9 Things to Know If You’re Thinking About Starting a Raw Food Diet This Summer

Updated: Jun. 29, 2017

The raw food diet may not be for everyone, but going raw every once in a while clearly has some healthy benefits.

Courtesy Fiona Tapp

Raw is all the rage

The raw food diet is the hot new trend in wellness and health circles. If you’re curious about this approach, you can try eating raw for a day with these recipes. The movement has grown steadily as an extension of veganism. Raw food advocates believe that processing and cooking food reduces its nutritional benefits; followers find they eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and claim that this approach has physical and mental benefits.

Melanie A. Albert is an intuitive cooking expert, author, and speaker, who is passionate about good, wholesome, and healthy foods. She has been a leader in wellness, integrative medicine, and nutrition for over 15 years, and her sprightly energetic vibe is a walking advertisement for the foods she promotes.

I met her in the Arizona desert for an intuitive cooking class where she showed me how to make fresh, delicious foods from locally grown ingredients. By local, I mean they were grown steps from where we cooked!

Albert talked about how she has become more interested in alternatives to cooking lately and has actually just taken a course on becoming a professional raw gourmet. She explained how the natural properties of food in its original grown state can be very appetizing, especially on warm summer days.

“Raw food makes sense in our diets especially when the weather is hot and our bodies naturally crave cool foods. When you think about it, foods that cool naturally grow when the weather is warm. In the hot summer, it’s all about melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, which are all full of water and very hydrating.”

As I prepared Albert’s recipe of dinosaur kale, fresh veggies, and nuts in the heat of the Arizona sun at The Farm at South Mountain, just 15 minutes from downtown Phoenix, I had to agree this type of cuisine certainly suits the warmer weather!

If you are intrigued by this trend read on to see what you need to know…

Courtesy Melanie A. Albert

Raw lets you relax

Eating food this way seems to take a little more time—you have to chew more thoroughly. This forced the group to slow down and actually enjoy our meal. As we sat at a long communal table chatting and enjoying the lunch we had made under Albert’s tutelage, my companions and I all agreed with Albert’s directive that food should be enjoyed intentionally. She asked us to go around the table and say something we had learned during this class and that we intended to implement once back home with our families.

Check out these tips for fitting mindfulness into your busy life.

Courtesy Fiona Tapp

Raw focuses on local organic produce

When following a raw eating plan, you must ensure that the food you are eating is as close as possible to its natural state. That means opting for locally grown food and choosing organic to cut down on pesticides.

Here’s what you need to about when buying organic food.

Courtesy Melanie A. Albert

Raw is exciting

Some people think going raw means that you’re stuck with plain vegetables like carrot and celery sticks. That would be awful, and that’s not how the raw diet works. Albert points out that many delicious combinations can be created with raw ingredients.

“Some of the key ingredients in this diet include vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, herbs, spices, and even edible flowers which can be prepared into beautiful, tasty food,” she says.

Courtesy Fiona Tapp

Raw has benefits

Adherents claim that raw eating improves the appearance of your skin, gives you better mental focus, help you to lose weight, and boost your energy levels.

Melissa Eboli, a nutritional chef and wellness counselor believes it’s because “uncooked food naturally has enzymes in it—when you cook food, enzymes are typically depleted. Enzymes help with digestion and assimilation of your food. When you are properly assimilating your food you are absorbing all of the nutrients that stem from it, in return increasing your energy.” While going raw is definitely a healthy move, research is less clear on claims that raw is always nutritionally superior: A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that a cancer-fighting enzyme in broccoli can wilt when you cook the florets; however, another valuable anti-cancer enzyme forms only when you light a fire under broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower. Heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C will be higher in raw produce, but you must cook tomatoes to get significant amounts of the antioxidant lycopene. A German study revealed that while raw foodies have higher levels of heat-sensitive beta-carotene than the general population, they had much lower levels of lycopene. Cooking helps break down plant cell walls, releasing more of the antioxidant for you to digest. The take home? If a raw food diet increases your intake of produce, your health will benefit. Just don’t believe all the hype.

Courtesy Melanie A. Albert

The best raw foods are awesome

Albert’s recommendations include: Vegetables like carrots, beets, tomatoes, peppers; fruit such as berries, apples, pears, avocados, lemons, limes; nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds; and superfoods like goji berries and raw cacao.

Albert explains how raw food diet recipes can be made to taste richer and more indulgent by making delicious nut milks, salad dressings, soups, and sauces that elevate the base ingredients to haute cuisine.

“It’s fun to create unique combinations of foods, and it’s always important to plate our foods beautifully, because, as the saying goes ‘we eat with our eyes’ first,” she says.

Courtesy Fiona Tapp

Food safety is simple

Sure, the heat of cooking often destroys harmful bacteria, but keeping your raw food free of pathogens is relatively easy. Here are some key tips you need to know about food safety and produce, along with Albert’s specific food safety tips:

  • Thoroughly wash all food as it might pick up bacteria on its way from the farm to your kitchen.
  • Wash your hands constantly when preparing food, and after touching your face or hair.
  • Refrigerate nuts and seeds as they contain plant fat that can turn rancid.
  • Keep in mind any allergic reactions or sensitivities you might have to specific foods, such as gluten in wheat, barley or rye, or tree nuts such as almonds and cashews.
Courtesy Fiona Tapp

You don’t have to go raw all the time

Eating food in its natural state automatically boosts your intake of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables—and that’s good for your heart and overall health. That’s why dipping in and out of the raw approach is encouraged: According to Lynn Anderson, PhD, naturopathic doctor and yoga therapist, “It is not so much that we should all eat a raw diet as it is that we should all try to get natural foods into our diet every day.”

She encourages her clients to eat a salad every day as part of their meal, with the aim being to increase their consumption of natural produce.

Courtesy Melanie A. Albert

Raw recipes are a breeze

Albert has created a cookbook of recipes called A New View of Healthy Eating: Simple Intuitive Cooking with Real Whole Foods. Here’s one of her favorites:

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Albert recommends “making this when tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are in season in the summer.” She also advocates experimenting. “With the soup we can intuitively mix-and-match the ingredients to create a beautiful refreshing cold soup. If we’re lucky we can use unique cucumbers, such as lemon cucumbers or Armenian cucumbers. The key is to have fun intuitively creating a beautiful, tasty cold tomato gazpacho. ”