13 years ago by
While it's still a tiny niche group that eats largely or exclusively raw, curiosity about raw food is on the rise.
Most raw foodists are vegans who don't eat animal protein or food heated above 118 degrees because cooking destroys enzymes and depletes nutrients. Many believe eating the SAD or Standard American Diet makes people tired and sluggish.
They say raw foods have the perfect mix of enzymes for complete digestion, whereas when food is heated the body has to produce extra enzymes to break down such "dead foods." (And our enzyme supply decreases as we age.)
Once viewed as fringe lunatics going back to the days before fire, raw foodists are ever more mainstream.
The movement is most active in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but Seattle has a thriving scene, with a community of around 500 people and an increasing number of restaurants, markets and raw products.
Dr. Mehmet Oz talked up raw food on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," pointing to a BBC show that put nine people on a raw-food diet (11 pounds of fruits and veggies a day) for 12 days. The participants lost an average of 10 pounds, had a 25 percent drop in cholesterol levels, and a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.
Studies show that diets high in raw fruits and vegetables offer protection from ailments including colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. It's clear that most Americans aren't eating enough produce -- raw or cooked -- and that most could benefit from a higher raw fruit and veggie intake. But, to many, going totally raw sounds extreme.
Some say fire separates us from other animals. We hominims have been cooking for about 200,000 years, and perhaps as many as 1.5 million years.
So, why do people go raw?
It's simple: Raw foodists say they feel better and healthier than ever, and that chronic sickness often disappears. Sandra Culver began as a skeptic, wondering how people could "live on salad." Like many, she tried raw food for health reasons two years ago, and said her asthma promptly disappeared. Previously, she had used an inhaler daily and made emergency room trips about twice a year.
"The more I eat it, the better I feel," said Culver, a mother of two, who used to love baking and cooking. "I've lost 40 pounds. People say I look better than I did 15 years ago."
Socially, it's not always easy being raw. It can be challenging to eat at restaurants, on vacation or at family gatherings. "Sometimes people tease you or they say not-so-nice things. I got all kinds of reactions, but now there's more interest," said Helen Sun, who has been raw for more than eight years.
Raw foodists say their palates get rewired and they rarely miss cooked food. In fact, many say their taste becomes very simple, and they eat "monomeals" -- such as bananas for breakfast, or romaine lettuce for lunch.
Raw foodists also often have to combat the perception that the food is unappealing and boring.
Raw foodists hear that their diet, lacking meat or dairy, doesn't yield enough protein or calcium. They counter that some of the foods richest in amino acids and calcium are plant-based -- and raw. And, they say, the higher nutrient content of these foods means people get full more easily and do not overeat. (Others say they eat more than ever to fill up.)
Nutritionists say there are plenty of amino acids in raw foods, but our bodies don't necessarily absorb them as readily. For example, some veggies might have higher calcium than milk, but calcium is more bioavailable in milk because its proteins aid calcium absorption.
Dr. Roger Clemens, a spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition, said eating raw foods can be a safety concern because of bacteria, parasites and cross-contamination of food. "The reality is our bodies are not made to digest raw meat. But if you put fire to food like meat, that actually improves the digestibility and the stability, and also improves the flavor," said Clemens, a professor at the University of Southern California. Plus, it's not practical on a large scale.
Raw foods are probably fine for small groups, Clemens said, but he'd encourage raw foodists to consider B12 and vitamin D supplements. (from many sources)
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