Reap the rewards of a raw-food diet
Harvest the benefits of uncooked fruit and vegetables. By Lucy Dimbylow
Tired, sluggish and prone to seasonal sniffles? Looking for a new way to kick-start weight loss? Its time to harvest the benefits of uncooked fruit and vegetables.
At this time of year, we're more likely to be tempted by a hearty jacket potato than a green salad. But if you're contemplating post-Christmas weight loss, the diet of the year looks set to be centred on raw food. So-called rawism' became popular in the 1960s, when Armenian author Arshavir Hovannessian published his book 'Raw Eating' (available secondhand only), claiming that his raw diet had cured him of disease. Later that decade, The Hippocrates Health Institute - still going strong today - opened in Florida, with the aim of treating serious illnesses using a raw food diet. In the 1970s, attitudes swung in favour of processed and convenience foods. But rawism is gaining popularity again.
We're all more conscious of where our food comes from and what it contains, with some supermarkets banning GM ingredients and hydrogenated fats. Sales of organic produce have increased tenfold in the past decade, and the grow-your own movement is booming, with vegetable seeds outselling flower seeds two to one. A totally raw lifestyle may be rather radical for most people, but nutritionists claim that eating raw food is the fastest way to more energy, better health and clearer skin. So just why is it so good for us? And can we get the benefits and still enjoy a hot supper?
As nature intended
One of the advantages of raw food is its nutrient content. "When we cook vegetables, many of the vitamins and minerals leach out," explains GP and registered nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer, author of 'The Essential Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Supplements' (Right Way, £9.99). A 2007 study from Cambridge University showed that root vegetables lose up to 30 per cent of their nutrients when cooked. Other changes occur during cooking. Amino acids, essential for both muscle mobility and immunity, are denatured, becoming less easily processed by the body. And a study published by the Royal Society of Chemistry suggested that frying food can release cancer-causing chemicals.
Research even indicates that the body treats cooked food as pathogenic, launching an immune attack against it. Eating raw is an easy way to five-a-day, which helps protect against type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It also means you eat less processed food - and with man-made substances such as trans fats linked to problems including high cholesterol and heart attacks, that has a positive impact on your health. Raw food also has detoxifying effects.
"People who eat raw produce generally have more energy because they eat less of the foods that cause sluggishness, such as bread and pasta," explains Christina Agnew, co-founder of raw food delivery service Raw Fairies (rawfairies.com). "Skin becomes clearer thanks to the high water content in fruit and veg, and when you're properly nourished, you're less likely to crave that mid-morning coffee or chocolate bar." Increasing your raw-food intake can also kick-start weight loss. "These foods have lower GI levels than their cooked equivalents because cooking causes the sugars from plant foods to be released more quickly into the blood," explains Gareth Edwards (food-for-life.co.uk), nutrition consultant and governor of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. "The high fibre content also makes you feel fuller for longer, and so you eat less overall," Dr Brewer adds. Boosting your raw intake could even protect you against seasonal sniffles. "Because the body launches an immune attack against cooked food, eating less of it can reduce the strain on your immune system," Gareth Edwards says.
In the real world
For raw foodists, health benefits make the complex food preparation worthwhile. To qualify as raw, foods can't be heated above 43ºC; instead, they can be juiced, grated, blended or prepared in a dehydrator, which gently dries them out to boost crunch - useful for bread substitutes such as flaxseed crackers. There are even ways to replicate popular foods such as pasta, with vegetables shredded into spaghetti using a spiraliser device. And you can still have chocolate - its raw form is available from health-food shops. For most of us going completely raw is not necessarily desirable. But simply increasing your raw-food intake can still have health benefits.
"By having a fresh smoothie for breakfast, a green salad with lunch and fruit and nuts mid-afternoon, you're on course to being 50 per cent raw," Christina Agnew says. Despite the health benefits, side effects are common as your body adjusts, including detox symptoms such as headaches, skin breakouts and loose stools. "The high fibre content may cause bloating and wind," Dr Brewer explains. To minimise these, introduce changes slowly, drink lots of water, and juice some of your foods for easier digestion. It's also important to get the correct nutritional balance as eating more raw food also means reducing your meat and dairy intake. "There are very few nutrients that can't be obtained from raw food," Gareth Edwards says. "For example, dark green leafy vegetables contain calcium, and nuts are rich in protein." Raw food is good for your health - and for the planet, too. Many of us already recognise the pleasures of eating just-picked home-grown produce, and the fresher the food, the healthier it is.
"If we reduce the distance from field to plate, and eat more seasonal, local food, it benefits our health and the environment," Gareth Edwards adds. When eating vegetables and fruit not grown in the UK, support Fairtrade by buying from ethical sources; visit fairtrade.org.uk. So, while you may not be quite ready to invest in your own dehydrator, now is the time to give raw food more space in the fridge: it could be your route to a much more energised, healthier and slimmer 2011
Try a weekend diet
Breakfast: Smoothie. Blend 1 cup water, 1-2 handfuls spinach, 1-2 handfuls kale, ¼ cup blueberries, ¼ cup raspberries, 1 banana, ½ avocado until smooth.
Mid-morning: Blend apple juice, 2 apples, 3 stalks celery, ½ large cucumber, 1 lemon, handful of spinach until smooth.
Lunch: Italian salad. Mix 2 handfuls rocket, ½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced, ½ courgette, julienned, 5 sundried tomatoes, sliced, handful of green olives, 5 cherry tomatoes, halved, handful of pine nuts, Dress with olive oil and, lemon juice and season.
Dinner: Avocado salad. 2 handfuls salad leaves, ½ avocado, handful of seaweed, 1 carrot, grated, ½ red pepper, thinly sliced. Dress with ¼ cup white miso, 3 tbsp cider vinegar, 1½ tbsp agave nectar, 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp water.
Breakfast: Smoothie. Blend 1½ cups water, 1 cup frozen or fresh mixed berries, small piece of ginger, ½ large peeled and chopped mango until smooth.
Mid-morning: Carrot and ginger juice. Blend 3 large carrots, 1 orange, piece of ginger until smooth.
Lunch: Pineapple salad. Mix ¼ medium pineapple, peeled and diced, 20g fresh coriander, chopped, ¼ red onion, chopped, 1 medium carrot, grated, ½ red pepper, diced, ¼ cucumber, diced, handful of beansprouts, Season with fresh chopped chilli, lime juice, olive oil and salt. Serve the salad on a bed of lettuce.
Mid-afternoon: Courgette and, apple juice. Blend 1 courgette, ½ head broccoli, 2 apples, 1 medium cucumber, handful of spinach until smooth.
Dinner: Vegetables with quinoa. Combine 1 cup sprouted quinoa, 100g spinach, chopped, 50g parsley, chopped, 50g basil, chopped, 1 courgette, diced, 1 cucumber, diced, ½ avocado, diced, ½ medium broccoli, finely chopped, ¼ red onion, diced, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Season to taste.