Eek! You started a raw food diet and noticed something alarming: suddenly your body is running a little more slowly, you’re not visiting the bathroom as regularly, you have a tiny – or larger? – food baby all the time… what gives, body? Isn’t raw food supposed to be super cleansing and the easiest thing for us to break down?
Not so fast. There are a few things to take into consideration when working raw foods into your diet. It’s important to know that, yes, there is value to eating raw food! Some great raw options for most diets include sprouted raw nut butters and soaked, sprouted seeds or grains.
There’s also value in cooked food and it’s important to remember that everyone’s body will respond differently to a combination of raw and cooked foods. Read on for more about the raw versus cooked plant food question. You’ll also find some ways to keep your body happy using cooked plant-based ingredients, especially if you’re noticing that raw foods are a little jarring to your sensitive system at first. Remember, easing into a raw lifestyle is a smarter approach, not forcing your body to do something it may not be ready for yet.
Things to Remember About Raw Food and Digestion:
Raw Foods Are Cooling
Cool foods slow digestion. Think of your digestive tract as a rain forest: in order for it function at its best, it needs to be moist and warm. Too dry (like a desert) or too cold (like a tundra) and things go into slow-down survival mode (you would, too, if you were in an extreme environment like that!). Raw foods cool, while warm foods… warm. While cold smoothies have their place in a diet, too much of them may offset digestion. Something like these Baked Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Spring Rolls would be a great way to work in the cooked veggies without overtaxing your body’s fiber load and still benefiting from cooked healthy foods.
Fiber is a Tricky Beast
We’re taught that fiber is essential to regularity, so wouldn’t it make sense that packing tons of fruit, veggie and seed fiber into the body should make digestive trouble a non-issue? Well, there are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, like flax and apple flesh, readily absorbs water and becomes fluid in the body. Insoluble fiber, like the dense crisscrossed structure of a kale leaf, does not break down in water and requires ample chewing to be able to move through the body. It’s more prone to slowing things down if improperly chewed or if it’s introduced to an environment already lacking in water. Here’s an article on Cooking Greens So They Taste Delicious that will also make digestion a bit easier at the same time. Don’t fear fiber, just remember to include a mix of different kinds so your body stays in balance. This Steamed Sweet Potatoes With Wild Rice, Basil, and Tomato Chili Sauce is also a great recipe that’s a perfect example of a nice mix of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Your GI Tract Would Really Prefer to Break Down Liquids
When we cook foods, the heat begins the process of taking apart the macronutrients, so by the time these foods reach the stomach, they’re partially broken down. This makes the GI tract’s job a little easier; after all, the stomach won’t heat up to partially cook something before breaking it down, and it doesn’t have teeth to tear. The wisdom that we should chew our food until it’s liquid applies to raw food, too: we want to do a little work on the stomach’s behalf before we overwhelm it with tough-to-break down fiber. You should of course, still eat, and not consume liquids alone, but don’t forget to chew your food, even if it’s a yummy smoothie, or a warm, liquid soup. (Want some semi-liquid recipes to start with? See these 10 Plant-Based Stews Using Global Flavors.) Plus, if the stomach sends only partially broken down food to the small intestine, the backlog of work just continues throughout your system. This leads to bloating and backups, especially because…
High-fiber Foods Absorb Water
So now you have a gut full of partially digested fiber. It’s pulling in all of the water it can find, and stirring up anything else that has been hanging out in your system. Unless you’re incredibly well-hydrated, your system will become too dry to move all of this bulk out. Brussels sprouts are particularly tricky: it’s like eating a whole mini cabbage! Get their nutrient goodness in these Stir-fried Brussels Sprout Leaves with Ginger and Curry instead.
Fats From Oils May Help Keep the Body Lubricated
Often, we don’t incorporate enough oil when eating an exclusively raw diet. Some people don’t do well with oil, so please decide how it works for you before adhering to any advice. For those struggling with digestion and regularity, the use of a little oil on a raw salad can help to lubricate the body and prevents digestion from being held up. Cooking with coconut oil, olive oil or sesame oil can be helpful ways to add these beneficial fats into your diet; plus, the vitamins in fruits and veggies are fat-soluble. Adding healthy fats to dishes not only makes things taste good; it actually makes them more nutritious. There are some great ways to use oil alongside high-fiber veggies in this post, 10 Ways to Cook with Root Veggies. If you don’t tolerate oil well, then be sure to eat healthy, whole food fats like avocados and raw coconut meat, which will also provide healthy fats in a lighter format.
Use Dried Fruit With Awareness and Caution
Place a raisin in water and what happens? It rehydrates. It also becomes gooey and sticky… exactly what happens when dried fruit rehydrates in the GI tract. As a popular component of raw food diets, these are a common culprit in digestive trouble, somewhat because of the concentrated sugars, and because some people’s systems don’t handle them as well as others. This isn’t to say they won’t work for some people (since they may actually help some people with slow digestion), but if you’re using them and having trouble, ease up on the dates, figs, raisins, etc. and use fresh, whole berries (or frozen) instead. Or, try lightly poaching or baking fruit: not only is it easier to break down, the warmth can help soothe your whole system and keep things humming. Check out these fun ways to cook with a variety of fruits.
Remember that raw and cooked foods both have their place in a diet, especially if you’re new to healthy eating and your system is still learning the ropes. Don’t adhere to rigidity or “shoulds” when embracing plant-based nutrition. Listen to your body and incorporate a variety of whole, plant-based foods into your routine.