Reasons to Switch to a Raw Foods Diet
by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MD, RD
with Rynn Berry
Natural Weight Loss
Program recommended by The Share Guide
Why Raw? To most people, becoming raw seems like a pretty half-baked idea. How many people would want to give up their stove, barbecue, microwave, and toaster in favor of a dehydrator, juicer, and high-powered blender? How could anyone survive eating just salads? More importantly, why would anyone want to? Becoming raw is unlikely to inspire a celebration within one’s social circle; it’s more likely to be a source of frustration for friends and family. How are you ever going to be able to enjoy a meal together again? What are they supposed to serve you when you come over?
Despite the less-than-enthusiastic response that commonly comes from others, becoming raw is a choice that is generally embraced with such gusto by practitioners that it is adhered to for years, and often for life. What kind of payoff would inspire such a challenging lifestyle choice? For many individuals, it is the promise of radiant health. For others, the attraction is the ethical and philosophical principles on which the raw vegan diet is based. Some are drawn to its simplicity and ecological rewards. For most, there is a moment of epiphany when something clicks and becoming raw (or simply eating more raw food) is the choice that makes sense. Let’s briefly explore the reasons that support such a choice.
The most popular reason for adopting a raw vegan diet is the belief that it can greatly enhance our physical well-being. Let’s consider the three categories of health benefits that win people over to the raw way of eating:
1. General Health and Well-being
Raw vegan diets are often reported to improve energy and vitality and provide an elevated sense of well-being. With this choice, we eliminate the dietary components that can cause the most damage to our health: harmful fats, chemical contaminants, refined sugars and starches, and excessive animal protein. In their place are whole, raw plant foods, which are packed with vitamins, protective phytochemicals, fiber, and enzymes. Whereas cooking can destroy or damage vital nutrients and phytochemicals in foods, these compounds are preserved with common raw-food preparation techniques such as puréeing and juicing.
2. Disease Prevention and Reversal
Many people increase their intake of raw food because they’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or certain cancers. These conditions inspire a shift away from the standard Western diet, which typically emphasizes meat, dairy products, eggs, and cooked foods containing refined carbohydrates and fats. Along with all the damage from saturated fats and cholesterol, diets centered around animal products and grains can produce a mild metabolic acidosis, or slightly acidic state, which places a burden on the body. Raw vegetables and fruits, and the antioxidants and other phytochemicals they provide, can reduce our risk of certain diseases or slow their progression. Furthermore, a diet that is somewhat low in calories (as most raw vegan diets are) and is nutritionally adequate might also help to slow the aging process.
3. Weight Loss and Maintenance
Potato chips, donuts, cakes, pies, burgers, and shakes do not qualify as raw foods. In fact, almost all of the foods responsible for our obesity epidemic are automatically eliminated on a raw diet. A well-designed raw vegan diet can be viewed as the ultimate
weight-loss regimen. Most raw plant foods are low in calories and high in fiber, making them the perfect choice for those who want to shed a few (or many) pounds. A visit to a raw-food restaurant will quickly confirm that raw-food adherents tend to be slim.
Although benefits to the environment once were seen as a bonus rather than a primary motivating factor for following a raw vegan diet, environmental reasons have begun to take center stage. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” sent shock waves around the world when it declared that “livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.”
Our personal contributions to greenhouse gases are significantly reduced when we derive our protein from plants rather than from animal sources. The damage doesn’t end with greenhouse gases. According to the FAO report, “The livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas, and facilitation of invasion by alien species.”
The environmental effects of vegetarian and nonvegetarian diets have been compared in various parts of the world in terms of their use of natural resources and fertilizers. A California study found that a non-vegetarian diet requires almost three times as much water, two and a half times more energy, and thirteen times more fertilizer than a vegetarian diet. The researchers concluded, “From an environmental perspective, what a person chooses to eat makes a difference.”
Cooking and processing food also come at great environmental expense. Enormous amounts of natural resources are used to produce power for the industries that bring us these products and to package processed foods. Raw food requires little packaging and no cooking. Compared to the amount of trash produced from a typical diet of cooked and processed foods, the waste from a raw vegan diet is a small fraction--and the majority of it can go straight into the compost bin.
Most raw-food practitioners support organic agriculture, thereby voting with their food dollars against the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that would otherwise be dumped into our ecosystem. Some people are attracted to a raw vegan diet because it is consistent with their deepest philosophical and ethical principles. They recognize the plight of animals in the factory-farming system and are unwilling to fund animal agriculture by purchasing its products. They refuse to support food corporations whose billion-dollar budgets come from refined foods that have been stripped of nutrients. Instead, they want to support organic and sustainable agriculture and the growing of plant foods. Such a choice can strengthen our connection with the natural world and reawaken our spiritual connection to all living beings.
Reprinted with permission from Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets ©2010 by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MD, RD with Rynn Berry, published by Book Publishing Co., Summertown, TN. Available in stores or visit www.bookpubco.com.
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