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Raw Foods Nutrition for Newbies: Your Questions Answered

We have all enjoyed the crunch of a fresh carrot, or the sweetness of a ripe peach, as well the sense of rightness that comes from eating fruit and vegetables that have that just picked quality. We have the impression that this is how food should be – unprocessed, unpackaged and as full of vitality and nutrients as when it was hanging from the tree, or growing in the earth. This is raw food, and for many people rawness is forming an increasingly important part of their diet.

The idea behind raw eating is that the more we cook and prepare foods, the less nutritious they become. There are a few foods that have to be cooked in order to make them more digestible. Most fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, however are more nutritious in their natural state. They have higher levels of vitamins, anti-oxidants and enzymes which are very temperature sensitive and start to denature or breakdown above about 460C. Raw foodists believe that it is these nutrients, only found in food when it is still “living”, that make all the difference.

The easiest way to experience the health benefits of raw foods is to eat more salads and fruit. Snack on nuts and dried fruit rather than cooked crisps or rice cakes. Try more sprouted grains and seeds. During the summer months in particular it is not too difficult to eat one raw meal a day. This is a great way to increase our fruit and vegetable intake, get more variety into our diets and reduce our reliance on wheat, of which most of us eat too much. If nothing else, it is a good way to get us out of a dietary rut and playing with new foods and flavours.

If you want to get more experimental, there are plenty of recipe books for raw food “cooking” to make everything from snack bars of chopped dates and nuts to a raw pizza made using a dehydrator and ground almonds and linseeds. The world is your raw oyster.

There is also a range of superfoods that have become a key part of the raw foodist’s diet. The term “superfood” is now so overused as to be almost meaningless, but basically it is any nutrient dense or particularly anti-oxidant rich food. Blueberries are considered a superfood because they contain significantly more anti-oxidants than an apple, for instance. Including superfoods in meals or recipes is therefore a great way of increasing your daily nutrient intake.

Many of the raw foodist’s superfoods are mysterious powders or roots with exotic names, and no clue as to what you are supposed to do with them. So for the uninitiated, over the page is our beginner’s guide to raw superfoods.

Bee pollen – Probably the original superfood, having been used since Victorian times as a remedy for hayfever and allergies. Bee pollen contains all of the B vitamins, including B12, as well as vitamins C, D and E, 25 minerals and about 20 different amino acids. It can be eaten as whole grains, or blended into a smoothie.

Cacao nibs or powder – The raw ingredient from which chocolate is made, cacao beans are thought to be one of the most nutrient rich foods on earth. Spectacularly high in anti-oxidants and also particularly rich in magnesium, a great stress mineral for both fatigued muscles and balancing brain chemistry. Raw cacao also contains a number of mood boosting chemicals which increase serotonin levels. This uplifting effect of chocolate is well known, but is much stronger in the raw ingredient.

Goji berries – Now commonly available, these were the first of the new generation of superfoods. They are best soaked overnight to plump them up a bit, and are a good source of carotenoids in particular, precursors of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a great skin protector. It is interesting that goji berries grow at high altitudes in Mongolia, Tibet and China, where the local people need significantly more vitamin A to protect them from increased levels of UV light.

Incan berries – The latest exotic super-berry, Incan berries are alternatively known as Cape Gooseberries, Goldenberries or Physalis. Much tastier than goji berries as a snack, they are also a good source of anti-oxidants.

Lucuma powder – The lucuma is a Peruvian fruit, and Peru’s best selling flavour of ice cream. Once dried and powdered it is used in many raw food recipes for its natural sweetness and exotic flavour.

Maca powder – Again from Peru, maca is a root that looks a bit like a turnip. It contains all of the essential amino acids and has a total protein content of around 14%. It is also often used as a medicinal herb, having an adaptogenic effect similar to ginseng, reducing the negatives effects that stress can have on the body. Most commonly mixed into a smoothie, it can also be mixed into nut milks as a drink or added to raw food recipes.

Purple corn powder – In the same way that spelt is an ancient form of wheat, purple corn is an ancient corn variety that is still cultivated in the Peruvian Andes where it is made into a traditional drink called chichi morada. As with many of these superfoods it is rich in anti-oxidants, particularly anthocyanins which are thought to reduce inflammation and help control cholesterol levels.

Yacon root – A South American tuber, yacon is very rich in FOS, a prebiotic sugar that specifically nourishes the beneficial bacteria in our guts without affecting our blood sugar levels. It can be used as a sweetener in recipes, or the dried tuber can be eaten as snack to maintain digestive health. It tastes similar to dried pineapple.

Love & Light

Information found on Planet Organic website.

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