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The Raw Way to Eat More Vegetables

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Advocates of a raw foods diet suggest it can aid weight loss, increase energy, and help subdue symptoms of cancer and diabetes. Following such a diet, heavy in nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, can seem like a logistical and culinary challenge. Alissa Cohen, a raw foods chef and author of the new book Raw Food for Everyone, suggests that’s not the case and that anyone can benefit from such a diet—even if they don’t go completely “raw foodist.”

No matter what eating plan you follow, consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables is a good idea. Athletes’ Performance nutritionist Bob Calvin says a raw food diet can teach you some great lessons in terms of eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. “But anytime you eliminate certain categories or groups of foods,” he says, “you need to take a step back and evaluate whether you are getting all of the nutrients you need to perform and function at your best.”

For most people, Calvin says that animal products—absent in a raw foods diet—are a major source of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, certain minerals, and omega-3 fats. If you eliminate these foods, it becomes increasingly important that you get enough of the following nutrients:

  • Iron rich plant sources – beans, seeds, spinach
  • Calcium rich plant sources greens (collard, spinach, kale), beans, okra
  • B-12 rich plant sourcesfortified cereals, (you may want to consider supplemental B-12)
  • Omega-3 rich plant sources flax, walnuts, omega-3 supplement

Here are five more things to know about including more raw foods in your diet:

1. It’s not as logistically challenging as you might think.

For starters, you’re not cooking with a raw foods diet. It’s more about meal assembly. “All you’re doing is chopping, grating, blending, assembling, and the dish is done,” Cohen says. “You’re not standing over a stove like you are with cooked food. There is a learning curve and it can seem overwhelming at first because it is so new. But it’s no different than learning to cook Greek or Indian food. It’s a lot easier than dealing with cooked food.”

2. There are real health benefits.

Raw foods are full of enzymes, some of which would be destroyed during the cooking process. “When you eat foods closer to a natural state, they’re healthier and alkaline-producing, which is what you want for a healthy, disease-free body,” says Cohen, who turned to a raw foods diet 25 years ago while dealing with fibromyalgia. “When the body is in a diseased state, it’s in an acidic state, which is where cancer cells live. You want your body to be as alkaline as possible, and you can do that through a number of different ways, even with exercise somewhat. But diet is the best way to turn your body into this alkaline condition.”

3. You will get sufficient protein.

Cohen, a onetime bodybuilder, says she’s often asked how she possibly gets enough protein in a raw foods diet. “Nobody dies in this country from protein deficiency, but protein overload creates all sorts of diseases,” she says. “With a raw foods diet, you’re getting high-quality protein and other good nutrients as well.” Calvin, who works with athletes in many sports, says that beans, seeds, and grains can be a major source of protein when eliminating animal foods from your diet, but they can also be high in what he calls “anti-nutrients.” “Anti-nutrients impede the absorption of necessary nutrients such as calcium and iron,” says Calvin. To combat this, try soaking your beans, grains, and seeds in water overnight. This will help reduce the negative effects on your digestion. If you don’t jump into eating completely raw, consider cooking your beans. Calvin says you may also want to consult a dietician to monitor your micronutrient levels through blood work.

4. You can go raw on the road.

Frequent business travelers know how challenging following any nutrition plan on the road can be, let alone a raw foods diet. Cohen, who travels frequently, says it’s becoming easier with the emergence of raw foods restaurants, along with dining establishments that cater to various diets. “You have to plan ahead. I pack trail mix. You can get a salad anywhere and add things from the menu that are on other dishes, like avocados and portabella mushrooms. Or order a vegetable dish raw.”

5. You can go a little raw.

Even if you don’t go all-in with raw foods, a few implementations can make a big difference. “Going raw is a major lifestyle change,” Calvin says. “Take it slow. Set small goals every two to three weeks and master these goals consistently and then progress.” Cohen’s book includes dozens of raw food desserts and smoothie recipes. “They’re incredible and you won’t tell the difference,” she says. “If you’re someone accustomed to eating a bagel or muffin for breakfast, substitute a smoothie with kale, Swiss chard, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds. You’ll have so much energy to start your day.” Here’s one of the recipes from Alissa Cohen’s new book:

Chocolate-Banana Shake

This is a rich, thick 32-ounce shake. With the addition of hemp protein, maca, almonds, and coconut, it’s a great pre- or post-workout snack.

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 tablespoon maca
  • 2 tablespoons protein powder
  • ½ cup cacao powder
  • ¼ cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup almonds, preferably sprouted
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Health, Cooking, Food

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