Raw Foods for Increased Energy

Walk into any health food store these days and you will see a plethora of books on raw foods along with a grocery section dedicated to raw kale chips, cookies, snack bars, etc.  There is good reason why raw foods have become so popular (I would almost call it a movement)!  Food that is freshly picked from the ground, being as close to nature as possible is the most healthful food on the planet.  With that said, I do believe that the organic produce department in your local health food store (or farmer’s market, CSA…) is where the ideal source of raw food exists (as opposed to the above mentioned snack foods).

The main reason raw foods are so health promoting is that they contain enzymes to help you digest your food (if an item is heated above 118 degrees all enzymes are destroyed), and fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytonutrients.  They also have a high water content which keeps one from becoming dehydrated.  Raw foods promote increased energy, mental clarity and better focus.  Studies show that eating raw vs. cooked vegetables reduces the risk of many types of cancer, including gastrointestinal, oral, esophageal and others.  Eating raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale) reduces the risk of bladder cancer by about 66% more than when eating their cooked counterparts.

A lot of people hear the term “raw foods” and think they would be limited to carrot and celery sticks or a basic salad, however there are endless possibilities to what can be created utilizing raw food ingredients and preparations.  The main tools in a raw food kitchen include a high-speed blender, a food processor and a dehydrator.  These tools allow one to create a variety of taste combinations and textures which resemble foods that we are more accustomed to eating.  Some favorites of mine include raw pizza, tacos, pad Thai, zucchini “pasta” with marinara, pecan pie, banana blueberry pancakes, apple zucchini chia seed muffins, carrot cake, coconut macaroons, and almond hummus.

The main source of protein in a raw food diet comes from nuts and seeds (the most popular being almonds, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds).  Roasted nuts and seeds actually form a carcinogenic property (acrylamides), creating free radicals which also contribute to arterial plaque and cardiovascular disease. Raw nuts and seeds are ideally soaked (or sprouted) in pure water for a few hours before using to remove “enzyme inhibitors”, making them more digestible and turning them into a “living food”.  The term living food refers to a seed or grain in which the growing process has been started.  True whole grains (ideally gluten free) such as buckwheat or oat groats can be sprouted and mixed with fresh or dried fruit for a hearty breakfast to replace cereals.  Legumes such as lentils, peas and mung beans, as well as grains including quinoa seeds of broccoli, fenugreek, mustard and leafy green varieties also are good for sprouting.  Sprouts are nutritional powerhouses, as they are much higher in nutrients than their adult counterparts.

Pasteurization destroys most of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes in juices and nut milks (dairy alternatives), so it is best to drink these freshly pressed (vegetable and fruit juices should be consumed within an hour of pressing to avoid oxidation, whereas fresh nut milks will keep up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

All vegetables contain protein, so it is a myth that this can only be obtained through animal sources.  Most people adhering to a raw food diet are vegan (consuming nothing from animal sources, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products).  A common misconception however is that someone needs to be 100% raw or vegan if they choose the raw food path, yet the current trend in the movement is to be “high raw”.  This translates to including between 50-100% of raw foods in your daily routine.   If you consciously include at least 50% with each meal, the raw foods will provide digestive enzymes which will help you metabolize the cooked foods. 

Chia, hemp and flax seeds are great sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Chia in particular is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, antioxidants and fiber.  Sesame seeds are very high in calcium, as are the dark leafy greens (in fact the calcium source in dairy products comes as a result of the cow eating greens, so why not avoid the “middleman” and eat the calcium rich greens directly)? Dairy products can be substituted for by blending nuts with other ingredients depending on the desired outcome (milks, cheeses, yogurts and ice creams are all possible).  Raw cacao is chocolate in its most natural form, available in powder, nibs or whole bean form.  Try adding a couple of tablespoons of cacao nibs to your green smoothie for a nice “chocolate shake”.  It has many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to elevate one’s mood and increase energy without caffeine.  When chocolate is heated and mixed with sugar, dairy products and other ingredients it actually becomes detrimental to one’s health. 

I personally begin my day with a raw green smoothie, have a large salad for lunch (rotating ingredients from day to day), and then include some raw items along with a cooked dinner.  My snacks are typically raw gluten free crackers (nut & seed based), nut & fruit bars or fresh fruits and vegetables.  I dehydrate my own cookies, crackers, muffins, kale chips and other snacks, being more economical and fresher than store bought versions. You also have better control over the ingredients. (Raw versions of “baked goods” primarily use nuts and seeds to replace grains, which are mixed with fruits and/or vegetables depending on the recipe.)  Most raw food sweet treats on the market are sweetened with agave nectar, which used to be considered the ideal low glycemic sweetener, however has been under scrutiny over the past couple of years regarding this claim.  I recommend sweetening items with either fresh fruit (bananas are good) or dried fruits (dates are a favorite of mine).

Most processed foods are stripped of nutrients and therefore need to be “fortified” with artificial vitamins and minerals, and also contain chemical preservatives.  For example Himalayan or Celtic sea salts are raw and contain over 80 essential minerals, whereas typical table salt is heated to high temperatures, bleached and treated with chemicals. 

I do hope you will incorporate more raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts into your daily routine, and that you realize great benefits through improved energy, mood and health.