Eating enough fruits and vegetables is a cornerstone of any healthy diet – regardless of whether we're eating low carb, high carb, keto, vegan, or vegetarian. Our bodies require the nutrients that fruits and vegetables so abundantly provide. But eating enough fruits and veggies is only part of the equation - how they're processed and prepared also makes a huge difference in terms of their health benefits. Meaning, regardless of what your 6-year-old says, ketchup on french fries does not count as 2 servings of vegetables (sorry, kiddo!)
Here are 8 reasons why integrating more raw (and preferably organic!) fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes in their raw form can seriously benefit us.
1. More Nutrition
Eating a high percentage of raw foods is like an automatic nutritional upgrade. Because raw foods are inherently less tampered with, the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which are sensitive to things like heat and oxidation remain intact for the benefit of our body. While this doesn't mean cooked foods are completely devoid of nutrition, it does mean that we can maximize our nutrition by incorporating more raw food into our diet on a daily basis.
2. Better Digestion
Raw foods also contain naturally occurring enzymes which help aid our body's own digestive enzymes for a more complete breakdown of our food. If you're eating plenty of raw foods you're also automatically sure to get lots of fiber, which helps support the entire digestive system, especially elimination of waste as fiber acts like a broom in the GI system. Raw fruits and vegetables are also naturally full of water which helps keep us hydrated and also helps support proper elimination. Sprouting things like nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes can also improve digestion that much more by helping to deactivate phytic acid (an anti-digestive compound found in these plant foods) while also maximizing their enzymatic activity. The better we digest the more nutrition we can absorb from the foods we eat. Many companies are also making products out of sprouted ingredients - for instance, sprouted nut and seed butters - which are easier on digestion than their non-sprouted counterparts.
3. Beauty Benefits
Many people who focus their diet around raw plant foods note a vast number of beauty benefits! Most likely this is caused by the increase in specific nutrients and phytocompounds that help support healthy hair, skin, and nails, as well as the elimination of foods that contain toxins or that are an overall burden on our bodies. The beta carotene found in foods like kale, goji berries and carrots help strengthen the skin and prevent wrinkling and premature aging. Minerals like sulfur and silica found in brassica vegetables, fresh herbs, onions, and various fruits like mangos and bananas help keep our skin soft and radiant and strengthen our hair, skin, nails, and bones. Various phytonutrients such as lycopene or anthocyanins found abundantly in the plant kingdom act as powerful antioxidants, preventing free radical damage and boosting our overall immune system. Want to maximize the beautifying effects of your diet? Be sure to eat a rainbow of different colors – red, purple, green, orange, etc as these colors signal different phytocompounds which have amazing health and beauty benefits.
4. Natural Weight Management
Raw foods are naturally rich in both water and fiber while simultaneously being low in calories – the perfect trifecta for healthy weight management. The additional nutrition found in raw foods can also help shore up nutrient deficits that may be causing cravings for things like salt and sugar. For instance, eating more mineral-dense foods like fresh leafy greens and sea vegetables can help prevent cravings for sugar – a common sign of a magnesium deficiency.
5. Easy Way to Avoid Harmful Ingredients
When we base our diet around whole, raw plant foods, we naturally eliminate the man-made food additives and processed ingredients that can end up seriously harming our health over time. Things like refined sugar, preservatives, emulsifiers, synthetic dyes and flavor enhancers like MSG, to name just a few. These ingredients tax our detoxification systems, cause inflammation and stress our bodies. The more we can avoid these processed ingredients and reach for foods in their natural state, the better.
6. Food As The Best Medicine
Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, once said thousands of years ago "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." It's just as applicable today as it was then, if not more so. The CDC shares that 1 in 4 people die of heart disease in the USA every year and things like cancer and diabetes continue to be a struggle for many individuals and families around the world. While certainly not all health issues are caused by our diet exclusively, our diet is a huge factor in our susceptibility and/or probability of chronic health conditions. When we eat lots of plant foods in their natural form, we flood the body with all the right tools it needs to thrive, and we also eliminate the things that wreak havoc on our health like the wrong types of fats, refined grains and excessive sugar, and toxic additives and chemicals.
7. More Efficient Detoxification
Detoxification is an essential part of what our body does every single day to keep us well, and it never stops. No matter how clean our diet is, we are all exposed to toxins that our body must flush out. When we eat foods that help support our major detox organs, like or colon, liver, kidneys, and skin, we end up with fewer toxins hanging out and building up in our tissues messing with our metabolic processes and causing mayhem. Chlorophyll-rich green foods and herbs in their raw form tend to be some of the most detoxifying foods on the planet, and can even support our body in ridding things like heavy metals which tend to be more challenging for our bodies to get rid of.
8. Heightened Taste Perception
One lesser obvious benefit of eating more raw foods is that our taste buds actually shift. Simple foods like tomatoes and cucumbers become more flavorful and even subtly sweet. We may find that we can tolerate more "bitter" foods like dark leafy greens, or that we need less salt or sugar overall to enjoy our food. This is because we've allowed our taste buds a chance to adjust to the flavor nuances of real food, unadulterated food. Taste perception is such a huge part of why eating brings us so much enjoyment – and eating lots of fresh, raw food helps bring those taste buds back to life.
Not ready to give up your favorite cooked foods? You don't need to eat a 100% raw diet to benefit! Many people choose to eat 2 meals raw, with 1 meal cooked to find a happy balance. Or perhaps try incorporating at least 50% raw food with every meal. Whatever you do, just don't forget the power of live, unprocessed foods!