Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Raw Food Diet – How Does it Compare?

Some years ago I was introduced to the idea that all truth runs through the tapestry of life like a red thread.  And that if we follow the red thread we will always see just how interwoven all belief systems really are . . .

So today I would like to demonstrate this concept and show just how much all of these seemingly contradictory viewpoints on food really do have in common. 

It’s my hope that in doing this you will find more help in sorting out what makes sense to you in your own diet for your own health. 

In my way of thinking, that common red thread contains the basis for all healthy eating plans, then the rest is up to you and your body to design, perfect, tweak and sculpt until you have created that beautiful work of art called health!

So let’s dive in and get started!  You will find the common thread, you guessed it, in red.

Raw Foods and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at the body and the strength or weakness of organs in a much different way that our traditional Western Medicine approach.  This system believes that you can become to dry, too damp, too cold or too hot and that these imbalances are at the root of your health issues.  So eating too much raw food could cause a body to become too cold or too damp or even worse, both cold and damp!

This system regards your diet as a vital part of creating balance and harmony in your body and is just as essential as taking herbs, receiving acupuncture or living in harmony with nature.

In fact, TCM takes the approach that living in harmony with nature includes eating local, seasonal foods.  So the diet would include more raw foods in the late spring through the early fall when fresh veggies and fruits are in their prime, growing vigorously in gardens and orchards, just waiting to be picked and sometimes eaten right on the spot in the warm sunshine of your garden.  TCM looks at these seasons differently – they are associated with green, growing, vibrant, warm or hot – so this is the time to consume foods that will create a balance in the body. 

Since the late fall through early spring lacks these qualities, the body would be deficient and to bring it into balance with nature, it’s good to eat more fresh foods that provide more moisture, more vital energy to your body.  Foods that would harmonize your body with the season – so hot days that result in lots of perspiration (loss of water) require foods that replenish the water and cool the body to keep it from losing too many vital fluids. 

It’s easy to picture that process . . . just thinking about cucumbers, berries, cherries, melons, summer squashes, tomatoes, tender and crisp baby greens, bell peppers and fresh (as opposed to dried) snappy beans and peas are so appealing that it can make your mouth water!

The concept of adding more vital energy to the body is in complete alignment with the Raw Food Movement.  This idea that really fresh, high quality, locally grown food contains more energy than imported foods that were picked before they were ripe, hauled across the country or even across many countries, is actually supported by laboratory science as well.  It seems that foods at their peak of freshness contain the highest levels of vitamins and minerals – the very “ingredients” necessary for our bodies to repair and regenerate healthy cells, tissues, organs and glandular systems.

Raw Foods and Ayurvedic Doshas 

Ayurvedic Medicine organizes folks into doshas – or body types – and into time periods in your life that are associated with these doshas.  They are Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  Vata folks are the watery types, Pitta the fiery types and Kapha the earthy types.  And the time periods look something like this – birth to about age 8-11 is a more Kapha stage of life where the most physical growth takes place; while roughly age 11-45 is a Pitta stage of life that is ruled by hormones; and from about 45 through the end of your life is a Vata stage of life ruled by the esoteric and wiser aspects of your days on earth.  So according your primary dosha, the time of your life and your balance or imbalances, you would eat foods that are warming, cooling, damp or drying to rebalance your body.  Since most raw foods fall into the cooling or sweet category, they must be used carefully so as not to upset the delicate balance. 

However, the Kapha and Pitta stages of life and the Pitta dosha would be the biggest consumers of raw foods – but then so would a Vata woman experiencing the fiery flashes of menopause!

Similar to the TCM way of thinking about food, Ayurveda seeks balance and harmony from within.  You can imagine that if you are eating piles of stimulating, sugary, caffeine laden, spicy foods while in your “fiery” stage of life, sparks could fly! 

This is what I believe that PJ – the owner of Peace Pies – was referring to when he so elegantly laid out his philosophical reasons for starting his restaurant.   It was his intention to bring about a change in consciousness by serving folks fresh, raw, clean, vibrant and healthy foods.  His belief is that by eating one of his “peaceful” foods that it would create a sense of peace in the minds and hearts of those eating it – thus fostering peace.

I think that without fully realizing it, these 2 philosophical systems of eating collide on this point and are in complete harmony – the very point of both dietary guidelines!  And if you do just a bit of research the folks who started these movements were in their “angsty” twenties at the time and those who are the staunchest supporters are generally young people in their late teens through mid 30’s.  It makes sense from an Ayurvedic perspective – after all this is their “fiery” time of life . . . filled with passion and hormones and a fire for life.  These foods would ground them, cool them off and help them think more clearly. 

So a diet that contains more raw foods during the Pitta phase of life, or for a person that has a Pitta dosha, could really create more harmony any way you choose to look at it!

Raw Foods and the Japanese Macrobiotic Diet 

According to the Macrobiotic Diet – a Japanese diet that considers the yin (the characteristic of expansion) and yang (the characteristic of contraction) of foods to maintain balance – the diet should consist of local foods that are prepared in quite specific ways to release the maximum number of nutrients.  Cooking is paramount in this style of food prep and eating.  This diet stresses eating locally and seasonally and includes many grains, fish, seaweed, vegetables and legumes with nuts, seeds and oils comprising a very small part of the diet. 

Because a great many grains are consumed the practice of long soaking times is common.  Many of the fresh foods are either naturally fermented or pickled in an attempt to increase the number of probiotic-rich foods in the diet. 

Most people who follow the Macrobiotic Diet, avoid or severely restrict tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, beets, spinach, avocados and zucchini.  While these foods are considered inflammatory in nature, brown rice is a staple because it is claimed to be the most balanced food, containing equal amounts of yin and yang properties.

Both seasonal and regional aspects are considered in a Macrobiotic Diet.  For instance in a tropical region or during very hot weather more expansive, or yin, foods are consumed, things like in watery fruits and vegetables.  These types of foods naturally flourish in hot climates, so they would harmonize the body to the weather conditions.  Where more root vegetables, which are yang in their nature, are consumed in cold weather – and are naturally able to be grown and stored in cooler climates.

Due to the seasonal nature of the Macrobiotic Diet, more fresh foods are consumed during the late spring through early fall (much like the TCM and Ayurvedic Diets).  In other words, foods that naturally grow in the garden, on a bush or on a tree in your area, and can be consumed in the season are the optimum choices to keep your body in balance with nature.

Macrobiotic principles would strongly suggest that when you are in harmony with nature, your whole self is more likely to be in harmony.  This is also a similar philosophical idea behind the Raw Food Movement. 

Another important part of Macrobiotic eating is soaking and sprouting of nuts, seeds and grains.  The thinking behind this is the same as in a Raw Foods Diet . . . soaking and sprouting makes the foods easier to digest.

Yet another similarity between Macrobiotic and Raw Foods Diets is the incorporation of fermented foods.  Both of these styles of eating highly recommend consuming at least 1 serving per day of a naturally fermented food to enhance digestion and increase the immune system. 

Both Raw and Macrobiotic meals are created with the freshest, natural, and whenever possible organic ingredients.

Recipes are prepared with plant and seed oils and are free of refined sugars as well as other refined foods.  

The goal of both eating styles is to provide balance, clear thinking and an overall sense of inner and outer harmony.

Raw Foods and the Paleo Diet 

The newest eating plan that has garnered many enthusiasts is the Paleo Diet . . . one that looks suspiciously like the Atkins Diet with added veggies!  This “caveman” diet leans heavily toward animal proteins, higher fat contents, limited fruits and no grains or legumes.   So as you can see, this diet, in most ways is the antithesis of a Vegan Raw Food diet!  However, their approach claims to increase your muscle to fat ratio while decreasing overall inflammation.  This approach would scoff at the idea that you can obtain enough protein through plant-based sources alone and that real muscle definition (as in ultra-lean body builders) requires a much higher protein content.

The Paleo folks would also take exception to the sheer number of fruit sweetened desserts and nut filled sweets that seem to be a big part of the Raw Food Diet.  They would shun all the sweet tropical fruit smoothies, puddings, energy balls, raw cookies, pies and nut filled crusts.  These foods would never find a place in the Paleo Diet lineup!

However, there are areas of intersection where these seemingly divergent eating styles find common ground.

Both diets are high in “good” fats . . . avocados, coconut oil, unprocessed oils from seeds and nuts.  Both believe that these good, healthy fats contribute to the creation of healthy cell membranes.  They also both shun processed oils.

Within the Paleo Diet, large amounts of low glycemic, raw vegetables are considered a staple of your dinner plate.  This would include dark, leafy greens, fresh tomatoes and all other sorts of salad ingredients.  Both Paleo and Raw Food enthusiasts agree that the fresher the better when it comes to your produce and that naturally grown, unprocessed and organic is always the best for your body.

Both eating styles agree that naturally fermented veggies, like sauerkraut, Kim Chi, and Kvass are great ways to enhance digestion.  For the Raw Foodies that are not vegan – both agree that dairy products like goat and sheep’s milk are best fermented and turned into yogurt or cheese.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, most Raw Foodies today are both Gluten and Grain Free.  This is in complete alignment with the Paleo enthusiasts since they eliminate all grains from their diet.

While Paleo Dieters eat fewer fruits than their Raw Food counterparts, they both agree that within the fruit kingdom, berries reign supreme!  These antioxidant rich, high fiber, low glycemic fruits are also high in vitamins, minerals and packed with flavor!

The goal of both Raw and Paleo Dieters is to build a healthier, stronger, leaner body.  In other words a body that works for you rather than against you.

In Summary There Are More Similarities Than Differences

While on the surface it appeared that each of these diets, and their followers, had little in common, right?  But by looking for the similarities, that common red thread, you find that the basic truths of all of these ways of eating and living are very basic . . .

  • Eat fresh, local, organic and seasonal produce . . . and the fresher the better! 
  • When it comes to fruit – Berries are Best!
  • Any seeds or nuts that are consumed are best soaked, or soaked and sprouted. 
  • Eating fermented foods daily improves your digestion while giving your immune system a boost.
  • Packaged, refined and processed foods are to be completely avoided.
  • Remove refined white sugar from your diet.
  • Redirecting your food to a more natural system changes your body, creates more harmony and results in a body that works for you rather than against you.

Become the Chief Designer of Your Own Diet!
So now you can build on these by “cherry picking” the remainder of your foods, your approach to eating and find what really suits your body.  You may find that your best diet is a hybrid of 2 or 3 of these diets . . . you may be a Grain-Free/Macrobiotic/Vegan, or a Raw Veggie Lovin/Paleo, or an Ayurvedic/Seasonal Eating Macrobiotic, or a TCM/Mostly Raw Foods lover.  It may take a little experimentation and a little time and effort, but you will find what works best for YOU and your own body.

This I do know, some raw veggies and fruits, some fermented foods and some love and creativity in putting them together can create a meal that just may change your picture of health, relax your body and create a more peaceful mindset . . . you might actually have an existential meal of your own!


Dr. P


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