I’ve found that there is a lot of general interest in juicing and a raw food diet as of late. Most especially now, since arriving in Dubai- where the raw food/juice industry is really just starting to blow up. So, I thought it would be a great idea and perfect timing to write a post including some of major points of information when it comes to raw, natural food. As a disclaimer- it’s important to note that I am not advocating or promoting the raw food lifestyle. I truly believe that food and eating behaviours and lifestyles are completely subjective and there really is no “one size fits all” when it comes to eating. That being said, regardless of your eating patterns- I will say that it is important to try to keep your diet high in plant-based foods, including lots of greens and vegetables into your daily regime. Not only will this improve your overall health & wellness; it will leave you feeling more clear-headed and energized.
- What is a Raw Food Diet?
A raw food diet is based upon the notion that plant food is of its highest nutritional quality and state when it is in its most natural form. As the term ‘raw’ denotes, this diet revolves around the premise that food is altered and affected by various factors including oxygen, air & light. Thus, a raw food diet strives to maintain the food’s integrity by abstaining it from various cooking methods.
Raw food is commonly referred to as ‘living food’- addressing it’s abundance of elements such as enzymes and vitamins that have been unaffected by heat, light or air. Living food is filled with minerals, oils, and other phytonutrients, which are very sensitive to factors like heat, light and air. In it’s most simplest form, natural food promotes living while food that has been altered through heating and processing could potentially be promoting illness, advancing age and decreasing overall energy.
A raw food diet contains food that is fundamentally vegan, meaning that it is all derived from plant food (void of animal products and/or animal suffering). Also, because all of the food is not prepared with heat or light- it is important to consume organic products that are of high quality and have a smaller toxic load. This means that the farmers and growers have been certified to have sustainable and safe food production methods. With organic, a very detailed and careful amount of attention is put into the seeds that are used and the treatments (i.e., pesticides, herbicides) that are used and not used in the growing process (water, sprays, pesticides).
- How does Raw Food help your body?
There are various methods that come into play when preparing and maintaining a raw food diet. An interesting way to look at raw food is to think of it as Nature’s medicine. In it’s most natural form (the way it is presented to us, from Nature- straight off the tree), plant food is a potent addition to our health, offering the most perfect combination of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
An interesting way to understand vegetables in relation to human health- is to observe the shape and appearance. For example, there are a few vegetables that are specifically beneficial for heart health including fennel, beets and tomatoes. If you look closely, you will notice that they appear to resemble the human heart and aorta. In addition, fruits like the avocado, which resemble a woman’s cervix- are highly beneficial for female reproductive health while figs (think: male scrotum) are great for men’s.
- Does raw food promote weight loss?
The key with eating in general is to modify your perspective so that you are not eating or not eating in order to lose weight. Weight loss should always be perceived as a benefit or side effect of an eating lifestyle. Raw food is very much the same. I prefer to lean away from using the term ‘diet’ whenever possible; diet is highly associated with negative thoughts and emotions and also, it refers to something that is a ‘quick-fix’ or a ‘short-term goal’. Eating raw food is a fantastic way to obtain a large amount of high quality nutrients into your body.
As with most eating habits- weight loss and weight gain is very much in relation to the amount of food you are eating and your net calorie expenditure (calories in versus calories out). In general, raw food is lower in calories because you are consuming a lot of greens and low-glycemic index vegetables. However, raw food can also become a high calorie ‘diet’- if you incorporate a lot of nuts, seeds and fruits (such as bananas) into your daily routine. Although nuts, seeds and fruits are all highly beneficial for your health and filled with nutrients, they contain a higher amount of calories and nuts and seeds also contain a lot of fat. Thus, eating a lot of raw desserts and fruits may not necessarily result in weight loss.
That being said, a raw diet that contains a lot of leafy greens and vegetables will most likely result in weight loss. It all depends on your meal portions and what type of raw food you eat, daily. A great addition to eating a raw food diet is to increase your overall daily consumption of water (filtered water if you can). In combination with food that has a high water content- increasing your daily intake of water will help to keep your body’s cells hydrated and remove any excess water weight that your body has been holding onto. By decreasing the amount of salty foods, fatty foods and high protein foods (such as animal protein and fat)- your body will naturally let go of any excess water weight that is unnecessary with a raw food diet.
- How is the food prepared on the raw food diet?
There are many different ways to prepare raw food, depending on how intricate and detailed you are in the kitchen. There are some key pieces of equipment that you may need in order to maintain a successful raw diet, namely- a sharp set of knives, cutting board & grater/mandolin. Beyond that, there are varying levels of detail and difficulty when it comes to raw food production. It really depends on how comfortable you are in the kitchen and how creative you are!
The general rule of thumb with raw food preparation is that all processing and heating goes no higher than 117 degrees Farenheit (47 degrees Celcius). A helpful tool in the raw food world is the food dehydrator- which works to gradually drain the food of its water content. This is how foods such as dried fruit, chips and (coconut) jerky are made.
Another trick of the trade in raw food production is called sprouting. Sprouting is when nuts and seeds are soaked first and left to sit in an environment that supports the process of germination. This is how certain nuts and seeds are eaten in salads at all times of the year- yielding a high percentage of nutritional value. Sprouting creates food that is more bio-available (easier for our bodies to obtain nutrients from), easier to digest and contain a higher nutritional value.
In addition to sprouting, fermentation is another common process in the raw food lifestyle. Similar to sprouting, fermentation is something that has been practiced in human culture for many centuries- it’s a traditional and ancient practice. The purpose behind fermentation is to increase the shelf life of certain foods such as cabbage and fruits by converting their sugars into acids, gases or alcohol. Some of the most common foods made from fermentation are wine, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha. Fermentation is one way to obtain probiotics (good bacteria)- which are important in maintaining optimal and efficient gut health.
- What are the health benefits of a raw food lifestyle?
There are a variety of health benefits associated with a raw food lifestyle. The level of transformation that your body undergoes depends on where you are on your own health journey when you make the transition to raw food. If you are already relatively quite healthy and eat a balanced diet- you will observe a less palpable change to someone who makes a large change in their diet. Overall- eating more raw, organic vegetables will increase your body’s overall health and immunity. Some standard changes that you may observe with this transition are: an increase in your overall energy, clear skin, and increased focus and longer attention span. Increased energy seems to be one of the largest results of a raw food diet. Generally speaking- fruits and vegetables are much easier for your body to digest than animal proteins and fats and therefore require less energy to process. Thus, more energy is savored for accompanying processes that may have been neglected in the past.
One major change that will result from a raw food diet is in relation to fat. By lowering your overall fat consumption and eating only high quality fats such as healthy unsaturated fats (nuts, seeds) you will observe an increase in your heart health, lowering bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body.
Another fantastic benefit of the raw foods diet is fiber! All fruits and vegetables are great sources of dietary fiber- and if you are eating large amounts, daily, you are guaranteed to increase your gut health. An interesting part of nutrition is learning that our bowels are truly the foundations of our body’s overall health. If our bowels are suffering- our whole body is undergoing pain and trauma. One of the main reasons why our bowels are so important is because it is the site of absorption of a majority of our essential vitamins and minerals. In addition, digestion and excretion are important for our body’s detoxification processes. Thus, the raw food diet is highly supportive of these processes.
- Why is a raw food lifestyle an optimal one to follow?
There are a variety of reasons why one should look into following a raw food lifestyle. First and foremost, your health. A raw food diet is a way to get a high amount of nutrients into your body in a fast, safe and effective way. Thus, health imbalances such as diabetes, cardiovascular health, autoimmune disorders and cancer are all good reasons to look into transitioning to a raw food diet. It is important to elicit the help of your health practitioner (MD, ND) while making this transition to monitor your bodies’ levels during the change.
If you are suffering from obesity or weight issues- a raw food diet could also be highly beneficial for you.
As with most diet related topics, there are varying opinions on whether or not the raw food diet is suitable for all ages. In general, I believe that a raw food diet is safe and effective for all ages. The only segment of society that I would be hesitant and careful with are: babies and toddlers and those suffering from intense bowel damage (Crohn’s disease, Colitis, obstructed bowel surgery and specific autoimmune diseases). I would be careful with children under the age of 2- because of the high amounts of fiber in raw food diet. At that age, the child’s body is still in it’s important stages of growth and may not be able to handle the high amounts of fiber. Similarly, people who have suffer from bowel health issues can not handle the high amounts of fiber that are a part of this diet.
Another important thing to keep in mind when it comes to eating is where in the world you are located and what time of year it is. In general- raw food is a diet that should be enjoyed most in the tropics or during the summer months. The reason being that your body is generally naturally heated by the climate and is in more need of hydration (fruit & veg are natural sources of water) as well as dry and cold foods. In opposition, the winter months and colder climates are better suited to more cooked foods that are grounding, warming and easier to digest. Why is this? Think about it. In colder climates, your body has to do more work to stay warm. So, by eating foods that have been soaked/cooked, you are allowing your body more energy (put aside) to keep you warm. Also, these foods tend to be cooked and are therefore more warming.
- What are the 5 Fundamentals of Raw Food
- Organic: certified organic, GMO and pesticide (toxin) free. This is especially important when you are juicing because by removing the fibre from the fruit and vegetables- the properties of the juice are absorbed immediately into your blood stream. Thus, it is important that you keep the toxin levels of the produce very low.
- Natural, Not Processed: Steer away from any packaged and processed foods. Most especially foods whose ingredients list are longer than 5+ items (and/or include items that you have never heard of or cannot pronounce). The great thing about a raw food diet is that you only need to shop in the produce aisle. No need to waste money on packaged foods and future medical bills!
- Balance & Variety (Colours of the Rainbow): A good balance of fat, protein and carbohydrates. The more colours you see, the more nutrients are present (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes)
- Plan ahead: eating out and going to events isn’t always as easy and convenient. Prepare your own meals or look at the menu online ahead of time to know whether or not you can eat somewhere or how you can figure out a solution so that you don’t go hungry. If you’re going to a potluck, bring something that you can eat! If you are always busy and ‘on the go’- have a lot of vegetables pre-washed and cut at the beginning of the week so that you can simply compile salads morning of.
- Greens, greens, greens: There are so many different types of greens, experiment! Greens are filled with so many vitamins, nutrients and are a great source of protein. Make sure to highlight greens in your meals- they are the most important food in my opinion.
- Is there any special equipment that is required or needed ?
- Dehydrater: raw nut cheese, breads, cookies, kale chips, root vegetable chips, macaroons, desserts
- Blender (Vitamix, Blend Tech—high speed blender): sauces, pates, smoothies, soups
- Food Processer: pates, desserts, snacks, bars,
- Juicer: juices, elixirs
- Grater: julienne carrots, zucchini, beets, radish
- Knife Set: sharp set of knives
- Spirooli/Gefu: zucchini, yam noodles, pasta replacer
- Any tips on how to slowly integrate raw food into your lifestyle?
As with any changes in your eating habits and overall health, small and gradual changes are equivalent to big and permanent steps in the right direction. I suggest focusing on slowly adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to your daily routine. A great way to do this in the most efficient manner is to add a green smoothie or juice to your morning routine. These smoothies and juices can be as green as you desire- simply by adding your favourite green to it (e.g., cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, bok chou).
Another fantastic way to begin incorporating more raw fruit and vegetables into your diet is to create your meals based on the colours of the rainbow. Commonly referred to as the ‘Rainbow Diet’- this is a diet that is supportive of increasing the amount of phytonutrients in your diet, which directly increases the amount of living nutrients your body is receiving. Not only does this suggestion create delicious meals- they are also visually appealing and fun to make.
- My Top 10 Favourite Ways to Include Raw Food in My Life
1. Green juice (especially in the morning)
2. Rainbow Salad; It’s simple- try to create a salad that contains all the colours of the rainbow.
3. Sushi; vegetarian sushi can be made completely raw, raw veggies, raw nut pate, sprouted grains
4. Kale Chips; raw & dehydrated kale chips either made at home or store bought. My favourite recipe is: cashews, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, cayenne, garlic, sea salt and black pepper– blend up into a paste and massage into the kale.
5. Local & seasonal fruit; whatever is local and seasonal in your location- grab a bite in the morning for a natural fuel boost and dose of hydration!
6. Nut & seed mylks; homemade if you can- my favourite is hemp milk & almond milk
7. Green salad; a big boost of greens (kale, chard, spinach, arugula, bok choy, sprouts, pea shoots, mustard greens)
8. Raw pasta (zucchini, yams); use one of your favourite raw foodie tools like a spirooli, gefu or zoodle grater to make these delicious raw, gluten-free noodles
9. Sprouted grains and legumes (sprouts- lentils, alfalfa, buckwheat)
10. Chia!!!! Chia pudding, chia water, chia chia chia. An optimal way to start the day or to have as a snack that provides you with omega 3’s and omega 6 (in the perfect ratio), protein, fibre and a list of minerals and vitamins including magnesium, iron & the B vitamins.
*Some of this information was written for Detox Delight Dubai. Please do not copy or reproduce.