A diet of raw foods can be the key to optimal health and well-being
Most rehab professionals know that eating a “good diet” is important to overall health and well-being. However, what still appears to be a highly overlooked component of proper nutrition is consuming ample amounts of plant-based food in its natural form—a.k.a. raw and living foods. The purpose of this article is to help heighten awareness among rehabilitation professionals about the importance of both consuming and promoting plant-based raw and living foods as part of healthy living regimen. It will give an overview of the what, why, who, where, when and how of this dietary regimen.
What Are Raw Foods Anyway?
Raw and living foods are ones that are fresh, whole, ripe, natural (organic) and alive (not cooked), just as nature makes them. This includes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, tubers, nuts and seeds, and sprouted grains and herbs.
People who adopt this dietary regimen are often referred to as “raw fooders” or “raw foodists.” Although this article will focus on plant-based nutrition, some raw foodists choose to eat raw animal-based foods (such as meat, dairy and eggs) as well.
The term “raw and living foods” is generally reserved for those foods that have not been heated (cooked) at all; or some would suggest at least not heated above 112-118 degrees F, at which point enzymes are destroyed and many nutrients are lost or transformed into numerous mutagenic (carcinogenic) products caused by cooking that can lead to poor health and disease.1-7
Why Choose Raw Foods?
There is a simple nutritional formula: live food equals live cells, dead food equals dead cells. In exactly the same fashion that a machine will run best when supplied with the right kind of fuel for which it is designed, so too will people be able to reach their fullest living, performance and healing (rehab) potential when using the diet for which they are best suited.
It’s interesting to note that we appear to be the only species that cooks food before consuming it. Could this be one of the main reasons that we have one of the highest rates of disease and suffering among all the species on this planet?
The real question we should be asking is not “why raw foods?” but rather, “why cooked foods?” Since cooked food has been part of the culture most of us grew up with, we have been trained never to question it. However, based on the current rates of sickness and disease in America, does this diet really seem to be working?
Another “why” factor of eating raw and living foods is convenience. Our fast-paced world demands convenience. Well, these foods are the real “fast foods” nature intended for us to eat. Besides the fact that they require little if any time to prepare, they are easy to digest when eaten properly (see the “How” section below), which doesn’t inconvenience the body by distressing it.
Digestive distress has become so common in America that most people think it’s normal. Feeling good during as well as after eating should always occur. If it doesn’t, then dietary practices warrant serious reconsideration.
From both an ecological and environmental viewpoint, raw and living foods can provide a solution to many problems. Just think about how many landfills are full of things directly related to the manufacturing of cooked food (especially animal products and/or fast foods), or the cooking of food itself. Consider how many more natural reserves (fuels, land and food) could be saved and used to better benefit the masses if more people ate (as well as grew) raw and living foods?
Raw Foods: Who, When and Where
Anyone who is looking for optimal health and well-being—as well as those wishing to promote a more sustainable world—should strive to eat at least 75 percent of their dietary intake as raw and living plant-based foods. Nevertheless, good health and well-being are products of healthful living.
A good diet comprised primarily of raw and living foods is just one component. Other synergistic factors, such as adequate sleep/rest, clean water, regular exercise, plenty of fresh air and sunlight, a positive attitude and other factors shouldn’t be ignored. Although raw and living foods are an important component of good health and well-being, they should not be viewed or promoted as a cure-all or quick-fix remedy. In other words, there is no magic time or place to eat raw and living foods, other than when truly hungry and when in a safe place that allows full attention to eating mindfully.
How Should Raw Foods Be Eaten?
It’s important to understand the difference between a good diet and good nutrition. A diet is what you consume. Nutrition is the sum total of processes that enable what is consumed to be broken down, absorbed, assimilated and eliminated by your body properly.
Therefore, good nutrition is just as important as a good diet for maintaining and/or regaining optimal health and well-being. With that said, simple, easily digestible food combinations are recommended to help avoid digestive distress and ensure that the body is being properly nourished. A look to nature can help validate this point.
Although other species may eat more than one thing at a meal, their instincts don’t appear to guide them to consume everything all together at once. In other words, they eat one thing at a time until properly satiated. Doing so helps to maximize digestion as well as health. What makes modern man think that his digestive system is exempt from this natural law? This may not seem that natural. But let’s put some things in perspective. There is no way that our current eating habits and dietary regimens are even close to natural.
The following is advice said to have been given to the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty on the occasion of his 100th birthday, reflecting the fact that the ancient Chinese culture was well aware of the importance of trophology (proper food combining).
“Food and drink are relied upon to nurture life. But if one does not know that the nature of substances may be opposed to each other, and one consumes them altogether indiscriminately, the vital organs will be thrown out of harmony and disastrous consequences will soon arise. Therefore, those who wish to nurture their lives must carefully avoid doing such damage to themselves.”
To help better understand the basic nature of proper digestion, further study of trophology and/or sequential eating is recommended. 8-10
Proving the Benefits
So, where is the proof that raw and living foods are best? There is plenty of it out there, both scientific and empirical. Each day, it seems that there is more scientific literature as well as personal testimonials validating the importance of consuming raw and living foods.
However, the real question should be: Where is the proof that cooked foods are best? A book due to be released later this summer titled The Live Food Factor, 2nd Edition, by Susan Schenck, will contain many cooked vs. raw diet experiments and research plus numerous individual case studies. 11-12
Simply put, heat destroys nutrients and robs the body of vital nutrition. During the heating process, proteins become coagulated, sugars caramelize, fats become rancid, natural fibers are broken down causing them to take longer to move through the intestinal tract, 30 to 50 percent of vitamins and minerals and up to 100 percent of food enzymes are destroyed. Eating cooked food on a regular basis can deplete the body’s enzymes and drain the energy needed to maintain and repair both tissues and organ systems. Thus, it can shorten our lifespan.
After eating cooked foods, the blood immediately shows an enormous increase of white blood cells (leukocytes).13These white blood cells are a first line of defense used by the immune system after the introduction of any virulent infection or poison into the body.
However, there appears to be no multiplication of white corpuscles when uncooked food is eaten. I wonder how many people diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma-type disorders (as well as many other diseases or poor health conditions) may just be suffering partially or wholly from cooked foodism?
Challenges for Raw Foods
One challenge may be getting enough calories without overeating fatty foods. A high-fat diet, whether composed of raw natural foods or processed cooked foods, is not conducive to good health and well-being.14This means that eating plenty of high-calorie, low-fat fruits and veggies will be necessary—not doing so will lead to the overconsumption of fatty foods as the body needs a certain amount of calories each day to function properly.
The key is to get adequate calories without diminishing your health—a problem that is very common with the Standard American Diet (SAD) that is composed of mostly high-calorie, low-nutrient, cooked foods.
Another potential challenge of eating raw and living foods may be getting enough nutrients. As with all diets, eating a variety of seasonally grown foods to ensure nutritional needs are met is the key. The one big advantage that raw and living foods have over their cooked counterparts is that more usable nutrients are intact when the food is eaten. This means that more nutrients can be attained with less food eaten.
Another challenge of this dietary change can be getting over cooked-food addictions. Cooked food can act like a stimulant, and thus be addicting. The many flavors of cooked foods often come from the addition of food additives or chemicals, or from disguising these foods with spices and condiments.15
However, raw and living foods are bursting with natural flavors, so there is no need to add anything to them or disguise them. Simply put, food is meant for nourishment; and the only reward it should be used for is to satiate hunger. This doesn’t mean that eating endeavors should lack joy or pleasure. It just means that this pleasure should be the result of being properly nourished, not having the nervous, endocrine and circulatory systems over-stimulated. Transitioning to a raw and living foods diet should be done slowly, as this will help avoid cooked food binges and pitfalls.
The body may experience a short-term period of discomfort with this dietary change. The key is to recognize this for what it truly is—a change toward a higher state of health, not the opposite. All too often, many people will mistake their body’s intelligent actions as sickness or disease, and then switch back to their old diet and lifestyle that was more “comfortable.”
Physical therapists treat sick and injured people every day in the clinic. It is their job and responsibility to provide patients and clients with the best health empowering information and tools available. A raw and living plant-based food diet is one of these tools. If you still need more proof, try a little experiment with yourself for one month by including more raw and living foods in your diet. You just might be amazed at how much better you feel. The “evidence” will speak for itself.
1. Campbell, T. (2005). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. BenBella Books.
2. Nutritional Research Council. (1982). Diet, Nutrition and Cancer. National Academy Press.
9. Shelton, H. (1990). Food Combining Made Easy, 7th edition. Willow Publishing Company.
10. Chia Ming, Essential Knowledge for Eating and Drinking. 1368 AD. Accessed at http://www.tinyurl.com/5kg7r7
11. Schenck, S. (2008 pending). The Live Food Factor, 2nd Edition.
13. Kouchakoff, P. (1930). The Influence of Cooking Food on the Blood Formula of Man. First International Congress of Microbiology. Paris.
15. Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life. Health Press UK, 2006.
Vol. 19 •Issue 18 • Page 40 (Aug 2008)
Advacnce for Physical Therapists & PT Assistants
Samuel A. Mielcarski is an expert in the field of rehabilitation. He is currently licensed as a physical therapist in Georgia and Florida and practices physical therapy in the Atlanta, GA, region. He is the creator of the “Revolutionary Rehab Manual” and can be reached via his Website at www.DrSamPT.com