Walk in to your local grocery store and you’re sure to be affronted with all the latest and greatest that the health food industry has set its sights on capitalizing. As the saying goes, everything old becomes new, and recently raw food diets have made quite a comeback. Though this manner of eating dates back to ancient times, formal studies began in the 1930’s when Dr. Paul Kouchakoff started to test the stress response that occurs when plant foods are exposed to heat. It has long been confirmed that heat exposure does leech the nutrients out of even the most power-packed food, but can this method fit into a bodybuilding diet? Enough modern athletes are promoting it that I decided to take a closer look.
Raw food is defined as food that ranges from a completely natural state to food that is cooked to no more than 115 degrees (F). Proponents claim that unaltered food contains concentrated vitamins and enzymes that are essential to overall health and vitality. A vegan diet is standard, but fish, meat and dairy can be eaten in raw form as well. Raw foodists claim many benefits beyond the documented surplus of nutrients. The high fiber content can promote natural detoxification, and is believed to support weight loss. It is also said that a raw diet provides you with more energy, since your body doesn’t have to work as hard at digestion.
I have to admit that my own experience with veganism left a bad taste in my mouth. I was young and uninformed at the time, so I was willing to keep an open mind. Inspired by an article about Jennifer Nicole Lee (fitness model, author and creator of The Bikini Model Program), I decided to go raw for a few days, and see what all the fuss was about. Searing meat seemed a little daunting to my less-evolved culinary skills, so I stuck with basics like soy, nuts and seeds, and a pea-based protein supplement. I loaded up on fresh fruit and big salads, and lightly steamed veggies for dinner. To be honest, the only major difference was the lack of my staple chicken breasts and egg whites. After three or four days, I experienced a notable increase in energy. My skin felt silky-smooth, and I did feel lighter and more buoyant. After a week, though, I missed
my grilled chicken. I vowed never to take for granted the ease of slapping it on top of some lettuce, and calling it dinner, again. A moderate approach has always seemed to suit me best, and I've learned through the years that if I'm not going to stick with something, it's not worth doing. While I won’t be converting any time soon, I have been making an effort to incorporate more plant-based meals in my diet.
So should you go raw? Through some research, along with my own experience, I believe that the benefits are real. While the purists have made this a lifestyle, those of us not wishing to toss our George Foremans can still reap big rewards. Slice up peppers, zucchini and carrots for snacks, have a colorful salad for dinner and a bowl of fresh berries for dessert. Mom was right when she said to eat your veggies, but try to eat a few more of them raw.
Erin stays busy pursuing her own fitness goals, and helping to educate and inspire those she loves to live healthier lives. A hair stylist by trade, she manages a salon, and is chipping away at a degree, ultimately in dietetics and kinesiology. She lives in South Florida with her husband and a “pound puppy” named Pedro.