The Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet

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When you begin researching the history of vegetarian diets, you begin to see how far back these approaches to eating go (think Pythagoras) and how long they have flourished. There is a rich tradition of simplifying the diet to keep the body clean, light, and toxin free, especially in spiritual traditions that emphasize an experiential relationship with the divine. Others choose an alternative path to nourish themselves in an effort to create distance between what they perceive as rampant cultural depravity, or cruelty, and what’s on their own dinner plates.

When it comes to the tradition of ingesting Raw Food as the main dietary source, it’s interesting to note that this movement has been around for almost 200 years, but only in recent years has it found such new prominence. As mentioned in 5 Tips for Going Raw, the most famous version of a raw food diet is plant-based and free of animal products, in other words, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Most raw foodists in this camp purposely avoid all dairy, eggs, and even honey (others break these rules). If you’re a proponent of what’s known as 80/10/10 raw veganism or low-fat raw veganism (LFRV), then we’re looking at 80% of your daily calories from fruit (and some vegetables) alone.

Alternatively, there’s a growing community of those following omnivorous raw diets, which include raw dairy, fish and meat. Some say this is the key, but, as you can imagine – there’s a an increased danger and a lot more care needed for anyone ingesting raw meats.

Overall, the vegan raw food movement (which also calls itself a living food or sunfood diet) has influenced what’s available to us in our local grocery stores across the country – we can now purchase raw coconut water, raw cacao beans, raw agave, goji berries, etc. These have all come into vogue in the last decade or so because of Raw Food Diet advocates.

So what’s the deal? If you’re interested comparing some of the benefits to some of the drawbacks, then please continue reading.

Here are a few good reasons to go bananas:

Cleansing and Inflammation –

This is a great way to reboot the body. Especially if you have walked a long road of poor dietary habits, this can be a very profound way to do some very deep cleaning. A raw food diet with its emphasis on fruits vegetables, nuts, seeds, and the subsequent removal of some of the most common food toxins (gluten, dyes, pesticides, rancid cooking oils) –is an eating plan guaranteed to hydrate the body, provide access to vitamin C and other water soluble vitamins, micronutrients and minerals. A raw food diet (that doesn’t over do it on the nuts) is also highly alkalizing, which can be very healing for dis-ease conditions in the body reliant on an acidic environment. In addition, easy to assimilate enzymes are great for the digestion, gives the pancreas a break, and has also been touted to promote flexibility, and endurance; it will even clean up your complexion (or other skin conditions) and make your skin glow. It’s also been show to lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar and balance a variety of severe health issues. It all depends what level of diet you’re most in need of.

Getting in Tune with Nature –

Many advocates who have experience with a raw food diet describe a sense of belonging and over all well being when it comes to the Natural world. One thing that so many of us seem to miss in the modern day, is an awareness about how we eat or even how we chew. Raw food advocates and “gurus” look around at the eating habits of all the other animals on the planet and see that each species has their own diet that works uniquely for them, to keep them healthy, fit, and strong. Likewise, one wonders if there’s just one diet for humans? And why are humans the only animal who cooks their food? These are common apologetics expressed by raw foodists. Some see cooking itself as entirely unnatural: it destroys valuable nutrients, vitamins and proteins. So any attempt to alter the foods we eat by subjecting it to heat is thought to lead to human harm. They explain that this is why domesticated animals that eat cooked food (including us and our pets) are the only species with health issues like cancer, diabetes, and genetic diseases. They then go onto indicate our closest ancestors, the great apes, as examples of our own nutritive needs.

Spiritual Intentions –

As mentioned above, there is a history of spiritual traditions that embrace raw foods, especially from the early Mediterranean, and even some in the modern Essene denominations. It also falls under the precepts of AHIMSA that is central in several Eastern spiritual conventions. In the end, it’s all about embracing purity and a “fuller sense of life” in the body. Therefore, in order to get the most nourishment, raw foodists try to keep their diet as natural and “alive” as possible, and by doing so, often describe a feeling of connectedness and openness. It’s very powerful to feel more aligned with the sacred, and it just so happens that this can have powerful benefits for our metabolism as well.  It’s always a good practice to inquire whether you’re eating for a higher purpose, or just chasing an unrealistic ideal, no matter what diet you choose.

Alternatively, here’s a few good reasons to turn up the heat:

Cleansing is Catabolic  —

Cleansing is such a powerful tool because it breaks down old tissue, clears out digestive backlog, and sets the stage for new growth. A raw food diet, and particularly a raw food vegan diet is often highly alkaline, and therefore extremely proficient at resetting the body and flushing waste and toxins that may have overstayed their welcome. And it’s true that the human body does best in a slightly alkaline environment, but eventually, the body is going to require rebuilding. Cleansing foods are not deemed to be anabolic foods, meaning, they do not rebuild new tissues in the same way. You cannot cleanse forever and continue feeling marvelous. Eventually something will have to give.

Missing Nutrients

Especially if you have been using a raw food diet as a healing protocol, you will need protein to rebuild and repair your cells, neurology, muscles, and digestion. Key nutrients that are notoriously harder to attain on a raw vegan diet are zinc, iron, and B-12. Even stout die-hard raw foodies have been known to give in and get a B-12 shot from their local practitioners because it’s one of the most common deficiencies, and the lack of it can cause long term discomfort and damage. Granted, many long-term raw foodies jumped into the Superfood and herbal supplement party to help them achieve higher levels of mineralization and other possibly hard to access micronutrients, and this can help for a time no doubt. The key here is awareness and education. This goes for raw foodists and cooked foodists alike! Long-term deficiencies in the body can cause serious damage.

Biology —

One of the longest ongoing debates running when it comes to the human animal is: “what are we supposed to eat?” From the raw perspective, eating foods in their natural state, without subjecting them to heat is in alignment with our closest zoological cousins. If chimpanzees and gorillas can maintain their strength and prowess on a high raw plant based diet, surely so can we! But here’s the reality about the human digestive system: we have smaller guts than our ape-cousins, and ones that don’t process cellulose. We have larger brains that have helped us to develop complex tools and strategies (not that animals are incapable of tool use and planning – hardly the case), but this has to do with the fact that, whenever we began cooking our food, we not only extended the range of food choices available, but largely upped the available caloric energy. We no longer needed to spend the entire day eating the way a cow or gorilla is required to do. Did you know that it’s not uncommon for a male gorilla to take down 40lbs of forage per day? They’re definitely a spectacular specimen weighing in at 440 lbs or so, but even chimps spend 12 hours per day every day chewing!

Cooking starches, like potatoes and other roots, neutralizes toxins that would have otherwise made it impossible to eat safely. There are many, many foods that benefit from the application of heat. Perhaps this is why so many long standing medical wisdom traditions, like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine praise the ease and digestibility of properly cooked foods, and recommend raw in regular if smaller doses.

So How Much Raw Food Should I Eat?

While it would be so much nicer if there was a short and sweet black and white answer, the truth is that it’s different for everyone. Some people are very sensitive to nightshades like tomatoes, or fungi no matter what form they show up in and others (including most) have no trouble at all. For others it’s a taste or texture preference. When it comes to raw food in general, there are many different experts from across the spectrum that will say having “some raw everyday” (like a large salad, fresh fruit, probiotic rich foods) is always a benefit. Others say that it depends on the season; others will say that cooking all your food is the only way to health.

Starting with your own body is the best beginning. Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we know that each of us is empowered with a unique relationship to our own body wisdom. This is truly part of the “hearth and heart” of the approach we take in our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training.

In all things that entail any kind of large shift, go slow and feel it out. The only guidelines to follow are those that make you feel your absolute best! If someone said “eat %55 raw” and you feel better with only 15% raw – we would encourage you to listen to your inner nutritionist. Try it out for yourself and see!

In the end, raw food adherents ultimately choose this method of eating because it makes sense to them, and makes them feel healthier and more vibrant. As you can imagine, there are many different versions of “going raw”, and the truth is, many foods can be eaten raw without harm or detriment, and many foods are actually best for you in that form. So, if this is something that interests you, it’s always good to do the research and then check in and see what your body, heart, mind and soul are trying to tell you.

We hope you found this helpful, and that you will enjoy exploring some raw foods that feel right for you! And please note, here at The Institute for the Psychology of Eating we do NOT endorse or promote any particular diet or nutritional lifestyle, but we do believe there’s a nugget of wisdom to be found in just about any diet that’s been designed with care in mind for people and planet.

Warm Regards,

The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018

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