Organically grown living foods provide high-quality nutrition while naturally supporting both proper digestion and a well-functioning immune system. Eating these life-giving foods helps to alkalize the body, a key factor in building excellent health. When the body is in an alkaline state, it is better able to absorb nutrients and to expel toxins more efficiently. The SAD (Standard American Diet) of meat, bread, dairy products, refined/processed/cooked foods, caffeine, and alcohol creates an acidic state in the body which contributes to a variety of health problems.
“Raw” means food that is unprocessed, unrefined, and untreated with heat. The three main raw food groups are fresh fruits, vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables) and natural fats, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Raw food isn’t a radical concept; most nutritionists agree that we need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. The raw food diet simply suggests that these foods should be most of what we eat, and should be prepared in a way that maximizes nutrient content.
Eating a diet rich in fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits is the easiest way to maintain optimal health and weight. It helps you avoid the foods that have been linked to degenerative diseases and weight gain, including “bad carbs” (such as white sugar and white flour) and “bad fats” (saturated and trans-fats). Additionally, raw greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds have vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and fiber–all essential for good health. Better nutrition will not only help prevent disease and overweight, but also slow the aging process and increase energy.
Eating raw foods doesn’t need to be all or nothing. A small percentage of people eat 100% raw, but this isn’t practical for most of us. Eating even 50-75% raw foods can improve health and vitality. The main point is to increase the percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet.
Enzymes help “digest” or break down raw foods. For example, when fruits ripen, their enzymes change starches into simple sugars (which is why unripe fruit isn’t as sweet). Raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain the enzymes necessary to complete the digestion process. (The enzymes in nuts and seeds are activated through soaking them.) The importance of food enzymes in the diet is currently a subject of debate among nutritionists. What we do know is that enzymes are the most heat sensitive of all nutrients, destroyed at temperatures above 118 degrees. More and more research suggests that eating high-enzyme foods aids digestion, and that our bodies can recycle many of the enzymes in food, which means less depletion of its own store of enzymes. Eating an enzyme-rich diet is thought to increase vitality and slow the aging process.
There are good fats and bad fats. The bad fats include trans-fats, saturated animal fat, and refined polyunsaturated fats, such as the fat in refined cooking oils. The “good fats” are all the raw ones: the mono-unsaturated fats, present in avocados, almonds, and olive oil; Omega-3 fatty acids, present in hemp seeds, flax seeds and walnuts; and medium-chain saturated fatty acids, present in coconut and coconut oil. True, you don’t want to eat too much fat of any kind, but as long as you are getting enough fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, and not overeating, you don’t have to worry about including the good fats in your diet.
Protein can be found in all natural foods. Vegetables and fruits taken together have about 15% of their calories as protein. Nuts, seeds (especially hemp and sesame), nut/seed butters, dark leafy greens and sprouts, and algae (such as spirulina) are rich sources of protein. More protein is assimilated in raw foods than in cooked foods, which means you don’t need to eat quite as much protein if it’s from raw sources. Even non-vegetarians (who consume more protein), should still also add at least 50% raw foods to their diets. Once they do, non-vegetarians often find that they naturally reduce the amount of animal protein they consume.
When you make easy recipes, the raw food diet is less expensive than the Standard American Diet. True, organic fruits and vegetables cost more than conventional ones, but they are still cheaper than meat, dairy products, and processed foods. And even if organic fruits and vegetables do cost more money, the benefits to your health will save you money in the long run.
The easiest way to eat more greens is to blend them into a delicious fruit smoothie. Here is an example: 1/2 orange, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup blueberries, 2 leaves kale, and water to thin. Another example: 1/2 cup pineapple, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup spinach, and water to thin. You won’t even notice the greens.
Raw fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, so there may be an adjustment period. Fruits generally aren’t the problem–they are easy to digest, as long as you eat them in moderate amounts and on an empty stomach. As far as vegetables go, emphasize the easy-to-digest greens and vegetables at first, such as lettuce, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, red bell peppers, and green, leafy sprouts. And make sure you chew really well. Dark greens and cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, collards, cabbage, and broccoli are very nutritious (rich in protein and minerals), but can be harder to digest. Try shredding them fine and massaging them with a little sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice to soften them. Or, take greens as juices and blended soups, as you gradually adapt to eating more raw foods. You can also add your greens to blended fruit smoothies (use 60% fruit, 40% greens, and water to thin). Dehydrated green superfood powders are convenient supplements, especially while traveling.
Just because you want to eat raw doesn’t mean foods should be out-of-the-refrigerator cold. Let them come to room temperature. You can also warm soups and sauces over low heat on the stove for a couple of minutes. And drink hot teas. Getting vigorous exercise will also warm you up in the winter.
To make a raw green such as kale more palatable, cut it into really fine ribbons, and then add a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Don’t just toss it gently the way you’d toss a green salad. You want the kale to wilt, so massage the dressing into the greens with your hands. The result will be kale as soft as steamed or stir-fried, but more colorful and flavorful.
Try making a raw soup, which is like a smoothie, but with vegetables instead of fruits. Start with a lot of greens and veggies, because when you blend them down, they condense in volume. You can transport raw soup in a jar or thermos and drink it or eat it with a spoon. Also try a dip or paté, such as Not Tuna Paté, with cut up veggie sticks. You can eat this like finger food–much easier than eating a salad when you’re on the go.
When traveling, I eat lots of fresh fruits, since they don’t require preparation. I also bring a small blender with me, which takes care of a breakfast smoothie (usually orange, banana, and 2 tablespoons of one of the “green” powders on the market). Snacks are easy with all the delicious raw food bars that are available. Apples and almond butter also make a good snack. For lunch try some cut up veggies and raw flaxseed crackers (also widely available in natural food stores these days), with store-bought guacamole and salsa, or simply with some avocado or almond butter. At a restaurant for dinner, you might decide to be more flexible. Try to keep your choices as healthy as possible, avoiding red meat, fried foods, white bread, and white sugar.
Almond milk, salad dressings, patés (dips made from soaked nuts and seeds) and desserts all keep for five days in the refrigerator.
Kids need fruits and vegetables more than anyone–to be energetic and happy, to perform well in school, and to develop healthy eating habits for life. You can encourage both fruit and vegetable eating by enlisting your children’s help in preparing easy recipes, especially brightly-colored dishes and finger foods. Some kid-friendly favorites include: Green Smoothies, Crudités with Ranch Dressing, Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce, Sweet Nut’ins with Almond Milk, Mango Sorbet, and Blueberry Pie.