Why Raw Foods?*
1. What is the raw food diet?
“Raw” means food that is unprocessed, unrefined, and untreated with heat. The three main
raw food groups are fresh fruits, vegetables (primarily green leafy vegetables) and natural
fats, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Raw food isn’t a radical concept; most nutritionists
agree that we need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. The raw food diet simply suggests
that these foods should be most of what we eat, and should be prepared in a way that
maximizes nutrient content.
2. What are some of the nutritional benefits of the raw food diet?
Eating a diet rich in fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits is the easiest way to maintain optimal
health and weight. It helps you avoid the foods that have been linked to degenerative diseases
and weight gain, including “bad carbs” (such as white sugar and white flour) and “bad fats”
(saturated and trans-fats). Additionally, raw greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds have
vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and fiber–all essential for good health. Better
nutrition will not only help prevent disease and overweight, but also slow the aging process
and increase energy.
3. Do you recommend eating a 100% raw diet?
Eating raw foods doesn’t need to be all or nothing. A small percentage of people eat
100% raw, but this isn’t practical for most of us. Eating even 50-75% raw foods can improve
health and vitality. The main point is to increase the percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables
in the diet.
4. What is the importance of enzymes in the raw food diet?
Enzymes help “digest” or break down raw foods. For example, when fruits ripen, their enzymes
change starches into simple sugars (which is why unripe fruit isn’t as sweet). Raw fruits,
vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain the enzymes necessary to complete the digestion process.
(The enzymes in nuts and seeds are activated through soaking them.) The importance of food
enzymes in the diet is currently a subject of debate among nutritionists. What we do know is that
enzymes are the most heat sensitive of all nutrients, destroyed at temperatures above 118
degrees. More and more research suggests that eating high-enzyme foods aids digestion, and
that our bodies can recycle many of the enzymes in food, which means less depletion of its own
store of enzymes. Eating an enzyme-rich diet is thought to increase vitality and slow the aging
5. Is the raw food diet high in fat, with all those nuts, seeds, and avocados?
There are good fats and bad fats. The bad fats include trans-fats, saturated animal fat, and
refined polyunsaturated fats, such as the fat in refined cooking oils. The “good fats” are all the
raw ones: the mono-unsaturated fats, present in avocados, almonds, and olive oil; Omega-3
fatty acids, present in hemp seeds, flax seeds and walnuts; and medium-chain saturated fatty
acids, present in coconut and coconut oil. True, you don’t want to eat too much fat of any kind,
but as long as you are getting enough fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, and not
overeating, you don’t have to worry about including the good fats in your diet.
6. Where do I get my protein?
Protein can be found in all natural foods. Vegetables and fruits taken together have about
15% of their calories as protein. Nuts, seeds (especially hemp and sesame), nut/seed butters,
dark leafy greens and sprouts, and algae (such as spirulina) are rich sources of protein. More
protein is assimilated in raw foods than in cooked foods, which means you don’t need to eat
quite as much protein if it’s from raw sources. Even non-vegetarians (who consume more
protein), should still also add at least 50% raw foods to their diets. Once they do,
non-vegetarians often find that they naturally reduce the amount of animal protein they consume.
7. Is the raw food diet expensive?
When you make easy recipes, the raw food diet is less expensive than the Standard
American Diet. True, organic fruits and vegetables cost more than conventional ones, but they
are still cheaper than meat, dairy products, and processed foods. And even if organic fruits and
vegetables do cost more money, the benefits to your health will save you money in the long run.
8. I don’t like the taste of green leafy vegetables. What can I do to disguise them?
The easiest way to eat more greens is to blend them into a delicious fruit smoothie. Here is
an example: 1/2 orange, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup blueberries, 2 leaves kale, and water to thin.
Another example: 1/2 cup pineapple, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup spinach, and water to thin.
You won’t even notice the greens.
9. I’m worried my digestive system can’t handle too many raw fruits and vegetables.
What can I do?
Raw fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, so there may be an adjustment period. Fruits
generally aren’t the problem–they are easy to digest, as long as you eat them in moderate
amounts and on an empty stomach. As far as vegetables go, emphasize the easy-to-digest
greens and vegetables at first, such as lettuce, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash,
red bell peppers, and green, leafy sprouts. And make sure you chew really well. Dark greens
and cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, collards, cabbage, and broccoli are very nutritious
(rich in protein and minerals), but can be harder to digest. Try shredding them fine and massaging
them with a little sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice to soften them. Or, take greens as juices and
blended soups, as you gradually adapt to eating more raw foods. You can also add your greens
to blended fruit smoothies (use 60% fruit, 40% greens, and water to thin). Dehydrated green
superfood powders are convenient supplements, especially while traveling.
10. How can I stick to a raw food diet in the cold weather?
Just because you want to eat raw doesn’t mean foods should be out-of-the-refrigerator cold.
Let them come to room temperature. You can also warm soups and sauces over low heat on
the stove for a couple of minutes. And drink hot teas. Getting vigorous exercise will also warm
you up in the winter.
11. How do you make raw, tough greens like kale and collards palatable?
To make a raw green such as kale more palatable, cut it into really fine ribbons, and then
add a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Don’t just toss it gently the
way you’d toss a green salad. You want the kale to wilt, so massage the dressing into the
greens with your hands. The result will be kale as soft as steamed or stir-fried, but more
colorful and flavorful.
12. I have to take my lunch to work and I don’t want to bring a large salad. Any
suggestions for portable lunches?
Try making a raw soup, which is like a smoothie, but with vegetables instead of fruits. Start
with a lot of greens and veggies, because when you blend them down, they condense in
volume. You can transport raw soup in a jar or thermos and drink it or eat it with a spoon.
Also try a dip or paté, such as Not Tuna Paté, with cut up veggie sticks. You can eat this
like finger food–much easier than eating a salad when you’re on the go.
13. Do you have any tips for sticking to a healthy diet while traveling?
When traveling, I eat lots of fresh fruits, since they don’t require preparation. I also bring
a small blender with me, which takes care of a breakfast smoothie (usually orange, banana,
and 2 tablespoons of one of the “green” powders on the market). Snacks are easy with all
the delicious raw food bars that are available. Apples and almond butter also make a good
snack. For lunch try some cut up veggies and raw flaxseed crackers (also widely available
in natural food stores these days), with store-bought guacamole and salsa, or simply with
some avocado or almond butter. At a restaurant for dinner, you might decide to be more
flexible. Try to keep your choices as healthy as possible, avoiding red meat, fried foods,
white bread, and white sugar.
14. I have a really busy week–I don’t even have 30 minutes most weekdays! Are there
any raw food dishes I can make in advance?
Almond milk, salad dressings, patés (dips made from soaked nuts and seeds) and desserts
all keep for five days in the refrigerator.
15. How can I get my kids to eat more fruits and vegetables?
Kids need fruits and vegetables more than anyone–to be energetic and happy, to perform
well in school, and to develop healthy eating habits for life. You can encourage both fruit
and vegetable eating by enlisting your children’s help in preparing easy recipes, especially
brightly-colored dishes and finger foods.
*contributed by Chef Jennifer Cornbleet.