I’d heard before that raw fruits and vegetables have more nutrients than cooked ones.
And I’d considered before the possibility that eating more nutrient-dense foods could potentially be healthier and help you lose weight.
But early experiments adding raw foods to my diet never seemed to bring about weight loss, or any evidence of improved health. On the contrary, an Atkins diet of primarily cooked meat and pasteurized cheeses had proven the most effective weight loss diet for me, and had left me feeling generally good. Though the media says meat is unhealthy, it certainly seemed an improvement over other diets that left me heavier and feeling less good.
What’s more, when I switched to veganism after learning more about the way animals are raised today, I presumably increased my diet’s nutrient-density, but I didn’t lose weight. I ate more fruits, whole grains and even vegetables. And many of these (particularly bananas, apples, blueberries and spinach) I ate raw. Yet not only did I not lose weight; I didn’t feel healthier. (In fact, while I was eating large amounts of whole grains, I’d get profoundly tired by mid-afternoon.)
So my old theory about nutrient-density, health and weight loss fell by the wayside.
But after I was recently asked if a product I’ve helped to launch, a new organic olive oil called Frank (because we’re open and honest about our growing and production processses) is raw, I started doing some research on raw food. Initially looking only for an answer to the question (I believe the answer is “yes,” if you’re curious), I found much more: I found a new diet to try.
There’s a lot about the raw diet that appeals to me. First, it aligns with the Paleo diet. Traditionally, humans didn’t eat processed food like white bread, Twinkies, crackers or protein bars. They didn’t farm, so they didn’t eat a lot of grains. And they didn’t cook. They ate raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and meat. And because we evolved eating this diet for far far longer than we’ve had a chance to adapt biologically to our current diets, this may well be the diet our bodies are currently designed to thrive off of.
Second, the diet is essentially vegan. Sure, you can eat sashimi, probably carpaccio, and maybe even cured meats like prosciutto. (I’m not sure yet whether the curing process is tantamount to “cooking.”) Raw (un-homogenized, unpasteurized) milk and raw cheese are OK too. But let’s face it, there’s not a lot of raw dairy around these days, and you can only work so much sashimi and carpaccio into your daily diet. So, if you’re going to do the raw diet, it’s not a big leap to do it vegan.
Finally, the diet seems a surefire way to lose weight. This is always a plus (so long as the weight loss is safe but healthy). Until recently, the Atkins Diet has proved for me to be a surefire way to trim some fat; but given my concerns about meats and cheeses the way we produce the vast majority of them today, I don’t like eating any meat or cheese, let alone a diet consisting almost exclusively of them. So the raw diet could be a way for me to keep slim and eat only those foods I’m comfortable eating.
So I decided to give it a shot. I’ll be writing more about the raw diet shortly: there are many nuances to it, controversies about it, differences in opinion among the raw food community as to what’s healthy and what’s not, and debates over how healthy it may be. But since I’m only 5 days into it I’ll give a very quick description of why to follow this diet, and what it’s meant so far for my body.
The key theory behind the diet is that cooking kills nutrients. The less you cook food (preferably not at all), the more your body will get out of it. And the more your body gets out of it, the less need it has for you to eat more food, and so the less it tells you to be hungry. So you end up eating less, being slimmer, trimming belly fat and potentially improving your bloodwork, heart condition and diabetes risk.
Whether this is true is still in question; few studies have been conducted on the diet. But, as with the Atkins diet, there are some studies about the effectiveness of the raw diet as a weight loss, and weight maintenance, tool. The most remarkable of these (to me) showed that among a couple dozen men who followed a strict raw diet for four years, their average BMI was 20.7, and their average body fat percentage was 13.9%.
I’ve always fallen on the skinnier side of the spectrum, but if I could get my numbers to those levels it would radically reshape even my body. These figures, as pure numbers, may not sound impressive. But jump on a scale that shows body fat percentage, or punch your height and weight into one of the many BMI calculators you can find through Google, and you’ll can figure out how much fat you’d need to trim to get near either of these figures. (Note that a 20.7 BMI means something different for the typical adult of Caucasian or African backgrounds than it does for someone with an Asian background, but it should give you a decent sense of what the diet meant for these men.) As a 6 foot, 2 1/2 inch male, I’d need to weight 163 pounds in order to match that BMI. Few Americans are that slender. I certainly am not.
As for myself: I’ve been on the diet for five days now, and I’ve lost 4.8 pounds and 2.1 percent body fat. I wasn’t at my thinnest before starting the diet, but I wasn’t at my heaviest. (I’ve never been “overweight” as determined by BMI, or even terribly close, but I’m also nowhere near a 20.7 BMI these days). This is a lot of weight loss (for me) in a little time. It’s also a lot of trimmed fat. But it’s still early in the process, and my long term weight loss (or gain) will be more telling.
I’m not going to keep a purely strict raw diet. I’m going to see the Yankees uptown tonight, and I’ll drink beer (preferably “lite” beer) at the game. But I plan to maintain a more or less raw diet for the coming weeks, and see where it takes me. The initial weight loss (and fat loss) are very encouraging. I also feel great. People say the raw diet may improve your eyesight, and, at the risk of making myself sound ridiculous, and though it’s tough to measure on one’s own, I actually feel as though it may have. (I unwittingly found myself holding a book a full arm’s length this morning.) I also think my face looks thinner.
Let’s see how this experiment pans out. Much more to come, if I stay on it.