A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with a vegan raw foodist who lives in my city. We got together at my favourite cafe and wound up spending three hours chatting excitedly about health and nutrition. The time flew by and I’m sure we could have easily continued talking for the next three hours, swapping stories and ideas and research. It was one of the best possible ways to spend a Friday afternoon.
I went to our little interview knowing very little about the raw food lifestyle. I’ve learned some from reading Hanlie’s blog (she of the motto “Eat Produce, Not Products” that I adore), but aside from that, I knew virtually nothing. I’ve learned over the past couple years that many people in the medical profession don’t know much about nutrition, and that people who are interested and passionate in nutrition and health can be better informed than doctors or registered dietitians. Some experts in the field, such as Janel and Nicole and Gina, give fantastic advice and are incredibly knowledgeable. But I find that sometimes “experts” in health aren’t interested in considering alternative nutrition plans or working with what individuals feel comfortable with, and this is highly problematic. That is why I found it so refreshing to meet with Amanda and hear her views on raw foodism.
Amanda has a background in science from some of her university studies and she shares my passion for health and nutrition. She has been vegan for two years and a raw food vegan for one and a half years. Her 15-month-old son is also a raw food vegan, and her husband has just started this plan within the past month. The reasons why a person might choose a raw food diet are numerous, but one of Amanda’s reasons for it is because the living enzymes have a stronger nutrient content than cooked food.
The raw food diet creates even more controversy than the vegan diet. Some say that raw diets are very healthy; others say that raw diets are completely ridiculous and unnatural. I’m doing my best to keep an open mind when it comes to health and nutrition, and so I’m very interested in learning about alternative nutrition plans. My position on the nutrient content of raw vs. cooked food places more of an emphasis on balance: for many foods, the nutrient content might not necessarily be better or worse if the food is cooked or uncooked, but the nutrient content is different depending on how the food is prepared (raw or cooked- and if it’s cooked, the way it is cooked also has a dramatic impact).
A few years ago, if someone asked me what I thought about vegetarianism, I would have likely scoffed and said that being an omnivore is the most well-rounded, healthy way to eat. Once I learned more about vegetarianism, I came to the conclusion that if done correctly, it can be very healthy. After that, the issue of veganism came up; I was convinced that veganism is not a healthy option and that it is deficient in many nutrients. After my month-long vegan experiment, I realized that I’d been wrong: if done correctly, veganism, too, can be very healthy.
During my vegan challenge, I joked to others that I was thinking about trying out a raw food diet. The most common response from others was, “Ew. Really? Don’t do that. It’s not healthy.”
But I’ve learned my lesson, after my initial presumptions about vegetarianism and veganism. I’ve learned that most of the time, if we think that a diet/lifestyle is unhealthy, it’s because we do not know much about it. Being able to speak to Amanda was wonderful because I learned so much about the concept of a raw food diet.
I would now like to pose a question to everyone who maintains that raw food is “not healthy”: is the way that most people eat now, with eating some kind of processed food from grocery stores every day, “healthy”?
Even if the “processed” foods are things like loaves of bread, which most people would not consider to be all that processed, is it really “healthy” for us when we don’t know what half the ingredients are? We don’t have to chow down on bags of chips and fast food to still be eating food that isn’t healthy. I recently gave a speech for one of my classes about the misleading claims on nutrition labels, and I found it fascinating that a loaf of bread from the Safeway bakery counter contained 43 ingredients and half a dozen kinds of sugar, whereas if you bake bread yourself, you’ll use about five well-known ingredients with one kind of sugar. To me, that’s not healthy, if we eat bread which contains ingredients we don’t recognize.
Amanda told me that people concerned with her raw food vegan lifestyle never once approached her with concern when she ate processed foods. It wasn’t until she took an interest in nutrition and began to eat really healthy that the people around her began questioning her choices.
I found this interesting because the same sort of thing has happened for me. I went through junior high without anyone batting an eyelash at my intake of trans fatty packaged sunflower seeds, microwavable popcorn, Subway sandwiches, Slurpees, and KitKat bars. When I made the effort to lose a bit of excess weight and was eating Special K vanilla crisp bars and Cup-a-soups every day, people were still supportive of me. However, choosing to forego processed food as much as possible has led to an uproar of disapproval. It boggles the mind. Can anyone explain this phenomenon to me? Because I do not understand it. “Live a little! Enjoy yourself! You don’t have to be healthy all the time!” Well, guess what: I don’t have to eat crap all the time, either.
I believe very strongly that we can all benefit from eating natural, real, whole foods, and that each one of us should experiment with different foods to see what kind of diet best suits us as individuals. We’re all human, so we’re going to have a lot of stumbling blocks and obstacles in our way, but that’s part of what’s so great about it: the constant challenge means that we’re always given another chance to try again and make progress and learn what is best for our bodies and build a better relationship with them.
Amanda has clearly found that being a raw food vegan works for her. She used to wear glasses but no longer needs them. Her skin is clear, she has bundles of energy, and she emits a healthy glow (I sound like an infomercial here, but it’s true! I haven’t seen many people who look as healthy as her). Sometimes vegans and raw foodists have a sort of emaciated look to them, but Amanda has an inspiringly energetic, healthy look to her. She says that her son is equally as healthy and that her immune system has strengthened over the past couple years, too.
One of the common myths of a raw food diet is the length of time it takes to prepare and make food. However, Amanda told me that she can make food in five to 20 minutes, and she used to spend a couple hours each day cooking up healthy meals (just like I currently do- making things from scratch is rewarding but can be very time-consuming!). She has also found that the raw food diet is very cost-effective. She now spends less money on food for three people than they used to spend when there was just her and her husband.
“Raw food is a lifestyle, not a religion,” Amanda told me. I really loved that attitude. If Winnipeg doesn’t appear to be very accommodating for vegans, it is not a raw-friendly city at all. Because of that, a raw food vegan is going to run up against some difficulties in maintaining a wholly raw food diet. This is particularly true because there are no regulations for the label “raw” on food products. All a person can do, if they are interested in adopting a raw food lifestyle, is try to eat as raw as possible but allow that there are going to be a small percentage of meals that will not be raw.
I plan on trying a (virtually 100%) raw food diet for a month, but I think I’ll be waiting until January to do it- right now, things are a little too busy to jump into it completely. Over the next couple months I’ll be doing more research and trying out meals to slowly incorporate a few raw meals into my diet to make the transition a little smoother. A dehydrator and a food processor are two of the best kitchen tools when making the transition to a raw food diet, so I’m going to see if I can borrow those two tools from the mother dear and play with them before I try a raw food diet.
If you’d like to read more about the topic in the meantime, here are some interesting articles arguing both for and against a raw food lifestyle:
My personal thoughts, at this stage, are that there appear to be health benefits to a raw food diet, but it might not be for everyone, and if someone were to try it out, they should definitely do their research to ensure that they are consuming a variety of nutrients. I also think that there are health benefits to cooked foods. We should, however, keep an open mind to all kinds of different approaches to healthy diets and lifestyles, and seek to learn more about them before we make wild assumptions about the positive or negative effects.
What do you think of the raw food diet and lifestyle? How much do you know about it? Would you be willing to learn more about it? I’m sure that there is a wide range of strong opinions on this subject and I want to hear all of your thoughts!