Raw Food In a Nutshell
Happy day! One of my coaching clients is asking about raw food- how it is defined, what is consists of, and how to get started. Naturally I want to answer this in a complete and unbiased fashion, but certainly my opinions color the information, so I want to start by emphasizing that we at Kale U support the efforts of every other raw foodist, vegan, vegetarian and omnivore out there, no matter where they fall in the spectrum I’m about to describe!
While it’s convenient to attach definitions to our lifestyles, it’s important not to put yourself, or anyone else, in a box where in your mind they must stay. People move in and out of these styles each day, combining, cherry-picking, and experimenting all the while. What works for one, physiologically or ideologically, may not work for another. What you believe in one day you may not believe in the next, and we must be free and ready to reexamine, to change any of our beliefs to support and serve us at all times.
It is actually a very complex world out there when you start to research raw- there are many ways of approaching it and it’s important to find the style that works for you. I’ll summarize the main approaches to raw I’ve encountered- I think in the end they all crossover some and as Brandi Rollins explains beautifully in our interview with her and in her incredible book Raw Foods on Budget, each raw foodie chooses a combination of the styles that works for them.
What Exactly is Raw?
The basic definition of raw is: any food in it’s natural, unheated state; the idea is that enzymes are killed and proteins begin to rearrange in strange forms when heated above a certain temperature, which ranges, depending on who you talk to, between 105 and 118. We like to keep things around 105 around here, just to be safe. We can tell because the dehydrator has a 105 setting, but also I sometimes heat things to the temp where I can still stick my finger in without burning to have a warm soup.
A raw foodist is someone who eats 75% or more of their food raw. We at Kale U love raw food but are somewhat relaxed raw foodists with a diet that ranges between 75% and 100% raw on any given day. We still cook some wild rice or quinoa sometimes, and when we go out we might have a burrito with a tortilla and cooked beans. But we eat otherwise raw and would guess it averages around 85% since we eat nearly all raw at home.
POPULAR APPROACHES TO RAW FOOD:
It’s what I do most days- eat fruits and vegetables in different ways! Salads are surely a staple, but there are an infinite number of combinations of the staples of a raw diet: fruits & vegetables, greens & herbs, nuts & seeds, beans & legumes.
Most people you will find online can give good recipes for this style: Philip McCluskey, Kevin Gianni, Ani Phyo, Storm & Jinjee of the Garden Diet, Alyssa Cohen… they come to mind as good ones to check out though there are countless others. I “went raw” after becoming curious about a raw cookbook I saw, typed “raw food” into a Youtube search and haven’t stopped learning about it for free from all these amazing people since.
Average Joe on the Raw was an awesome film we just watched about a regular guy that documents his first 60 days going straight from SAD to raw and it gives a lot of good info and plenty of fun and inspiration.
Some people like to soak, sprout, ferment, or otherwise bring their foods to life. I learned a lot about this in various books, especially Living Foods, by Renee Loux Underkoffler, which was one of the first books I bought on raw food- I loved that it was comprehensive in scope, but at the time, I admit it was a little over my head. Now we like to soak and sprout seeds and some legumes, and we like to ferment vegetables and make our own raw yogurt to use in sauces and dressings and for the probiotic benefits.
Intensive juicing, or a focus on eating foods that are specifically suited for boosting a certain aspect of the body, or healing a condition, are the hallmarks of a healing raw diet. Sometimes people combine raw foods with herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, and/or a regimen of juicing and possibly colonics and enemas to heal or prevent a disease.
The Gerson Therapy for healing cancer is a good example. Dan the Man, the Life Regenerator is always on a path to heal earlier damage done to his body through weightlifting, the weight lifter’s diet of excess protein, drugs and alcohol. Dan and other healing enthusiasts get well though raw food, and their simple approach is usually about choosing foods by their healing properties first and taste second. Juice fasting, water fasting and other means of detoxification are often used, and this approach is often deeply connected to spirituality.
Gourmet raw happens when you’ve got all the goodies & appliances and all day to make something, or don’t mind even waiting until tomorrow to eat what you’re making today. It’s possible to weave a few gourmet raw recipes into a simple routine, as most people can’t sustain constant gourmet raw, unless they have all their time to devote to making food.
Dehydrating foods to make chips, crackers, pizzas, burgers and making old favorite comfort foods raw/vegan- not to mention the cheesecakes, truffles, and pies- are main pass times of the gourmet raw chef. Certainly you can see why this is fun and tempting on the weekends, but for a workday lunch, it doesn’t always fit the bill. This diet can easily get too high in fats and sugars- albeit raw- and can include too many nut pates and raw cookies to facilitate maximum healing and weight loss. Russell James and Matthew Kenney are our go-to guys for raw food that takes some time but consistently blows our minds.
The opposite, even sometimes the backlash, to Gourmet Raw is a somewhat extreme diet comprised of 80% carbs, 10% fat and 10% protein and is seen by many as the ideal way of eating. Most calories come from fruit, then greens and vegetables, and then a few nuts, seeds, and avocados. This diet excludes nearly everything else- no other sugars, no oils, no vinegar, no no no… It’s intense, and I can’t seem to stay on it for one week, so I don’t! But it has inspired me to pack more fruit into my diet and thus has crowded out a lot of the fats and sugars I was eating and made me more aware of the healing and energizing powers of massive quantities of fruit.
The 80-10-10 Diet book by Douglas Graham and the website 30 Bananas a Day are the main places to find info on this diet. There is an even stricter approach contained within this faction called fruitarianism where almost all calories are derived from fruit, but most raw foodists view it as too restrictive to provide all the nutrients we need.
Raw vs. Vegan & Making Personal Exceptions
My advice on this whole subject is: don’t let anyone or any diet book tell you what to eat or not. You’ll decide what makes sense to you. Example: I consider myself vegan, but for that matter there are different types of vegans! (Geez, right?) Suffice it to say that we all seem to want words that define and identify our approach to others- but they still connote different things to different people.
I am not a purely ethical vegan, that is, I don’t do it just for moralistic reasons or just animal rights. That’s just one reason I am vegan. Therefore, I eat honey. I think it’s good for me in moderation and I like the way it tastes. Every time you post a recipe with honey, you’ll get the person reminding you- “Honey isn’t vegan!!” You say thank you, and let it roll off- because it’s true, it’s technically not vegan. People need to do what they believe in. I buy raw, organic, local honey from the Farmer’s Market and aspire to keep some bees on our property- I don’t think eating honey this way is unnatural, so I eat it. These choices are for each person to consider.
There are also some people who eat a “raw” diet but are not vegan or even vegetarian. This may include anything unheated- oysters on the half shell, raw fish sushi, raw cow’s or goat’s milk, beef tartare etc. This doesn’t work for me for obvious reasons, but for some it makes sense with their beliefs and goals.
The RawBrahs and Natasha St Michael are notable examples of people we love who have transitioned out of raw veganism into more flexitarian styles, and they are the epitome of shining health so what they’re doing is working for them.
Food Combining/Quick Exit Principle
This is something that I believe is very important and yet highly misunderstood and underrated. I’ll go more in depth in another post, but this describes an approach that always keeps optimal digestion and assimilation as the primary goals. The old theory that food combining consists of the principle of eating rice with beans to get a complete protein is NOT what we’re talking about here; in fact it’s kind of the opposite theory and has already seen it’s scientific demise since it’s peak of popularity in the 70s.
Rather, food combining involves paying attention to the digestion times of foods and maximizing the energy that can be used by our bodies for our daily activities, rather than being sucked into digestion and leaving us begging for a nap around 3:45pm. It also aims to avoid putrefaction, gas, and indigestion which is an issue for more people than even realize it. I’ve read numerous books on this principle and subscribe to it completely, but if I could recommend one simple place to get the gist of it, it would be in the book Raw Food Life Force by Natalia Rose- don’t get me wrong- it’s not a book about food combining, there are only a few pages on it, but that’s the beauty of it. Natalia describes it beautifully, naming it the Quick Exit Principle, and she gives you everything you need to understand the basics very quickly. Raw Food Life Force is also just a fantastic book to start your journey with because it’s fun, easy to read and has simple recipes, but if you’re not ready to buy a book yet, next time you’re at Barnes & Noble, grab this one off the shelf and find a comfy chair, and in 15 minutes, you’ll be well on your way to easing all the pain and bloating you’ve ever suffered from.
You Can Go Your Own Way
Remember, these are simplifications of the diets out there, and surely there are many many other styles of eating raw food that people have developed. And you, too, are free to create your diet so that it fits perfectly in line with your personal goals, beliefs and ethics. We all have to do what we feel is right and allow others the same privilege. And I often like to keep in mind the simple adage, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” In order to decide how we feel about something, I think we should do our best to truly be informed and experienced in an area before we spout off that someone else is wrong. There is no universal right and wrong, only perceptions and beliefs. Sometimes I think about all the unpleasantness, judgement, and separation that exists even within the raw community and think about how silly and sad it is. We all are aiming for optimum health and have different ways going about it, but if your goal is ultimate health and happiness, why would you want to waste one second on negativity?
You are what you think- as much if not more than you are what you eat! -Suzanne Turner