Raw foods, and green foods in particular, have been consumed since the beginning of time. Hunter-gatherer tribes depended as much, if not more, on what staples they could forage in the wild as what they could kill. Unfortunately, with the agricultural, and, later industrial revolutions, the human race began to forget about Mother Nature and recently started to favor mistresses of convenience, such as Betty Crocker and Wendy's. The great news is that raw foods are making a comeback in today's world, as the inexorable link between diet, health and disease can no longer be ignored.
If you are not sure what raw foods are or the benefits gained from consuming them in their original state, read on to learn about some of the major players in the raw food arena, the differences in nutrient content and the implications on one's overall well-being and athletic performance. You will also learn practical ideas for incorporating raw foods into your and your clients' diets.
What Are Green Foods?
Typically, raw foods are consumed as is. They are never cooked, pasteurized or otherwise heated above 120°F, a process which denatures their nutrients and destroys the living enzymes contained within. For this reason, the usual raw food suspects are plant-based, such as fruits and vegetables, but can also include nuts and seeds. The most nutrient-dense and healing foods in the world are found in the vegetable kingdom. What's more, they're almost always a varying shade of one color: green!
Ironically, the real "fast foods" of the world — fruits and vegetables that need just a quick rinse — are the ones that are sorely lacking in most diets. Instead of consuming vast quantities of living, whole foods, most people consume steady diets of the opposite: dead, processed and nutritionally vacant foods. It's no wonder that many people walk around like zombies: tired, haggard-looking skin, dark circles under the eyes, brain fog and inability to focus, reduced energy levels and chronic fatigue, etc. They're simply not getting the nutrition the body needs on a daily basis!
Proper nutrition starts with raw green foods. That's not to say that there aren't incredibly nutritious fruits and vegetables out there that aren't green — because there are plenty — but by and large, most can't touch the greens. They are truly in a class of their own! I refer to many of them as "superfoods," or foods that rank among the top one percent in the world in terms of nutrient density and healing properties.
The following is a representative list of the different categories of green foods and the variety of vegetables contained within them:
- Cereal grasses — wheatgrass juice, barley grass juice, oat grass juice
- Algae — chlorella, spirulina
- Cruciferous vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts
- Leafy greens — kale, collards, spinach, watercress
- Sprouts — from vegetables such as broccoli, alfalfa, radishes
- Water plants (sea vegetables) — edible seaweeds such as kelp, nori, dulse
Why Are They Beneficial?
Obviously, every vegetable is different and contains varying amounts of nutrients as well as varying properties, but pound-for-pound, green foods contain over 1,000 different substances. The following is a list and description of some of the primary beneficial nutrients and components:
· Chlorophyll — the chlorophyll, or "blood," in plants does more than just convert sunlight to energy and give them their green hue. When ingested by humans, it helps increase the uptake of oxygen in the blood and tissue. Chlorophyll may also promote digestive health, increase fertility in women and sperm count in men, detoxify the body and kill harmful bacteria.
· Enzymes — the body naturally produces enzymes that break down everything that you consume. Raw, green foods are packed with living digestive enzymes which are essential for the
digestion of everything that passes through the intestinal tract. A low level of enzymes leaves unprocessed food that is broken down by harmful bacteria, resulting in gas and constipation and potentially colon disease in the long term.
· Alkalizing properties — the human body's desired state is that of slight alkalinity. On the pH scale (think back to your high school chemistry days), that means higher than 7.0 (neutral). Unfortunately, most diets are acidic, since just about every food out there produces a net acid load on the body. Except, of course — you guessed it! — green vegetables. Being slightly alkaline helps flush the lactic acid from the body and prevents the kidneys from pulling mineral stores from the bone and tissues to combat acidity.
· Essential vitamins and minerals — simply put, no form of vitamins and minerals on the planet are more readily available and easily assimilated by the body than plant-based vitamins and minerals. These include, but are not limited to, the following: Vitamin A (beta carotene), B-complex, Vitamin C, Folate (folic acid), Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Calcium, Magnesium, Iodine, Iron, Phosphorous, Zinc, Sulfur and Selenium.
· Phytochemicals — plant compounds that protect us from disease and help aid various bodily processes and functions. Examples of phytochemicals include flavonoids, anthocyanins, carotenes and isoflavones.
· Fiber — most Americans don't get anywhere near the daily recommended value of 25-35 grams of dietary fiber per day, a coincidence concurrent with the fact that most don't consume the recommended five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables either. Green foods are excellent sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help to move food through the digestive system and aid in proper elimination.
· Lightweight protein — certain green foods, such as spirulina, contain unusually high amounts of quality protein. The plant protein found in such are referred to as "complete proteins," meaning they contain the entire essential amino acid spectrum.
Whole Food Vitamins and Minerals vs. Synthetic Vitamin Supplements
Now you're probably asking "why not just pop a multi-vitamin and not worry about plant-based vitamins and minerals?" Chances are, you're probably not going to like the answer. Most vitamin and mineral supplements available on the market are synthetic (man-made), meaning that not only do they contain little to no nutritional value, but the body often times treats them as toxic invaders because of their non-natural state. When these nutrients are isolated in a lab, we forsake nature's wisdom in putting together dozens of compounds that work in concert with the body's systems.
Implications for Improving Athletic Performance
The benefits of consuming raw green foods can not only be applied to everyday life but translate to athletic performance as well. In fact, the benefits to be gained are only limited by one's capacity to eat more greens! For example, increased oxygen uptake through the consumption of chlorophyll in greens will help to flush lactic acid, therefore speeding recovery time and enhancing overall energy and endurance. The lightweight proteins contained in cereal grasses and algae help to build lean muscle while protecting against tissue damage. The readily bio-available vitamins and minerals contained in all green foods help to replenish the stores used by the body during vigorous exercise. Antioxidants help to reduce the inflammation caused by oxidative stress on the body through exercise.
How Can They Be Incorporated into Everyday Diets?
Most of the items discussed above can found in the organic section of your local market. Farmers' markets and health food stores are even better sources for finding these green foods and whole food supplements. The great thing about most vegetables and fruits is the minimal prep time, and they are also highly transportable. The following is a list of ideas for incorporating more greens into your daily diet, whether you are constantly on the go or sit at a desk every day:
- Salads, salads, salads — and more salads! Make a big dinner salad at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. Try to have some at every meal, making it your staple instead of a small first course. It's also easy to throw a pre-made salad into some plastic containers and keep them in a cooler or on hand at work.
- Juicing — buying a personal juicer is a great investment, as juicing vegetables not only gives you all their nutritional benefits (sans fiber) in liquid form but also makes it easy to pour into a bottle and go. You can even stop off at a juice bar franchise, like Jamba Juice or Robek's, for a quick shot of wheatgrass or a vegetable juice smoothie. Gyms and athletic clubs also boast their own juice bars, providing a great pick-me-up before or after a workout. Just remember to drink fresh juices immediately, because the longer you wait, the more the juice will oxidize and lose its nutritional value. And be sure they are not adding sugars or syrups to your natural blend.
- Whole food supplements — the Internet is a great resource for not only doing research on superfoods and supplements, but it is a great place to shop for them as well. An excellent alternative to getting fresh wheatgrass juice is ordering a premium grade powder form instead. Spirulina and chlorella also come in powder or tablet form. Do your homework, though, as not all whole food supplements are created equal. Make sure they have a minimum amount of ingredients, minimal processing and come from non-GMO, organic sources.
The inclusion of raw green foods into one's daily diet is of paramount importance for overall health and vitality. The benefit of increased athletic and fitness performance through their consumption is often overlooked in favor of chemically engineered and overly processed workout supplements. However, it is Mother Nature's green offering that has stood the test of time, nourishing humans from their early upright days up through to the present. Raw green foods are not only the superfoods of the past several millennia but are more important than ever in this modern day and age.
David Sandoval is the author of The Green Foods Bible, creator of Platinum Health Products and the president and founder of Organic By Nature, Inc., which produces and supplies premium, organic whole foods to health-oriented companies and cancer research centers around the world. For more information, visit Platinum Health Products website at www.phporder.com or contactChad Collins by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 323.512.9100.