One does not have to eat an all raw vegan diet to reap the benefits of fresh fruits and veggies. With so many different diets out there, the one thing that most diets have in common is that they promote eating more fruits and vegetables. No matter what diet you’re on, including more fresh fruits and vegetables is health promoting and fundamental for both optimal health and lasting weight loss. For this article, I’ll be going over the 7 amazing benefits of plant-based raw foods, which includes raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts.
1. Powerful Phytochemicals
Plants provide an army of compounds that defend us in a variety of ways. These compounds are phytochemicals, chemicals found in plants, that go to work on our behalf to help reduce DNA damage, fight existing disease, and support optimal health by reducing the risk of chronic disease. It is estimated that there are as many as 100,000 different kinds of phytochemicals! That is one great army working on our behalf to ensure that we don’t get sick! Refining foods dramatically reduces the phytochemical content of plants. For example, when a whole wheat grain is refined into white flour, the refining process removes over 95% of the phytochemicals! Also, cooking has a negative effect on the total phytochemical content. The loss of the phytochemcials is accelerated when the cooking time and the temperature are increased, such as in baking and in frying. When food is overcooked, products of oxidation may form, which can change the arrangement of atoms within the food’s molecules. This makes food more difficult to break down and absorb, which results in reduced digestibility.
Also, it was discovered in recent research findings that two enzymes found in vegetables, myrosinase and alliinase, are destroyed by heat through cooking. These two enzymes are important because they are responsible for converting certain phytochemicals into highly beneficial bioactive metabolites, which means it helps breakdown these phytochemcials for our bodies to then use for our benefit. We surely don’t want to see these important enzymes destroyed through cooking! So what’s the best way to absorb these amazing phytochemicals? It was found that juicing, pureeing, blending, or otherwise breaking down the cell wall of these raw plants enhances the bioavailability of these phytochemicals. Therefore, instead of cooking your fruits and vegetables, you can make vegetable juice, fruit smoothies, raw blended vegetable soups, and blended salad dressings to absorb the most nutrients and phytochemicals without destroying them through heat.
2. Higher Antioxidant Count
Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize reactive and highly destructive molecules in the body called free radicals. These free radicals come from different sources, such as pollution, chemical contaminants, cigarette smoke, radiation, pesticides, and food components. Normally, the body can handle these free radicals, but if there is not enough antioxidants and the free radical production becomes excessive, then damage and cell death can occur. This damage can accelerate aging, cause degeneration of the brain and eyes, and contribute to numerous chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Some of the known antioxidants include anthocyanins found in blue or purple foods such as blueberries and blackberries, isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables, and lutein and zeaxanthin found in foods such as dark leafy greens and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, such as summer squash. Similar to phytochemicals, these antioxidants are soldiers in our bodies going to work to fight against our free radical enemy! We’re constantly in war with these intruders and boosting our antioxidant consumption will increase our defense system. It has been shown in various studies that the antioxidant count is higher in raw fruits and vegetables than in its cooked form. So go ahead and increase your antioxidant army by consuming those delicious sweet fruits and fresh vegetables!
3. Reduction of Harmful Fats
While some fats are considered harmful to our health, such as saturated fats from meat, dairy, seafood, and vegetable oils, dietary fats from plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, are health promoting and are considered “good” fats. There are even fatty acids that we cannot make in our bodies that are considered essential fats, meaning we must consume them through our diet, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. These essential fatty acids are the most valuable of all fats to human health. Unfortunately, these important fats are susceptible to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Three things that cause free radical damage to fats are light, oxygen, and heat. Therefore, when nuts, seeds, avocados and other plant fats are cooked or roasted, they are exposed to all three destructive factors of light, oxygen, and heat. As a result, the fats are damaged, the essential fatty acids are destroyed, and the proteins, vitamins, and phytochemicals from the fats are degraded. Products of oxidation formed are also damaging to human health. Even though roasted almonds and pecans taste great, the best sources of fat are raw nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut, and other plant fats, that have not been cooked nor have been exposed to light and oxygen.
4. Reducing Carcinogens
When foods are subject to heat, several by-products can form that are damaging to our health called carcinogens. These harmful carcinogens include acrylamide, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These carcinogens are increased when cooking temperatures are high, such as in baking, roasting, frying, and in grilling. High levels of carcinogens have been known to contribute to cancer. It has also been shown that HCAs and PAHs are mutagenic and can damage DNA. One’s best protection against these harmful carcinogens is to consume a diet high in raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
5. High Intake of Nutrients
Fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts, greens, nuts and seeds, are the highest sources of nutrients and are packed full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables contain many important and synergistic vitamins, such as vitamins C and E. Even though bananas are known for their potassium, fruits in general are great potassium sources which include apricots, oranges, tangerines, dates, peaches, and mangoes. Many leafy greens can be rich sources of important minerals, such as calcium and iron. For example, three cups of kale or dandelion greens provide over one quarter of the daily value for calcium and notable amounts of iron.
6. High Water Content
Raw fruits and vegetables are naturally high in their water content. For example, watermelon and strawberries are approximately 92% water! Cantaloupe is approximately 90% water. Oranges, pineapples, and raspberries are approximately 87% water. Fresh cucumbers are approximately 96% water! No wonder we crave more fresh fruits and veggies during the summer time! In addition to drinking water, consuming more raw fruits and vegetables will help your body stay more hydrated and not just in the summer time, but all year long!
7. Lower in Calories
Because fresh fruits and vegetables are high in both water and fiber, they are naturally lower in calories. The water, fiber, and high nutrient profile of raw fruits and vegetables helps one feel full and satiated. It is the perfect weight loss food for these reasons!
So does this mean that you have to eat an all raw vegan diet? Of course not, but including higher amounts of raw foods to your current diet will always be beneficial to your health. No matter what diet you’re currently on (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic), including more raw fruits and vegetables will help improve any diet by providing your body with amazing phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that it needs to thrive. It also helps with both weight loss and weight maintenance because raw foods are high in water and fiber, helping us stay full and satiated with lower calories. Great ways to include more fresh fruits and vegetables is to include a green smoothie in the morning (i.e., mixed greens and fruit), eating fruits for snacks, and including large salads with both lunch and dinner. If you have the time, you can also include green juices or vegetable juices throughout the day. If you’re really feeling motivated, you can try out some raw vegan dishes, such as my raw vegan tacos or my raw vegan carrot cake, for some fun variety. Overall, including more fresh fruits and veggies in your diet is not only health promoting, but so very delicious! So go ahead and stock up on those fruits and veggies and eat away!
Looking for delicious and healthy plant-based recipes? Check out my recipe book that has over 160 nutritious low-fat and oil-free recipes that are both simple and tasty!