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When raw goes wrong

When embarking on a raw food diet, many people make a couple of fundamental mistakes, which is when going raw can easily go wrong.

Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure your transition to raw food eating delivers the health and body benefits you’re after. 

Overconsumption is overconsumption

In trying to replace a predominantly cooked food diet, it is common to overindulge in tasty gourmet raw meals made from fruit, vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds that are often smothered in creamy nut or oil-based dressings.

The result can be diabolical – excessive weight gain and poor health. The main reason why you probably chose a raw food diet in the first place was to avoid these issues.

At this point, many people abandon all efforts to eat more raw food and return to their more familiar cooked food diet.

In an attempt to consume sufficient calories, many people also overeat on nuts and seeds. While they are tasty and convenient, they’re loaded with calories. As such, excessive weight gain from seeds and nuts is not uncommon.

When your meal is lacking substance

A diet consisting predominantly of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds can also be deficient in various essential nutrients that the body needs to function optimally. However, there is a nutrient-rich weapon that should form a major part of every diet; leafy greens.

Leafy greens are characterised as any green leaves that are pliable enough to be wrapped around your finger, such as kale, spinach, chard, romaine lettuce, carrot and beetroot tops, herbs and edible weeds. Leafy greens have the highest nutritional value and are rich in chlorophyll.

This gives them the ability to photosynthesise energy from sunshine, converting it into food which can be consumed by all living creatures. Greens also contain many vital vitamins and minerals, including essential amino acids.

The problem is that most people don’t like the taste of greens and consuming enough every day to benefit from their high nutrient value can be challenging. Enter the green smoothie; blended greens, fruit and water. The combinations are endless and the addition of fruit make them more palatable and easier to drink. No recipes are required as any combination can work.

Most people find it easier to start with a fruit base, adding greens slowly to get used to the taste. In time the fruit can be reduced until blends with no or minimal fruit become palatable. Fresh herbs can also be added, which increases the nutrient value of the smoothies even further.

Blending vs juicing

Juicing is where a juicer is used to extract the juice from fruit and vegetables. Combinations of juiced fruit and veggies are then drunk in their raw state. Juicing requires very little digesting and nutrients are quickly assimilated into the blood stream, allowing the digestive system to take a bit of a break.

Juicing is ideal for those who suffer from an irritable digestive system and require optimal nourishment, but are unable to tolerate large quantities of fibre.

Blending requires a purpose-made blender. Fruit and vegetables are blended whole, with skins only removed when required. Blended juices or smoothies are nutrient dense, and are packed full of fibre and antioxidants. Blends aid the elimination of faecal matter, which in turn cleans out the toxins that build up in the colon. This allows the body to absorb nutrients more readily and improves digestion.

The omega-6 dilemma

One of the biggest problems with our modern-day diet is that it is generally too rich in omega-6 fatty acids, while deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.

A raw food diet high in nuts will also result in an excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids. However, omega-6 is not all bad, as long as it is consumed in an acceptable ratio with omega-3 fatty acids.

Recommended ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 range between 10:1 (The Institute of Medicine, USA) to 4:1 in Japan. Japan, incidentally, is renowned for the country’s low incidence of heart disease and other ailments.

When we look at a few commonly eaten, healthy foods we see that this ratio can be far outside the recommended range:

  • Sunflower oil 781:1
  • Sunflower seeds 321:1
  • Pumpkin seeds 114:1
  • Almonds 2011:1
  • Cashews 126:1
  • Wheat 22:1

By contrast, the following are more favourable ratios or can, in fact, correct the imbalance:

  • Flaxseed oil 1:4.2
  • Hemp seed 2.7:1
  • Chia seeds 1:3
  • Flaxseeds 1:3.9
  • Walnuts 4.2:1
  • Spinach 1:5.3
  • Apples 4.8:1

A diet that contains excessive omega-6 fatty acids can lead to inflammation, candida, diabetes and obesity, to name just a few conditions.

A diet high in nuts and seeds is therefore not sensible and not recommended. For a raw or almost raw diet to be nutritious and sustainable, focus on whole foods, vegetables, fruit, superfoods and leafy greens in the form of smoothies or juicing. And avoid putting nut-based or oil-based dressings on everything.

Gourmet raw meals make a perfect substitute for burgers, pizzas, fries and cakes as they’re healthy, delicious treats, but shouldn’t become the mainstay of a raw diet. So, while adding more raw to your diet can benefit your health significantly, this must be done in a balanced and sensible way to be effective.

By Carol Anthony, nutritionist and owner of Café Raw

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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