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Given the quantity of plant foods it contains, a raw-foods diet can offer a wealth of benefits — but there are caveats.

First, eating raw food triggers a digestive workout, and not everyone’s system is up to the job. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that nearly two-thirds of Americans have gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, gas, constipation, and heartburn. This is not a setup for success with raw foods.

“Gastrointestinal symptoms can be exacer­bated by increasing dietary fiber,” explains functional nutritionist Jesse Haas, CNS, LN. “Is fiber inherently a good thing? Yes. But will it improve someone’s diet right off the bat? Not necessarily.”

Many healing traditions, including Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, believe that one needs a cast-iron gut to handle raw foods — and that it’s best to consume them minimally if gut health is an issue. In his functional-medicine practice, Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, sees many people with irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut, and he generally has them steer clear of too much raw food. “Eating raw can create a stressful work environment for a gut that is trying to heal.”

For someone struggling with digestive issues, a healthcare provider may recommend a low-fiber diet, such as low FODMAP, to soothe digestive issues. (For more on the low-FODMAP diet, see “Can An Elimination or Low-FODMAP Diet Treat IBS?“.) Haas is more likely to have clients reduce their fiber intake temporarily and then gradually increase their tolerance. Once the gut is stronger, they can usually handle more high-fiber foods.

Ayurveda sees the digestive process as a cauldron over a fire,” explains Haas. “The digestive fire needs to be robust so it can burn up, break down, and digest the energy in foods.”

This was excerpted from “The Raw Story” which was published in the April 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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