With so much conflicting information out there about various diets and ways of eating, it can become overwhelming.
Some people swear by raw foods claiming it’s the only way to go to get the maximum amount of nutrients from your food. Others completely disagree.
Perhaps you’re one of those people who’s tried to eat more raw but just ended up feeling worse or had more digestive upset and are left feeling confused as you’ve been told raw food is good for you.
How do you know what’s right?
One thing I know for sure from my years of clinical experience and study of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that no two people are the same.
Somewhat obvious I know, but in our world of top 5 wellness tips, trending diets and so much information out there, it can get confusing.
But the bottom line is… there is no diet, food, exercise, or way of living that is going to suit ALL people.
We are all unique – in our genetics, personalities, geographic locations, age, personal biology and current state of health.
Therefore, not only what we eat, but HOW we eat, will vary person to person. Enter the raw vs cooked debate.
Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors have spent thousands of years observing people, their body’s and the effects of food and lifestyle on their heath.
By narrowing in on some very specific, yet easy to identify signs and symptoms, one can fairly easily see what is out of balance and then, by fine tuning their diet, lifestyle or eating styles, bring balance and health back to the body.
Everything from hangnails to headaches to bowel patterns give us a very clear markers of what’s going on inside.
Much of this medicine is intuitive and makes sense when we break it down – when you’re warm, cool down., when you’re cold, warm up.
Amazingly, more often than not, the way people naturally want to eat or live is usually inline with what’s best for them.
But unfortunately people often talk themselves out of it because of something they’ve read, heard or that their friend has tried with success and think it might be the thing for them.
When we think there’s one answer for everyone, it can be confusing and frustrating.
But when we recognize that our body is talking all the time and when we take the time to listen, we can see that it’s giving us very distinct and clear messages about what it needs – Including eating cooked foods or raw ones.
“When the diet is off, medicine is of no use. When the diet is right, medicine is of no need.”
Great health often comes down to not only the quality of food we eat, but also HOW we eat it. And the method of preparation that we use is actually one of the number one ways you can heal and balance your body.
To cook or not to cook, that is the question…
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s way of seeing the process of digestion is seen not so much in terms of gross revenue (raw nutrients) but much more about net profit (The amount of Qi or Energy and Blood that is produced in the end).
Think of the digestive system like a pot and a fire or stove. Your stomach is the pot and your digestive system the fire or heat provided by the stove.
If you’re trying to heat something up and cook it, you need that fire to be strong.
If it’s too weak, it’s going to take a long time to have any impact on the food (think candle heat vs bonfire heat).
If there’s not enough heat, it’s like adding frozen vegetables to a soup you’re trying to cook – the more you add, the more heat required to break down that food.
The 100 Degree Soup
Optimal digestion actually occurs at a slightly higher temperature than body temperature.
That means everything that you put into your stomach needs to reach this temperature in order to be broken down into liquid form and properly absorbed.
So that means that the form that you put food into your stomach (frozen/cooked/raw/warm/solid/liquid) actually has a big influence on how much work or energy required for your stomach to break down the food and digest it.
Icy cold or raw things take longer to process because your system has to work that much harder to heat them up and essentially cook them. Warm cooked or pureed foods take very little energy.
So how do you know what’s right for you.
Cold vs Hot
The degree to which we’re able to breakdown foods efficiently directly impacts our ability to absorb nutrients.
Raw food may provide more nutrients on your plate, but if you’re unable to break the foods down, you’re actually not able to absorb those nutrients.
Loose bowels, foggy-headedness, fatigue or feeling congested or bloated after meals is a sign that your body isn’t absorbing the maximum amount of nutrients.
By even lightly cooking your food, the nutrients might slightly decrease, but your ability to absorb the nutrients increases, making you better nourished.
Cold drinks have been used through history to treat fevers. Which makes sense when you think of it…
When you put something cold in your system, your body is going to draw heat from else where to warm it up. If you have too much heat, cooling foods will cool you down.
But if you have too little heat (aka you’re the cold one in the room and suffer from weaker digestion, loose bowels, stomach cramps, bloating or a stuffy nose after raw or cold food), by eating or drinking cold or raw foods, your taking the precious heat from elsewhere to warm up the contents of your stomach. Not ideal.
Imagine, if instead of putting a frozen smoothie or icy glass of water into your system but opted for a warm pureed soup, savoury stew or sipped on a warm drink like ginger tea instead of an icy one.
Your body would have to do very little to prep that for digestion. In fact, it may just make you warmer and strengthen your digestion which will help you feel better and more balanced overall.
I had one client who, when asked about her diet, proudly reported eating spinach salads daily for lunch.
When I explained that her body wasn’t actually able to absorb the raw food very well and she’d be better off eating a soup or something warm for lunch, she let out a huge sigh of relief stating that she actually hated salads but kept eating them because she thought they were “good’ for her. She’d much prefer a warm soup to a cold salad.
What about the hot folks?
Now for those who naturally run warm. These are the ones who are in t-shirts or shorts in february when everyone else is in sweaters. They’re the type who many burn through food as fast as it can be served.
These “hot” types tend to have an excess of energy and heat. This basically means they can easily heat up, break down and process whatever food they take in.
As raw food is naturally cooling, and things such as cold pressed juices and smoothies have a lot of replenishing fluids in them, dry and hot people do really well with them.
Just take a quick look at your tongue; is your tongue on the dark or crimson red side? Do you notices cracks throughout the tongue body (think dry desert floor)?
If you run hot, suffer from over heating or sweating and have a very red tongue, including some more raw foods or lightly blanched or steamed foods with cold pressed juices might great for you.
Avoid slow roasted or overly cooked foods and the warming spices such as ginger, black pepper etc, as they will add more heat into the body.
Seasonal eating – varying your diet to the seasons. if you’re healthy and want to stay that way.
If you are generally healthy and want to stay that way, changing your diet throughout the year can actually be a great way to naturally balance your system and get the benefits of both raw and cooked foods.
Eating fresh raw foods in the summer such as leafy salads, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. and slowly adding warmer cooked foods in the fall and more slow cooked and roasted foods in the winter.
Once spring hits again, slowly start to add in some sprouts or fresh baby greens to your cooked meals and then transition to the fresh raw foods as they comes into season to start the cycle again.
Spring is the best time of the year to cleanse and to start adding some raw foods back into your diet but you still should lightly cook some or include a mix or raw and cooked at a meal. As
Raw fruits and vegetables are considered more cleansing, but again, listen to your body. If you’re feeling cold or notice your digestive system isn’t responding well to raw, just opt for a cooked food cleanse and add more raw as the weather heats up.
Summer – bring on the garden! Eating fresh foods without a lot of cooking is best in the summer. We have ample heat around us so usually our body is primed to digest them.
Although, if you’re someone who runs cold year round, it’s best to avoid all raw, even in summer.
Or if you do want to include some in your diet, try to have it be only a small portion of your meal and be sure to always have something warm with it.
Fall: As the weather starts to get cooler and nature is preparing to retreat for the winter, it’s time to start adding more cooked and warming foods into your diet.
Soups, roasted veggies, more warming teas. If you’re still enjoying salads or fresh foods, I usually recommend doing warm salads or partially cooked salads (sauté some vegetables and then serve them over a bed of fresh greens for a warm salad with slightly wilted greens).
You can also warm your dressing or add in warming spaces or foods such as ginger, black pepper or toasted sesame oil.
Winter: The perfect time of the year for slow cooking. The longer something takes to cook, the warmer in property it gets.
If you make soups or stews, the nutrients get infused into the broth which makes it super easy for your body to breakdown and absorb the nutrients. It’s great to add naturally warming spices such as ginger, cardamon, cumin, black pepper, fennel into your diet.
You can also use root vegetables and grains such as quinoa which also have a slightly warming side to them. Sip on broths or warm teas throughout the season and your body will thank you!
If you’re vegan or your diet is mainly plant based, be sure to add more warming spices and with more warming techniques (bake, sautee, stew) through the winter and the year.
Ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, rosemary…these are all naturally warming foods and spices and by adding them to your diet regularly in the colder months, you’re going to balance out the naturally cooling and cleansing properties of the vegetables and fruits helping to keep you strong and nourished in the depths of winter.
In my experience some plant based eaters get depleted over time from eating too many raw foods but if they just slightly modify the spices and methods of cooking, they can help their body absorb the maximum amount of nutrients and feel vibrant and strong year round.
Like in any season, be sure to listen to your body and notice how you feel after you eat. If you feel good, have more energy and your bowel patterns are regular and formed, then you’re doing great!
If you get tired, stuffy, bloated or have digestive upset and looser bowels, it’s time to shift up how you’re eating. .
- Eat seasonally and adjust your food preparation methods to the season (if your in disbelief, try eating fruit and salad all day for a few days and check your bowel movements – if they becomes irregular (loose or constipation) or you see undigested food in your stool, then your digestion is not working as well as it could or should be. Summer will be different than winter.
- Remember raw foods are amazing for cleansing and cooling so great for those who run hot are strong and have great digestive systems. If you run cold, get sick frequently, are run down or have a weaker digestive system, stick to warmer cooked foods year round.
- Avoid icy or cold drinks with your meals – too much fluid dilutes the digestive secretions and cold lowers the temperature of the stomach which makes everything harder to digest. Drinking broth or a small amount of warm tea with your meals can be a great substitute.
- Listen to your body – Energy levels, stress levels, environments etc. all change throughout the year and our life, so changing your diet and eating patterns to adapt to how you’re feeling can be a simple yet profound way to help keep your body strong and healthy throughout your life.
- Enjoy your food – eating with loved ones and enjoying the food on your plate is the first step in healthy digestion!
This fantastic article was written by Angela Warburton, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, speaker, writer, and teacher. We encourage you to check out her website here, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
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