Benefits of eating raw foods

Growing awareness of the benefits of eating raw foods has propelled these diets into fad status in the last couple of years. In this series of articles, we will look at why raw foods are getting so much attention. We'll also take some educated guesses about the science behind the benefits waiting for those of us who manage to shift over.

Benefits of eating raw foods: higher energy levels
The first anecdote that I hear from anyone on a raw food diet usually has something to do with the almost unbearably high energy levels they now have. During my own experiments with raw food, I noticed an enormous positive impact on my energy levels. The first time I went raw, I simultaneously cut out two cups of coffee a day and never noticed they were gone. These benefits have also been reported in the scientific literature (1).

Benefits of eating raw foods: mental clarity
This benefit is not recorded anywhere in the scientific literature, but it fits into my personal experience and the experience described by others. I got into raw food based on a comment Steve Pavlina made on his blog a long time ago (LINK). He said that the difference between eating a vegetarian diet and eating meat was like the difference between being sober and having two beers in your system. And as you shift to vegan and raw diets, the differences become more and more profound. Steve's account is spot-on with my experience eating raw foods. I think there are very good scientific reasons for these effects, and I'll get to that later in this series. Just to start off the discussion, the benefits of vegetarian interventions on prostate cancer are extremely well documented (2). Prostate cancer, like breast cancer, is very sensitive to both testosterone and estrogen levels. Imagine the impact of better regulated hormone levels on your mental clarity.

Benefits of eating raw foods: clear skin
Your skin is the largest organ in your body. In fact, what happens to your skin is an excellent indication of what's going on inside your system. Specifically, general inflammation levels drive the process by which skin ages. Here is where raw food can really help. One of the most common inflammatory diseases is rheumatoid arthritis, which raw vegan diets have been shown to positively impact (3). Also, some of the so-called "toxins" present in cooked food are advanced glycation endproducts (or AGEs). These compounds cause inflammation and a host of other dysfunctions which impact your skin.

Benefits of eating raw foods: weight loss
One factor consistent across almost all raw food diet studies is weight loss (1,4). Three related factors are most likely responsible for weight loss associated with raw food diets. First, high intake of fiber helps to speed nutrients through the system, so effective caloric intake decreases. Second, eating extra fiber gives a sense of fullness, reducing total consumption. Third, total fat consumption decreases in a raw food diet (4).

We've covered a whole range of benefits that are available to the brave raw foodists who can manage the associated lifestyle modifications. A number of these factors actually get rolled up into a larger issue: prevention of disease. We've already referenced papers suggesting that raw food helps with the prevention and management of cancer and arthritis (2,4). These two disease areas are large indications that likely represent a variety of different malfunctions. The scientific community is moving in the direction of accepting eating raw food as a means to prevent disease.

In the rest of this series, we will cover:

1. The reasons for the benefits of eating raw foods-both good and bad

2. How to get some of the benefits of raw food while still eating meat

3. Risks associated with raw food, vegan, and vegetarian diets

4. A review of a complete raw food guidebook

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1. Hanninen, O, Nenonen, M, Ling, WH, et al. "Effects of eating an uncooked vegetable diet for 1 week." Appetite. 19 (1992) 243-254.
2. Berkow, SE, Barnard, ND, Saxe, GA, Ankerberg-Nobis, T. "Diet and survival after prostate cancer diagnosis." Nutr Rev 65 (2007) 391-403.
3. Nenonen, M, Helve, T, Rauma, A-L, Hanninen, OO. "Uncooked, lactobaccili-rich, vegan food and rheumatoid arthritis." Br J Rheumatol. 37 (1998) 274-81.
4. Koebnick, C, Garcia AL, Danelle, PC, et al. "Long term consumption of a raw food diet is associated with favorable serum LDL cholesterol ad triglycerides but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol in humans." J Nutr. 135 (2005) 2392-8.

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