So you've decided to explore raw eating––congratulations! There are so many benefits to eating a raw food diet: whether you eat a fully raw vegan diet, or like many people, you do a mix of raw and cooked foods, you get to benefit from some of nature's most delicious gifts, not to mention avoid some distressing modern additives.
Eating raw is also a wonderful way to enjoy concentrated nutrition in its most natural form. Since cooking can destroy the nutrients in some types of food, eating raw is a good way to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, giving you high amounts of bioavailable vitamins, enzymes, and minerals.1
And while it's technically possible that you could consume unhealthy raw foods––for instance, you could eat foods out of season, or eat produce treated with pesticides––doing so really isn't in the ethos of the diet. This means that most of the time, you're getting whole, pure food just as nature intended. This allows you to sidestep the health challenges that can come with consuming additives, sugars, pesticides, and processed foods, including changes to the gut microbiome that make it more difficult for your body to manage blood sugar levels, and can lead to a host of issues from a decrease in fertility to compromised immune function.
Nutritional Challenges of Eating Raw
There is a caveat though: eating raw in and of itself isn't a guarantee that you'll get all the nutrition you need be your healthiest self.
Why? Because many studies show that your body most likely needs certain substances called micronutrients to stay well, and it can sometimes be hard to get these on a raw diet without making a conscious effort to include foods containing them.2 For instance, it might be difficult to get enough zinc unless you really stock up on the pumpkin seeds, and if you're not aware that you need this nutrient, or that it's only found in a few raw options, you might miss out on it to your detriment. Or, if you have limited food sources of a certain nutrient, you could end up getting tired of a particular food and avoiding it, even though you really need the vitamin or mineral it contains.
Finally, some nutrients are more available (though not exclusively available) to the body in cooked form.3 The potent antioxidant lycopene, for example, becomes much more bioavailable in tomatoes when they're cooked; the same goes for the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes. Bottom line: raw eating doesn't necessarily mean balanced eating. You still need to pay attention to your nutrition when you're eating raw so you can stay healthy and enjoy all the benefits of the diet.
3 Tips for Optimizing Your Nutrition as You Add in Raw Foods
These challenges are certainly addressable––but you will have to put a little extra thought into your diet. Your three main concerns should be getting adequate amounts of micronutrients, avoiding eating ruts, and enhancing the effects of your raw diet using probiotics and prebiotics.
1. Get a sense of your personal nutritional needs.
Your body needs all kinds of different nutrients in varying amounts, and since everyone needs slightly different quantities of these nutrients for optimal health, it's a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider or nutritionist before beginning any raw food diet so you can get a sense of what your particular nutritional needs are.
Depending on your body, you may need to go with a part raw/part cooked diet. If you feel very strongly about sticking to a full raw vegan diet, then you'll likely need to supplement to be your healthiest self, or at least work out a very carefully thought out eating plan to make sure you're getting what you need.
This can be a great opportunity to get some support as you start easing into your new diet. Ask your healthcare provider about local or online resources, like raw eating groups or events. By leaning on the community of raw foodies (and their enthusiastic welcome and willingness to share their tips and recipes), you can make your transition as easy as possible.
2. Mix things up.
One of the biggest risks with any diet is falling into a rut––and eating raw is no exception. When you have limited choices, it can be easy to fall back on a few old favorites. This is okay every now and then, but it's really important to eat a range of foods that contains all the nutritional goodness you need to keep you healthy.
This may mean that you simply need to create a meal plan that has you eating different things each week, or it might mean that you need to branch out and include some new types of food in your diet. For instance, many people aren't all that familiar with fermented foods, but they're fantastic for raw eating. The fermenting process can actually neutralize certain anti-nutrients in grains and legumes, and can help other foods release their nutrients more easily into the body, including cabbage and soy.4,5
To make this as easy as possible on yourself, try prepping foods ahead of time and keeping pre-packaged "emergency" snacks in your fridge, at your desk, or even in your car. By ensuring that you have a variety of things to nosh on no matter what, you'll be more likely to get the balanced nutrition you need to stay well.
3. Support your efforts with probiotics.
All those delicious nutrients you're getting from a raw diet are useless if your gut can't absorb them properly. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle can make this more difficult than you might think. Ideally, your gastrointestinal system contains a balance of bacteria, which is integral for good digestion. From both producing and working with dietary enzymes that break foods down so they can be more easily absorbed, to protecting the integrity of your intestinal wall and supporting strong microvilli so your body can absorb nutrients better, these tiny bugs do a lot to help you make the most of your nutrition.6
But they can only do this when they're nourished and in-balance. And given the modern Western lifestyle, this balance is hard to maintain. Your good guys already have to fight against everything from harsh soaps and household cleansers to pollution (indoors and outdoors), antibacterial everything (from sanitizers to antibiotics) sedentary living, and sleep deprivation. Add to this the fact that the predominant diet in Western culture deprives microbes of the nutrition they need to thrive, and you can see how they're set up to struggle.
How to Support Your Gut on a Raw Food Diet
In the face of all these factors, it's absolutely essential to replenish your gut microbiome with "fresh troops"––targeted strains of beneficial bacteria that can come in and start to recolonize your gut, taking back the balance of power from the undesirable bacteria. To do this successfully, the good guys need the right nourishment, which comes in the form of prebiotic fiber.
This includes substances like FOS, inulin, and dietary starch that break down into components that feed beneficial bacteria rather than unwanted strains; they're found in things like Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, and green bananas. While our ancestors got 50 to 100 grams of these precious fibers every day, even the most health conscious among us in the modern world tend to get about 15 grams.7
You're already ahead of the game eating raw, since you're most likely getting more fiber than most by default. (Fruits and veggies are, by and large, fantastic sources of fiber.) But for maximum microbial support, you need to get just the right mix of prebiotic fibers. And no matter how much you like garlic or how many ways you find to use Jerusalem artichokes, chances are it's going to be hard to consume even the modern daily recommendation of 25 grams, much less the fantastic fiber levels our ancestors got.
But before you start mentally adding a gross of green bananas to your grocery list, know that there's a much easier way to get the fiber your gut so desperately needs: prebiotic powder. Hyperbiotics Organic Prebiotic Powder is the easiest way to feed your gut microbes: made with a mix of the exact whole food fibers your beneficial gut microbes love, it's an extremely convenient, no prep, no mess way to get the prebiotic fiber your microbiome needs to truly thrive.
By including one scoop of prebiotic powder in your daily routine, you can give your good guys everything they need to grow and restore an appropriate balance to your gut, ensuring that you're not only able to make the most of eating raw, but also enjoy all the other benefits of bacterial balance, including balanced hormones, a clear head, support for healthy skin, and a healthy immune system, to name just a few.
Our Favorite Prebiotic-Friendly Raw Recipes
It's so easy to include prebiotic powder in any diet—raw/cooked, raw, and raw vegan diets all included! Here are three of our favorite ways to do it:
• Smoothies: We're huge smoothie fans here at Hyperbiotics––honestly, what's not to love about a meal in a cup? Whether you're going with a classic gut-healthy green smoothie, a supercharged playa smoothie, or a no-sugar and spice and everything nice cinnamon berry smoothie, prebiotic powder is the perfect addition to take that smoothie from good to "How did I live without this in my life?!"
• Breakfast Bowls: The slightly heartier take on a convenient, healthy breakfast, breakfast bowls are a great way to get some raw nutrition that really sticks to your ribs. Try a delicious magic magenta dragon fruit smoothie bowl, or keep things simple with holiday overnight oats; just make sure you mix in a scoop of prebiotic powder to keep your gut bugs as happy with breakfast as you are.
• Crunchy Raw Protein Balls: These delicious, chocolatey protein balls will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step, not to mention make your microbes really take off! You've got loads of different options for making raw vegan protein balls, but the basics are always the same: a raw vegan protein powder, some type of nut flour, an oil, seeds to make it crunchy, cacao to make it tasty, and prebiotic powder to make it gut-friendly.
Eating raw can be so very good for your health––but you have to make sure you're giving your body the support it needs to make the most of it. Whether you're deciding to embark on a fully raw vegan diet, doing something in between, or just increasing your intake of fresh, raw foods each day, make sure you're giving yourself the very best chances of enjoying the benefits by supporting your gut. From a premium probiotic like PRO-15 to our favorite prebiotic powder (both conveniently available in a starter pack, if you want to really be sure you're hitting your gut health from every angle!), we're here to support you as you enjoy the benefits of all your good choices.
1. Parada, J., Aguilera, J.M. (2007). Food Microstructure Affects the Bioavailability of Several Nutrients. Journal of Food Science, 72(2), R21–R32. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00274.x
2. Hänsch, R., Mendel, R.R. (2009). Physiological functions of mineral micronutrients (Cu, Zn, Mn, Fe, Ni, Mo, B, Cl). Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 12(3), 259-266. doi: 10.1016/j.pbi.2009.05.006
3. Maiani, G., Castón, M.J.P., Catasta, G., Toti, E., Cambrodón, I.G. . . . Schlemmer, U. (2009). Carotenoids: Actual Knowledge on Food Sources, Intakes, Stability and Bioavailability and Their Protective Role in Humans. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 53(S2), S194–S218. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200800053
4. Wiczkowski, W., Szawara-Nowak, D., Romaszko, J. (2016). The impact of Red Cabbage Fermentation on Bioavailability of Anthocyanins and Antioxidant Capacity of Human Plasma. Food Chemistry, 1(190), 730-740. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.06.021
5. Okabe, Y., Shimazu, T., Tanimoto, H. (2011). Higher Bioavailability of Isoflavones After a Single Ingestion of Aglycone-rich Fermented Soybeans Compared with Glucoside-rich Non-fermented Soybeans in Japanese Postmenopausal Women. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 91(4), 658-63. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.4228
6. Quinten, T., Philippart, J., Beer, T. D., Vervarcke, S., & Driessche, M. V. (2014). Can the Supplementation of a Digestive Enzyme Complex Offer a Solution for common Digestive Problems? Archives of Public Health, 72(Suppl 1).
7. Slavin, J. (2013). Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients, 5(4).
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.