You’ve probably heard the saying “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” quoted by the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates. So then it should be no surprise that food can be a powerful tool in maintaining our health and preventing disease. It can also work powerfully in the opposite direction.
We constantly receive a barrage of information about what to eat, what’s good for you and what’s not, and often this information is either misleading or contradictory. foodiecure is about trying to dispel some of the confusion to help you decide what is best for you. So lets just begin by saying there is no “one diet fits all”…
The Raw Food Diet (RFD) promises vigor, health, and easy weight management because of a high plant-based content and the perception that raw foods are more ‘vital’ than their cooked counterparts. It is supposed that the nutrients in cooked foods have been destroyed by temperatures higher than 42°C. A typical RFD-er will eat this way 80% – 100% of the time. Woa! Sounds a bit hard core right?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) protecting the Spleen is necessary for optimal health and energy production. This translates to a predominantly gentle, warming diet. Taking these principals into consideration, undertaking the Raw Food diet out of context could be potentially detrimental to one’s health.
The History of Raw
The RFD first gained attention in the 19th century as a ‘cure-all’ diet. The most prominent advocate was a physician Max Gerson who cured himself of migraines by only eating raw fruits, vegetables and nuts and continued to eat this way the rest of his life. During his career Gerson cured severe diabetic, Albert Schweitzer, by putting him on a raw food, raw juice diet and within a month Schjweitzer was insulin-free lived until 92 as a healthy, active, former diabetic. Amongst migraine and diabetes, Gerson’s RFD cures were lupus, lung-tuberculosis, mental disorders, coronary heart disease and cancer, for which he was most famous and authored ‘A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases’ in 1958.
What They Say
Famous RFD activist, David Wolfe says that “raw is how nature provides us with food…because 150 years of research has now demonstrated that living, raw food is superior in vitamin content, enzymes, co-enzymes, usable protein, usable minerals, glyconutrients, and many other elements of nutrition. Additionally, raw food is natural.” (quoted from Diary of a Vegan Girl)
…nutrients are more bio-available
More nutrients are bio-available in uncooked foods because heating food to above 42°C starts to destroy valuable enzymes. It is said that although life sustaining, cooked foods leads to slow but progressive degeneration at the cellular level (umm, isn’t this called ageing?). This is attributed to the cooking process altering the molecular structure of proteins, fats and fiber, rendering these nutrients unusable, poisonous and even carcinogenic.
…enzymes aren’t just for detergents
Enzymes found in our food are important to assist the body to utilize nutrients and stimulate weight loss. Cooking food completely destroys these enzymes, burdening the body’s own enzymatic activity of the digestive system. This is increasingly a problem, because over time the body’s capacity to produce enzymes wanes.
…there’s more of the good stuff
A higher content of essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals, volatile essential oils, natural antibiotics are present in raw foods that are easily destroyed with heat. These constituents, on some level or another, cleanse the body of toxic-wastes, alkalise blood and restore function in overtaxed adrenal glands and assist the pancreas to produce cancer-fighting enzymes. In simple terms, raw foods help improve bodily functions and clear toxic wastes from the body which translates to all that extra weight we carry around our middle.
By introducing more fibre-bulk in the gut, raw-food slows down absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and steadies nutrient absorption rate. Hypoglycaemic cravings can be curbed and weight loss achieved without counting calories. Vigorous peristalsis is initiated – which sounds kinky, but it’s just the wavelike motions of our intestines – helps quickly move the waste through it’s vast length. This lowers undesirable gut bacteria population that flourishes in stagnant toxic conditions of the gut, while promoting beneficial bacteria, some of which synthesize vitamins. Fat and heavy metal absorption during digestion is also retarded.
…home improvements are made
Premenstrual tension, bloating and fatigue are said to improve within 2-3 months of starting the RFD. Heavy periods lighten and shorten to one or two days, and may cease altogether and reversible without consequence to fertility and conception. (Insert Marge Simpson disapproving “Hmmmm” here. I don’t relish in this point. Shortened periods and ones that stop altogether are not a good sign in Chinese Medicine and are indicative that there is a deeper underlying and potentially chronic problem if left untreated.)
Pretty much every raw foodist will talk about their abundant energy, better skin appearance, digestion, weight loss. Statistically, the RFD reduces the risk of heart disease. Others have claimed raw food has treated successfully allergies, digestive disorders, weak immunity, candida, obesity just to name a few, has been cured.
Considerations from a Chinese Medicine point of view
…health is all about the digestion
Different to alopathic medicine, TCM says the Spleen has a important energetic role in digestion, not that of immunity. The Spleen is responsible for extracting Qi (energy) from the food we eat and distributing that energy to the other organs. In TCM terms, good digestion = good Spleen function = the body can extract nutrients and expel waste easily. To ensure we have good digestion, we need to protect the Spleen through an appropriate diet and Spleen-nourishing eating behaviours. The environment in which the Spleen functions at its best is warm and dry (it has a propensity to damp which you can liken to weight-gain). But to confuse things just a touch, the Stomach – who’s role it is to receive the food – likes a bit of soup-like consistency, but has a propensity to heat. Too dry or too hot will not make our stomach happy.
Cooked foods in TCM is easier for the Spleen digest, requiring less energy to heat the food to optimal body temperature. Raw foods are seen as cooling and harder to digest, thus opposing this optimal environment. Too many raw foods at the wrong time of year, can seriously inhibit the function of the Spleen – especially if you have weak digestion already – and will promote bad digestion. This is characterised by such signs and symptoms as cold extremities, aversion to cold, lower abdomen bloating that will not budge with exercise, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), unformed and/or irregular stools, borborygmus, nausea, poor appetite. At one point or another in your life, I know you’ve experienced one or more of these symptoms (if you haven’t I’d like to hear from you!).
…net profit of nutrients vs. gross available nutrients
Often it is argued that there are more nutrients in Raw Food. This, I cannot dispute, however what is not told is that the net profit of nutrients the body receives is not the same as the gross amount of nutrients consumed. Even though the nutrient content contained in raw food is higher, our bodies are only able to receive about 50% of these nutrients. The nutrients in raw foods are encased in the hard-to-digest cellulose packets become difficult to access. Cooking is a form of pre-digestion and even though some of the nutrients are destroyed, the net profit of available nutrients may be higher.
…what’s your constitution?
In Chinese Medicine our food choices need to consider our individual constitutions in order to maintain optimal health. It can be detrimental for someone who is always cold, emaciated, pale and withdrawn (aka a Yin-type constitution) consumes predominantly cooling, cold and hard to digest foods. They would only perpetuate the condition.
…where did you came from?
It is also worthy to consider genetic inheritance when making food choices due to inherited cell conditioning determining individual constitutions and imbalances we may have. Changing to a raw food diet after a long omnivore ancestral history of cooked foods can compromise cell function.
…what do you feel like?
Although raw food may affect the spleen directly, in Chinese Medicine it is considered very important how we feel about the food we eat. The Stomach and Spleen are seen as the ‘Earth’ within our system that every other element in our body relates to. If we have a sense of comfort which has to do with our food, our Spleen and Stomach will benefit greatly. This in turn will have a beneficial effect on the whole organism. People who eat via the RFD principles may feel extremely good about the food which they eat, and therefore gain excellent levels of health as a consequence. We can use this basic indication to help us to gauge how much raw food to include in our diet. Conversely, in winter we intuitively need nourishing soup and other such warming foods. This is not a bad thing, for if you go against the grain of nature, you are only doing yourself harm. The most successful raw-foodists that I have heard of, either live in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Think about the climate of these zones. I have spent some time in the UK during winter and I tell you, a zesty salad aint on my mind.
Raw foods contain more bacteria, parasites and chemicals (if you don’t stick to 100% organic produce) which are usually destroyed through the cooking process. Thorough washing sometimes isn’t enough to eliminate all these contaminants.
…it’s about balance (Yin and Yang)
It is not necessary to think in extremes, as enormous health benefits exist in balance. Raw fresh food is essential for our Qi, and warming easy-on-the-spleen foods are good for optimal digestion. But there is a time and place for both. Since the RFD is about ‘the way we are meant to eat’ and has a primarily detoxifying function, then I will raise it here that there is a time and season for detoxing. I wrote in some detail about detoxing in this post here which outlines some considerations on detoxing.
Acronym matchmaking: bringing together the RFD and TCM
The success of the RFD in my opinion is it’s advocacy of organic and wholefoods – without a doubt more health promoting, nutrient dense, digestion friendly ingredients. For example, pasteurisation is a common practice to maintain our ‘health and safety’ but this involves exposing our food to high temperatures to kill off all the bad bacteria, meanwhile the health promoting nutrients are also destroyed. This is necessary for our current farming practices of mass-production. Mass-produced anything from nuts to orange juice is copping a dose. A hot-topic right now, but it’s worth considering even if you are cooking your food – has it been ‘cooked’ before?
Food as medicine
The RFD is a vegetarian one (unless you like eating raw meat, blurgh). Meat and dairy are seen as highly nutritious in Chinese Medical theory. A powerful nutri-medicine, but in this day and age we have a tendency for excess and a lot of the western community suffer with excess-type disorders that go hand in hand with over consumption of animal protein. Don’t believe me? Well I’m in good company. Albert Einstien, one famous vegetarian, was quoted; “It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” There’s a fascinating book, The China Study, worthy of a read to give you a scientific look at the merits of a vegan diet.
Less of the bad stuff, more of the good
The biggest concordance between the Raw Food diet and a Chinese Medicine perspective is the avoidance of saturated fats, over salted foods, over processed foods, chemically altered and over sweetened foods and the addition of sprouting and fermented foods common with Raw Food diets. I wrote about sprouting in this blog.
Mix and Match
In any plant-based diet you’ll get the variety and concentration of life-sustaining nutrients. This doesn’t mean going to the n-th degree and radically changing the way you eat which can be stressful, time consuming and obsessive. Diverting the needed energy for digestion from stomach to head (as with all diet obsessed behaviour) will only further impede the digestive function and you know what that means…weight gain.
You don’t have to cook every component of your meal, nor do you have to go completely raw either. Mix and match.
Fascinating cooking techniques
What I do find as the best part to a RFD is the use of different preparation methods commonly used. These include fine grating, marinating, dehydrating, pureeing and fermenting to name a few. These techniques aid in the digestibility of raw foods, and it’s amazing what you can create by adding a bit of variety into the cooking repertoire.
Drink your food and eat your drink
They love this saying in TCM and is a major part of dietary therapy. Simply chewing well aids in digestion and weight loss. Lots of digestive enzymes are contained in your saliva helping with assimilation and absorption taking the pressure off the Spleen/Stomach function. This also helps ‘warm’ the food up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… chew. your. food.
Restaurant Review: Yong Green Foods (421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Australia. Tel: 03 9417 3338)
Well, well, well, looky here! Melbourne’s got a new beat and the beat is Raw and Vegan and located in a popular dining district of Melbourne. The food here is tasty and creative and definately a healthy bent – whether it’s intended or not. I heart Yongs! I was almost a bit put off knowing that they use a lot of faux meats and avoided these dishes until I heard rave reviews about the vegan “beef” pho (Vietnamese beef soup). I got wafts of it and immediately had order envy. Nevertheless, what @Busichic and I ordered went swimmingly on this hot eve with a bottle of crisp white wine.
The modern hippy ambience, front of establishment serving area, walk-thru-kitchen-to-toilets, variety of seating options make for a casual yet groovy vibe. The place was humming from 6pm till late and you can either pop in for a quicky or sit around for a girlie catch up till the wee hours.
There’s a lot more to the RFD than eating salads. Here’s a list to get you started if you’d like to learn more and find out where to buy superfoods (touted in the RFD). You don’t have to go the whole hog, but a little raw can go a long way.
- Raw Cacao http://www.rawcacao.com.au/
- Loving Earth http://www.lovingearth.net/
- Spiral Foods http://www.spiralfoods.com.au
RFD kitchen must-haves (hint hint family – this is my xmas wish list!)
Blogs & useful websites
- Diary of a Vegan Girl http://www.diaryofavegan.com/2010/12/foods-that-heal/
- Fellow MasterChef Australia Top 50 contestant, Hannah Sforcina, has a bog and has just gone raw. Check out her epiphany: http://averyfoodlydiary.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/my-raw-food-epiphany/
- Popular Self Development writer, Steve Pavlina undertook a 30 day trial and subsequently has gone raw. Very good read:
- David Wolfe http://www.davidwolfe.com/
- Friend of a Friend is Raw Food Chef “Melissa Mango” http://www.melissamangosgreencuisine.blogspot.com/
- The Happy Cow http://www.happycow.net/raw/raw_living.html
- For a more high end raw fine dining pick yourself up a copy of Raw by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein http://www.charlietrotters.com/store/books/product.asp?catID=2&productID=113
My Raw Food Restaurant’s wish-list
- Pure Food and Wine, NYC, 54 Irving Place (17th St.), New York, NY 10003, TEL: (212) 477-1010
- Quintessence, East Village, 263 E 10th Street, (btw. Ave A & 1st Ave), New York, NY, TEL: (646) 654-1823
- Alive!, 1972 Lombard Street near Webster St, San Francisco, CA 94123, TEL: (415) 923-1052 http://www.aliveveggie.com,
- Café Gratitude, 2400 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA, (415) 824-4652 – press option #1
1336 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA (@ Irving), Central phone #415-824-4652 – press option #2
Certainly not a comprehensive list. For a more comprehensive list, visit: http://www.soystache.com/raw-food-restaurants.htm
Special thanks goes out 3 of my TCM classmates who were in a group assignment with me last year on the topic of Raw Food. I’ve used *some* of the content from our assignment here, although completely bastardised all your beautiful work 😉
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