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Is raw food healthy or just a trend? Many people are sceptical about meals that are prepared with a blender, juicer or spiraliser, and prefer to pull out a frying pan or switch on the oven instead. That being the case, we often overlook the fact that not all foods have to be boiled, fried or baked. We are accustomed to cooking foods at high temperatures to kill parasites and bacteria — and of course this is essential for meat and poultry, for example. Other foods, however, such as certain types of fruit and vegetables, are also completely edible raw. So if we always cook our food without exception, we might be missing out on many of the best nutrients that nature has to offer. As is the case with many other diets, balance is also key for a raw food diet. Eating nothing but raw food is less helpful for health,1 whereas a mixed, balanced diet with a high proportion of raw food can be a very healthy option.
You can turn the cooker off because you won’t be needing it much; food can only be heated up to a maximum temperature of 42 degrees Celsius. Many people who haven’t heard much about the concept of raw food associate it with giving things up. Is that what you think too? The truth is that raw food can be extremely varied. According to the Giessen Raw Food Study, a raw food diet is a diet that largely or solely contains uncooked plant (and sometimes also animal) foods.1 How strictly you wish to pursue the raw food aspect is entirely up to you.
Some raw fooders eat nothing but uncooked, raw food, while other people make a step-by-step transition, so that they find a healthy balance between cooked and raw food. One widespread assumption about the raw food diet is that you have to be vegetarian or even vegan.
However, depending on the type of diet, there are three different variations of the raw food diet. There is raw vegan, raw vegetarian and the raw food diet with meat and fish:
Because the diet includes food that is either raw or cooked up to a maximum temperature of 42 degrees Celsius, eating raw food means that you are eating whole foods in their natural state.
In a raw food diet, food is eaten in its natural state, whereas cooked food is first boiled, fried, pasteurised or heated in some other way before it is eaten — pretty clear so far. But to what extent do the two ways of eating impact our bodies differently? What are the health benefits of eating raw food?
At around 40 degrees Celsius, important micronutrients start to change. As such, when boiling or frying food, important nutrients such as vitamins can be destroyed or changed in a way that prevents them being absorbed by the body. When cooking foods at temperatures that are too high, the flavours we want are sometimes also accompanied by unwanted substances. For instance, when frying food, a substance called acrylamide can form.2 Chemicals such as this might only be dangerous for us if we consume them in excessive quantities, but we should still try to limit our intake as much as possible. To keep acrylamide formation to a minimum when cooking, always remember the FSA’s health advice and “go for gold” rather than burning your food to a crisp!2
Right now you must be thinking that it sounds like a good idea to give up cooked food entirely and dive into a raw food diet to protect your body against harmful substances. But that is by no means the case — if you did that your diet would be quite one-sided and unbalanced. Instead, aim for a balanced diet that combines both raw and cooked food. By eating a mixed diet, you can help your body find and maintain a balance between nutrients and harmful substances.3
The German Nutrition Society recommends eating three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit a day. The size of one portion is equal to the size of your own hand.4 The recommendation is also known as “5 a day” and is indispensable when it comes to a healthy diet. Following up with the “5 a day” recommendation, many raw fooders ask themselves: how much raw food is actually healthy?
As shown by a study by Giessen University in Germany, it is not possible to cover all your nutrient requirements through raw food alone.1 If you want to provide your body with everything it needs, you should avoid an exclusively raw diet. In the scope of its “5 a day” campaign, the DGE makes the following recommendation: adults should eat around 400 g of vegetables a day, 200 g of which should be cooked, and 200 g raw or as a salad. The remaining daily nutrient requirements can be covered by around 250 g of fruit, which we are accustomed to eating in its natural, uncooked state anyway.4 So to ensure that raw food is always beneficial to our health, it should always be integrated into a mixed diet comprising both cooked and uncooked food.
1. Raw food is low in calories but rich in nutrients.
2. Valuable substances such as vitamins, minerals, fibres and secondary plant metabolites are more abundant in raw food than in boiled or cooked food.
3. Healthy raw food also contains fewer free radicals than cooked food.
What makes fruit and vegetables so healthy are all the vitamins, minerals, fibres and secondary plant metabolites that they contain. If you leave the food in its original state and don’t cook it, all of these valuable nutrients remain in the food in high amounts. So by eating raw food, we are giving our body the best that nature has to offer.
Raw food has a high percentage of
Vitamin C contributes to a healthy immune system and metabolism, among other things. However, the vitamin is water-soluble.5 By cooking foods rich in vitamin C, like spinach or tomatoes,6 you can quickly strip the food of its nutrients, and its raw food quality is lost.
Calcium contributes to the maintenance of bones and teeth, among other things, and is the most important mineral in our body in terms of quantity.7 As such, a diet that is rich in calcium is important to many people. This nutrient is found in green vegetables such as broccoli and kale.7 To fully utilise the potential of the vegetables, it is smart to vary the way you eat them between raw and cooked.
Dietary fibres—whether cooked or uncooked—ensure that we have a lasting feeling of fullness. With this one fact, the myth that raw food doesn’t make you full is blown clean out of the water. You can contribute to your daily fibre requirements by eating raw carrots and raw kohlrabi, for example.8
Secondary plant metabolites can have a positive influence on numerous metabolic processes. In order to consume as many of these antioxidative substances as possible, the German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends integrating more vegetables, fruit and nuts into your meals — all foods that can be enjoyed raw. If possible, combine these with seeds, pulses, potatoes and various wholegrain products for a balanced, mixed diet.9
Cooking food can release free radicals. These highly reactive metabolic intermediates can damage the cells in our body, and are being increasingly linked to disease.10 If you leave raw foods such as fruit and vegetables in their natural state and don’t cook them, you can help limit an excessive intake of free radicals.
To protect your body, you can make sure to increase your intake of antioxidative nutrients. Zinc, selenium and vitamin C, for instance, contribute to cell protection against oxidative stress. Whether you are a raw fooder or not only plays a role in the extent to which your body absorbs nutrients.
We usually choose our favourite meals based on their taste. Pasta with tomato sauce, curry with rice or a colourful vegetable stir fry — even the thought of some of these dishes makes our mouths water. Many of these recipes, which we make for ourselves week after week, include instructions for boiling, frying or baking after the ingredients have been prepared. Is it still possible to integrate raw food into our diet to change things up and not sacrifice the delicious taste?
Of course — raw food can taste delicious too. The world of raw food has more to offer than you might think. On your next trip to the supermarket, pick up various types of vegetables and leave the cooker off for a change. You will see for yourself — nothing tastes as good as the natural sweetness of a crunchy carrot or pepper. Fresh celery sticks are also delicious. Try them with a salad and a wild herb dip — you probably can’t remember the last time you prepared a meal so quickly. And you did it with no cooking at all.
There are plenty of other delicious recipes online for integrating raw food into your diet. For instance, have you ever heard of kohlrabi tortellini? You are probably thinking that tortellini have to be cooked. But for this recipe, kohlrabi is not used as a filling for pasta made of wheat or similar. By cutting the kohlrabi into very thin slices, you can make tortellini that can be enjoyed raw. Choose any filling you like and then fold the kohlrabi slices together to make your tortellini. Served on a plate, this raw food meal doesn’t just look great, it is also extremely tasty. If you give raw food a try, you will quickly be just as convinced as we are that taste and health go hand in hand with a raw food diet.
So you’ve acquired a taste for raw food, and now you want to freshen up your favourite dishes with raw components bit by bit? Then you’re sure to bring new energy to your cooking. However, you should first always check to see whether the ingredients can really be eaten raw. Pulses, grains and potatoes, for instance, should not be served raw.
Pulses contain lectins, which are plant ingredients that are only destroyed when cooked.11 Beans, soybeans, chickpeas and lentils should therefore always be cooked before eating. The same goes for soybean and mung bean sprouts. Although peas contain fewer lectins than other pulses, they still shouldn’t be eaten raw due to the indigestible fibres they contain.11
Raw fooders should also avoid eating grains without due preparation. Why? Grains contain phytin, a substance that impairs the absorption of minerals in the body.12 Grains are more digestible if they are ground or soaked for several hours.
Potatoes contain a bitter, poisonous substance called solanine. This substance is mostly found in the skin, but can also move into the tuber itself if the potatoes are stored for too long and in too warm conditions. The solanine can only be removed if the potatoes are cooked in hot water.13
We all have a lot keeping us busy. Our hectic day-to-day lives don’t always give us the liberty of preparing nourishing meals from scratch. On a stressful day, we might catch ourselves putting a frozen pizza in the oven or heating up a ready-made meal in the microwave. The next time you find yourself with no time to cook a proper meal, just try raw food instead. Raw food is quick to prepare, so that you can serve up a healthy, nutritious meal or snack in the blink of an eye.
To help raw food newbies in particular, we have compiled a menu with recipe ideas that are both raw and delicious. Feel inspired.
Recipes with a high proportion of raw food:
Would you like to do your health a favour with raw food and are you enthusiastic about making the swap? So that you don’t shock your body by taking away its usual food too quickly, it can be beneficial to replace cooked food with raw food slowly or add raw components to your meals bit by bit. Maybe we have already been able to inspire you a little with our recipe ideas.
You should also make sure to wash vegetables and other raw foods thoroughly before eating them. Because it’s not just nutrients that are retained by eating raw, bacteria are too. And they really shouldn’t end up on your plate.
Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly is not just important for kids; we should take this to heart ourselves if we start eating more raw food. Because otherwise the food won’t digest properly.14
Variety in a healthy diet is key. How you eat is a decision that has to fit your lifestyle. Whether you eat meat, fish and/or dairy products or opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet, a higher proportion of raw food is always a good idea and lets you eat delicious meals full of diverse nutrients which you need to stay healthy. Anyone starting out into the world of raw food will quickly discover that raw food is not only healthy, it is also delicious and absolutely rawtastic!
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