Raw Food: Is It Always Better?

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It is no surprise that Raw Foodism has taken the health field by storm over the past few years. With an increased focus on society’s over-processed, animal fat, and chemical laden diet, the Raw Food Movement seems like a suitable alternative for many.

Raw Foodism is defined as “a lifestyle promoting the consumption of un-cooked, un-processed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet. If 75-100% of a person’s total food consumption is raw food, he/she is considered a raw foodist or living foodist” (Source). Generally, raw foodists do not heat their food above 118F (although this temperature is widely debated). The motivation for eating a raw food diet often comes from the belief that cooking food destroys beneficial vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.

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It may seem like Raw Foodism is a new thing, and yes while it does seem trendy, it has actually been around for a long time. Back in the 1900’s, Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton claimed that a raw diet composed of fruits and vegetables was the best diet that humans could eat (Source). In 1984, Leslie Kenton’s book called Raw Energy-Eat Your Way to Radiant Health advocated a diet based on 75% raw foods, like sprouts, seeds, and fresh vegetable juice.

In recent years, celebrities like Uma Thurman, Mel Gibson, and Demi Moore have promoted raw foodism and helped to make it a common household name.

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We have all heard about the research on various vegetables that are cooked superstars. For example, lycopene found in tomatoes has been shown to increase by 171% when heated at 190F for 15 minutes (source), blowing its’ raw counterpart out of the water.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic and regular feature on Canada AM, recently outlined the latest research on nutrients found in cooked and uncooked food.

She concluded that raw food is not always better.

Here are some of the interesting highlights of the article:

  • Recent research shows that cooking food can actually increase the nutrients in foods
  • Not all cooking types are created equal!
  • Microwave cooking without water and only until tender maintained the highest antioxidant levels (Journal of Food Science, March 2009).
  • Baking and grilling also preserved antioxidants
  • Boiling and pressure cooking led to the greatest losses in nutrients
  • All cooking methods increased antioxidants in carrots, celery and green beans (Journal of Food Science, March 2009)
  • Cooking spinach and carrots produced higher levels of beta-carotene which is thought to prevent heart disease and lung cancer
  • Lutein which guards against macular degeneration is also significantly higher when leafy greens are cooked

What about Minerals?

  • Spinach, beat greens, and chard are all high in calcium. The problem? In their raw state, these green contain calcium binding oxalic acid which binds to calcium, preventing absorption. When these greens are cooked, the acid is broken down and more calcium is absorbed. This is why I often quickly steam my spinach before making a GM.
  • 1 cup of uncooked spinach has 90 mg of calcium, whereas 1 cup of cooked spinach has about 260 mg!

What are the best cooking methods?

  • Water is the enemy (leaches out vitamin C, folate and thiamin into the water. Beck suggests using the water to make a sauce!)
  • Steaming, baking, and grilling are all suitable methods of cooking
  • Boiling is the worst!

Leslie concludes that the following vegetables are best eaten raw because they contain high concentrations of glucosinolates, compounds that are converted to anti-cancer chemicals called isothiocyanates:

  • Cabbage
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Turnip

Here are some of Leslie’s tips:

  • Use gentle cooking methods such as grilling or steaming until vegetables are just crisp or tender! The less cooking the better
  • Buy frozen veggies and fruits– they lock in more nutrients as compared to ‘out of season’ produce that has been transported across the country, losing many nutrients along the way.
  • Prep vegetables just before consuming. When cut vegetables are exposed to light and air, they lose nutrients.

MY TAKE:

If you are now as confused as I am about the whole process, you aren’t alone! :D

It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?

For myself, I think eating a mixture of cooked and noncooked foods works best for me. However, I know there are tons of people out there who swear by eating raw and that their energy and overall health has increased ten-fold. I think it is always best to do what works for YOU and how you will be happiest.

I also think there needs to be more research done on nutrients and cooking. I feel like there is so much to explore with this topic and so much that we still don’t know.

On the other hand, I think it is important to realize that we are never going to be able to eat the perfect diet!

Yes, many meals that I cook probably have vitamins and minerals leached out, but you know what?

That is ok!

Not everything I eat will provide me with the maximum amount of benefit. I think it is very easy to get caught up in this obsession with health, but sometimes it is important to step back and look at the big picture.

I will continue to enjoy researching about these topics because I love them, but I am not going to drive myself crazy trying to concoct the PERFECT diet. It just doesn’t exist.

Now tell me, what’s your take on this hot topic? :)

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steph June 2, 2009

excellent post. i have been wondering myself about the benefits of raw food vs. cooked food. it is good to know that raw is not always better as i could not imagine not eating cooked food!!

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2 Katherine Feeney June 2, 2009

Thanks for putting all this info together! I was waiting for someone to comment on the oxalic acid content in our green monsters that have been flooding blogs lately!!! Not that they are “bad” but just that it may be an issue for woman who are dealing with bone density issues and require optimal calcium absorption.

I agree, and is why I promoted steaming your spinach in some of my previous posts. I steam my spinach quickly before blending on most days. I like knowing I am getting triple the amount of calcium! With that being said, some days I just don’t care and I don’t bother with it- depends on my mood and how much time I have!~A

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3 Amy June 2, 2009

Thanks for this post!

Unfortunately, its a concept I just don’t really my tastebuds don’t enjoy! I just prefer my veggies cooked. :)

I’m all about a healthy mix!

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4 Shayna June 2, 2009

Thanks so much for digging up all this information! Over the past few days I have been debating the idea of going raw. I thought it would be benificial for my body if I did, now I see that might not actually be the best way to eat. I think I’ve settled on a similar approach that you accepted – a combination. HEALTH IS SO DARN CONFUSING SOMETIMES! Thanks again :)

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5 Jenny June 2, 2009

Great info, Angela! Thanks for putting it all together. And thank you most of all for your parting words… there is NO perfect diet and trying to eat “perfectly” is not only impossible, but joy-killing and kind of a waste of time. Our bodies have adapted over thousands of years to function in a variety of circumstances and getting a little less than 100% of the vitamin C that is in our broccoli isn’t going to harm us!

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6 Holly June 2, 2009

Awesome research – I think the FABULOUS point you make is…

different things work for different people.

Definitely some good to know tips – I am cooking spinach and tomatoes from now on :)

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7 Jennifer @ His N' Her Health June 2, 2009

Awesome post. I have considered raw foodism, but I could never picture myself doing it! Right now I basically do a combo of raw and cooked and it works for me now, so I should just stick to it!

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8 Angela (Oh She Glows) June 2, 2009

Hey guys- sorry for the quick website down time- it was down for abot a minute for an unknown reason-looks like we are back in action! ~A

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9 Jenna June 2, 2009

I couldn’t agree with you more!! the perfect diet doesn’t exist. Everyone is different everyone has different lifestyles!! You do what works for you.

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10 gliding calm June 2, 2009

i totes agree! that’s why i could never go fully raw!! many vegetables are better for you in their cooked state…….plus I am ALWAYS COLD! thanks for providing the list of veggies best eaten raw! that IS helpful.

i love your posts and how much research and detail you put into them! it really is something else! thanks for all the wonderful effort you put into your blog!!

lots of love,
G.C

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11 Mara @ What's For Dinner? June 2, 2009

I really don’t think I could ever do the completely raw thing… but some things DO just taste better raw. Macaroons for example, and your raw cookie bites! I love this post, and I’m sending it to many many people now :)

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12 Elisabeth June 2, 2009

I guess my take on this is much like my take on most other things diet-related…go with the flow. I try as many new foods and preparations as time and budget will allow me, but when it comes down to it, I eat what I feel like eating. I try to follow Michael Pollan’s guideline: “eat food, not to much, mostly plants.” In my opinion, this sums up a healthy diet.

I respect raw foodists very much, and I admire their passion, but for me personally, a raw food lifestyle would be too restrictive.

Don’t get me wrong…I own Ani Phyo’s books, as well as several other raw cookbooks and raw philosophy books, and I often make raw recipes. However, to dedicate my entire life to a raw food diet would be too restricting, and I feel that it might lead me down a path to diet neurosis again.

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13 caitlin June 2, 2009

thanks for posting this! personally, i think the whole “raw diet” thing is a load of crap. LOL. that’s just my opinion, but when people start talking about raw diets, i kind of roll my eyes. i think it’s just a silly trend! i can’t wait til the “phase” passes in the blog world so i can stop getting emails about “why dont you eat raw?” LOL

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14 Kori (All Things B.) June 2, 2009

Love the new OSG logo! I also love this post Angela- you always get me thinking! I would say that you are so right- It is definitely what works best for the individual. Much like skincare, no one’s needs are the same! We can only strive to do what’s best and constantly look to evolve based on our currents needs. 5 years ago I good eat anything with abandon and now I have to be careful because of my gluten sensitivity. The important thing is to keep learning about the best ways to fuel! Thanks for the info!

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15 Amy June 2, 2009

Such a great article! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been thinking about the raw spinach thing too. And I’ve actually heard that if you put warm dressing on a spinach salad even that helps to break it down.

I once also heard something about lemon helping but I can’t seem to find more information on that now…

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16 Shannon (The Daily Balance) June 2, 2009

Great post. Lots of fantastic information here — very helpful ;)

thanks for taking the time to put the post together ;)

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17 Krista June 2, 2009

This is a great post! I always try to steam my veggie’s using a steamer basket so the food never touches the water. I remember my Aunt telling me when I was a teenager to never throw the water out after cooking your veg because you were just dumping all the goodness down the drain. That has always stuck with me. While I do prefer certain foods raw, there are others that I prefer cooked. For that reason, I could never follow a raw diet, but I give high kudos to those that do! It can’t always be easy….

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18 SweetKaroline June 2, 2009

Great post, thanks for the info…I am new to learning about raw foodism and need to know the ‘facts’ before jumping head first into any diet. I agree that eating with what is best for you and makes you feel the best is the way to go.

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19 Katie T June 2, 2009

Thanks for all the info, Angela! I love it when you take the time to gather relevant research on hot topics like raw food, because so much of what you read on some blogs is just word-of-mouth stuff or “how I feel,” which is great, but it’s nice to see some solid facts as well. Keep up all the amazing blogging!
Oh, and you’re probably sick and tired of hearing this by now…but I’ve totally jumped on the Green Monster train, thanks to you! This morning’s spinach-frozen banana-almond milk-whey protein-PB smoothie was INCREDIBLE! Quick question – have you ever tried using frozen spinach in your green monsters? I feel like that might save me some of the hassle of buying a huge tub of organic greens every few days!

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20 Christina June 2, 2009

Awesome info! I always love extra bits of knowledge like this, especially the part about spinach. I’ve been adding spinach to my smoothies (which I now call green monsters!) for over a year now and I knew it inhibited iron but I didn’t know about calcium. I can’t eat dairy products so maximizing any calcium I can get is important to me. So, silly question, how do you steam your spinach? The same way you’d steam broccoli?

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21 Carrie June 2, 2009

Interesting! I might consider steaming my spinach before a GM now!

@Katie T – I recently bought frozen spinach for my GM because the fresh spinach looked yucky and my GM was GROSS!!! But I think I put too much of the frozen in because it looks so much smaller when it’s frozen!!!!!

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22 Meghan June 2, 2009

For me, a healthy mix of raw and cooked food works well. I have pondered trying a raw week, but my work right now doesn’t allow me to have the concentration on planning that I would need to have a balanced diet.
I think a lot of people may have grown up with veggies that were boiled beyond recognition, and there is definitely a happy medium between that and a short steam or sautee!
I steam my spinach/collards in the microwave before adding them to my GM’s. After rinsing I just put them in for 15 seconds then let them cool for a minute or so.

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23 Bec June 2, 2009

wow this was great thanks for all the info!

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24 VeggieGirl June 2, 2009

This is why I’m high-raw = 100% raw just isn’t practical or entirely healthy (**in my opinion**).

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25 Susan June 2, 2009

I do have a few raw diet issues. Mostly based on from personal experience. I have known a handful of people who have done variations of this diet (some very extreme). My problem is that these people seemed to be following these diets as a way to obsessively control their food consumption, and not for the supposed health benefits. I know not everyone is like this, but I think this is getting lost in all the hype over the raw diet. For me, highly restrictive diets sends up a red flag for disordered eating. I’m all for getting maximum benefits from your food, and I get why people go vegan. But I also think it’s kind of scary to watch people I know use these diets as an excuse to hurt their bodies. My two cents anyways!

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26 Kath June 2, 2009

Nice post Ang! I think as you said, the cooking method is more important than the cooking vs. raw debate.

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27 Heather June 2, 2009

My opinion is similar to yours. I think it’s great to eat raw when possible, but there’s nothing wrong with cooking the food sometimes too! It’s important to get a variety of nutrients and foods into our systems, just as long as we keep it healthy!

I was surprised to see that broccoli was on the list for better uncooked. I’ve heard that steaming broccoli actually gives it more nutrients?

Yea I have heard the same- I think what it comes down to is that certain vits/mins are more bioavailable when COOKED and others when uncooked- for every food out there! I guess it just depends which ones you focus on! ~A

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28 Shelby June 2, 2009

I really don’t worry about it.
I just eat whatever sounds good whether it be raw or lightly steamed or even roasted. I find a mixure of the two work for me.

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29 Michelle Hisae June 2, 2009

Honestly, trying to eat all raw took a lot of joy out of cooking for me. There were too many restrictions! I would think that unless a child begins his/her life with a raw diet, it’s hard to convert without feeling some sense of restriction and deprivation. That’s totally just my take though.

Eat raw foods because you WANT to, not because you HAVE to. Eating and cooking should be joyous acts!

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30 Lindsey (Mrs. LC) June 2, 2009

I think people should just eat naturally. Sometimes I think we put wayyyy too much of our thought activity into different food trends, diets, etc. As long as you’re eating healthy, whole foods and just keep varying it up, I really don’t think it’s a huge deal if you eat raw, cooked, or even the occasional lean steak or cupcake! lol

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31 Diana (Soap & Chocolate) June 2, 2009

Thanks for this, Angela – this post is timely because I think the whole raw foodism debate is almost all I think about right now! I can’t get it out of my head! I am dedicated to eating healthy because it’s a source of interest and enjoyment for me, plus we all want to be well, of course, but without a real verdict on whether or not eating a high-raw diet is more beneficial than a mainstream diet, my head is swimming with what it all means for me and my own lifestyle. I would be interested in trying the high-raw thing for like a week perhaps, just because I’m interested and open to other lifestyles, but I have a feeling that the crux of it is to eat clean above all else and to make good choices. I can only do my best to know how to make that happen! It’s got to work for me and my lifestyle, at the end of the day. Thanks again for showing points in favor of both arguments!

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32 cathy June 2, 2009

Wow, I learned a lot from this post. I am going to steam my spinach for a bit before I use it in my GM too.

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33 Gena (Choosing Raw) June 2, 2009

You know where I stand, for the most part!

That said, I make clear time and time again that the emphasis should be 100% healthy, plant based, and digestible, NOT 100% raw. And of course, different strokes for different folks.

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34 AlliJag June 2, 2009

LOVE the post! i think it’s really good to remind people that there is always an opposite side to the coin! :) So informative!

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35 Sharon June 2, 2009

Great post, Angela! I think the best diet is something you can stick to permanently and a 100% raw diet just isn’t feasible for most. Some days you just need a hot soup!!

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36 Holly June 2, 2009

Thank you SO much for the information, Angela! I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a tad guilty lately when I see all these people eating all raw all the time….and I know I shouldn’t, because we’re all different and want/need different things.

I never knew much about raw eating before (other than the positive effects), so it’s good to know all sides. As for me, it’s more of a “I can’t imagine my life without warm/hot food” thang. ;-)

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37 Angela (Oh She Glows) June 2, 2009

I agree! I think it is best to always do what makes you feel good!

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38 kayla June 2, 2009

Angela- I have a question for you..
I have just given up artifical sweeteners..(I am a true gum addict) and was wondering the effect that had on your weight? did you know your weight go up or down when you gave them up?? just curious.. thanks!

You may be shocked to hear this but my weight (and hunger) actually decreased when I gave up artificial sweeteners! And it is no wonder because the current research finds that they do make us eat more! Goodluck :) ~A

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39 Jessica June 2, 2009

I agree with some of the above about the raw food thing being a trend and that it will soon fade away as trends do.

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40 Lara June 2, 2009

Great and timely post. The food blog world has been exploding with this topic lately and I have been quite aghast at some of the misconceptions and pseudo-science that many raw food bloggers have posted. The best was someone saying that calories don’t really “count” when eating raw because your body breaks the food down more effecently. What a load of BS. A friend of mine went raw a few years ago and gained about 10 lbs from all the dehydrated fruit and nuts he ate LOL

Thanks for posting the info about which foods are better raw vs cooked. I pesonally enjoy a mix of both depending on what I am eating. I have made some very tasty raw recipes and there are some great raw cookbooks out there. I think they aer a great way to add some variety especially in the summer when I don’t feel like using the oven but certainly not as a lifetyle or way of eating.

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41 Recipes for Creativity June 2, 2009

I am currently reading “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan and I think you’d find it very interesting! I haven’t gotten very far into it yet, but the shift from humans eating food to eating and obsessing over nutrients has only happened in the last 100 years or so, it’s pretty crazy. Just think, do dogs ask other dogs what to eat? Or debate it constantly? Humans didn’t, either, up until very recent history. That being said, I’ve struggled with ED in the past and restricting myself and putting rules on what I should and shouldn’t eat makes me CRAZY, and certainly makes my diet much, much more unhealthy than if I just eat a little of this and a little of that in moderation.

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42 Lara June 2, 2009

Pollan’s books are excellent. In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma are must reads IMO for people intersted in food, nutrition, sustainable, etc.

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43 Minta June 2, 2009

I just thought I’d add this into the mix – my acupuncturist has advised me to only eat cooked food as raw is really bad for me. But I’m extremely allergic to just about everything, especially foods containing salicylates and amines. So if anyone is highly sensitive its probably worth thinking about. I definitely feel heaps better since I’ve started avoiding raw foods. Having said that, I dream about eating a lovely crunchy salad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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44 Faith June 2, 2009

Thank you so much for the great info! I did not know that about boiling veggies…very interesting!

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45 Lauren June 2, 2009

I really admire how you always try to achieve balance in your life, whether it’s in diet or exercise. I think anything taken to the extreme (i.e. 100% raw) can make life very stressful. You always help to remind me that life is about balance and our quality of life is not just about diet and exercise, it’s also about our state of mind. Healthy minds contribute to healthy bodies and stressing over trying to achieve the “perfect diet” for optimal health is somewhat counterproductive- seeing as stress is a big contributer to disease, etc… Thanks for always putting things into perspective and making a perfectionist like myself step back and take a breath :)

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46 jen June 2, 2009

fabulous post! thanks for doing this.. very sensible and refreshing after reading a lot of unreliable info passed around among people on the internet!

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47 maggie b June 3, 2009

LOVE LOVE this post!
there is one thing i would like to add about uncooked spinach and it inhibiting the absorption of calcium. If you eat something with vitamin C, it will break down the barrier. So adding orange or strawberry slices to your spinach salad would benefit you greatly!

I tried a green monster the other day after working out and it was sooo A-MAZING! I have had one every day since. They are the perfect post-workout fuel.
Mine was pretty basic: Spinach, Almond Milk, Flax, Frozen Banana.
What are some other combos you enjoy??

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48 Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) June 3, 2009

Great post Angela. Thanks for all the info – you really put some research into this, and you’re right, there is no perfect diet for everyone.

I try to do mix of raw and cooked veggies. However, I will always be a bigger fan of the cooked stuff. I could eat my weight in steamed broccoli, but can’t stand it raw. Blech.

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49 Emily June 6, 2009

Interesting topic! I am increasing how much raw food I eat because it makes me feel better and the recipes are very tasty too. Having said that I think it’s a long process and you do as you feel each and every day, building and growing year after year. I like to try different foods whilst traveling, so that would put me out of the 100% raw camp, but if the majority of my diet is raw vegetables, I feel that I’d have the right balance ~ for me :)

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