When people say they are incorporating raw food into their diet do you picture salads and raw veggies? The first time I made a meal and proclaimed it to be 100% raw and vegan my husband turned up his nose… he later had a smile on his face as he dove in for a second plate. More folks are turning to raw products or are increasing the raw foods in their diet, but what does that mean?

By definition, raw food is uncooked, unprocessed, and typically organic. Most raw foods are made of vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Some people also sprout whole grains and legumes and/or eat unpasteurized dairy such as raw milk, cheese and yogurt. Uncooked means more than not cooking in a pan. Uncooked to the raw foodies means that the food has never been above 110 (some go up to 120) degrees Fahrenheit. This would include how it was made as well as its packaging process, transportation and storage. This temperature restriction ensures that the natural enzymes present in the food in its raw form are still active when you sit down to enjoy it. Temperatures above this restriction denature the natural enzymes that are in raw food so you only have the enzymes produced by your digestive system available to you during your metabolism and breakdown of what you have eaten. This low temperature may also protect the good probiotic bacteria available in the food. Probiotic bacteria help promote a healthy digestive system by colonizing the colon making the environment inhospitable for pathogens. Probiotic bacteria also enhance systemic and intestinal immune functions and keep the intestinal lining healthy.

Increasing your intake of raw foods is considered very healthy. A 100% Raw Food diet has its proponents and naysayers. The proponents tout the many nutritional gains like the increased enzymes in raw foods to aid digestion, the fact that many cooking methods decrease vitamin content, and that sprouting actually increases the vitamin content of foods. In the book Survival into the 21st Century, author Viktoras Kulvinskas estimates that overall nutrient destruction cooking can be as high as 80%. Most of the vitamins lost during cooking processes are the water soluble vitamins riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid and Vitamin C.

Eating a raw food diet however does have its drawbacks. For one, eating raw can increase the risk of becoming ill due to food borne pathogens that are normally killed by high cooking temperatures. Cooking can decrease water soluble vitamin content as mentioned but it does also help to decrease the effects of phytates, oxalates, tannins and other so called anti-nutrients that bind to vitamins in foods and make the vitamins less absorbed. For example, cooking tomatoes for thirty minutes decreases the vitamin C level about one-third; however, it doubles the available concentration of the antioxidant lycopene (Dewanto V, 2002). Soaking grains, nuts, tubers, seeds and beans is the raw foodies answer to decreasing phytates and other anti-nutrients. According to the WestonPrice.org website soaking quinoa for 12-24 hours decreases the phytate concentration three times more than cooking alone.

I’m not a 100% raw foodie, but I try to incorporate both raw and fermented foods into my diet daily. Some raw foods are easy to add; it’s as simple as adding more raw fruit and vegetables into your diet either as snacks, salads, juices or smoothies. More complex raw recipes may require soaking and then making a meal using a blender, food processor or dehydrator. Don’t let that stop you however, I have found many great family friendly recipes using simple spiraled zucchini instead of noodles (great with pesto sauce!) or “cheese” appetizers made from soaked nuts and eaten with fresh veggies. Whatever your food choice have fun and experiment.