Eating a raw food diet is a popular new trend. We look at the health benefits – and potential pitfalls – of putting your stove into storage
The Raw Food Diet
In the first issue of HealthFirst, we published a selection of raw food recipes that revealed a popular trend in dieting; one which is endorsed by a number of stars from the world of entertainment. Here, HealthFirst contributor and raw food aficionado, Ritu Motial, discusses what the regime means to her and what she sees as its health benefits:Research
“Recently, a colleague of mine, Suzie, came to the office with a picnic bag full of carrots, sliced avocados, cucumbers and apples. The crunching sound that was normally heard as she worked her way through her regular chips bag was replaced by the crisp retort of her teeth biting into an apple or carrot. This new-found routine continued, with Suzie bringing in a different array of raw fruits and vegetables each day. Her work-mates, me included, now began referring to her lunch bag as “Suzie’s garden.”
Suzie’s new found enthusiasm for raw food wasn’t merely self-contained, as she attempted the rest of the office to join her in this new diet, encouraging us to try her often strange looking, exotic sounding concoctions. I must say that some of them tasted good, but turning to raw food seemed like betraying a life-long friendship that I had with baked cinnamon apple strudels and hefty but delicious turkey and cheese open-grilled croissant sandwiches, all washed down with copious amounts of freshly-brewed coffee. However, intrigued by my colleague’s new-found zeal, I decided to research the potential benefits of raw food.
It soon became evident that Suzie was not the only person hooked on raw food. It appeared that there were thousands across the globe who were gladly switching to ‘raw-foodism,’ or ‘rawism,’ the formal term used to describe the lifestyle promotion of the consumption of un-cooked, un-processed and often organic foods as a significant part of the diet. Uma Thurman, Demi Moore and Mel Gibson were some of the celebrity names that kept popping up and the personal testimonies of local raw-foodists appeared to wholeheartedly endorse this regime. Oft-repeated benefits included weight loss, more energy, clear skin, brighter eyes, an improved insulin tolerance and overall good health. Could it be that the days of a pot roast with vegetable casserole are on their way to becoming a thing of the past?
One of Suzie’s co-raw-foodies, Kim, enthused about the change in her energy levels. A full-time mother of three who still makes time to spend an hour a day on rigorous exercise, she revealed that she remains energetic ever since she made the dietary shift. Her moods no longer fluctuate and she also reports decreased stress levels, as well as feeling generally healthy ever since adopting a 70 per cent raw food vegan diet.
Elias, another raw-food follower, had seen a drop in his insulin dependence for the year following the switch. Now, after two years of adherence to this lifestyle, coupled with meditation and exercising he has kept his diabetes totally under control. “Of course, I still indulge in all my favourite dishes, but I eat almost 80 per cent raw-food. I don’t miss the rich foods at all; in fact, I cannot even conceive eating such foods any longer,” says the production manager at a leading advertising agency in Dubai.
In her feature length documentary on the raw food diet phenomenon, Supercharge Me, Jenna Norwood, a former public relations consultant turned independent filmmaker, health educator and raw food chef, has captured the effects of such a dietary shift. The film, inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s acclaimed Super Size Me, captures Norwood as she realises her lack of healthy eating and enrolls in a 30-day raw food detox programme in San Diego, USA. Throughout the duration of the programme, Norwood ate only raw foods; i.e. uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. She also spoke to doctors, experts, celebrities and others who follow the raw food lifestyle.
The raw foods movement continues to grow rapidly, especially in the UK, Germany, Australia and several states in the United States. Restaurants boasting a sumptuous raw food menu have opened in large cities and numerous all-raw recipe books are making their appearance at book stores. Several websites offering in-depth understanding of and a compilation of raw-food recipes are available to those who wish to learn more about such a diet.
Proponents of the raw food diet list several benefits of such a shift; typically ranging from obesity management to the prevention of chronic diseases. I found several online study materials which support the position that these people take.
One advantage listed was that a raw food diet brought nature’s intentions into focus. Raw foods are of a better quality; therefore one tends to eat less to satisfy nutritional needs. The heat of cooking depletes vitamins, damages proteins and fats and destroys the enzymes which benefit digestion. As the percentage of raw foods increases, one feels satisfied and has more energy, because raw food has the best balance of water, nutrients and fibre to meet the body’s needs.
Secondly, raw foods have more flavour than cooked foods, so there is no need to add salt, sugar, spices, or other condiments that can irritate the digestive system or over stimulate other organs.
Furthermore, eating a diet of raw foods can reverse or stop the advance of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Cooking creates free radicals, which are considered to be a major cause of cancer. In addition to helping prevent chronic disease, a raw food diet can also protect from acute diseases, such as colds, flu, measles, etc. A properly followed raw food diet will ensure that one soon reaches a level where the suffering of heartburn, gas, indigestion or constipation, no longer features as a health hazard.
There is of course an economic aspect to raw food consumption, as well. It is environmentally sound. With humanity on a diet of raw foods, the food industry would take up large-scale organic gardening, which would save enormous amounts of energy that go towards traditional farming and livestock rearing. Natural resources would be conserved, as trees and oil reserves that are normally used for the paper and plastic packaging found in processed foods would no longer be required. There would also be less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from a reduction in cooking and more oxygen produced from the increased number of orchards and gardens, thus helping to reverse the Greenhouse Effect.
There are other socio-economic benefits as well. In this time-challenged existence of ours, raw foods take very little preparation, so one spends less time in the kitchen. A child of five or six years of age can prepare most items for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This, according to enthusiasts, not only gives children a sense of self-esteem and independence, but offers a much needed break for their mothers. What’s more, cleaning up after a raw meal is a doddle. No baked-on oil or crusty mess, with any inedible parts going directly to the compost pile. Not only does one save on time, but also on the expense of scourers and oil-busters, not to mention the money saved on food, vitamins, pots and pans, appliances, doctor bills, drugs and health insurance.
It does seem intelligent to not waste food, oneself, and the planet, by insisting on cooking what we eat. Raw fruit, nuts and vegetables are fresh, tasty and nutritious. So why not switch to wholesome raw food diet, even if it is just for the sheer experience of enjoying something different?
– Raw food gurus like Gabriel Coussens M.D., Robert Young M.D., Ann Wiggmore, Victoria Boutenko and David Wolfe, who together have logged over 100 years of research and experience, argue that even though our body can produce its own enzymes, it utilises a lot of energy. Eating enzyme-dead, cooked foods places a burden on the pancreas and other organs and overworks them, ultimately exhausting them. Increasingly, a number of further studies are revealing that nearly all heated and most processed foods do, indeed, contain carcinogens.
– Early researchers such as E.B. Forbes and Dr Edward Howell argued that cooked food weakened the teeth and destroyed enzymes, which, they surmised, were a critical component of good health.
– Dentist Weston Price visited numerous hunter-gatherer tribes around the world in the 1930s and noted that the healthiest native-tribes he saw all incorporated significant amounts of enzyme-rich raw animal and raw plant foods in their diets.
Recent medical studies on raw food diets have shown some positive and negative health outcomes. According to one medical trial, “long-term consumption of a 70 per cent raw-plant-food diet is associated with favourable serum LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol.” Another study from Germany found that a “long-term strict raw food diet is associated with favourable plasma beta-carotene and low plasma lycopene concentrations.” Yet another study mentioned the benefits of a raw vegan diet for lowering obesity and hypertension. German research in 2003 showed significant benefits in reducing the risk of breast cancer when large amounts of raw vegetable matter are included in the diet. The authors attribute some of this effect to heat-labile phytonutrients.
One of the findings of The China Project, an international study of epidemiology and nutrition in developing China, suggested that a move away from raw unprocessed food in our diet may increase the incidences of common cancers and diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disorders and strokes. The project primarily evaluated a vegetarian diet with a non-vegetarian diet and didn’t just examine the benefits of a raw food diet.
Varieties of Raw Foodism
Raw vegans can be sub-divided into fruitarians, juicearians, or sproutarians. Fruitarians eat primarily or exclusively fruits and nuts. Juicearians process their raw plant foods into juice. Sproutarians adhere to a diet consisting mainly of sprouted seeds.
Depending on the type of lifestyle and results desired, raw food diets may include a selection of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds (including sprouted whole grains such as gaba rice), eggs, fish (such as sashimi), meat (such as carpaccio) and non-pasteurised/non-homogenised dairy products (such as raw milk, raw milk cheese, and raw milk yoghurt).
Useful Kitchen Appliances
The easiest and most popular appliance is a high-speed blender. This is to a raw foodist, what a stove is to a cook. You can make smoothies, shakes and soups within minutes. And you’ll use it many times a day. It does not take more than five minutes to rinse and clean, as there are no fat deposits to scrub away.
Another great tool in the kitchen armory, the most suited type will depend on what you expect to be juicing most. Carrots are easiest in a centrifuge juicer, whereas green leafy vegetables go best in a twin gear juicer. Cleaning time is five to 10 minutes. A water purifier is a must and more economical than buying bottled water. You can also buy a good tap filter (i.e. Pure Water), have a water system installed (Reverse Osmosis), or buy a water distiller. This keeps a steady supply of clean water to wash vegetables and fruit.
A coffee grinder is great for finely grinding nuts, seeds and cacao beans in smaller quantities. A grinder is small and relatively inexpensive. Not an absolute must to have in a raw food kitchen,but I use it quite a lot. Cleaning time is one minute, just dust off the powder.
For people who love sprouts and grass, a sprouter is a fun tool. Or you may just get your wheatgrass shot at the health store or juice bar and pick a variety of sprouts from the supermarket. Cleaning time five to seven minutes. Hand blenders offer a a simple and cheap version of the high speed blender, but of course won’t leave your food as smooth. However, it’s great for travelling, for making quick pestos, smaller amounts of apple sauce etc. Can be used several times a day. Cleaning time is five to seven minutes.”
– Woody Harrelson
– Lisa Bonet
– Robin Williams
– Alicia Silverstone
– Uma Thurman
– Nathalie Portman
– Donna Karan (designer)
– Carol Alt (Elite model)
– Steve Jobs (Apple CEO)
Several raw food preparation books have been published, including:
Raw: The Uncook Book: New Vegetarian Food for Life by Juliano Brotman and Erika Lenkert (Regan Books, 1999),
Raw by Charlie Trotter, Roxanne Klein, Jason Smith, and Tim Turner (Ten Speed Press, 2003),
Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis (William Morrow, 2005)
RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine by Matt Amsden (William Morrow, 2006).
– Singers/ Musicians:
– David Bowie