Raw foods – unsurprisingly – are foods that have not been cooked! They include fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, & herbs, as well as some grains and spices.
Most heated food is considered “cooked” and not raw… Yes, it’s that simple! Or is it? Many define “cooked” as the temperature where food enzymes (eg. ability to sprout and grow), heat-sensitive vitamins and mineral compounds, and phytonutrients begin to break down. Nutrients that are useful to humans survive heat up to around 37ºC (100°F – body temperature). Most raw foodists consider 46ºC – 48ºC (116°F – 118ºF) to be the maximum threshold for nutrition retention, while some prefer to stick closer to body temperature – or what temperature is comfortable on the skin – around 40ºC – 42ºC max.
The theory is…
Raw foods contain more of the vital nutrients our bodies need to flourish. Humans evolved to eat raw food, just like all other animals of the planet consume raw food rather than cooking food. Since the advent of cooking and humans making fire, our digestive systems haven’t had the opportunity to change.
Raw foods also have a higher water content than cooked foods. Maximising hydration is considered an important factor of raw food diets, which is why some raw foodists prefer to use a dehydrator less and less as time goes on (it is a useful appliance to make “raw” crackers and bread and dried fruit snacks).
Maximising the intake of phytonutrients is an important factor contributing to the success of raw diets. These vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in raw plants – both known and still being discovered by science – are necessary for humans and other animals to thrive. Eating primarily raw food generally means you are getting a higher concentration of phytonutrients and other heat-sensitive nutrients in your diet.
Living foods – which are sometimes differentiated from basic uncooked raw food – may contain greater amounts of vital nutrients and enzyme activity created through soaking, sprouting, blending, & culturing. eg. sauerkraut, plant (eg. nut & seed) cheeses & yoghurts.
Raw foodists are generally considered to be people who eat a diet containing mostly raw food (by weight &/0r calories) – so at least 51%, although many consider 75% to be a better cut-off. While 51% – 75% raw may not sound very high, most people will be surprised at how much raw food is required to reach just this level when measuring by calories & weight: raw food is usually lower in empty calories & lighter than cooked food! For a start, no cooking means no processed starches, no processed sugars, & no cooking oils.
High raw means the raw foodie is eating between 80% & 100% raw on any given day. & 100% raw? Fairly self-explanatory! Although often it’s 99.9% rounded off, due to some form of supplement or the use minute amounts of spices, dried herbs, or vanilla extract, etc… It can get a bit pedantic! Personally I think a raw foodist can be anyone who eats mostly raw food most of the time, who appreciates/understands the nutrition aspects.
Special Raw Kitchen Gadgets?
The only thing you really need is a good knife and chopping board! Raw is supposed to be about simplifying and the essentials of life, after all!
However, if you want to expand your recipe repertoire beyond the basics to include “gourmet raw” or make food prep quick and easy, a good blender – top of the line such as a Vitamix, BlendTec, Tribest, or the best of the Sunbeam Café Series – is essential to preparing gourmet raw cuisine. A tough-but-cheap food processor and masticating juicer (like Champion) are less essential but handy to have as well.
I prefer not to use a dehydrator except for a few odds and ends, including flaxbread occasionally. More hydration = better! If you want a dehydrator for raw food prep, you’ll need one with adjustable and low temperature settings. You can also use an oven that has low temperature settings, but it wastes a heck of a lot of electricity! If you live in a hot climate with dry heat (not humidity), you can also use the sun as a dehydrator.
100% Raw? High Raw? Or Anything-so-long-as-it’s-Vegan?
I agree with raw-friendly qualified nutritionists that a vegan diet – including cooked foods and low in fat – is the best, first step to great health, and that increasing raw foods in one’s diet further down the track is the next step to improving health and reducing one’s impact on the environment and animals – less packaging, less waste, less energy used in food preparation, reduced reliance on grain monocultures, etc, the list goes on…
Establishing a vegan diet is the most important thing to do first… Also check out the Why Vegan? page on this site! And reading The China Study by T Colin Campbell couldn’t hurt, either (the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted). For raw-specific nutrition information from qualified nutritionists, check out The Raw Revolution Dietby Cherie Soria and Becoming Raw by Brenda Davis RD, Vesanta Melina MS, RD.
Me and Raw
I decided to try out a high raw vegan diet in early 2008 to see if I really could experience extra health and vitality. The result is that I haven’t caught a cold or flu since then, & my hayfever/hive-type problems (related to childhood asthma & an over-reactive immune system) disappeared! Such a relief after a life of continuous allergy problems. Easily losing that little bit of extra weight that was sticking to me was nice, too.
I tried 100% raw on & off during 2008 but it wasn’t for me – I found I needed too much focus to keep it up, which meant I was neglecting other areas of my life, & I wanted to make more exercise/fitness a higher priority. I also want the flexibility of being able to eat cooked food when I travel in countries with less “sanitary” conditions, & I also want the focus to be on other consumption-related issues, especially animal rights. So now I’m a relaxed 80% raw/20% cooked food kinda girl most days (note that 80% raw – “high raw” – is much more raw food than most folks imagine, eg. the only cooked food eaten in a day is a small snack, a small side of grain or legumes or steamed vegetables, or a starter with dinner), while my partner (diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2007) prefers to eat a bit more cooked food than I do, but now also doesn’t have a problem with consuming gluten occasionally when it’s difficult to avoid… yep. Eating more living food is a fantastic way to combat all sorts of allergies!
A few of my favourite raw foods are: apple pie, carob & cinnamon chia pudding, carob mudcake, avocados, young coconut juice, ginger cookies/biscuits, mandarins, grapes, berry smoothies, almond milk, cashew & macadamia nut cheese, kale & banana smoothies, goji berries, & green vegie juices with a bit of pineapple.
My favourite raw books are Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen by Ani Phyo (easy tasty recipes & general healthy lifestyle focused), and The Raw Revolution Diet (nutrition science & diet plan focused) by Cherie Soria et al.
Still have more questions? Please check out my Raw FAQ page.