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Getting benefits from raw foods without going all nuts

In recent years, raw food diets have become popular. This week on “Take Care.” WRVO's weekly health and wellness show, hosts Linda Lowen and Lorraine Rapp speak with Yuri Elkaim, a holistic nutritionist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. Elkaim explains how to get the benefits of eating more raw foods, even if you don't want to completely give up your favorite grilled, steamed or baked dishes.

Linda Lowen: What are the principals behind a raw food diet and when we say raw, are we really talking raw?

Yuri Elkaim: I don't espouse following a 100 percent raw food diet for everyone, that's not what this is about. But I think the premise is about incorporating more raw foods into your diet. So whether that is, if you’re eating traditional foods and then you have more vegetables and fruit in their raw form, then that's awesome. So the benefits of eating more raw foods is, first and foremost, that the foods are closer to their natural state. So it's like if you were to pick an apple off a tree and eat it then. That's really the ideal because it's freshest, it's most rich in nutrients. So as soon as we start cooking things and denaturing them, whether it be the processing of foods or the cooking and baking from the heat, we start to lose a lot of the minerals and vitamins and a lot of the phytonutrients that are so important for fighting disease. So that's really the big benefit of eating more vegetables and fruits in their raw state. Additionally, we're looking at a higher water content and when you consider, by taking the example of cooking a hamburger, if you put a hamburger patty, if you make it from scratch, and you put the hamburger patty on the barbecue, what happens is that it shrivels up and shrinks and that is because it loses a lot of its water. The other benefit, which again is debatable, is the fact that raw foods tend to have a higher degree of food enzymes. And this just essentially means that if you have a food in its raw state that has inherent enzymes in it, that assists your body in digesting it.

Lorraine Rapp: If I'm going to steam my broccoli, how much of the value of the broccoli are we really losing if we steam it? It's just so much easier to eat that way.

Yuri Elkaim: If you talk to some extremists, if you were to steam your broccoli for a minute, it's like the end of the world. But I don't take that position at all, because as far as I’m concerned, if you’re incorporating more plant foods into your diet, you’re winning. And certain foods actually are easier to digest, and perhaps better if they are slightly steamed.

Linda Lowen: What percentage of one’s diet should be eaten raw?

Yuri Elkaim: Two-thirds to three-quarters of my food throughout the day ideally should be, or I kind of aim for [being] in their raw state.

Linda Lowen: So if somebody wanted to boost raw food in their diet, the sorts of things you’re talking about are like swaps. You could have carrots or celery with hummus instead of chips. That’s the kind of stuff that you’re talking about when you say eating “raw.”

Yuri Elkaim: Yeah, totally. I’m a real big realist. And I’ve gone and seen the gourmet raw stuff. The reality is, it’s very heavy. If you pick up any kind of gourmet raw food book, the recipes are raw pizzas, raw hamburgers, obviously they don’t contain meat, so the substitutes very often are nuts and seeds. And you can’t eat that amount of nuts and seeds day in and day out. Occasionally if you wanted to have them as a treat, that’s fine. But I think for most people, the raw food diet has a certain stigma to it. And the way I approach it, let’s just look at having a salad, making a juice, making a smoothy, snacking on carrots, different veggies that you enjoy -- apples, pears, berries. I mean there are very simple ways to get in a lot of raw foods in a kind of non-, kind of crazy manner.