The New Rules of Eating Raw Food

Going raw is about more than just retiring your stove top. Here's how to skip the heat without completely screwing up your metabolism in the process.

Prop styling by Robin Finlay.

Between America's preoccupation with cold-pressed juices and our unfailing love of kale, following the gospel of raw-foodism has become synonymous with "clean living." The practice prohibits heating food to more than 105 degrees, and the hard-core adhere to a plant-based diet; less dogmatic disciples eat cheese, sashimi, and tartares (which are experiencing a revival at trendy restaurants, allowing raw-foodists to indulge in steak and ostrich without committing a dietary sin).

But after the release of several studies, avoiding your stove is coming under fire. "Although raw vegetables are good for you, your health isn't suddenly going to improve by going 100% raw," says Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of The End of Dieting. In fact, doing so can mess with digestion, lower bone density, and slow your metabolism. Here's how to do raw right.

1. Cook the cauliflower

Eating raw veggies daily could cause weight gain. "There is some evidence that—because they contain compounds called goitrogens—raw cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, etc.) in large quantities can impact the thyroid, particularly on a vegan or vegetarian diet," says Robert Smallridge, M.D., an endocrinologist at Florida's Mayo Clinic, adding that a likely result is a lethargic metabolism. But new research shows that goitrogens are neutralized when cooked.

2. Fatten up the frisée

Stop asking for dressing on the side: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that combining uncooked vegetables with as many as 28 grams of fat does a body good. "Vitamins and phytochemicals are better absorbed with fat present," Fuhrman says. Top greens with extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, or nuts and seeds to "facilitate the absorption of the anticancer compounds."

3. Reserve raw for daytime

With the acceptance of intolerances real (celiac disease) and self-diagnosed ("no white foods"), gut issues are no longer taboo—leading R.D.'s to reiterate the idea that it might be how and when you eat, not what, that cause problems. "Digestion slows at night, so you don't want food in your stomach then that's tough to break down," says Deirdre Orceyre, a naturopathic physician at the GW Center for Integrative Medicine in Washington, D.C. All raw fans should nosh on fermented foodstuffs, like sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi, to pump up the body's digestive powers.

4. Set the juice loose

Cold-pressed-juice fanatics belittle heat-producing blenders, but nutritionists are fighting back: "Most juicers remove the fruits' and vegetables' fiber—it's like straight sugar, which will spike then crash your energy levels," Orceyre says. Blended beverages that contain whole foods are better, but the best way to drink: Eat, too. "Protein and fat slow carbohydrate digestion, so have your smoothie with fish, eggs, or chicken."

5. Know thy temperature

When it comes to unlocking nutrients, some foods are a dish best served cold (like beets, red bell peppers, and garlic), while others benefit from feeling the heat (mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes).

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