While some people feel great after doing a juice cleanse or eating raw, it’s not for everyone. We see a lot of patients who suffer from gas, bloating, constipation, insomnia, dry skin, decreased vitality, feeling cold and low libido from eating too much raw food.
Our health comes not only from what we eat, but how we digest and metabolise those foods as this is what creates agni, or our internal digestive fire. Raw foods are primarily cold, dry, light and rough - so eating too much of these foods puts extra pressure on how well our digestion works. This leads to poor absorption of nutrients, lack of nourishment to our tissues, imbalances in our body and ultimately illness or disease if we continue to eat a diet that is not right for our body type.
Why are cooked veggies better?
Proponents of raw food diets argue that cooking food destroys nutrients and vital enzymes, without strengthening digestion. However research shows that plant enzymes found in raw vegetables are digested and broken down by our own enzymes and don’t contribute to our digestion function and nutrition. Also the minerals and vitamins in some fruits and veggies are healthy when eaten raw - for example carotenoids in carrots and tomato are higher when cooked.
In Ayurveda it’s OK to have some raw foods, but much less than we’re seeing. A lot of children just eat their vegetables raw, while it’s important to get greens, it would be better if they are steamed. Often we might not even notice negative digestive symptoms immediately, as these kids get older, their angi becomes sharp and hot and there may be problems later in life.
The perfect balance
Lightly sauteing and simmering foods at a low temperature can make foods easier to digest, however it’s a fine balance as overcooking foods can reduce their nutrient value.
When working out the best path to health, it’s important to look first at what suits your individual body type and constitution. If you don’t know your body type, you can find out here.
Vata body types - the skinny minnies, who are more prone to bloating, constipation or IBS - are least able to tolerate too much raw foods as you don’t have the strongest digestion, instead you are better off eating warm cooked foods which will ground and nourish your body.
Those most able to tolerate raw foods are pitta body types as you are affiliated with the element of fire and generally have a strong digestive system. The cold, dry qualities of raw foods balance the pitta heat.
Kaphas, of all body types, are the ones blessed with the strongest constitution, but if imbalanced the metabolism can be a bit sluggish, so be careful with eating raw food. Make sure you are really hungry if you do eat a salad as this can make your digestion more sluggish. Best to have a cooked vegetable salad. With the cold element of raw food increasing kapha, it’s just important to not overload the digestive system with too much raw food as it can slow your metabolism.
Tips to improve digestion
Raw foods aren’t the only strain that you can put on your digestion, other ways to kickstart a sluggish metabolism include:
Sip hot water between meals - my favourite is Ayurvedic Medicated Water, or CCF tea, made from cumin, coriander and fennel. Mixing these three herbs stimulates the digestive system and supports the natural breakdown of toxins.
Eat only when you a hungry - it’s OK to skip a meal. We have a problem with overconsumption today which is actually causing malnourishment.
Avoid cold foods or liquids.
Include the six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent - in every meal to ensure balance. You can find some great Ayurvedic recipes which make use of all six tastes here.
Eat the foods most suitable to your individual body type. You can find out your body type here if you don’t know that yet. It’s the first step to good health.
Eat mindfully, take your time and enjoy your food - definitely don’t eat on the run or in front of the television.
Align yourself with the seasons, eating more warm, cooked foods when the weather is cold. Salads and other raw foods are better when the weather is hot, and agni is at the strongest.
In general it’s a big step towards good health to start thinking about food differently and eating according to your body type.
If you would like to know more about your own personal path to health, we offer many different detox, recipes and personalised help through our Health Dynamics 360 program.
Dear Jo – Thanks for this valuable education – especially about ghee. I had no idea it’s a super food or that it has all these wonderful benefits. Much appreciated! Regards, Anjali Briel