The Amazing Health Benefits of Raw Foods (And Why You Should Eat More of Them)

A raw food nutritionist explains the amazing health benefits of a raw food diet

Quick! What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of raw foods? Kale? Hemp seeds? Wheatgrass? All of these things blended up into a bright green smoothie that you’re not very excited about gulping down?

The idea of a raw food diet might conjure thoughts of unfamiliar foods that seem more suitable for a rabbit, but in reality eating raw incorporates so much more; it doesn’t have to be unappetizing and it can be especially beneficial for athletes.

“Most people think raw food is just eating like a rabbit all day and munching on celery and carrots. This is definitely not true,” says Sophie Jaffe, a certified Raw Food Nutritionist, raw food chef and the creator of Philosophie raw food supplements.

“The raw food movement has created all kinds of creative new recipes and tools in order to give lots of diversity and flavor to highly nutritious dishes,” she adds.

Specifically, Jaffe says that raw foods are nutrient dense, living foods that haven’t been cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods that fall into the raw category are generally vegan and mostly consist of vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains.

According to Jaffe a few examples of raw foods could include, fresh pressed veggie and fruit juices; a cashew cream based pea soup with a side of dehydrated crackers; zucchini pasta with a filling pesto sauce; or a vibrantly colored “superfood smoothie” with fruits, veggies, nut butter and plant-based add-ons like spirulina and hemp seeds.

OK, so now this whole raw foods thing sounds much more appetizing, right? (I’d like a bowl of that cashew cream pea soup, please!)

Chances are that you’ve heard about why eating closer to nature (e.g. excluding processed foods from your diet and incorporating more fruits and veggies instead) is important for your health, but why is a raw foods diet especially beneficial for athletes and high intensity exercisers?

Jaffe explains, “When you consume living foods—lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and pure nutrients—you will feel more alive and have more energy. You’ll need less food and calories because your food is more nutrient-dense which makes it easier for your body to recover and rest.”

This doesn’t mean you need to immediately overhaul your entire diet, though. Jaffe notes that eating raw 100% of the time can be daunting but that athletes (and everyone else) can definitely benefit by gradually increasing the number of raw foods included in their diets.

“It's not so much a ‘switch’ to raw foods as it is aiming to incorporate more raw foods into your diet,” she says. “For starters, loading up on raw fruits and vegetables will flood your body with a larger dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can improve muscle recovery and strength.”

For athletes especially, Jaffe suggests some of the following raw foods:

—Fresh coconut water for hydration

—Superfood smoothies with lots of green veggies (adding a good raw, organic protein/superfood powder like Philosophie Superfoods)

—Sprouted bread with nut butter

—Fresh pressed juice for instantly absorbed vitamins and minerals

—Sprouted hummus/dips with fresh veggies

—Superfood protein bites/bars with sea salt for dense snacks on the go

—Avocados as an awesome source of healthy fats

And for those wondering what the best raw sources of protein and carbs might be, Jaffe suggests grabbing nuts and seeds or anything sprouted for a quality dose of protein, and for energy-boosting carbs her favorite choices are bananas and fresh juices.

"Always be on the lookout for opportunities to work more raw foods into your diet," says Jaffe.

She offers the following suggestions as creative and probably most importantly, appetizing ways to incorporate more raw foods into your day-to-day diet.

—Mix berries into your oatmeal

—Mix raw almonds and Berry Bliss Philosophie superfoods into your Greek yogurt

—Use large leafy greens, like collard leaves for a sandwich wrap

—Add grated raw zucchini to gluten free muffins

—Add zucchini to a meat sauce in lieu of starchy pasta

“You can even elevate convenience items like frozen pizza by adding raw vegetables,” she says. “Think outside the box and think colors, which equates to nutrients and energy.”

Jaffe also happens to be a member of the Yoga Alliance as an advanced teacher, and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer who has worked with a handful of her own athletic clients in the past.

“I've worked with several clients and personal trainers themselves who fuel their bodies with Philosophie superfoods,” she says. “They all say it increases their energy, stamina and endurance. They've all said it increases their numbers and makes them run faster and longer.”

And even for casual exercisers who are simply more interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle overall, raw foods provide all of the same amazing benefits. Incorporating more of them into your diet will add up to creating a healthier, happier life, which is reason enough for me to mix up one of those superfood smoothies right now.

Related: Energy-Boosting Superfoods: What to Eat Berfore and After Exercise