely-raw fruit and vegetable diet, but since it seems to be the prevalent opinion that “raw = best”, there are a few things I wanted to note, as follows: 1. Raw foods are very rich in enzymes, which help to digest food and are vital to many metabolic functions in the body. Our body both makes its own enzymes and gets enzymes directly from food. The more enzymes that are in the food that we eat, the less the body has to work at making enzymes. There are enzymes in all raw foods, including raw milk and raw meat, though this discussion is primarily about raw produce. Tropical fruits are especially high in digestive enzymes, and as such are especially conducive to being eaten raw. Raw foods are alive, life-giving foods! (Interestingly, grains are the one food that can’t be eaten raw unless sprouted. Vegetables and animal foods can be eaten raw if they come from clean sources. Vegetables and meat comprise one of the best, well-balanced diets–and no, I don’t eat hardly any animal products raw, just like I don’t eat all my vegetables raw.) wholefoodscheffall2012-617-300x198 2. Raw foods are excellent sources of water-soluble vitamins B & C. These vitamins are easily lost in cooking, and are lost even in leaving produce peeled or cut for several hours. Some fruits, such as berries and citrus, are often eaten raw, which helps us to get appropriate intake of vitamin C, particularly. It has been observed, however, that non-organic produce often has much lower levels of vitamin C than organic produce does. If you are eating raw produce for its water-soluble vitamin content, it’s best to buy it organic. 3. Raw produce contains high amounts of indigestible fiber. While we need fiber in our diets for balancing metabolism, aiding digestion, and feeding good gut flora, too much fiber can be irritating to a leaky gut or compromised intestinal system. It’s hard to “digest” or pass through since it’s actually indigestible. Eating a lot of raw leafy salads can provide a lot of enzymes for a healthy body, but cooked/low-fiber foods are much easier on intestines trying to heal. Raw milk, fresh vegetable juices, or blended smoothies/shakes are prime ways to get enzymes and nutrients into the digestive system and bloodstream without the obstruction of so much fiber. 4. Raw foods aren’t the only foods that contain nutrients, by far. Cooked foods still contain all the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) and many micronutrients (minerals and vitamins). Minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) are barely harmed by heat. Plant foods contain an array of other phytonutrients that remain in foods whether eaten raw or cooked. Proper cooking, not overcooking, is important to maintain the integrity of the macronutrients. Roasting or steaming are good ways to preserve as many nutrients as possible without losing nutrients into boiling water. There are a few advantages to eating cooked vegetables for at least part of your vegetable intake. Cooking reduces some of the antinutrients, or digestive inhibitors, found in some cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens. Cooking imparts heat to, and reduces the water content and cooling nature of raw foods. This increases the sugar content of the foods, helps to balance your metabolism, and warms your body temperature when the weather is cold. Cooking breaks down some of the fiber in raw produce, which can be easier on digestion. And lastly, cooking simply helps many vegetables to taste better (likely because they are warmer and sweeter). Of course, some vegetables taste better raw and are typically eaten that way; and the same with cooked vegetables. Roasted Winter Vegetables 5. Raw foods have a lot of nutrients, but culturing/lacto-fermenting vegetables actually increases the enzyme and vitamin content exponentially. Plus, fermentation partially “digests” the food, eliminating the issue of too much fiber and roughage. Some recommendations say to eat raw produce at every meal (not a bad thing), but traditional wisdom says to eat a cultured food as a a condiment at every meal. Cultured foods enhance the taste of other foods, whereas raw foods often benefit from added seasoning or dressing to make them more palatable. 6. Raw foods, especially produce, are generally understood to be the most health-promoting–but this is a situation where more isn’t necessarily better. We desperately need animal protein and animal fats in our diets to provide the full spectrum of nourishment. Animal foods provide essential amino acids, minerals, B vitamins, and healthy saturated fats in a quantity and manner that is most needed and most easily assimilated by our bodies. So, make raw vegetables a good portion of your diet, but don’t make them 100%. (That could never be done in Montana; we would freeze in the winter!) Vegetables and meat together, however, could alone comprise a balanced diet. salad with avocado, grapefruit, pommegranate & walnuts 7. Raw foods are very helpful for cleansing the body for a period of time and giving it a break from denser, richer foods (or processed foods, if those are still in your diet). Or, even eating all vegetables (raw or cooked) for a several weeks, is a great way to avail of the high nutrients in vegetables, and let them cleanse and heal your body. Vegetables don’t contain enough nutrients for supporting your long-term performance, but they are a necessary inclusion (or large portion) of any diet, and a helpful method of short-term detoxification. People following intense, short-term vegetable diets often report excellent results such as weight loss, better digestions, and clearer skin. However, one only has to Google vegans who have switched back to meat-eating, to realize the detriments of eating only vegetables for years on end. 8. Raw foods taste best in season, and our bodies are most prepared–in their natural rhythm that follows the seasons–to savor them at those times. Spring greens to cleanse from winter; berries and tomatoes to sweetly refresh in summer’s heat; apples and pears to give crispness and accompany fall’s root vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have the most nutrition and flavor in season. Buying them locally or regionally ensures the highest nutrient content (not lost in travel time or being picked when unripe) and best economical value (no transportation cost; supporting your neighbor farmers). Many people say and believe that raw foods are meant to be eaten in season, and when they’re not in season, it’s better to eat them canned or frozen–since they were canned or frozen at the peak of nutrition. Food frozen at its peak likely rivals or exceeds the nutrients of raw veggies from another continent, and veggies kept in a storehouse through the remaining three seasons. And as we discussed, raw produce isn’t the only carrier of nutrients. Canned and frozen foods retain many, many nutrients. Usually frozen is best, but in the case of tomatoes, canning increases the levels of one of the best phytonutrients, lycopene. Better canned than fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter! Nablus souq vegetables 9. Raw foods are not the only thing mentioned in the Bible, so that’s the best historical and theological indicator that we need more than fresh raw veggies in our diet. Following the foods that the Bible mentions–and trying to acquire foods in whole forms like they would have had millenia ago–is the best path toward the healthiest diet. We live in different regions from the Middle East, so it is wise to focus on eating foods and produce that are fresh, seasonal, and native to our own areas. 10. Links to a few of my other articles that also weigh in on the subject of raw foods can be found in the full article on Culinary Reformation.