Along with increasing hours of sunlight and rising temperatures, spring brings an abundance of colors and options in the produce aisles. This is the area of the grocery store where indulgence is encouraged! A 2014 study found that eating seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables can extend life expectancy “a staggering 42%”. And, not surprisingly, the report found that fresh vegetables extend life more effectively than canned. The paper, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, concluded that the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the less likely we are to die at any age.
This brings us to the on-going question of raw vs. cooked vegetables. Ayurveda’s main text, the Charak Samhita, recommends primarily cooked foods because cooking increases the element of agni that is essential for the assimilation of nutrients and their transformation into the bodily tissues. The higher proportion of nutrients available in raw food is useless if the food can’t be digested, absorbed and assimilated. In order to choose the best option for your physiology, it is helpful to understand your state of doshic balance and imbalance, the strength of your digestion, and to take into account seasonal influences.
In general, those of with Pitta, or Pitta/Kapha body types who do not have a significant Vata imbalance can handle raw foods in their diet, especially in the late spring and summer seasons. This is because the element of “fire” or “agni” is very lively in their constitutions and they benefit from a cooling diet.
The overly cold, dry, light qualities of raw foods, however, may create problems for anyone with a severe Vata imbalance. They may find an increase in symptoms of abdominal gas, bloating, constipation, worry and anxiety, and dryness. Those wishing to balance or counter Vata imbalances do better with a diet that is warm, moist and easily digestible.
Those with Kapha imbalances may find that the cold nature of raw foods leads to allergies, sinus problems or asthma.
One solution for those who prefer raw foods but lack a strong Pitta component is to enjoy raw juices. Juicing or blending with “super blenders” that basically pulverize foods allows you to break down the cellulose the surrounds the outer layer of fruit and vegetable molecules, thus allowing you to derive optimum nutritional benefits.
If you are adding raw foods to your diet, here are some tips that can help you to maintain a healthy digestive fire:
Sip small quantities of warm water with your meals
Never include ice-cold foods or drinks with your meal. Allow refrigerated foods to come to room temperature before eating.
Try eating a slice of ginger, topped with a pinch of salt and lemon juice, about 15 minutes before your meal. This will increase the element of fire or agni and will help improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients
Add a bit of fresh lemon or lime juice to whatever you are eating
Adding organic olive oil to salads will help counter the drying property of raw foods
Next week we’ll look at which vegetables offer more nutritional value when they have been cooked and which offer more nutritional value when eaten raw.