Friday, June 29, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Raw Foods - Part 3, The Downside of a Raw Food DIet

Have you ever had documents just disappear?  Well it seems that yesterday's post was invisible, so I'm re-writing and re-posting my article . . .

You may recall that in my first post in this series, I mentioned that not everyone agrees with the concepts in the principles of a Raw Food Diet, especially in a Vegan Raw Food Diet!   People who eat according to their dosha in Ayurvedic Medicine, their meridian type in Traditional Chinese Medicine, those who follow a Macrobiotic Diet, and those following the latest diet craze, the Paleo Diet would not agree to a total or even mostly raw food or vegan diet. 

Some of the objections to a raw food diet
Some of the claims that are at the very core beliefs and philosophies of the Raw Revolution do not hold up to scientific scrutiny.  

  • One of the basic premises behind the diet is that there are active and live enzymes on raw foods that assist us in the digestive process.  However, these enzymes never make it through the stomach acids during the initial phases of digestion.

  • Raw foodists believe that foods in their natural, raw state are easier to digest but that is not actually true.  The fiber content of raw foods is higher than most cooked foods because they have not been altered.  While this is great for the friendly bacteria in the gut, it does actually  make many foods harder to digest. 

  • Another of the claims by raw foodists is that heating anything over 110 degrees (and this temperature does vary between 99 and 110 depending upon who you speak with) destroys many valuable vitamins in our foods, rendering them much less healthful.  While it is true that Vitamin C is temperature sensitive, most others are not.  In fact, some of the beta-carotenes like lutein and lycopene need to be heated to become bio-available.  So foods like kale and tomatoes, while nutritious raw, actually contain nutrients that are more bio-available when cooked.

It should be noted that some methods of cooking are, of course, much better than others!  Steaming (with the lid on), boiling (lower temperatures are better), pressure cooking (a favorite of the Macrobiotic Diet), slow roasting and one of my personal favorites – the steam-sauté are all great options for cooking your foods.  While exposing them to open flames (sorry all you grill enthusiasts – more about your options in a later post), frying and deep fat frying are all methods that should be avoided!

In addition to these more science-based nutritional points, there are some others I consider worth pointing out . . .

  • Eating seasonally is a very important aspect to many, and I agree – especially in cooler or cold climates!  If you noticed most of the successful raw food programs operate in locations that are very tropical or sub-tropical.  That means that it’s warm outside!  As temperatures soar it’s typical for our bodies to crave cooling, damp, juicy, raw foods!  Who doesn’t think that an ice-cold slice of watermelon is the perfect treat after a long, hot stint of working in the yard?  But that same icy cold slice of watermelon on a day that reaches the balmy high temperature of 27 degrees is downright unappealing – because the very sound of it sends a chill running through your body!

It was not only my medical training, but my own personal experience that taught me that while the summer is a perfect time to experiment with an all or mostly raw food diet in nearly every part of the northern hemisphere – that it is not such a great idea in colder climates!  This idea is just plain logical . . . the cooler the weather the warmer the food should be to create balance in our bodies.

You may recall from some of my earlier posts that I am a chai tea lover.  But I spent last summer in the raging heat of Dallas, Texas where temperatures soared well over 100, breaking all records and stayed that way for over 100 days!  So the only chai tea I craved was chai tea granita!  My body craved salads, juicy fruit, coconut water, smoothies, raw juices and I even developed a whole line of popsicles, granitas, non-dairy ice crèmes and all manner of frozen treats.  I woke up every morning craving a peach detox popsicle or a green smoothie!  And by lunchtime I was ready for a big salad filled with greens and raw veggies and my dessert cravings included watermelon granita or lemon sorbet - for heaven’s sake I rarely even wanted chocolate!

But as summer finally turned into fall and we experienced a very welcomed respite from the heat with a wave of cold rain, my cravings changed with it.  I ate so much kale (steamed, roasted, boiled and baked) and so many baked sweet potatoes that it’s a miracle I didn’t emerge this spring with skin that had turned green with orange polka dots!  I could barely talk myself into a raw salad! 

I did find that during those chilly winter months that the raw food items I did enjoy most were dehydrated.  Things like kale chips (I know more kale) soaked and dehydrated nuts, dehydrated flax seed crackers, and some fresh winter citrus fruits – especially those organic Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit! 

To sum up the biggest “downside” of the Raw Foods Diet, I would say that it does not take seasonal temperature differences into consideration.  This can create quite an imbalance in the body. 

A few of the others are that it:
  • Lacks diversity because not all veggies can or should be eaten raw
  • Places too much emphasis on dried, or really sweet fruits and sweets in general
  • Fats are also limited primarily to coconut, avocado and nuts, shunning choline-rich butter, ghee and egg yolks that I believe are important to feed the brain
  • It is a very time consuming method of food preparation and requires a great deal of planning to execute a well-balanced meal

I also believe that not every diet works for every person – we are all wonderfully unique and that diversity extends to the food we eat as well as how it’s prepared.  So tomorrow I will wind up this series with a closer look at how some of the other diets I mentioned earlier in this post view the Raw Food Diet.  

Because I'm now behind by a day, later today I'll be posting an article I'm preparing that explores both the differences and the common threads that run through them all in an effort to help you sort out just what's right for your own body!

Until then,

Dr. P


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