Monday, July 18, 2011

More Raw Foods

I have been reading  a lot about raw vegan diets over the past several weeks.  The best so far have been Becoming Raw by Davis and Molina, Raw Food Controversies by Frederic Patenaude, 80-10-10 Diet by Douglas Graham and World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle.  I have provided links to all these books in my book list on this blog.  Each of these books provide unique perspectives on raw food eating styles.

My next several posts will provide my analysis, pro and con, of raw vegan diets.  It is unlikely that I will go for 100% raw.  First, I have concluded that a Nutritarian approach (Dr. Joel Fuhrman) is really ideal for excellent health and it is supported by thorough research.  Dr. Fuhrman focuses on high nutrient, low calorie foods with a concentration on vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, together with fresh fruit, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds.  He recommends a mix of cooked and raw foods, which, as it turns out means that it is hard to eat less than 50% of raw foods by volume.  I have been at about 60-70% raw for the past few months.  My typical day will be a green smoothie in the morning, a large salad for lunch, perhaps with a whole wheat tortilla or pita, and some soup or other cooked vegan food for dinner.  I feel excellent on this diet, am full of energy and seem to recover well from my workouts.  For more information about a sample day follow this link to my Training Blog.

Raw whole foods are very easy on the digestion.  I can drink a green smoothie an hour or so before my bike training, for example, and the meal doesn't affect my performance on the bike.  Green smoothies are also excellent recovery drinks after a workout.

There are pros and cons to a high raw diet.  On the plus side, eating raw is very natural for humans.  Some raw foodists claim that humans were designed to eat mainly fruit.  Today, many raw foodists on a 100% raw diet will eat something like 75-80% fruit, 10-20% raw vegetables and the rest from a small amount of raw nuts/seeds.  The major three advantages of a raw diet are 1. the diet eliminates the foods that cause illnesses - processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar and meat/dairy, 2) eliminates the problems with cooking foods, and 3) the diet is very rich in disease preventing nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants.  

Some raw foodists claim that cooking foods creates toxins and diminishes the nutritional value of foods.  The research indicates that is is partially true.  Charcoal grilled meat, for example, does produce harmful toxins.  But, on the other end of the spectrum, lightly steamed vegetables are healthy, and soups that are loaded with vegetables are very healthy.  Also cooked sweet potatoes are also a very good choice.  So, to me, the ideal diet is one with over 50% of volume from raw foods and foods that are cooked should be high nutrient foods, cooked lightly.  If vegetables are cooked, they should ideally be steamed for optimal health.  As I said, for me the optimal combo seems to be 60-70% raw and 30-40% cooked all of which are high in nutritional value and low in calories.  Nuts and seeds are excellent foods, although they are not low in calories and they are high in fat.  Nuts and seeds should be eaten in small amounts, maybe 1-2 ounces per day.

One of the main questions about a mostly raw whole foods plant-based diet is "Where do you get your protein?"  In fact, human protein needs are quite low (see The China Study).  Humans seem to very nicely on protein (preferably from plant sources) composing no more than 10% of calories.  This is easily achieved on a high raw whole foods plant-based diet.  For several years, I have done very well on a diet that rarely exceeds 10% of calories from only plant proteins.

The main challenges of a high raw whole foods plant-based diet are that 1) it is a hard transition for many people, 2) eating this way poses challenges for one's social life, and 3) nutritional deficiencies can occur unless the diet is well planned.  Potential deficiencies include vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega 3 fats.  I will say more about these risks in future posts.

Most people will want to transition to this eating style slowly.  I have found, with regards to social life, that those around me eventually have adjusted to my style of eating, my ordering approach in restaurants, my choice of restaurants, and planning for travel.  This eating style is very natural for me now.  My family and friends have adjusted.

I am convinced that a high raw whole foods plant-based diet will lead to excellent health, prevention of disease and, in some cases, reversal of disease.  I will be saying much more about raw foods in some upcoming posts.

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