Spring and summer are the perfect seasons for incorporating raw foods into your meal plans. You'll never set your oven to more than 118 degrees, and you'll have access to farmers markets brimming with organic, just-picked produce. In addition to its cool-and-fresh factor, raw cuisine may boost your energy, help you lose weight, and fortify your body's natural defenses.
"Raw food isn't so much about what you're eating as about what you're not eating: pesticides, chemicals, and preservatives that go into processed foods," says Sarma Melngailis, owner and co-founder of Pure Food and Wine in New York City.
And while the science behind raw food is still being debated, this culinary art is getting more imaginative and sophisticated; its vibrant flavors and one-step-from-nature nutrients can revitalize any diet.
Never Been Cooked
Followers of raw foodism maintain that heating foods above 118 degrees diminishes the quality by destroying natural enzymes and degrading proteins and nutrients while concentrating any pesticides they might contain.
"When you eat raw food, it comes with the perfect mix of enzymes you need to digest it," explains Robyn Boyd, author of RawSome Recipes: Whole Foods for Vital Nutrition. "Your body doesn't need to work as hard as it does with cooked food, so you have an extra reservoir of energy."
Not everyone agrees. "We don't need the enzymes in food in order to digest it—your body produces its own enzymes and secretes them based on what you've consumed," says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., and author of S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches (HarperOne). "Cooking does change the structure of protein, but the protein content of roasted nuts or cooked beans is still high, and your body can still use it for healing and repair."
While high heat can degrade some nutrients, it enhances the bioavailability of others, adds Sass. For example, your body does a better job of absorbing lycopene from cooked tomatoes than from raw. Similarly, the beta carotene in sweet potatoes and carrots is more bioavailable after the cooking process. (Lycopene and beta carotene have both been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer.)
Shredded salad image via Shutterstock