Raw food may be a path to better overall health and fitness. For years, studies have shown that a diet with a high proportion of fresh raw fruits and vegetables will improve health and longevity. So how about a diet consisting entirely of raw foods?

At the root of the raw food diet is the theory that just like other animals in nature, humans are designed for raw foods and therefore can more effectively utilize raw uncooked food. Heating food above 110 degrees Fahrenheit results in the depletion of nutrients in our food, the destruction of enzymes, and the creation of toxins.

In some cases, cooked food has a significantly lower degree of nutrition than raw food. Chemical changes take place as heat is applied to food causing the break down of amino acids and up to 50% of vitamins. Additionally, proteins can lose essential amino acids, carbohydrates can caramelize, and heated fats can generate carcinogens such as acrolein, nitrosamines, benzopyrene, and hydrocarbons.

Perhaps the key belief in the raw food movement is that the natural enzymes contained in raw foods aid our digestive process, therefore freeing up the body’s own enzymes to concentrate on metabolic functions. Since humans are more naturally suited to raw food, the digestion of cooked food requires that the body’s enzymes focus solely on digestion.

It is believed that when on a cooked food diet, the body only absorbs about 10% of the nutrients from the food we eat. Long-time raw-fooders claim close to 100% absorption. The reason for this disparity is that the cooked and, consequently, dead food we eat could actually lead to toxicity in the body. The body’s reaction to this is to coat our digestive tract with a thick layer of mucous. While this offers protection from toxins, it also hinders the absorption of nutrients. Aside from making it harder to nourish our bodies, this also causes us to eat more food in order to get the same amount of nutrients we could get on a raw food diet.

The benefits of a raw diet, as reported by its advocates, are immense. The claim is that once the body no longer has to deal with inherent issues caused by eating cooked food, the body can focus on healing and strengthening itself. This process can lead to natural loss of excess body fat, elimination of chronic illnesses, increased nutrient absorption, reduced wear and tear on the body, improved energy levels and mental clarity.

A raw food diet can be an excellent basis for fitness. Ron Brown, certified fitness trainer and author of “The Body Fat Guide,” advocates a raw diet of fruits, nuts and vegetables. He stresses that humans, like other animals in nature, “function at optimal levels on an uncooked vegan diet.” Nuts are a more than adequate source of protein and Brown’s structured diet allows him and those he trains to gain muscle mass while shedding excess body fat.

Many athletes adhere to raw diets. Those who commit to raw foods boast quicker muscle recovery and increased endurance. Some well known raw athletes include champion stair and mountain runner Tim VanOrden, Ms. Fitness competitor Suzanna Strachan, European Vice-Champion in Savate Assault Kickboxing James Southwood and Olympic cyclist Bob Mionske, who describes “raw foodism as a natural progression on the ladder of healthy eating.”

Making the transition to raw food can be difficult, both in terms of the difficulty in beginning any new diet and in regards to the inherent detoxification that raw foodists praise as a beneficial (though possibly unpleasant) cleansing of the body. Like any diet, careful consideration should be given before embarking on a raw journey. However, with prudent nutritional planning, a raw diet could very well be an inspiring new approach to better health and fitness.

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