Powering up on plant proteins—beans, lentils, peas, soyfoods, nuts, seeds, and whole grains—has been one of the hottest food and nutrition trends over the past few years. Research has linked plant-based diets with lower risks of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.2 In addition, studies consistently show that plant-based diets are better for the environment. Diets high in meat increase greenhouse gas emissions from food production and global land clearing, as well as rate of species extinction.
Q: Some of my clients are following a raw food diet, and others are asking about it. What does this diet entail, and are there any benefits to eating raw foods?
A: The theory behind this diet is that Raw foods are packed with natural enzymes, and that if they're cooked above 116° F, the heat will destroy most of the vitamins, phytonutrients, and enzymes in foods like cauliflower and broccoli. Although weight loss is likely on a raw food diet due to the diet's low-calorie status and the elimination of high-calorie processed food, cooked food has nutritional and safety benefits. The diet includes fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs. No food can be cooked above 116° F, microwaved, processed, irradiated, genetically modified, or exposed to herbicides or pesticides. Some followers add raw, unpasteurized milk or cheese made from raw milk; raw honey; raw fish; and even raw meat. Legumes and grains are eaten raw, like chickpeas and mung beans. Other allowable foods include extra-virgin olive oil, raw virgin coconut oil, raw coconut butter, freshly squeezed juice, and herbal tea. Foods that are off limits include refined sugars and flours, table salt, and caffeine. Pasta, baked goods, and pasteurized juice and milk also are prohibited.
Followers can use juicing, blending, dehydrating, germinating, and sprouting to prepare foods. However, some of the required equipment, such as dehydrators, food processors, and high-grade blenders, are costly.
A raw food diet can promote weight loss; however, there can be nutritional and health consequences associated with eliminating cooked foods. If a client would like to follow a raw food diet, recommend they follow it to a lesser extent (no more than 90% raw foods) and to include cooked food as part of a well-balanced and varied diet.
There's also a risk of nutrient deficiency when raw food enthusiasts don't consume dairy, meat, or fish. Plus, certain foods like beans and grains typically aren't eaten since they need to be cooked; this can lead to additional deficiencies if the nutrients aren't obtained through other sources or supplementation.
Food safety is a second issue to consider. Unpasteurized dairy has a history of transmitting Listeria, which can be detrimental to the health of pregnant women and could potentially lead to stillbirth. Raw meat can contain bacteria such as E coli O157:H7, which is potentially deadly.
Don’t let those numbers discourage you or your clients, though. It’s still possible to make meals eaten away from home more environmentally friendly. With a little forethought and consideration, you can “green up” almost any restaurant meal. Remember: Green restaurant dining encompasses more than just ordering organic food. Follow these suggestions when you decide to eat out and you will have done your part:
• Walk, take public transit, carpool, or dine at a restaurant close to your home or office.
• Bring your own mug for coffee. Remind staff to make your drink in the cup you bring, not in a to-go cup.
• Consider menu items lower on the food chain. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, chicken has a lower environmental impact than beef, sustainable seafood has a lower impact than chicken, and vegetarian and vegan items have the lowest of all.
• Bring your own reusable container and offer it to your server when you ask to take leftovers home.
• Avoid the drive-thru. Cars that sit idling for long periods of time waste gas and the service is often wasteful by providing things you don’t want or need, such as napkins, ketchup, plastic knives and forks, and even the bag itself.
• Drink water instead of soda.
• If you drink an alcoholic beverage, opt for one that is produced locally or at least domestically.
• Choose a restaurant that uses locally grown produce.
• Ask restaurants and coffee shops if they serve Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. The alliance seal is a guarantee that the coffee is grown on farms where forests are protected; rivers, soils, and wildlife are conserved; and workers are treated with respect, paid decent wages, properly equipped, and given access to education and medical care.
• Order small portions of food. Throwing out parts of larger portions is wasteful.
• Order produce that is in season.
• If organic choices are limited, go organic for those foods with the highest pesticide risk and so the most likely to pollute the environment if grown conventionally. The top 10 are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries (domestic), nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale/collard greens, and cherries.