Summer is the perfect time to incorporate more raw foods into your diet and research shows that doing so is a simple and delicious way to shed fat and improve your health. Plus, eating more raw fruits and vegetables has been shown to decrease your risk of chronic disease, cancer, and stroke.
We’re not talking about eating only raw foods or abolishing your favorite grilled meats and fish. Cooking out is one of the delights of summer, but strategically adding the most unique and delicious raw fruits and vegetables to salads and other recipes is an easy way to get lean fast.
#1 Eat Raw Foods to Decrease Energy Intake
Cooking significantly increases the energy available from food. We’ve known for a while that cooking increases the calories available from starches like sweet potatoes, but a recent Harvard University study found that cooking meats, eggs, and vegetables increases the amount of calories your body absorbs from those foods as well.
The study compared the effect of feeding mice one of four diets for four days: raw sweet potato, cooked sweet potato, raw beef, or cooked beef. The mice maintained their weight on the cooked diets but lost weight on the raw diets, but they ate more calories on the raw diets! So, despite having higher food intake and ingesting more calories, the mice lost weight simply by eating raw.
Researchers think this is due to the need to chew the raw food more and to the greater calories burned from digesting the raw foods. Cooked foods are “pre-digested” and many of the compounds are broken down, resulting in less energy expenditure from digesting cooked food. There is also less water in cooked food, making the cooked diets more energy dense.
Eating more of your foods in raw or minimally cooked form will mean you decrease the energy density of the food you eat, and you will experience the various health benefits listed below. You can eat significantly more raw vegetables and fruits to get the same energy intake as if those same foods were cooked or processed, and you’ll get more nutrients and antioxidants too!
#2 Eat the Raw with the Cooked For Optimal Health
Studies show people who eat strict or even mostly raw food vegetarian diets have significantly lower body mass indexes, with less body fat, less lean mass, and lower bone density. Although eating a raw diet may seem to be a great solution if you struggle with fat loss, there are some serious negative health effects. Evidence shows raw diets lead to poor fertility in both sexes and that half of women who eat raw diets have impaired ovulation. The reason is likely a combination of low energy intake and lack of healthy fat from which sex hormones are produced.
Researchers suggest that raw diets are undesirable from a survival perspective. Cooking makes survival and reproduction much easier and has significantly supported human evolution. Historically, when energy was scarce, cooking increased the calories available from gathered food and it makes meat much more attractive and palatable since it becomes more easily digested, safer, and tastier.
Take away the understanding that in the modern, energy dense society, eating cooked food is okay, but optimal health can be achieved by including raw foods in the diet. If you’re trying to lose fat, substituting more raw fruits and vegetables for cooked ones, while eliminating processed foods and cooked grains is a beneficial plan. Be sure to get adequate “smart” fats such as the omega-3s from fish and wild meats, and monounsaturated fats from foods like olive oil avocados for optimal reproductive health.
#3 Eat Raw Foods Instead of Packaged to Avoid an Energy Excess
Another finding of the Harvard study is that food labels are significantly underestimating calorie content of cooked or processed foods. Energy content of food is typically based on an accepted calculation of the calories in uncooked and unprocessed food. Heating or processing the food will significantly increase the calories present, but most food labels base the energy content on calculations of raw food.
People who rely on these values are lowballing their energy intake, which can obviously lead to fat gain. To stay or get lean, all processed foods should be avoided in favor of whole foods, whether they are cooked or raw.
#4 Eat Raw Produce Instead of Grain-Based Carbohydrates
Substitute grain-based carbohydrates for raw produce to decrease your glycemic load and lose fat. Shifting the balance of a meal toward vegetables and away from refined AND whole grains will mean that your body experiences a much more gradual and moderate insulin response because raw vegetables take much longer to digest.
It works like this: In general, grains are digested much faster than vegetables, and digestion breaks the chemical bonds down into glucose or blood sugar. The presence of glucose in the blood triggers the pancreas to produce insulin so that the glucose can be moved into your cells or stored as fat. If you eat fast-digesting grains, your body will produce too much insulin all at once when you don’t need it, which means much of the energy will be stored as fat. Plus, grains are much denser in energy than vegetables, so for every serving of rice or bread you eat, you are getting many more calories than if you ate the same serving of kale, broccoli, or salad.
#5 Eat Raw Foods Before Taking a Bite of Cooked Food—You’ll Ingest Less Energy Overall
A fascinating new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine using college students found that whichever food the students ate first from their plate ended up being the food they ate the most of at that meal. So, the students who started with vegetables ate more veggies overall, which translated into them eating less high-glycemic carbs (the other choices were dinner roles and French fries) and less energy overall.
The research group suggests that as long as you see and eat the same volume of food, you are likely to feel full and satisfied despite the lower intake in energy. Making it a habit to always eat raw fruits and vegetables first before taking a bite of cooked food can produce significant fat loss in the long term.
#6 Eat Raw “Water-Rich” Foods to Lower Energy Intake
Eating more “water-rich” raw fruits and vegetables is an easy way to increase your water intake to maintain hydration and lose fat. In fact, a compelling study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared a reduced fat diet with a reduced fat diet that included more water-rich fruits and vegetables. Participants were counseled on how to reduce fat from their diet so that they ended up eating 28 percent of their calories from fat, 54 percent from carbs, and 18 percent from protein.
Results showed that the “water-rich” food group lost an average of 17 pounds, about 3 more than the reduced fat group by the end of the one year study. Since they were eating more of their diet from fruits and vegetables, they took in 113 fewer calories daily than the reduced fat group, but they ate 25 percent more food daily! They reported significantly less hunger than the other group, and improved their cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure more than the reduced fat group, indicating better overall health.
#7 Eat Raw To Make You Chew More and Improve Hormone Response to Food
It’s well known that people who chew their food more times will eat less, but it is a surprisingly hard practice to consistently perform. Eating raw foods before any other food type is the easiest way to force yourself to chew more—just the fact that you are eating crunchy, fresh food will remind you to work your jaw a few extra times for each bite.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese people naturally chewed fewer times and ingested more food than lean participants. Chewing the food 40 times before swallowing rather than 15 times resulted in a 12 percent lower energy intake.
Ingestion rate strongly correlated with the number of chews per gram of food, but perhaps more interesting, the greater the number of chews per bite was associated with a better hormone response to the food. The hormone ghrelin (increases appetite) was lower in participants who chewed more, and the hormones CCK and GLP-1 (decrease feelings of hunger) were higher when participants chewed more, regardless of body weight status. Increased chewing is thought to release nutrients from food more efficiently, which leads to this better physiological hormone response to food.
#8 Eating Raw Produce Is One of the BEST Ways to Increase Fiber Intake
Studies show that dietary fiber intake is associated with less body fat and researchers have suggested that simply getting enough fiber can be a treatment for the obesity epidemic. The average American adult fiber intake is less than half of the government recommendation, and less than 3 percent of Americans are thought to get adequate fiber! Plus, a variety of studies have shown that increasing fiber content can produce greater fat loss than a diet with reduced fat but no increase in fiber—one 2010 study showed that a high-protein, high fiber diet produced 2.2 pounds more fat loss than a standard diet with reduced fat.
Eating raw foods at every meal is the easiest way to boost your fiber intake and lose fat. Fiber helps slow digestion and decrease the blood sugar response, and greater fiber intake is linked to less disease risk. In addition, if you are eating lots of protein you need even more fiber—the 2010 study mentioned above included at least 35 grams of fiber a day.
#9 Eat Raw To Get More Fruits and Veggies to Prevent Cancer & Stroke
A large-scale European study found that participants who ate more raw vegetables had less risk of ischemic stroke (a blood clot in a brain blood vessel), and raw fruit intake was associated with lower rate of hemorrhagic stroke (a blood vessel in the brain becomes weak and bursts open). Overall, an intake of raw fruit and vegetables of more than 262 grams a day (roughly two cups a day) resulted in a 30 percent lower risk of stroke than a low intake of less than 92 grams a day.
There’s a wealth of studies that link the intake of antioxidant-rich produce with less cancer risk (thyroid, breast, and prostate). A clear outcome of these studies is that processed produce (fruit cocktail, canned vegetables) aren’t associated with cancer prevention. Plus, raw vegetables have been shown to be much better than cooked vegetables because the cooking causes a dramatic drop in antioxidant and vitamin content. For example, an analysis of cooked and raw kale found that cooking the kale decreased vitamin C content by 89 percent, polyphenols by 56 percent, and zinc by 13 percent. Antioxidant activity of the cooked kale dropped to 38 percent of the raw.
Opt for antioxidant-rich foods such as dark red, blue, and purple fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard, and collards. Deep orange fruits and veggies, tomatoes, white turnips, and grapes have been highlighted in studies as being especially high in antioxidants.