3 Raw Food Myths Debunked
Raw food diets are discussed, debated, deliberated and defended ad nauseum in public spaces. There are many conflicting ideas flying around, both pro and con. Here are 3 myths I’ve heard around the traps that I want to debunk once and for all!
1. You can eat as many raw sweets as you like.
I wish it were true. I really do. But the fact is, a sweet treat is a sweet treat – for special occasions only.
Sweet raw foods like fruits and sweet vegetables (especially when dried or dehydrated) do contain a fair dose of natural sugars (that’s what makes them sweet!) and although there are certainly degrees of “goodness” and “badness” when it comes to sugar, too much concentrated sweetness is just not healthy.
Things like date balls, raw chocolate and fruit juices are absolutely beautiful “sometimes foods” but if you’re eating raw and the main component of your diet is sweet snacks, you’ll find yourself eventually failing to thrive. Depending on your metabolism and body composition, you may also gain or lose weight (it will probably be the one you don’t want to happen!). You might experience fatigue or just a sense of performing sub-optimally. Too much sugar can cause the wrong kind of bacteria to thrive in your gut, and if your gut microbiome ends up out of balance it can compromise your immunity and leave you vulnerable to illness.
Think about how food occurs in nature: what proportion of natural whole foods are sweet, compared to those that are not? The most prominent naturally occurring foods are leafy greens, and that’s what we should be eating most. Sweet whole foods occur in nature in quantities that suggest we are supposed to stumble on them occasionally, but they are definitely not something we should base our main diet on.
My approach is to use lovely raw desserts and sweet treats in place of the processed snacks you used to eat, but never in place of meals. Minimise your intake of sweet raw treats if you are feeling unwell, or when you and your family need to boost your nutrient intake or detox a little.
2. You have to be 100% raw to get the benefits of a raw food diet.
I know that the Raw Food Police take a hardline approach to this. I do very much respect those who choose to be 100% raw, and I admire their dedication. However, I strongly believe you can get all the benefits of a raw food diet without being super strict about it.
Think about it: if you’re replacing things like store-bought crackers, ready meals, snack bars and confectionary with raw whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals and enzymes, you are going to get those benefits whether you still eat some cooked foods or not. The trick is to select your cooked foods carefully – if your non-raw meals and snacks are heavily processed and full of additives, you’re not giving your body the best opportunity to make the most of the raw foods that you are feeding it.
Here are my guidelines for getting all the benefits of a raw food diet while still allowing some non-raw foods in your diet:
- Follow a high-raw eating plan. This means eating raw at least 80% of the time, but being flexible when you are not able to have complete control over the food you’re eating. For instance, when eating with non-raw friends or family, when you’re on holiday, when your kids attend a birthday party or someone else is feeding them temporarily, it’s no big deal to not eat raw. You know that when you get home you’ll be back on the raw wagon.
- Or, commit to two raw meals per day and raw snacks (if you have snacks), then enjoy some cooked food in your other meal. That way your intake is mostly raw but you aren’t so restricted every day that you feel overwhelmed.
- Replace all processed food with whole foods. Go for raw where practical, but if your replacements are sometimes cooked, that’s still a whole lot better than factory-made “food”.
The above approaches mean you’ll be either high raw, mostly raw or semi-raw. You’ll enjoy the benefits of a nutrient-rich, unprocessed diet and you’ll still have the flexibility to adapt to normal life circumstances.
Being raw in a cooked food world is hard! So don’t feel pressured to be 100% raw if it’s just not practical for you. Some raw food is better than none, and you’ll still reap those nutritional rewards.
3. All raw food is cold and damp.
While it’s true that many raw recipes use ingredients that have not had any heat applied whatsoever, people forget that raw food can be warmed and still classed as raw. As long as the food is not heated above 46 degrees celcius (115 fahrenheit), it’s still technically raw, as this is the temperature under which delicate enzymes and nutrients can maintain their integrity.
Think about it: plant foods in nature grow on trees and in the ground and are naturally warmed by sunlight and their environment. But when we pick them to eat them, of course they are still raw (unless they have been deliberately sun-dried, like tomatoes). So, food heated gently and slowly to that point is not at all cold and it’s still considered raw.
There are some other clever ways of warming raw foods if you don’t want to always eat cold food. Lots of raw foodists warm their plates, bowls or mugs before eating and this imparts warmth to the food. For more innovative ways to warm raw food, see my post on Raw Food in Winter.
There are lots of other myths out there about raw food. Which ones do you want to see debunked once and for all?