Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is Raw Food Good For Everyone?

~ How to Stay Healthy and Fit on Raw Food Diet ~

Only a few days ago I read an article by Lauren Burke (link here) in which she described her personal struggle with health issues. She has been a vegan for a long time, but apparently the food she ate made her sick. In order to get healthy she had to go back to eating meat and was "ordered" not to eat raw fruits or vegetable. I don't know if Lauren was a raw food vegan, but her story was quite amazing. And she is not the first vegan who had to give up strict vegan lifestyle in order to be healthy.


This story reminded me of a colleague whom I've met in 2004. Johanna was very curious about my raw lifestyle and wanted to learn more. She made a quick transition into raw food and reported unimaginable energy and health. Her weight stabilized and she could sleep well. 

One day, after being on raw food for a few months, she told me that she has been invited to a dinner and had, for the first time in a long time, indulged in an incredibly tasty lamb roast. For the first time in months she felt really happy after a meal. The roast was divine and she could not have imagined herself being raw vegan ever again. She was craving meat for a long time and smoothies only made her hungry. And she was unhappy. 

At about the same time my Cape Town friend Sean told me that he experimented with the fruitarian diet, but that it did not really worked for him. The initial bliss turned into a nightmare and he had to turn to something more "solid" in order to function at all. 

There may be many more stories like that. I, too, experimented with raw food veganism and realized that my body needed animal protein from time to time if I wanted to stay healthy. Thanks to my parents who introduced me to raw food in early 1960s, I have no problem with raw animal products. The only problem is to find perfectly safe, raw organic eggs, meat, fish, yogurt or cheese. 

Raw food is supposed to be healthy and really good for you, so why do some people get sick? There are many reasons and the answer is not a simple one.

~ Hidden Food Allergies ~

Many people suffer from secondary food allergies and do not even know that they do because the reaction to food is not an immediate one. The adverse reaction to food may take up to three days and manifests itself as skin rush, eczema or acne; indigestion, bloating, constipation or diarrhea; nasal congestion; headache and joint pain. The problem is often aggravated because people with a hidden food allergy may be drinking freshly made juices that are made of large amounts of fruit and vegetable. If the juice contains an allergen, it usually contains a lot of it. This upsets the immune system and often causes inflammation.

The good thing about secondary food allergies is that they are temporary. Once allergen is identified via IgG test, the allergy causing can be removed from the diet. In many cases the "culprit" can be re-introduced to the diet after some six to nine months. The duration of avoidance depends on the severity of immune reaction to the particular food. The bad news is that many people develop more than one sensitivity. Some can be allergic to as many as forty to fifty different foods. This of course limits the food choices considerably and often leads to new allergies since one has to consume the same foods over and over again.

~ Fructose Malabsorption ~

Fructose malabsorption is another digestive disorder that can complicate one's decision to stick to a strict raw vegan diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes contain fructose!

Fructose is absorbed in the small intestine without any help of digestive enzymes, but even a healthy person can only properly absorb 25–50g of fructose per meal. However, people with fructose malabsorption absorb less than 25g per sitting. The undigested fructose moves to a large intestine and is metabolized there by the intestine bacteria into short chain fatty acids. This process leads to an  increased production of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. The symptoms usually include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, acid reflux, stomach pain, and nausea.

Fructose malabsorption can be detected by a physician with the help of a hydrogen breath test.

~ Oxalate ~

Oxalate is a molecule that binds with calcium and crystallizes within the body under certain conditions. The crystals may cause irritation and pain, and may cause or increase inflammation. Oxalate interferes with our cell metabolism and even enters the nucleus of cells where it may have negative impact on our DNA. When not bound to calcium, oxalate interferes with all processes that involve many positively charged ions - magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, among others, thus disrupting proper function of enzymes and other complex molecules.

Oxalate is present in many fruits and vegetable, grains, legumes, herbs, and in almost all seeds and nuts. Normally not much oxalate is absorbed from food by a healthy gut because most of it is digested by the intestinal flora, but people suffering from bowel inflammation or from "leaky gut" usually absorb too much oxalate.

Foods high in oxalate increase inflammation and pain, irritate tissue and membranes, and contribute to the formation of kidney stones.

High levels of oxalate in the body may be responsible for such conditions as cystic fibrosis, thyroid disease, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and even autism. 

An oxalate urine test will allow a physician to determine the levels of oxalate in one's body. A law oxalate diet will help to remove excess of oxalate in the body and to cure the conditions that were caused by it, but if you are a raw foodie, try to imagine your life without blueberries, blackberries, spinach, carrots, beets, tahini, or Swiss chard. Unfortunately, the list of foods high in oxalate is much, much longer.


~ Nutritional Deficiencies ~

Any form of food restriction may lead to nutrient deficiencies over a longer period of time. And while vegans on raw food diet consume enormous amounts of nutrient dense fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetable, they are often deficient in nutrients that are normally found in meat, fish, milk and diary. A regular blood testing may be necessary to determine nutrient deficiencies. Very often supplementation is necessary if one wants to avoid a disease. 

Vitamin B12 

One of the most important nutrients that all vegans may be deficient is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that attaches itself to the protein and is released during the digestion. After it is released, this vitamin combines with so called intrinsic factor (IF) - substance produced by the stomach cells - and is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Vitamin B12 is involved in metabolism of every cell in our body. It combines with vitamin B9 or folate during the formation of DNA. It is not only needed for the synthesis and regulation of the fatty acids, but is also needed for energy production. Vitamin B12 is responsible for the proper function of our brain and the entire nervous system and it also plays important role in the formation of red blood cells.

Vitamin B12 is naturally present in foods of animal origin like diary, eggs, meat and fish. The human body is able to store enough B12 to last several years, hence a nutritional deficiencies do not show up right away in people who have chosen a vegan lifestyle.

Since vitamin B12 is involved in many vital bodily functions, deficiency can cause severe and irreversible damage. The brain and the nervous system are sensitive even to the very minimal lack of vitamin B12 in the body. The immediate symptoms include fatigue, poor concentration, depression and poor memory.

On the long run vitamin B12 deficiency may cause pernicious anemia - an autoimmune disease that destroys the IF producing parietal cells in the stomach. This is where the vicious cycle begins because without IF the body cannot absorb vitamin B12 from the intestines this causing even greater deficiency.

Some prominent vegan authorities in the field insist that vitamin B12 can be absorbed form vegetable sources. Unfortunately the latest research shows that plant based vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed by the human body. Worse even, the plant based form of vitamin B12 may interfere with absorption of the B12 present in the human body.

To correct any potential deficiency one should add raw eggs and milk products to one's diet. For a strict vegan this would mean that supplementation is vial. While choosing vitamin B12 supplement make sure that it contains the methylcobalamin form of B12.

DHA/EPA Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) Omega-3 essential fatty acids are long chain fatty acids that are normally present in fatty fish, fish oil and krill oil. Vegans are usually deficient in these fatty acids, but consume large amounts of plant based Omega-3s. The short chain Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is abundant in flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, and seabuckthorn, but our body's ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA is rather limited.

Deficiency on long chain Omega-3 essential fatty acids may be detrimental to health as they play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. They help reduce inflammation in the body and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and arthritis. People with deficiencies are susceptible to cognitive decline, depression, skin disorders and systemic inflammation.

If you decide to supplement, make sure that your supplement is certified organic and hexane free.

Other Nutrients

People on raw food diet usually obtain optimal levels of vitamins and minerals from the food they consume daily. However, there are some nutrients that may be lacking in a strict vegan raw food diet. Depending on the origin of the fruit and vegetable the produce may have diminished content of minerals such as zinc, magnesium and selenium. This happens when the produce is grown in mineral depleted soil. Thus consumption of organically or bio-dynamically grown fruit and vegetable is vital.

Raw food vegans consume much less of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine than omnivores. Both amino acids play important role in many bodily functions and both are abundant in animal products. Methionine supports healthy liver, the immune system, and proper nerve function. Lysine is required for growth and bone development in children. It assists in calcium absorption, helps maintain the correct nitrogen balance in the body, and is necessary for the optimal function of the immune system. Furthermore, lysine is utilized by the body in synthesis of various hormones and enzymes, in collagen formation as well as repair of damaged tissue. Deficiencies can easily be corrected with supplementation.


~ Conclusion ~

As you can see, there is so much that many people who happily made the transition to raw food may be unaware of.

People who have been sick or overweight for a long time experience dramatic improvement of their condition when they adopt raw food lifestyle. They lose weight, they are healthier and have more energy than ever before. And they may never experience negative reactions to raw food, or any food, for that matter. But others may get seriously ill and need to watch carefully what they are eating or give up raw food and veganism altogether.

There is no single prescription that would fit all. My advice is to practice conscious eating and watch the body for previously unknown symptoms, but most importantly, to choose a wide variety of foods and rotate them to avoid allergic reactions and nutritional deficiencies.

By Dominique Allmon

*Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.

          

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Raw Food for Everyone? by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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