We often get asked whether raw foods or cooked foods are better for your health. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to this topic. Raw foodists claim that keeping food raw, or uncooked, preserves more of the nutrients in the food. While this is technically true, it does not mean that it will be better for you. When we boil or cook vegetables they can lose their nutrients if overcooked. What isn’t considered in this topic is how we digest the food.
Ayurveda takes into account that it is not only what you eat that is important, but what you can digest, absorb and assimilate. Even though you may be taking in nutrients, if you can’t digest them then there is no benefit. While the raw food movement is a more recent fad, we are compelled to stand behind Ayurvedic knowledge that has withstood the test of time for thousands of years. In general, cooked foods are easier to digest.
With that being said, Ayurveda doesn’t completely rule out eating raw foods. There are certain seasons like summer where eating raw foods is acceptable, or better climates where outside temperatures are higher. Also, for those with a strong pitta constitution, digestion will naturally be strong so these people can eat and digest more raw foods better than a kapha or vata person would be able to. There are also specific cases when someone may benefit from switching to a more raw diet, yet this may not be for everyone or sustainable for health over the long term.
How to Start
So how do you find the balance between eating a raw plant based diet with an ayurvedic and cooked diet?
Plant-based dieting has become a large part of the health world. With a plant-based diet, you follow these principles:
- Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and healthy oils make up the majority of what you eat.
- Meat, fish, poultry, and other animal products are allowed, but they typically are eaten infrequently and in smaller portions.
- Processed foods, refined grain, and sugars are avoided.
- Food quality matters: locally sourced, organic, non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods are preferred.
A plant-based diet typically includes:
- Fruits: Bananas, berries, citrus fruits, peaches, pears, pineapple, etc.
- Healthy fats: Avocados, coconut oil, olives, olive oil, etc.
- Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, etc.
- Non-sugary condiments: Mustard, nutritional yeast, salsa, soy sauce, vinegars, etc.
- Nuts, nut butters, and seeds: Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, natural peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, tahini, etc.
- Plant-based proteins: Legume protein (e.g., black beans), tofu, tempeh, etc.
- Spices, herbs, and seasonings: Basil, black pepper, mint, rosemary, salt, thyme, and turmeric, etc.
- Unsweetened plant-based milks: Nut milks such as almond milk or cashew, coconut milk, etc.
- Vegetables: Asparagus, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, lettuces, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, yams, etc.
- Whole grains: Barley, brown rice, farro, quinoa, rolled oats, etc.
- Some alcoholic beverages in moderation; typically those that don’t contain added sugar and aren’t mixed with other sweetened beverages
- Still water
- Unsweetened sparkling water
- Unsweetened teas
We like a plant-based diet as it also favors getting your food products from good sources. When meat is supplemented into the diet it tends to be with high-quality products such as:
- Free-range, organic chicken
- Organic dairy products from pasture-raised animals
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Pastured-raised or grass-fed beef or pork
- Raw honey
- Wild-caught, sustainable seafood
Ayurveda is similar to a plant based diet in many ways from the local, organic, and well-sourced foods to eating non-processed foods and drinks. Today, Ayurveda is mostly plant-based, where it focuses mostly on a vegetarian diet with some meats depending on your constitution. Ayurveda is a complex system, so it can’t be summed up so quickly with a food list like a plant-based diet. Here are a few ways it’s different from a plant-based diet:
- Ayurveda focuses on aligning with the seasons and eating seasonally. This means the same foods and drinks are not eaten all year long. Each season asks for different nutrients and energetics.
- In Ayurveda, food, lifestyle, and herbs are tailored to each individual. It’s not just about food. It takes the whole body and mind together.
- Ayurveda cannot give a general “food list”. Food lists change in Ayurveda depending on your cycle of gut healing, your dosha (body and mind constitution), and the seasons.
- We want to be sure that everything we take in can be fully digested and processed through the body so Ayurveda believes in cooking fresh meals everyday. This prevents undigested food from building up in the body.
- Ayurveda can be used with a vegan, vegetarian, light meat eating, or a gluten-free diet.
- Ayurveda is also a lifestyle change that uses exercise, sleep, herbs, spices, daily routines, foods, and massages to heal the body. In Ayurveda, though food is the primary access point to healing the gut, it is not just a food plan.
It is also extremely beneficial to work with an Ayurvedic Practitioner, which not all people can afford or have the time to do. If you are looking to start this journey a plant-based diet can be a good way to start to become aware of the source and quality of your food. It can be good especially if you’re starting out on a healthier lifestyle.
However, Ayurveda works to take this idea a step further and tailor it to each individual to help optimize energy, gut health, and any chronic or acute illness. In Ayurveda, one size does not fit all and one food doesn’t work all year round. Ayurveda works to align each individual with nature and liberate the Self.
Cutting down on raw foods doesn’t mean you have to rule out salads and your micronutrient intake! There are many ways to lightly cook and add spices to make food easier for the digestive system to handle. If you have any questions about your current diet, always feel free to reach out to us and we would be happy to help.