HJ: Is the raw food diet all it’s cracked up to be? Well, yes and no. Do raw foods have benefit for us? Definitely, but that does not mean we should eat them exclusively or even as much as half or more of our diet, as some popular raw food guru’s suggest. Furthermore, perhaps more than any other health philosophy, raw foodism is filled with half-truths, misinformation and downright dogmatic thinking. For instance, one of the fundamental principles that raw foodism is based on — the fact the raw foods have their enzymes intact and so digest themselves or ‘donate’ the extra enzymes to the body for healing — is not true at all. Anyone with a fundamental understanding of the human digestive system will immediately be able to see right through this (our bodies produce enzymes to digest food, if they did not, eating cooked food would kill us in short order). Raw foods (with the exception of some fruits) are actually harder for our bodies to digest than cooked food.
Furthermore, raw foods slowly destroy our digestion if consumed in large quantities for extended periods of time. Both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine refer to the concept of ‘digestive fire’ — meaning our digestive tract is HOT (in energetic and thermal terms) and requires heat to function efficiently. Constantly throwing cold, raw, watery, damp foods (all characteristics of raw foods) will put this digestive fire out, and when that happens, you can be sure you will be experiencing many problems related to digestion. This creates severe deficiency in the body and has many detrimental effects, such as a severe decrease in the ability to absorb nutrients from food, among other serious problems. How do I know this? From personal experience making the aforementioned mistakes and through studying Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, both of which have quite a bit of wisdom to offer in this area. Raw foods can be beneficial as a small part of the diet — up to 30% maximum if no health issues are present or during a short-term cleanse not to exceed 2 weeks. However, if you go beyond these guidelines you are setting yourself up for trouble.
Is The Raw Food Lifestyle for Everyone?
By Deborah Barr | Whole Health Resources
Reprint from Point of Light, Spring, 2007 — counterpoint to Becoming an Original with Sunfood in the Winter 06-07 Point of LightThere is no one way of eating that works to bring everyone good health. There is not and never can be a universal standard for what constitutes good food. Not everyone benefits equally from the same foods. The appropriateness of foods cannot be determined without knowledge of the context of the individual. If you understand individual personal diagnosis and individual food properties you can conclude that a universal diet that will make everyone healthy does not exist. Dietary balance is unique to each person.
There are many popular books on nutrition with each offering the perfect diet for everyone, regardless of one’s unique condition. Some popular plans advocate high fiber, low fat, salt and sugar; others insist on only raw foods and uncooked organic fruits and vegetables; others promote high protein and exclude fiber; while others advocate primarily cooked grains and vegetables. Each of these has merit, and all of them have helped some people some of the time. However, each one is limited by a narrow and fixed way of thinking. Their ideologies and methods differ; however, their principle is the same: everyone should eat according to the same rules.
In many modalities of the alternative health movement, and in mainstream Western medicine, dietary recommendations are applied in a standardized, uniform way without any regard for individual differences. There is a more accurate method for each of us to determine our dietary needs.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is thousands of years old and is energy based medicine. It offers a dimension to food analysis that classifies food and disease according to simple patterns. Food is energy and the essence of it is the foundation for our health. Energy is not static and it never dies. It is continually being transmuted into something else. We are recreating ourselves moment by moment based on the quality of the energy we take in from everything, including food. The essence or the energetic properties of food are often more important than the combination of nutrients in food for reversing imbalances.
Humans, as well as all phenomena in the universe, are made of energy (called qi, chi, ki, prana, etc. in different cultures). These terms all refer to energy, life force, universal mover of all things. In traditional cultures, mankind knew of the existence and importance of energy and developed practices for maintaining and enhancing a healthy flow of energy. They understood the importance of manipulating the energy of food to correct health disharmonies and to maintain good health. One way of doing so is through cooking.
We are supported and sustained by an underlying flow of life energy. When this flow is impeded, we become weak or sick; our emotions become disharmonious; our relationships, finances, work, and all areas of life suffer. When the flow of energy is strengthened or cared for, we become stronger and healthier in every way. When the flow stops, the body dies.
Where does energy come from?
The universe is full of life force energy. Scientific people think of it as an electric or magnetic force; religious people think of it in terms of God; contemporary spirituality views it as Love. Energy radiates down to us from the sun, moon, and distant stars (heavens); it radiates up to us from the rotating force of the earth. These sources of energy have been called the source of creation of everything in nature, including all people, plants, animals and inanimate objects.
Energy constantly flows through our bodies sustaining our life. The quality of it changes based on all of our choices (thoughts, emotions, food, environment, relationships, activity—everything). We are connected to everything and are part of an unending flow of the energy of creation. We are creating our health and everything in our lives moment by moment, mostly unconsciously or by default. Many people are recreating themselves in the same ways by making the same choices. Everyone can learn to consciously create good health and anything else by understanding the essence or energy or all things (including food) and being adaptable and flexible with their choices as their condition and lives change.
Air and food are two of the most primary sources of energy. The food we eat is the foundation for our blood, bones, nervous system, tissues, organs, cells, emotions, and the quality of our thoughts. Everyone needs their own individualized version of diet based on their condition and constitution.
Some need the cooling, moistening properties of raw foods to maintain balance; while the health of others will seriously decline by including too many of them. The cooling quality of raw foods balances the heat and congestion resulting from years of eating excessive amounts of meat, cheese, fried and spicy foods and alcohol. Some of the conditions caused by excessive heat in the body are high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, tension headaches, stroke, aggressive, angry behavior, and many others.
Others need foods to reduce watery and mucus accumulations caused by too many raw foods. Specific foods are often needed to calm the mind and emotions and to strengthen energy. Congested people need cleansing, depleting foods; deficient people need building foods.
The most important influence on the food we eat is the effect of cooking. Heating helps break down food structure making the nutrients more available. Few nutrients are lost with moderate cooking and those that remain are more easily assimilated. When digestion and assimilation are strong the energy of the body is less focused on digestion and can be used in other ways. With improved assimilation greater availability of nutrients better sustains the warmth and other functions of the body. In TCM moderately cooked food is recommended to support a more refined consciousness. Whether you’re steaming, boiling, blanching, baking, roasting, sautéing, pickling or eating raw foods, each has its own unique therapeutic benefit.
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, and chewing all of your food until liquid will ensure proper enzymatic activity as well as good digestion and assimilation. Traditionally all cultures regularly ate small amounts of naturally fermented or pickled foods containing enzymes, and we would do well to continue with this practice.
We are a culture of extremes and a raw foods diet is extreme. Eating too many raw foods, fruits, smoothies and juice will eventually leave you weak and cold. You will eventually have insatiable cravings for the warming aspect, and, if appropriate dietary changes are not made, you may find yourself bingeing on meat and other fatty, salty, warming foods. Incorporating some raw foods in the hot summer is appropriate for nearly everyone. When the climate is cold, a warming, enriching diet stokes internal fire and protects us.
Eating a raw foods diet in a temperate climate zone makes it very difficult to adapt to the environment. Eventually you may find yourself wanting to move to a warm or even a tropical climate in an attempt to make balance for your inner coldness.
The appropriate amount of raw food in one’s diet depends on the condition and strength of the individual, the climate and the person’s activity level. People with overheated conditions usually benefit from some raw foods. A warm climate and greater physical activity increase one’s ability to tolerate the cooling, dampening effects of raw food. Many people have seriously damaged their health by eating too many raw foods.
The body, mind, and emotions are not separate. They are one energetic continuum. Too much coldness in the organs causes qi (pronounced “chee) deficiency resulting in a myriad of physical and emotional imbalances or exacerbating existing ones.
I’ve counseled many clients suffering from the effects of too much raw food—a myriad of digestive problems, adrenal/kidney problems, slow metabolism, hair falling out, teeth coming loose, weakness, malaise, fatigue, coldness, poor circulation, mood swings, depression and weakened immunity. Some types of arthritis develop when too much cold and dampness invade the joints.
Chinese Medicine has a comprehensive way of characterizing disharmonies in the body that lead to health issues. One of those disharmonies is dampness in the digestive system. Dampness, an overly wet condition, causes digestive sluggishness and overly expanded intestines. It’s like having a sponge in your digestive tract. You look and feel bloated and puffy. It’s the perfect environment for the proliferation of microorganisms, overgrowth of yeast, viruses, parasites, and candidiasis. Continually adding more raw foods and liquid never allows the intestines to dry out and contract. Heat (cooking) causes dampness to dry up,
Excessive raw food creates internal dampness and extinguishes the digestive “fire" of the spleen-pancreas, causing indigestion, loose bowels, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and other digestive disorders, fluid retention, especially in the legs, ankles and abdomen; feelings of heaviness, especially in the lower body, edema, fatigue, sluggishness, chronic tiredness, mucous conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, many joint problems, certain emotional disharmonies, and chronic and degenerative diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis.
Excessive intake of raw foods, cold drinks, fruits, smoothies and juices cools the body and promotes the loss of body heat and the secretion of fluid. This causes coldness, internal dampness and depletion, aggravating symptoms of chilliness, puffiness, phlegm, edema, fatigue, deficiencies, frailty, and weakened immunity.
Chinese Medicine views the kidneys, to a large extent, as a governing force in regulating metabolism. Kidneys are the source of necessary digestive fire. When the kidneys produce less warmth, metabolism slows down. Too many raw cooling foods and beverages cause coldness in the kidneys leading to slow metabolic activity, lower backache, adrenal deficiencies, and other disharmonies.
I like chocolate as much as the next person; however, it is extremely rich in oxalic acid (a calcium inhibitor) and contains theobromine, a caffeine-like substance. Theobromine, like caffeine, can trigger various nervous symptoms, including hyperactivity in children, anxiety, insomnia and disturbed sleep, heart disease, gastrointestinal complaints, and mood swings. If used habitually, chocolate inhibits healthful overall mineralization of the body and exacerbates mineral deficiencies. Chocolate is one of the ten most common food allergens, and is implicated in migraine headaches.
Perhaps our culture’s obsession with chocolate has more to do with the fact that it is characterized as the bitter flavor in TCM. For balanced health, we need all five flavors and bitter is the healing flavor for the heart, and an antidote for a hot climate. Not many people are getting this flavor from real food.
In our modern “age of information" our relationship with food has resulted in much confusion, as evident by the many dietary programs that espouse their plan to be the ideal way of eating for everyone. We’ve lost the innate wisdom of our ancestors to Know nature and how to adapt to our environment with appropriate foods and cooking methods. We’ve lost the intuitive wisdom and commonsense of our ancestors.
For long-term balanced health, the best foods to use do not overly cleanse, build, cool, heat, or stress one’s body or mind. Follow your inner guidance, educate yourself on food energetics, and learn to evaluate your personal condition and the various therapeutic properties of food. If you’re uncertain or have health issues you want to reverse, consult with a professional who will customize a diet based on your constitutional strengths and weaknesses, condition, age, lifestyle, activity level, environment and other important factors.
If a food plan is founded on a stagnant structure that does not change with individual needs, long-term balanced health will be limited.
Deborah Barr is a 28-year Holistic Health and Nutrition Counselor/Coach, speaker, and author, works with clients who want to reverse health and weight issues; achieve emotional harmony, radiant health, passion, peaceful living, work-life balance, and a life they love. In 1985 she founded Whole Health Resources, the premier Holistic Health Center in Pittsburgh. WHR’s mission is to promote the healing and development of body, mind and spirit, and to teach an understanding of the relationship between diet, attitudes, lifestyle and wellness. She offers free help through her 2 e-newsletters, Holistic Weight Loss,and Whole Health Matters, and free articles. Contact Deborah at [email protected] or 412.361.8600. For free tips and articles, subscribe to Whole Health Matters and Holistic Weight Loss. For shorter tips, join our page at www.facebook.com/wholehealthresources andwww.twitter.com/deborahbarr For professional guidance creating the right diet for you, click here, call Deborah at 412.361.8600, or send an email to [email protected]