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In our health-conscious society, fad diets sprout up everywhere. Each seems to generate cure-all miracle claims and a growing number of devotees as well as critics. And while it may not be the newest diet craze, the raw food movement is on the rise. But how healthy is it?
The benefits of a raw food diet really depend on a number of factors. For many people, though, eating 100 percent raw over the long term can stress digestion and cause weakness.
The basic premise of this type of diet maintains that raw foods in their whole, natural form provide the enzymes necessary for digestion and vibrant health. Raw food enthusiasts claim that cooking destroys these natural enzymes along with many of the other important nutrients in whole, unprocessed food. By eating raw, you get an abundance of naturally occurring enzymes that are said to enhance and improve digestion while leading to better absorption of the food’s other beneficial nutrients. Raw food enthusiasts claim the diet is better for health because your cells enjoy access to the nutrients they need 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 All
Everybody has unique dietary needs based on their health, constitution, lifestyle, etc. It is significant to note that the raw food movement is more successful and popular among those who live 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 likely weaken significantly if he “goes raw” over the long term.
Pros And Cons Of Cooked Food
Certain nutrients are proven to be more readily absorbed when 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 many of their compounds that would otherwise pass through the digestive tract undigested.
On the other hand, science has shown that overcooking many foods — especially meats — is unhealthy. Overdone foods contain chemicals such as acrylamide that contribute to inflammation and cancer.
The best cooking methods are light steaming or sautéing without overcooking at high temperatures. These methods can help make 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 for long periods.
The Enzyme Debate
While raw foodists claim that enzymes from raw foods are critical for proper digestion, other dietary experts assert that the body naturally produces the enzymes necessary for digestion and does not need to obtain them from food. Critics claim that the amount of enzymes found in raw food 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 our typical processed food diets, many people are enzyme-deficient and can benefit from taking supplemental digestive enzymes. Enzyme supplements are typically designed to survive the stomach-acid environment and release their digestive 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 more than others.
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 enzymes, herbs and nutrients can help improve health in a number of ways. I recommend a specific digestive formula which integrates the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan herbal medicine and naturopathic approaches to improve nutrient assimilation, enhance digestive function and ease digestive discomfort. This formula contains necessary digestive enzymes, including amylase, alpha-galactosidase, protease, phytase, invertase and lipase. These assist in food breakdown and the absorption of nutrients. In addition, zinc and chromium support digestive function. The herbs in the formula (including pomegranate, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom) work together to strengthen the digestive system and promote healthy liver function.
Everything In Moderation
There isn’t one type of diet that is the magical formula for vibrant health, nor does one type of diet work for everybody. While the raw diet may have nutritional drawbacks for some 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 in this case.
The best dietary advice is to maintain well-rounded eating habits that incorporate a balance of healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables to give you the nutrients your body and mind need for optimal health and well-being. For more practical health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.