Raw Food Focus
In the past few years, raw food has become very popular. People sometimes think that it is healthier than cooked food because heating destroys some nutrients.
What often happens is that when people hear this, they get excited about eating mostly raw foods. At first they feel great. They can’t say enough about the energy and vitality they feel. Several authors are quite famous for writing books during this phase of their journey, singing the praises of a raw food diet, claiming it enhances weight loss or cures disease.
However, before a year has passed, these same authors have sometimes recanted their previous enthusiasm. Most people on a raw food diet eventually crash. Their energy drops and no matter how much great quality, local, organic, raw food they eat, their raw food diet isn’t supporting their health anymore. They report such issues as dry skin, poor memory, low energy, and constant hunger (or no hunger). If they persist with their raw food diet despite their body’s signals of the growing problem, they may develop disease.
Why Don’t the Benefits of Raw Diets Continue?
According the Ayurveda, raw foods do not stoke the digestive fires of our agni. Without strong digestion, the food we eat (no matter how wonderful the quality) simply isn’t being digested, so the nutrients can’t be absorbed into our bodies to support vital health. Without nutrients, over time, our bodies begin to shut down.
It’s true that some nutrients are destroyed in the cooking process, especially if the cooking process is long (as in stewing fruit or reducing a sauce). But remember, if digestion isn’t strong, the nutrients won’t get absorbed into the blood stream anyway!
The fact is, eating primarily raw food over time will eventually shut down agni (digestive fire) and allow ama (undigested matter) to be created. This ama sticks around, creating blockages. Ayurveda says that ama is the foundation of disease. Therefore, stoking our digestive fire is the first and most important thing we do to promote health.
How To Stoke Digestive Fire (“Agni”)
Digestion is ignited by such things as heating food and drinks, using digestive spices in cooking, chewing thoroughly, and allowing at least 4 hours between meals (which means eliminating snacking). This allows the previous meal to be completely digested and all ama to be burned away, so the body is fully ready for the next meal. When we experience true hunger we know our previous meal has been fully digested.
How To Know If Agni Is Strong
We know digestion is strong when we experience things like an uncoated tongue, no mucous, and a great memory. We awaken in the morning bright and alert, have a bowel movement first thing (it’s the consistency of a ripe banana, and it floats). Our body feels light and flexible and maintains its best weight effortlessly. We have mental sharpness and physical energy–both of which last throughout the day.
If the above describes you, go ahead and eat a little raw food occasionally.
It’s a matter of paying attention to our bodies’ signals. When we have true hunger, we eat a heated, appropriately spiced meal in a calm and quiet place. We chew thoroughly at least 30 times (the digestive process begins in the mouth–food should be almost liquid by the time we swallow). We fill our stomachs 1/2 with food, 1/4 with liquid, and leave 1/4 empty so that there’s room for the digestive process (some say 1/3-1/3-1/3). Then we get busy with our life purpose and eat again only when we experience true hunger (as opposed to a craving or a habit).
If we start to see evidence of ama as described above, we reduce the cold, raw foods and ramp up the strategies for kick-starting our digestion. We could add chewing a piece of ginger while we cook our meal, or drinking a warm cup of lemon or ginger water about half an hour before eating (especially helpful before breakfast).
Balance is a Constant Dance of Adjustment
The word dosha is usually translated as “mind/body constitution” but more accurately it is translated as “that which goes out of balance”. Balance is not a place where we “arrive” for once and for all. We continually adjust in response to sensitively paying attention to the signals given by our body/mind.
Go to the category “Ayurveda” at marciarandalldebard.com (see right side bar) and learn more about applying Ayurvedic principles to your personal circumstances.
Leave a comment, below: What is your experience with raw foods? How did you work with the transition from a primarily raw food diet to a warm, cooked diet?