How would you react if somebody offered you a chance to change your diet so that you
- Have more energy
- Become your natural weight
- Need less sleep
- Have glowing skin
- Look younger
- Suffer less illness
- Heal easily
- Have mental clarity
- Have increased vitality?
This is what people say about a raw food diet. And raw food evangelists do tend to look the part – full of energy, clear-skinned and incredibly enthusiastic about their diet.
But isn’t it always the way – the diet that promises the best results seems to be the most difficult to follow. It would be an enormous shock to go ‘raw’ overnight. It means giving up practically everything we’re used to. In some ways, we have stopped thinking of ‘raw’ food as food at all. In our kitchens, fresh fruit and vegetables are ingredients destined for greater things.
A raw food diet means avoiding any food that has been heated above 44C or treated with chemicals. Raw foodists eat fresh, raw fruit and veg, plus seeds, nuts and some soaked or sprouted grains. That’s about it.
Andrew Davis, proprietor of The Raw Food School, is on a mission to explain the benefits of a raw food diet, and to show that, far from being uninspired and monotonous, a raw food diet can be creative and ‘unlimited’. A passionate snowboarder, he was devastated when he developed arthritis in his knees. He discovered raw food three years ago and has not been troubled by any symptoms since then.
Andrew says, these days we are not living longer. We are dying longer. We are composting from the inside! The key to a long and healthy life is a ready supply of enzymes, vital to every bodily process. We are born with a supply, but we need to replenish it as we go through life. Enzymes come from food – but they are killed by temperatures above 44C. Heat also destroys many vitamins and other nutrients, so that the food no longer has the health-giving properties it once had.
Any diet that claims to cure illness sounds dubious, but there is logic here. Our bodies have to process everything we put into them – that includes toiletries, cosmetics, even air. Overloading our bodies with substances that are difficult to break down puts big demands on all our bodily systems and drains our enzyme supply. So if we then get ill as well, it takes longer for our bodies to muster the resources to fight back. By reducing the toxins we consume, and increasing the amount of enzyme-rich raw food we eat, we give our bodies the means to fight illness and to heal rapidly.
A lot of raw foodists start gradually. Andrew says, just increasing the ratio of raw food to cooked food that you eat to 50:50 will yield enormous benefits. And, he contends, when you start to eat more raw foods, you will start becoming more aware of what you eat and how your body reacts to it. You will learn to stop eating when you feel full. You will start to recognize why your body craves certain foods, and how to satisfy those cravings. You’ll find that a ‘living foods’ diet isn’t just a diet – it’s a lifestyle. Andrew characterizes his diet as 33% greens, 33% fats (such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olives) and 33% sugars (such as fruit, maple syrup and agave syrup). He also uses dried herbs and spices, oils and vinegars, Celtic sea salt, carob and dried seaweed.
Andrew and his wife Angela are passionate about raw food and, armed with just a few powerful kitchen machines, they can demonstrate how to make raw pates, loaves, ‘noodles’, cakes and biscuits, crackers, soups, salads and marinades. Andrew’s essential kitchen gadget is an amazing blender (his is a VitaMix), which he loads with strata of colourful nuts and veg. The machine pulverizes everything that comes into its path, aided by Andrew and a sort of plunger device with which he forces the ingredients onto the whirring blades. This is a piece of kitchen magic that really takes you by surprise – in seconds, a pile of veg is transformed into a pate that not only tastes great, but could not be more crammed with nutrients. Raw food kitchens also benefit from the presence of food processors and high-quality juicers – the sort that can make juice out of sprouted grains and wheatgrass. Andrew points out that one should not rely too heavily fruit juice; the fibre in fruit is there for a reason, helping to make the absorption process slower and more gentle on the body. Drinking fruit juice alone can give you a sudden blood sugar lurch. He drinks two pints of juiced greens daily and suggests those who find this unpalatable might try juiced cucumber (‘cucumber water’).
Another cunning piece of kit is the saladacco, a hand-held appliance that cuts vegetables into fine curly ribbons. One the day we met, Andrew created ‘Angel Hair Pasta’ from a courgette, and topped it with a rich pasta sauce made from fresh and home-dried tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Watching the process was a real eye-opener, but the oddest thing was, when we came to eat the dish, it didn’t seem ‘cold’! I’m at a loss to explain why.
Sprouted seeds are a major constituent of the diet and raw foodists also advocate soaking nuts before eating them, as this ‘revitalises’ them. Andrew blends soaked almonds and orange juice to make almond butter. Almond milk is created from a blend of almonds and water, strained through muslin, and perhaps flavoured with vanilla or agave syrup. It’s surprising to discover that dried fruit is not generally on the shopping list; this is because the fruit is often treated with chemicals and over heated during processing.
The most curious item of equipment in the raw foodist’s kitchen is the dehydrator, a sort of table-top ‘oven’ that applies a very gentle heat to food arranged on shelves inside. As well as drying their own fruit, Angela and Andrew use theirs to make vegetable crisps, fruit leathers, biscuits and even pizzas and burgers! Their raw food crackers are made from a mixture of soaked flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, red onion, garlic, cumin and Narma Shoyu, an unfermented soy sauce. Spread into thin sheets and dehydrated overnight, this creates delicate crackers with a delicious savoury taste and lovely crunchy texture. Andrew is still experimenting and discovering new uses for the dehydrator – recent tasty ‘finds’ include tomato powder, made from ground dried tomatoes, and orange powder, made from ground dried orange peel.