New diet trends are sprouting up everywhere, complete with cure-all claims for any number of health and cosmetic issues. Proponents of these diets often tout benefits such as renewed vitality, joyfulness and beauty, a reversal of life threatening diseases, and improvements in health right down to the genetic level. And while it may not be the latest health movement, the raw food diet is one that continues to gain followers seeking to jump-start their health, beauty, detox and weight loss regimens.
But how healthy is a 100% raw food diet?
The benefits of a raw food diet depend on a number of factors. For many people, though, eating 100% raw over the long term can stress digestion and cause overall weakness.
The basic premise of this type of diet maintains that raw foods in their whole, unprocessed form provide the enzymes and nutrients necessary for digestion and vibrant health. Raw food enthusiasts assert that cooking food above 104° F destroys these natural enzymes, along with many of the other important nutrients. By eating raw, you get an abundance of naturally occurring enzymes that are believed to enhance digestion, allowing for better absorption of the food’s phytonutrients. Raw food enthusiasts claim the diet is better for health because your cells enjoy access to an abundance of vital nutrients from pure, unadulterated food.
Ancient Wisdom Perspectives
From the point of view of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, the raw food philosophy is not completely accurate. These ancient traditions assert that cooking food actually breaks down nutrients so that they are more easily digestible and available for the body to use. These traditions also state that eating cooked food protects the digestive capacity (“digestive fire”) of the body.
With all the contradictory dietary advice out there, it’s no wonder people may be confused about which diet is best for them.
One Size Does Not Fit Most
Everybody has unique dietary needs based on their health, constitution, lifestyle, etc. Note that the raw food movement is more successful and popular in warmer climates such as Hawaii, Florida and Southern California. This correlates with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, which assert that raw foods have a “cooling” effect on the body. So someone with a lot of inflammation or heat may find balance with a raw foods diet. In contrast, someone who feels cold all the time can become very weak if they “go raw” over the long term.
Pros and Cons of Cooked Food
Research shows that certain nutrients in foods are actually more absorbable and bioavailable when the food is cooked. For example, lycopene, the antioxidant found in tomatoes and other foods, is most bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked. Many vegetables (such as kale, spinach, onions and garlic) are also more nutritious when cooked. Light cooking releases and makes available many of the nutritional compounds that would otherwise pass through the digestive tract.
On the other hand, overcooking many foods — especially meats — is shown to be very unhealthy. Overdone meats and overcooked starchy foods produce chemicals such as acrylamide that can contribute to inflammation and cancer.
The best cooking methods are light steaming or sautéing, without overcooking at high temperatures. These methods can help make certain nutrients in the food more available and easier to absorb, without causing many of the harmful chemical reactions that occur in foods cooked at high temperatures or for long periods.
The Enzyme Debate
Raw food enthusiasts state that enzymes from raw foods are critical for proper digestion. However, other dietary experts assert that the body naturally produces the enzymes necessary for digestion and doesn’t need to obtain them from food. Some critics claim that the amount of enzymes found in raw foods have not been shown to drastically improve digestion or boost the levels of natural enzymes in the body.
However, it is important to note that with today’s fast-paced lifestyles and processed food diets, many people are enzyme-deficient and can benefit from supplements that support digestive enzyme production. Enzyme supplements are designed to survive the stomach acid environment and release their benefits once they reach the small intestines, where most nutrient absorption occurs. Enzymes are important whether you eat a raw food diet or a processed food diet, for similar reasons: We all need extra digestive support — some of us more than others. However, many enzyme supplements are so strong that the body’s own enzyme production may slow down, or stop altogether – not good. So it’s important to find the right balance.
Healthy Digestion: The Foundation Of Vitality
Whether you choose a raw food diet, a cooked food diet or a balance between the two, optimal digestive support with a small amount of natural enzymes, together with targeted herbs and nutrients can help support health in a number of ways.*
ecoNugenics Integrative Digestive Formula® contains a small amount of digestive enzymes: amylase, alpha-galactosidase, protease, phytase, invertase and lipase, together with targeted herbs and nutrients. This unique formula works to support the body’s own enzyme production systems and help rebuild long-term digestive health. Pomegranate, cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cardamom, and other synergistic ingredients in the formula also work to support nutrient assimilation, ease occasional digestive discomfort such as gas, nausea or acid indigestion; and promote optimal digestive function, naturally.*
There isn’t one type of diet that guarantees optimal vibrant health, nor does one type of diet work for everybody. While the raw diet may have nutritional drawbacks for people with weaker digestion, it can also provide benefits from its abundance of fresh produce. Once again, the old adage of “everything in moderation” may be applied.
The best dietary advice is to take your individual health goals into account and implement well-rounded eating habits that incorporate a balance of healthy fats, high quality protein, complex carbohydrates, colorful fruits and plenty of vegetables. By emphasizing nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods and choosing organic whenever possible, you supply the critical nutrients your body and mind need for optimal health and well-being.