Raw Food 101

(Note: The term, diet, in this post does not refer to a weight loss plan, but a way of eating.)

Everywhere I turn lately, I run into information on the raw food craze — from reading about a newly-turned raw foodist finally finding her ideal body weight to an article touting the health benefits of a raw diet. I have even heard of someone who rid herself of chronic fatigue syndrome by moving to an all raw diet. Raw food is popping up everywhere. All over the country there are new raw restaurants, “uncook” books, raw food meetups and potlucks, and raw food speakers and demonstrations. It’s even happening right here in Chicago.

My first foray into raw foods beyond a typical salad or piece of fruit was a few years ago when I went with my veggie dinner club to Karyn’s Raw in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The food was surprisingly delicious but I wasn’t sold on eating this way all the time. About another year passed before I tried another newly opened raw restaurant, Cousin’s IV, in Chicago.

It wasn’t until a raw food demonstration and tasting by Cousin’s chef, Mehmet Ak, that I began to truly appreciate raw food. He was so excited about raw foods and perhaps it was my desire to eat healthier, but I was ready to explore the raw food world. I wanted to know more about the miracles of raw food. Nutritionally raw food is superior to cooked food because nutrients are lost when food is cooked. When you eat raw, your body gets to enjoy more of the nutrients and digestion is easier for the body. Typically my diet is about 60% raw. I eat fruit for breakfast and a salad for lunch on most days.

What was 40% more raw food going to do for me, I wondered? So I called up Cousin’s IV and placed an order for a one month box program — fresh, ready-made raw, all vegan meals I could pick up every three days for one month. The first change I noticed was that I loved having fresh, healthy meals available all the time. I was enjoying having someone “cook” for me, and I was eating healthier. There were no processed foods on my table. I started to envision myself as a wealthy woman with a personal chef. I was so happy and grateful. And, then reality hit me like a slap in the face.

I began to notice that I was not finding my true body size. How could I when I was eating so many nut cheeses and desserts? There seems to be nuts in almost every entree or dessert I ate. You see, when you blend cashews in a high-powered blender, you get this yummy, creamy consistency. I know nuts in moderation are healthy. I also know they are high in fat. Yes, high in good fat, but fat is fat. Unfortunately, my thighs do not distinguish between good and bad fats, and they were getting bigger — seriously. My jeans were tight. Period. No, not because of my period, silly. Because I was eating too much of something, and I believe it was the nuts.

I also noticed I had been getting canker sores a lot, and not just one at a time. I had a mouth full of canker sores — up to four at once. This had never happened to me before and to put it bluntly — it sucked. At first I attributed the canker sores to stress at work, but then I did some research. Apparently, this had happened to others eating all raw food, but I couldn’t find any scientific reason for the cause. The most reasonable explanation seemed to be that the canker sores were related to the detoxification process that occurs when switching to an all raw diet. Nonetheless, the canker sores were awful and went away as soon as I returned to my normal vegan diet — a mixture of raw and cooked foods.

Now it isn’t my intention to dis’ an all raw diet altogether. I really enjoyed the food. I also know I cannot eat so many nuts. Lesson learned. There are some proponents who suggest eating all raw food helps the body to renew its cells, so that where cooked foods sustain the human body and keep it alive, raw foods slow the aging process. I interpret this to mean, I can eat to survive or eat to thrive. I am by no means an expert, but if I can thrive and experience more vitality as I age then I would choose this road. I continue to want to add more raw foods to my diet and explore this lifestyle. I do believe that the closer we eat to the Earth, the more natural and healthier it is. For now, my happy compromise is to eat raw and cooked unprocessed foods as much as possible, and to avoid as many prepackaged, processed foods as I can. Moderation is key and this seems sustainable.

If you are interested in exploring the raw food world, especially in Chicago, here are a few suggestions:

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